5 Moments That Should've Earned 'Moonlight' Best Cinematography

5 Moments That Should've Earned 'Moonlight' Best Cinematography

Cinematography should do more than make a movie look good.
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"Moonlight" made headlines last week when it won the Academy Award for Best Picture after a mix up of envelopes mistakenly named "La La Land" in its place. After seeing "Moonlight" at a showing in New London this past weekend, I can absolutely say it deserves that award. The story is well-crafted and beautifully told through its music and visual and narrative parallels. However, "La La Land" still managed to rob the film of one award I firmly believe "Moonlight" should have won: Best Cinematography. "La La Land" is absolutely a gorgeous looking movie and is full of intensely visual moments, especially in its epilogue, but its cinematography doesn't go much farther than that. "Moonlight" uses the visual medium to actually assist in telling the story and creating the journey its main character, Chiron, goes through, all using only one camera.

Chiron is a shy, soft-spoken character, so "Moonlight" opts for visual cues, camera movement, and color to tell his story, making the cinematography essential to the movie in a way other nominees didn't. Since the film only had one camera, every shot had to be well-thought-out. The cinematographer, James Laxton, spoke to IndieWire about the look of the movie and its role in moving the story, as he and colorist Alex Bicket sought to create a high-contrast look to capture the film's location, Miami, in bright pastel along with the darker tones of the actors skin, enhanced by blue and green light to keep the contrast from making the film go black and white. Each chapter of the film is designed to emulate the color style of three different film stocks: the warm texture of Fuji for "Little," the ancient cyan of Agfa for "Chiron," and the "pop and shine" of Kodak for "Black."

Despite every aspect of its filming being so essential to creating the story, the Oscar still went to "La La Land." Since the film is so visually crafted throughout, it's hard to choose specific moments that capture the importance of its cinematography and why it should have won, but here are five shots that stand out the most.

1. Paula in red.

This shot is one of the most visually striking in the movie, partially for the way the music drowns out Paula's scream and partially for the specific way it is shot. It takes place in the first chapter, which is created almost entirely from young, bright blues and greens. When she slowly stalks from her room in red, bathed in pink light, it's jarring, especially in contrast to the shot of Chiron standing in the dull kitchen staring beyond the camera. The shot is set up so that Paula is framed by the walls of the room Chiron and the camera stand in, slightly off-center and bending nearly out of the frame to look directly into the camera, placing you in Chiron's place. The pink and red press in on her rather than filling any space in the kitchen, giving that light entirely to Paula's emotion and mental state. Each time this still shot comes back throughout the movie, that image of Paula leaning into the kitchen, through the barrier of the green walls and down to our level before shutting the door and drowning out the pink light feels angry and unsettling because of the way the shot frames her.

2. In the ice.

This moment is our first glimpse of Chiron in the movie's third act, and acts as a direct parallel to the last time we were given a shot of Chiron with his head in the ice. The last shot, though, was accompanied by flickering lights and an ugly green coloring. This one is entirely steady and completely colored by a dense, heavy blue. So much of "Moonlight" is filled with moving shots focused on Chiron's back, from the first shot of him running through the grass to the last shot of him standing by the ocean, always following him through his life, but this one is level and stationary, from its lighting to its camera movement, panning ever so slightly up on his back so you can see the muscles flex blue, calling back the image Juan painted at the beginning: "In moonlight, black boys look blue." It's a shot focused on reminding the audience of every aspect of Chiron's past as we enter the final act as well as telling them what to expect of where Chiron is in life at that moment, all through the color, camera placement, and movement.

3. The fight.

The weight of this moment in "Moonlight" is almost tangible, since the only people that know how high the emotion here is are Chiron, Kevin, and the audience. We have seen Kevin play-fighting with Chiron when they first became friends as kids. We've seen Chiron speak more than he has in the entire film as he talked through secrets with Kevin on the beach. After the quick motion and circling the camera has been performing throughout this scene, the placement of the camera directly in Kevin's place so that you must look directly into Chiron's eyes from Kevin's perspective forces the audience directly into Kevin's mind. Only you and these two boys know the weight of what is about to happen, so by giving you Kevin's perspective on Chiron, you understand what is passing from Kevin to Chiron and back to Kevin. It heightens the emotion of the scene by handing the audience every emotion tied to it.

4. "I'm your mama, ain't I?"

This shot uses the same technique as the last, but to a completely different effect. The beginning of the scene is blurred, emphasizing the surrealness of Paula's sudden kindness and the haze the drugs have left her in. When the shot finally comes into focus, we get to see Paula, looking directly into the camera and at Chiron, saying, "Well, I'm your mama, ain't I?" Even though she is so close to the camera, you can feel the distance between her and Chiron, especially with the following shot of Chiron, looking wary. It's the first moment from Paula where she appears soft after years of treating Chiron poorly, so even though we're allowed to look directly into her eyes, it feels completely disingenuous and dreamlike. It is a shot that is normally used to allow a connection between characters, but is used expertly here to create the opposite.

5. "Middle of the world."

In a moment that has become one of "Moonlight"s most iconic, Juan teaches Chiron to swim in the ocean after Chiron avoids going home again. The scene was filmed in water shallow enough that the young actor, Alex Hibbert, could stand safely, so the camera had to be placed right where the waves crashed. The camera sits half submerged and constantly flooding, creating an effect that feels as if the view point itself is struggling to stay above the water in the same way Chiron is. The scene feels soft and doesn't suggest danger, because of the bright blue that floods the first act of the movie, but the camera placement asks the audience to feel that panic and struggle as Chiron takes his first strokes. The above shot is placed once again behind Chiron's back so we can watch him learn and grow (on the very same beach where the final shot takes place, focused on his back until he turns for the first time and looks back to us). The shot is constantly flooded with a gentle blue, creating both the fear and floundering of swimming in the ocean for the first time and the serenity we and Chiron are able to find with Juan.

The cinematography is focused entirely on providing insight into Chiron's mind and journey, continuously providing meaning through every shot rather than appeasing a certain aesthetic or tone. The camera-work in "Moonlight" is an example of all that can be added to storytelling through every aspect of film, especially since the actual storyline of the movie is fairly simple if not looked at through the creativity of its creation. "Moonlight" just came out on DVD on February 28th, so if you haven't seen it yet, I'd suggest watching it and judging it for yourself.

Cover Image Credit: Indiewire

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What Your Hogwarts House Says About You

Get yourself sorted and find out where you belong in the world of witchcraft and wizardry.
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Sorting at Hogwarts is a big deal. Being sorted into a house is essentially being placed into a family while you are away from home learning about witchcraft and wizardry. Your house is made up of the people you will live with, go to classes with, play Quidditch with and everything in between. You basically spend 24/7 with them. Your Hogwarts house is your home away from home.

When you get sorted into a house, it is based on your personality traits. The people in your house are typically like-minded people who display the same characteristics as you.

When you’re a first year at Hogwarts, the minute you set foot in the castle you are swept into the Great Hall to have the ancient Sorting Hat placed on your head. This Sorting Hat decides which “family” you’ll be spending your seven years with.

For some, it is very obvious which house they will be in, due to certain personality traits they possess. For others, they may exemplify traits that fit a multitude of houses and are uncertain where they may end up.

To find out where you belong, you can take the official "Harry Potter" Sorting Hat quiz at Pottermore.com. For all you muggles out there, these are the characteristics that the houses possess and what your house says about you:

Gryffindor: The house of the brave, loyal, courageous, adventurous, daring and chivalrous. Those who stand up for others are typically Gryffindors. Brave-hearted is the most well-known Gryffindor characteristic, and Gryffindors are also known for having a lot of nerve.

Gryffindors are people who hold a multitude of qualities alongside the ones listed, making them a very well-rounded house. People who are Gryffindors are often people who could fit nicely into another house but choose to tell the sorting hat they want Gryffindor (there's that bravery). "Do what is right" is the motto Gryffindors go by.

Being a Gryffindor means that you're probably the adventurous and courageous friend, and you are usually known for doing what is right.

Ravenclaw: The house is known for their wisdom, intelligence, creativity, cleverness and knowledge. Those who value brains over brawn can be found here. Ravenclaws often tend to be quite quirky as well. "Do what is wise" is the motto they strive to follow.

Though Ravenclaws can be know-it-alls sometimes, they most likely do know what the wisest decision is.

If you are known for being the quirky friend, the smartest in the group or just great at making wise decisions, you're definitely a Ravenclaw.

Hufflepuff: This house values hard work, dedication, fair play, patience, and loyalty. Hufflepuff’s are known for being just and true. "Do what is nice" is their motto.

Hufflepuff is known as the “nice house” and believes strongly in sparing peoples feelings and being kind. This is not to say that Hufflepuffs aren't smart or courageous. Hufflepuffs just enjoy making others happy and tend to be more patient towards people.

If you ever find that you are too nice for your own good and cannot bear to hurt someone’s feelings, congratulations, you are a Hufflepuff.

Slytherin: This is the house of the cunning, prideful, resourceful, ambitious, intelligent, and determined. Slytherin's love to be in charge and crave leadership. "Do what is necessary" is the motto of this house.

Slytherin is a fairly well-rounded house, similar to the other houses. They are loyal to those that are loyal to them just as Gryffindors are and are intelligent as Ravenclaws.

Slytherin house as a whole is not evil, despite how many dark wizards come out of this house. That is merely based on the choices of those wizards (so if your friend is a Slytherin, don’t judge, it doesn’t mean they are mean people). Slytherins do, however, have a tendency to be arrogant or prideful. This is most likely due to the fact that everyone in Slytherin is exceedingly proud to be there.

What Hogwarts house you’re in says a lot about the person you are, the traits you possess and how you may act in some situations. But in the end, your house is really just your home that is always there for you. Always.


Cover Image Credit: Warner Bros Pictures

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Picking Passion Over Pressure Is The Answer To A Fulfillng Life

Don't crack under pressure, flourish with passion.

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What motivates your actions? The answer to this critical question can determine whether or not you are living a fulfilling life. Many of us follow a social script as if we are reading lines from a play. We succumb to the influence of those around us and roam aimlessly in the direction of the masses.

The concept of living within the confinement of certain "norms" is an expectation society calls us to uphold, and it is not an entirely negative idea. But when life becomes "a series of motions to go through", this expectation can become problematic. When you find yourself stressed out about doing whatever it is you think that you have to do, stop and ask yourself if it makes you truly happy. Are you pursuing your passion or are you just performing under pressure? To find true contentment in your life, pick passion over pressure.

Be an individual before an identity.

When people first introduce themselves to a new friend or group of people, they are quick to jump to aspects of their life that compose their identity. Many of us define ourselves by what it is we do, and not necessarily who we actually are. For example, this can include identifying as a member of a club or sports team or even defining yourself based on accolades and accomplishments you have achieved. While these are definitely adequate ways to distinguish yourself from others, have you ever stopped to look beneath the surface? It is important to know what unique qualities make you an individual and not just a part of a larger entity.

By viewing yourself as an individual, you will find your passions in life more easily and find genuine enjoyment in all that you do. Taking on an identity will only hold you under unnecessary pressure to fulfill a role that could leave you feeling unsatisfied later on.

Become self-aware.

To find out what makes you truly happy, you need to establish a clear sense of who you are. Fostering self-awareness is a journey, and it can be discovered through life experiences. In order to figure out what you love doing, push yourself out of your comfort zone to figure out what you don't love doing. This can mean joining a new club, taking a challenging class, or working in an environment that you are unfamiliar with. Once you begin to discover how you react in certain situations, use these personality traits to your advantage.

Don't make the same mistake twice, and avoid taking on a position that you know would not be compatible with your lifestyle. By becoming self-aware, you will discover your passion more easily and will be able to take on realistic opportunities that will prove to be fulfilling. When you try to become someone you are not, it will seem like there is always a lingering pressure to "keep up the act", and it will be harder to accomplish tasks because you don't truly enjoy doing them.

View outside opinions with a filtered lens.

Don't let others dictate your future. When you make life decisions based on what other people think is best for you, you will be pleasing everyone except yourself. Consciously decide whose opinions are valid, meaningful, and constructive to your life. This can include the wisdom of close friends and relatives, professors, or a boss that has known you for years. By finding out who knows you best and who truly desires the best for your life, you can tune out the background noise and hone in on the few voices that actually do matter.

Place value in what these people have to say, and take the words of others with a grain of salt. Avoid letting irrelevant or negative opinions linger in your mind. If you allow the influence of others to infiltrate your decision making, you will find yourself in many regrettable situations and unsatisfied with the outcome of your choices. By subscribing to the helpful advice shared by those closest to you, you can foster your true passion.

Practice positive thinking. 

You can't find out what makes you happy in life without actually experiencing what happiness is. To discover your passion, adopt a positive mindset. Get out of the habit of mentally putting yourself down, and take the word "can't" out of your thought process. The more mental blocks you put on yourself, the less likely you are to have good experiences. Release your inhibitions and train your brain seek positivity in any situation.

Don't allow minor inconveniences to disturb you, and remind yourself of the saying that "it is only a bad day, not a bad life." In doing so, the positive choices you make will lead you in the direction of your passion so that you can live a fulfilling life.

Be open to new ideas. 

Keeping an open mind will allow you to experience life from a new perspective. Even when something seems foreboding, treat it as a lesson. If you cannot think of a positive quality for the situation you find yourself in, then don't assign your circumstances any qualities at all. If you keep a neutral mindset, you will eliminate the possibility for disappointment. This will encourage learning and growth, which are essential in your journey to finding your true passion.

Being open to new ideas will help you avoid sticking to the status quo. By taking part in something you have never done before, you are less likely to find yourself confined by what others expect you to do.

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