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.

"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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A Tribute to Stephen Hawking

He was here. We were better for it.

Rest In Peace to one of the greatest minds of our time. Most of us can only hope to contribute even a fraction to our human earth’s identity, knowledge, and culture as this brilliant man. Nobody knows how many almost-known secrets of the universe silently pass with him, and sleep for centuries until another generation rediscovers the paths he started — a legacy the icons of scientific discovery have continuously left before him, and surely will after. Condolences with his family and friends, to whom he was not a great explorer of the unknown or a symbol of resilience and excellence against all odds, but merely a man who they loved.

To the people like me, the bullied childhood nerds relentlessly assaulted with accusations and otherness with their only crime being relentless curiosity, the overambitious kids from less-than-promising backgrounds, the very-flawed very-human questioners restlessly Wondering and wandering and longing to understand Everything, the ones so used to being underestimated they can’t tell which inner voice is self-doubt and which is a memory... people like Hawking have always been bright shining lights in the dark.

I want to ask note, briefly, with respect to my own privacy - as someone like me, who was told at a young age I was going to die, and felt at a young age that my body was trying to, and was surrounded by open-ended evidence that a diagnosis would define me and put a loud limiting countdown on my life, Hawking’s defiance of medical odds mattered. He did it for himself, not for all of us, but it mattered.

And as someone who watched her own mother be diagnosed with a short life expectancy, plagued with excruciating pain, and told to expect decay of quality of life and function for as long as Time was endured... Hawking’s story mattered. He outlived a death sentence with shining colors - how man can say that?

My mom being told over and over she had less than 6 months rings in my ears all the time. The first time was 5 years ago, when I was just 17, and I’ve never stopped feeling lost. I’ve never stopped feeling like another shoe is about to drop. I’ve never stopped feeling like at any minute, I could lose everything. I’ve never stopped feeling on edge. I’ve never stopped having the thought creep in as fall asleep at night, like we are all counting the days of borrowed time. Any missed call freaks me out. Any time away from home freaks me out. Any conversations not spent laughing and distracted freak me out. Silence and stillness and seriousness freaks me out. Doctors, hospitals, sickness, closeness, rain-checks, the list goes on.

But I’ve also understood a lot of things in mortality that you can’t have a theoretical knowledge of. You have to feel it. Optimism. Emptiness. Stillness. Grief. Preparatory grief. Dread. Inevitability. Shutting your mind off consciously just to enjoy a moment. Enjoying the moment. Sunlight on your skin. Hugs you don’t want to let go of. Voices you’re scared to forget. Looking at the world around you to see what is missing in you. What it means to memorize the way an ocean sounds, or what the air feels like. What it means to run. What it means to heal. What it means to need someone, and to need something. To take an internal audit of your own life and know what you’ll sacrifice for what or who, what your life-or-death priorities are. What it means to hope. To seek a purpose. To cling to stories like fables and religious anecdotes. To collect examples of people who have Survived This as proof you can present to the other side of your own mind that’s crippling itself with What Ifs. To see someone do something and start to believe you just might make it.

I don’t remember when I latched onto Hawking’s story, or others like him. (I’m a girl with campaign quotes from Jared Padalecki tattooed on both wrists, so clearly I’ve seen some stuff, and clearly I’ve felt some stuff, and clearly I’m not above or averse to shamelessly finding my own heroes).

I know SH didn’t seem the type to appreciate a certain brand sentimentality, especially the spiritual kind. (If I had ever written a letter, and I didn’t, I wouldn’t have dared mention my private convictions about destiny, unwavering as they’ve been - especially the last decade, and the last 5 years.)

Instead, I’ll say this: he got his diagnosis and his sentence, and he said “not me” and went on to live, ferociously, a full lifetime. And that was enough. And it wasn’t enough. He made a business out of the extraordinary. He went on to change the whole world.

Who laughs now? Who doubts in looking at his legacy, as we all think in eulogies, that he did exactly what he set out to do?

I don’t know if he was happy, if he had regrets, if he was troubled by his quality of life. All I know is what the people said, and his rejection of that, and that he did it on his terms.

And when you’re laughed at, and maybe feeling cursed by whatever idea of God or Universe or random chance you believe in, you feel out of control until you take control. No one gives your life back until you take it back. If you do. He did.

You stare death and agony in the face, and if you beat that - what can stop you? He made the Universe confess to him with a hand and a mind.

Imagine what’s possible when you decide “impossible” can always, always be followed with “until now”.

RIP Mr. Hawking. I didn’t know you. I don’t understand half of your work, though I’ve tried. I don’t know if you would have laughed at me, and my silly ideas about things, and the false equivalencies I draw between our lives under the loose justification of “heroes” and “inspiration.”

I don’t know if you loved having a world of witnesses in your struggle, or if you even packaged fame and life-with-challenges that way in your worldview. But for what you did, what you shared, how you lived, and how you allowed so many eyes on your legacy, I thank you and I honor your memory.

I know that this sounds as if I have made this event somehow about me, which it is not. My intention is rather to say, this is a life he has touched, and utterly unremarkable in an army of admirers but completely remarkable all at once. Like each of us in our momentous insignificance in Sagan’s pale blue dot.

We are better for his presence and lesser for his absence. What more can each of us hope the world will say at the end of our lives?

He was here. We were better for it. May he find peace.

Cover Image Credit: cnn.com

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7 Golden Reasons To Watch 'Tangled: The Series' No Matter How Old You Are

Does a really enticing mystery not already make you want to watch?!

Before I even start, I want to get something out of the way: I am not too old for this show. Literally no one on this good green Earth is too old for this show. No matter your age, gender, or if you're even one of those heathens who didn't like "Tangled," Disney Junior's new show "Tangled: The Series" just finished season one, and I'm constantly googling when season two will hit the TV.

I don't care it's a Disney Junior show! It's well done, has a great cast and a fabulous story line! I love it! Die mad about it! Because there's literally no possible way I won't stand on a soap box and defend my position, here are seven reasons you should catch up on this show before season two comes rolling along.

1. They solved a diversity problem.

One of the few complaints "Tangled" got was their utter lack of diversity. The entire cast was white, with absolutely no people of any other ethnicity or color.

"But wait!" you cry. "Surely there wasn't any other race in this most likely European country at the time?"

Well, my uneducated friend, while Europe was almost entirely white, there were people of color there. We just don't like to talk about it because it was a pretty ugly scene for those unlucky few because you know, racism.

But now we got Lance, a black man who was Eugene's childhood friend and honestly, one of my new favorite characters. And one little thief girl who is Asian and her adopted ginger sister. This sounds bad, but it's actually an adorable episode.

2. The new characters don't suck.

One problem with shows like these is that the introduced characters are often just god-awfully cringe. But not in this case!

There are three new characters that are really important. Cassandra, Rapunzel's lady in waiting/bad-ass warrior woman and the adopted daughter of the Royal Guard captain. (Who quite honestly, is kind of a better girl power model than Rapunzel. Her hair is dark, cut short, often messy, she doesn't have perfect blue eyes, plus she doesn't have a perfect hourglass figure like Rapunzel. Best of all, she doesn't need no man to be happy and a bad-ass.)

Lance, who I discussed before, is Eugene's childhood friend. Though at first annoying and kind of a jerk, Lance becomes endearing and quite hilarious as time goes on.

Finally, there's the 14-year-old alchemist, Varian, who...well, I'll have to explain him somewhere else...

3. The old cast plays the characters.

A problem that often comes up with shows that continue on from movies is casting. However, here it's no issue, because the people who played the original cast return for the show! It's amazing to hear Rapunzel and Eugene back just as they were.

4. Good music

While we of course need our basic cheesy songs, the music of "Tangled: The Series" is actually really, really good!

5. A legitimate, interesting mystery

Those who only see the commercials may wonder "Wait, why is Rapunzel's hair back?"

Well, my friend, that's only a small part of this large, intertwining Gravity Falls-style mystery. Yeah, you heard me. This mystery is comparable to "Gravity Falls."

Who is the secret society bent on finding the Golden Sunflower? Where are these scary black rocks coming from? What is Rapunzel's dad hiding?

Buddy, we're through the first season, and we got way more questions than answers!

6. The show is actually really funny.

What? A Disney Junior show with actual humor?

Yes! I know! There have been several times where I snicker, and as the jokes go along, turns into actual gut-splitting laughter. And let me tell you, TV shows, especially cartoons, have to work hard to make me laugh.

7. Varian

Yep, we're back to the 14-year-old alchemist who gives this show a dark, foreboding feel more reminding of "Gravity Falls" than "Sofia the First."

Without major spoilers, the best I can tell you is that while Varian at first starts as a happy kid who's just eager to meet Rapunzel and her friends, an incident sends him down a dark road to revenge, which spirals quickly into a dark insanity.

Let me tell you: there's actual risk of death by impalement in several scenes. There's even been several implications that not everyone is going to make it out alive.

Despite this, it's impossible to hate Varian. He's just a kid, after all. In the episode "Snow Day," we see his strained relationship with his father and the hole left in the family from his dead mother. And no, we don't know how she dies. But let's just say if you saw the final episode of season one, you might be with me in thinking rumors of her death have been greatly exaggerated...

While many may scoff when they see commercials for "Tangled: The Series" just know that I'm probably the harshest critic of everything I watch. And if I'm bouncing up and down in anticipation...

Well, chances are so will you.

Cover Image Credit: Wikimedias Common

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