Moonlight‘s historic performance at the box office last weekend was no fluke; despite still not being in wide release yet, Barry Jenkins’ critically adored film managed to shine bright after expanding into a few more theaters.
The film earned $938k this weekend from 36 locations, $277,516 of that coming from Friday night showings averaging about $26,056 per location. That brings its total to around $1.5 million; after being made for only $5 million, it’s hard not to imagine the film turning a profit for A24. The real test of its power will be when Moonlight expands into wide release next week, but even so this is not just incredibly impressive, but will no doubt be yet another reason to pique the interest of awards voters.
Moonlight‘s box office performance and status as the best reviewed film of the year has pushed the film to the front of the line alongside other Best Picture frontrunners like La La Land and Manchester By The Sea. The conversation has turned from, “Can Moonlight make it into the Oscar race?” into “How many Oscars can Moonlight win?” and, “Is it our Best Picture winner?”
It’s far too early, obviously, to start picking Best Picture winners. Though, I think Moonlight will make a clean sweep of the critics awards in a style akin to The Social Network in 2010. And while the critics often choose different winners than the Academy, Moonlight is an incredibly rare case. Where The Social Network was beloved but featured unlikeable characters, Moonlight is flat out universally beloved. During the screening I attended, the audience audibly cheered at several moments, gasped at others and openly wept throughout; by the end, everyone had gotten to their feet and gave the film a standing ovation (something that has been extremely common with screenings of this film). That may not scream “OSCARS!” but it certainly helps.
Moonlight‘s power is in its subtlety; even the film’s most obvious nomination in Naomie Harris’ performance is nuanced and reigned in. But don’t mistake subtlety for lack of power. This is a film that creeps up on you, and manages to stay with you long after you’ve left the theater. It’s also a film that demands to be seen multiple times. Again, these are all things that help with choosing an Oscar winner.
Moonlight is the kind of film that:
A.) We need more of
B.) We need
C.) We need to honor
It’s hard to have this conversation without immediately jumping to #OscarsSoWhite. After two years of completely white nominations, this is a film (one of many coming down the pipeline) that is not about white people, and doesn’t use people of color as narrative devices to further a white protagonist’s character arc. That in and of itself is revolutionary in the world of awards season. But that this is some of the most beautiful storytelling in film history, completely decimating stereotypes and telling a story that is not told as often as it should be, from the perspective that it should be told from, is yet another reason to honor this movie. And when you realize it’s only Barry Jenkins’ second film, that makes you want to cheer for it even louder.
Distributor A24 proved last year they can play the Oscar game; Room managed surprise Best Picture and Best Director nominations, with a win for Brie Larson. Ex Machina and Amy won in Best Visual Effects and Best Documentary respectively; if you don’t think they’re going to give this film all they’ve got, you’re foolish.
I think a Best Picture nomination is inevitable, and I think Best Director is happening as well. Harris is a lock for a Best Supporting Actress nomination, while the film’s placement in screenplay is questionable. It’s being campaigned as an Original Screenplay, despite technically adapted from an unproduced play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney. However the Academy decides to rule on that, I think its safe to assume Moonlight will be nominated for its screenplay. Original Score is a possibility as well (I’m listening to it as I write this, and it’s got to be the most beautiful score of the year.)
Because Chiron is portrayed by three different actors, all of whom are not household names and have varying degrees of screen time, acting nominations outside of Naomie Harris are tricky. You also have Mahershala Ali, who I’m guessing will be rewarded with a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Many have him as the favorite to win, and I don’t think that’s wrong; though he only appears in the first chapter of the film, his performance is so strong that it leaves a lasting impression. Your mind is constantly going back to him throughout, wishing he would come back. He was just rewarded with an Emmy nomination for House of Cards, and has a popular performance on Netflix’s Luke Cage. He’s having a bit of a moment, and I think an Oscar would be a perfect reward for a successful year. Janelle Monáe is absolutely phenominal in a similarly brief performance, moving mountains with just a look. I think this will simply help her potentially get in for Hidden Figures, however.
I want to believe Moonlight can go the distance. Yes, it’s a tiny film in a year full of flashier and “conventional” choices. But I don’t think that will be the film’s undoing; that might be what helps it over the hill though; it’s not our frontrunner at this point, but its a film that has a large crowd of champions and fans. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few months from now, we’re watching Barry Jenkins and the rest of his team making dozens of acceptance speeches.