See Oscar-nominated movies in the theater while you can

See Oscar-nominated movies in the theater while you can

This has to be a record: There are four Oscar-nominated movies playing in local theaters right now. Right here in town. “La La Land” has been here long enough for Oscar fans to see it. Recently, “Manchester by the Sea” arrived, and “Fences” is doing a second tour after earning some solid nominations. But the surprise among these is “Moonlight.”

Before the awards season started, not many had heard of this movie. It made the festival circuit and picked up some great reviews, but this is not a mainstream movie. In fact, my screening here in Beaumont was attended by fewer than 10 viewers.

“Moonlight,” written and directed by Barry Jenkins, is a semi-autobiographic piece about a young African-American boy named Chiron growing up in the crime-ridden Liberty City area of Miami. Told in three parts as the boy ages from youth to adolescent to adult (played by three different actors – Jadon Piner, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) it traces how he is influenced by his environment and how this will impact his path in life, beginning with his mother (played with ferocity by Naomie Harris), a verbally abusive crack addict.

A local drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali), becomes a surrogate father figure, and he and his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monae), are the only positive thing in Chiron’s life. And there is Kevin, Chiron’s only friend, who understands him better than anyone.

There are so many powerful, raw moments in “Moonlight,” and most of them will break your heart. It’s a poetic anthem to survival that resonates long after you leave the theater.

One of the surprises in the Best Actor category was Viggo Mortensen for “Captain Fantastic.” It is available on pay-per-view outlets, and it is definitely worth devoting a couple of hours. Mortensen plays a father raising his six children in the deep woods of the Northwest. He enforces a rigorous schedule of physical survival training and education that is probably better than what any civilized formal education could offer. But a family crisis forces them back into the world where some hard choices have to be made.

This is not only fantastic, as the title would suggest, but it is also fascinating. The scenes of family life in the wilderness are almost like something out of “Swiss Family Robinson” and provide a meticulous backstory, except for why this life was chosen for the family — something I really wanted to know more and more as the story evolved. But Matt Ross, the writer and director, never gives an explanation.

Mortensen is like a younger Jeff Bridges — very talented, mostly underrated, and always good. His intense blue eyes (the rest of his chiseled face is hidden behind a bushy beard for most of the movie) communicate everything he’s feeling, and he shares some wonderful scenes with the children played by George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks and Charlie Shotwell.

It’s hard to argue that Mortensen “stole” his Oscar nod from another actor like Tom Hanks for “Sully” or the others who were overlooked. This may be one of those small niche films that sadly never made it to the mainstream, but it should have. And that it rests, in large part, on Mortensen’s shoulders, is the reason why.

Oscar watch continues with “Loving,” a movie that never made it here but came to PPV on Feb. 7. Ruth Negga has the distinction of being a first-time Best Actress nominee and the only nomination coming from this movie based on the famous Loving case that began with an interracial marriage and was finely settled by a Supreme Court decision.

 

Hopefully a few more Oscar nominated movies will become available in the next few weeks. What is out now is a good start.

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