This week, the Oscar Nominations were announced, and La La Land tied the record for most nominations with 14 in total.

Now, let me start by saying that La La Land is an excellent film. In fact, it was one of two films I was actually excited to see in 2016, and it more than delivers.

Damien Chazelle's sophomore effort is a wonderful film, and there are many categories where it deserves to win the Oscar. However, I think that in terms of Best Picture of the Year, there's one film that beats it, and by a long shot. I'm talking, of course, about Barry Jenkin's Moonlight. Moonlight is not as exciting or heartwarming a film, but I believe that it is a far superior one, and that the Academy would be sorely mistaken in not giving it the Oscar.

As I said before, I was excited for La La Land. I quite enjoyed Chazelle's debut, Whiplash, an excellent film about a jazz drummer who dreams of greatness, and a demanding, abusive band instructor who attempts to lead him there. The script is unique and well-written, the editing is air-tight, and I think about the ending of that film at least once a month - it is masterful. It was one of my favourite films of 2014.


When I heard Chazelle's next piece would be a musical, set in Los Angeles, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, about a jazz pianist who falls in love with an actress, I was at once confused and excited. While initially, it seemed odd that Chazelle would want to do a musical, the musicality and rhythm of Whiplash made it clear that Chazelle was more than ready to make a musical. Plus, it had been a while since someone attempted an honest-to-goodness musical, the last attempt I remember being 2012's Les Miserables which had its moments, but ultimately fell flat due to uncomfortable close-ups and Russell Crowe.

From the first trailer, it was clear that La La Land was a more sincere, old-fashioned attempt at a musical. The trailer and title card harken back to the era of classic Hollywood musicals, like Bye Bye Birdie, or Singin' in the Rain - one of my favourite films. I was sold. I looked for every bit of news and every new trailer, and when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September to stellar reviews, I knew it was going to be special.

Moonlight was an all together different beast. I had never heard of Barry Jenkins, and my first impression of the film was seeing the poster for the film, along with the first trailer. The trailer, much like the film itself, says much with little. It was a great example of how to get at the heart of what a film is about without really giving anything away. And yet, upon seeing the movie, it became clear that the trailer gave quite a bit away.

From the trailer you can glean nearly every plot point, nearly every important character trait, and almost the entire film itself. Still, I knew that I had to see this movie for myself.


Now, I did see Moonlight before I saw La La Land, since Moonlight was released in New York in October, and La La Land wouldn't see theaters until December. However, I am going to talk about La La Land first.

The first scene of La La Land sets the stage for what audiences are getting into, a fun song and dance number taking place on the congested highways of Los Angeles. From there we meet Mia and Sebastian, our leads, and see them fall in love, find success, struggle and laugh and love, all accompanied by heartwarming, enjoyable musical numbers, as well as dance sequences with no singing at all - a bold move on Chazelle's part.

Indeed, as the film develops, one falls in love not only with Mia and Sebastian, but with La La Land itself, enraptured in its thrilling, musical world. And yes, just like before, Chazelle ends with a bang. The final 20 minutes of La La Land are among the most heart-wrenching ever put to film, a final sequence that, much like Whiplash before it, will undoubtedly stay with the viewer for years to come. Chazelle knows how to end a film.

Yet, while the ending sequence of La La Land tugs at your heartstrings like few films can, it can't even touch the level of soul-grabbing emotion that fills every frame, every second of Moonlight.

There is not a single moment in Moonlight that isn't overflowing with pain and heartache and hope. Opening with Boris Gardener's 'Every N*gger is A Star' (surely a nod to Kendrick Lamar's 'To Pimp A Butterfly' which opens with the same song, an album that explores similar ideas of blackness, masculinity, and conflicting emotion) over a long take that can stand up the greatest long takes in cinematic history, Moonlight feels almost meditative. Even that doesn't quite get at it. It is like a prayer: quiet, soft, and impossibly important.


We meet Chiron, and see his life unfold in three acts. Every actor and actress provide pitch-perfect performances. The score and soundtrack complement the film phenomenally, borrowing from classical music, oldies, and hip-hop. There is a moment in the final act of the film when a character plays a song for another that is both beautiful and heartbreaking. I still can't hear that song without getting a little emotional. However, unlike La La Land, which is a film of sound, Moonlight is a film of silences. There are moments when everything is conveyed solely through the actors' eyes, with stand-out performances by Maserhala Ali in the first act, and Trevante Rhodes and Andre Holland in the last act.

Many enjoy saying that what is so captivating about Moonlight is the way the story of Chiron transcends sexuality and race to tell a story that anyone can relate to, but I believe that this thinking is flawed at best, and problematic at worst. While Chiron's eyes beam with a self-hatred and insecurity that any human can relate to, the film makes it abundantly clear that Moonlight's story is about blackness.

It is interesting that so many claim it transcends race, since so much of the story and setting and characters are entrenched in the black culture of contemporary USA. No, Moonlight isn't a film of transcendence; Moonlight is a film of acceptance. It is a film about learning to accept oneself, even when the world at large seems to deny one their identity. It is a film about the people we love and how they affect us, and how we affect them in turn. It is a film about love and hate.

La La Land is, more or less, a film about nostalgia. And that is why it is vital that Moonlight wins the Oscar.

In addition to being a contemporary story about a gay black man, it is a wholly unique film, unlike anything before it. La La Land is undoubtedly indebted to the Hollywood musical tradition, and while Hollywood loves movies about itself, I believe that giving the Oscar to Moonlight would send a far-reaching message. That maybe the best movie isn't the one that brings us the most comfort, but the one that most challenges us. That The Academy for Film Arts and Sciences would rather look forward to the untold and unique stories of the future rather than the trite and cliché stories of the past. Both are incredible films that will surely hold up for years to come, but for the year 2016, for the United States that we currently live in, and for the films of the future, Moonlight is the right choice for Best Picture.

Martin Hernandez is a writer based in Sacramento, California.