As The Golden Globes predicted, we head into the Oscar race with three movies leading the pack for the Academy Award for Best Picture: “Moonlight” - a low-budget, independent feature about the maturation of a young, gay African-American boy, growing up in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami; “Manchester By the Sea” - the Matt Damon produced indie about the experiences of a tortured, blue-collar 30-something rying to cope with his own personal tragedy when suddenly presented with a life option he cannot absorb and “LA LA Land” - the impossibly sunny and primary color-saturated Damien Chazelle musical in which two struggling LA artists fall in love, suffer relatively minor complications, and end up with everything they’ve ever wanted, except each other - which turns out to be okay too.
Curiously, I can’t remember the last time front runners like these spread across such a wide, domestic cultural breadth, all quintessentially American, and each, coincidentally, a reasonably spot-on avatar for the contemporary tripartite culture wars highlighted by our recent election.
“Moonlight” is the Black Lives Matter movie, a poignantly told story that gets the point across with such power precisely because it does not involve itself in police shootings, but does suggest all the socio-economic and cultural background that evokes the deadly turmoil that has given rise to that movement.
“Manchester by the Sea” is that white, blue-collar movie about people who are struggling personally and financially, maybe not yet adrift in opiate dependency, but definitely all about their familial and local loyalties, suffering through the downturns and tragedies commonly associated today with people who turned to Trump - though Manchester itself voted for Hillary by better than two to one.
Which brings us to “LA LA Land” - the odds on favorite. A quirkily joyous paean to the big city struggle for your inner dreams. It begins with the mother of all traffic jams, a cluster-fuck so bleak, everyone breaks into song and dance, mutilating the roofs and truck beds of their own precious vehicles in their anger and frustration. The actress and the musician meet, meet again - she’s adorable, he’s a jerk (but adorable) - and finally give in to the inevitable with a twilight tap dance in a park with a view. They break up when the actress, who would cut off her arm for a continuing role on the worst show on TV, excoriates her beau for selling out on his passion. He, obligingly, completely forgets to tell her that duh, the only way he can achieve his goal is to sell out for a couple of years to bank enough money to make it a reality; would she please agree to tough it out with him? No babies going up in flames here. Five years later, she’s the Queen of the Lot, and he owns the hottest jazz club in town.
This, of course, is the white progressive movie, the California film that goes with a vote that went for the loser by a 4.2 million margin - a vote that fell short nationally not in the least because so many people (in particular fair-weather Sanders people who decided to chuck it all when the going got a little tough and their guy bit the dust) just couldn’t be bothered to get out there and vote, so convinced were they that happy endings were their God-given destiny.
And the Oscar goes to…