‘Moonlight’ earns top prize among DFW film critics

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In “Moonlight,” Juan (Mahershala Ali) teaches protagonist Chiron (Alex Hibbert) to swim.
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The Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association on Tuesday unveiled its picks for the top films of the year, bestowing Moonlight with the award for best picture of 2016.

It seems as though the coming-of-age film about an introverted African-American boy struggling with his own sexuality and fitting in shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. After recently earning six Golden Globe nominations and three Screen Actors Guild nominations, the best picture honor is one of four accolades for the tender film.

Moonlight also obtained the Russell Smith Award — named for the late Dallas Morning News critic that credits the year’s best “low-budget or cutting edge independent film” — while director Barry Jenkins (upcoming Netflix series Dear White People) and supporting actor Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage, upcoming Hidden Figures) won for their respective categories.

“2016 started out as a slow year for memorable filmmaking, but it has cascaded since August, with many amazing releases, from Moonlight to Hell or High Water,” said DFWFCA Vice President Arnold Wayne Jones (DallasVoice.com). “The association’s list of winners — which are a consensus of more than 30 different voices — does an excellent job of coalescing informed opinion and giving us a critical consensus that, I feel, does an exceptional job of capturing the breadth of filmmaking.”

One of the year’s favorite films was best picture runner-up Manchester by the Sea. The beautifully wrought film earned filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan (Gangs of New York) the award for best screenplay and Casey Affleck the best actor title for his commanding performances as a grief-stricken man who must return to his hometown to face his greatest demons.

Joining Affleck in top acting glory is Academy Award-winner Natalie Portman, who was chosen by the association as best actress for her devastating, powerful portrayal of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in Pablo Larraín’s haunting Jackie.

“It’s no question Portman and Affleck deserved recognition for their powerhouse performances. They were tearfully moving with emotion and fueled by numbness, which is never easy,” said group member Matt Mungle (“The Mungle on Movies,” MungleShow.com).

In the supporting actress slot, Fences’ Viola Davis rounded off the major categories and picked up a win for her impressive turn as a devoted wife living in pre-Civil Rights America, while Moonlight’s Naomie Harris (Collateral Beauty) took the runner-up position.

Last year, we saw many of the year’s best titles (Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road) in the first six months. The first half of 2016 was rather dry in comparison, save for Captain America: Civil War and Everybody Wants Some!! It seemed as though studios were reserving their finest work for one overwhelming fall movie season.

As association president and former Denton Record-Chronicle sports editor Todd Jorgenson (Cinemalogue.com, D Magazine) so eloquently stated, with the amount of good films that were put out toward the end of 2016, it truly was a trying time for members to pick their favorites. It all depended on mood and surroundings from the day. However, to “look at the artistry and diversity on display in [the group’s final selections], there’s something for everyone.”

For a list of all the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association winners and nominees, visit dfwcritics.com.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work on FreshFiction.tv. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.


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