Moonlight Wins Best Picture


I haven’t seen Manchester by the Sea, Arrival or Hell or High Water and for all I know one of those might have deserved Best Picture. I also think La La Land and Moonlight are such different films it’s impossible to judge honestly which one was better. Both were very good. Neither was great. So I had no rooting interest in either. This Vox article, however, reminds me of something I hadn’t previously considered. Moonlight is the lowest-budgeted film ever to have won Best Picture.

Moonlight’s budget was $1.6 million, which is very low by most standards. (By contrast, fellow Best Picture nominees La La Land shot for $30 million, Hacksaw Ridge for $40 million, Arrival for $47 million, and Hell or High Water for $12 million.) And while its $22 million gross is terrific for such a low budget, it’s still the lowest-grossing of the Best Picture nominees.

Out of curiosity I looked up the budgets of a few well-known independent and alternative films.

Whit Stillman’s debut film Metropolitan cost $225,000.

Reservoir Dogs cost $1.3 Million.

Pulp Fiction, which certainly was the Best Picture of 1994, cost $8.5 million.

Before Sunrise cost $2.5 million.

Jennifer Lawrence’s debut (and still best) film Winter’s Bone came in at $2 million.

And the all time low budget champion Clerks cost $27,000 dollars.

As I said, I had no great rooting interest between Moonlight and La La Land. The best movie of the year rarely wins the Best Picture Oscar anyway. But in the age of $100 million dollar superhero films and $144 million dollar reboots, a film with a budget of $1.6 million dollars being named Best Picture is surely an encouraging sign. Even last year’s comparatively modest Best Picture Winner Spotlight cost over $20 million.

Moonlight’s budget is even more impressive when you take into account how Mahershala Ali won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. I hope prospective filmmakers learn all the right lessons. You can make a film about a demographic (black, working class gay men) most Hollywood studios like to ignore on a budget you might be able to raise off a Kickstarter campaign, and not only gain critical acclaim, but make money. Let’s hope that going forward we see more real people and fewer superheroes, more good camera work and less CGI, more first time actors and fewer big stars. Maybe Hollywood can finally get off the disastrous track its been on since the 1970s, when blockbusters, branding and advertising replaced imagination and creativity.

9 thoughts on “Moonlight Wins Best Picture”

  1. I used to go to 150 movies a year; now I rarely go. I would go to practically anything back in the 80s; I think I’m one of the few people who saw C.H.U.D. in the movie theater, and I sat through the whole thing. C.H.U.D. was actually better than Manchester by the Sea which I walked out of. Now normally I like Casey Afleck, but he and the rest of the cast were terrible in this movie. What method of acting is this where people respond as if they have just awoken from conscious sedation? The film seemed false and overtly contrived which is why I walked out. I have better things to do with my time. Indeed, the movie industry has been increasingly wasting my time in the past 10 years. How much lower can the movie industry descend? I feel like I am in the movie Das Boot, looking up as the depth charges explode around me, saying,”Ya, ya … Ya, ya.” I wonder what will be at the movieplex next week. Iron Man meets Abbott and Costello?

    1. There are a lot of factors going on. The first is the fall of United Artists and the turn to the blockbuster in the 1970s. Film became not about selling movie tickets but about branding and selling toys and souvenirs. French cinema ran out of gas in the late 1980s and become increasingly Americanized after La Femme Nikita. American cinema had a brief resurgence in the wake of Tarantino and Reservoir Dogs but that really couldn’t last. So we were left with the CGI laden superhero and fantasy junk we have now. I haven’t seen Manchester by the Sea but it sounds as if it’s engaging in the same kind of nostalgia for method acting and blue collar drama that La La Land is for musicals. Perhaps Moonlight’s unexplored demographic gave it a life that another movie wouldn’t have had, had it been about the same thing (coming of age as gay).

  2. stepping into an art house Portland theater in 2008 to see “Medicine for Melancholy” was a defining moment in my life. A small and simple film, but it showed me how much could be conveyed with so little in terms of resources available. To think that 8 years later the next film of Jenkins would be taking home a best picture award – it goes show that wherever we are failing in terms of economic and social issues, there are great strides being made culturally.

  3. Don’t we have to separate Oscars from art (and honesty)? The Oscars were, have always been, and will always be about the business. In other words, the dollars. Comparing dollar amounts of film budgets to their Oscar chances is like comparing the taste of eggs to the happiness level of their chicken progenitors.
    There are fabulous films that never came close to an Oscar nomination. There are the happiest of chickens whose eggs never made it to the supermarket shelf.

    1. Oh I agree. The best picture of the year rarely wins Best Picture.

      Movies that should have won Best Picture:

      Do the Right Thing
      Malcolm X
      Pulp Fiction
      In the Name of the Father

      But I do think that (even if it was designed to be a slap in the face of Trump) Moonlight’s getting Best Picture (and having a budget of only 1.6 million dollars) is a promising sign.

      It means a wider distribution. During the initial release, I couldn’t see it in the suburbs. Now I’ll probably be able to. It also means that younger filmmakers will be encouraged. You can imagine raising 1.6 million dollars. But 144 million (which is how much the Ghostbusters reboot cost) is more like the budget of a startup corporation than a mere film. You need venture capital and a significant advertising budget even to think about making a movie on that scale. But 1.6 million and a mostly on location shoot? Anybody can aspire to that.

      Moonlight winning was good for cinema.

  4. I confess I haven’t seen “Moonlight”. Yet.

    Where I live it isn’t available – but I hope it soon will be now.
    I agree that it’s winning is a a “promising sign” like so many others.
    Strange to think, but I believe the election of Trump will do more than the election of Obama to finally address racism.

  5. A movie theater by me is showing movies for seven bucks, and Moonlight and Logan are two of them. Yass please.

    1. Now that it’s won Best Picture it will probably come to the multiplex. La La Land’s already gotten wide distribution, another reason to be happy for Moonlight’s win.

      1. Tbh everything I heard about La La Land made me feel like “I didn’t even like ‘great’ musicals. Why would I watch a bad one?”

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