Shedding Some Moonlight on La La Land’s Oscars

Shedding Some Moonlight on La La Land’s Oscars

Between them, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, managed to make the 89th Academy Awards end with a bizarre climax. Somehow Beatty was handed the envelope for Female in a Leading Role and stuttered from there toward a car crash not usually reserved for such a prestigious event. Dunaway jumped in, saw “La La Land” printed on the card, and the rest was history. Until history was corrected and Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight was revealed as the true winner.

The end took away from what should have been the true climax. The Academy’s triumphant step away from the dark ages and proof that #OscarsSoWhite has been acknowledged and corrected. But that statement, and position, threatens to diminish from Moonlight as a picture. The question is: did it win purely on merit when it seemed La La Land was nailed on to clean up in all categories?

The only way to judge, is to review each film on its strengths.

Moonlight, while being grounded in the harsh reality of Little’s life in the hood from the beginning, still manages to achieve stunning visual work. The rotating camera from the opening scene plants the viewer in a Boyz in the Hood world painted on an artistic canvas. He is befriended by Mahershala Ali’s Juan. He took the Oscar for this role last night, and it’s clear to see why.

The scene when he is teaching Little to swim is as immersive a piece of cinema you’ll see this year, matched by its supposed simplicity.

But nothing in Moonlight is simple. It’s a layered movie that takes Little from the bullied confused pre-adolescent to the isolated teenage version, Chiron. Here the movie explores the themes of sexuality that have become the main tag attached to the project. It wouldn’t work if it was just an exploration of this topic. Themes are compounded by his crack addict mother, isolation, and the powerful but fleeting connections Chiron makes.

By the final act, Chiron has become Black. A fully-grown man. Hardened by the world and his experiences. He is now the drug dealer and the mood of the film manages to again pour sympathy onto its protagonists. He’s assured as a man while still removed from others and life.

For a film that handles dark issues, it also has a tender side. With it, comes a great hope.

There isn’t a weak performance from any of the cast, the tonal shots and soundtrack throughout bring the vision close to ideal.

The big rival for the Oscar, La La Land, had more than soundtrack going for it. It’s a musical. Well, kind of.

It starts as one, setting its stall out with a number straight from the top. It’s unashamedly nostalgic for a by-gone era of Hollywood. Characters even refer to this with a tongue-in-cheek exchange. If you had no clue Damien Chazelle was the director, you’d soon ask the question. Jazz references from Ryan Gosling’s character, Sebastian, and the recurring loops bring back memories of Whiplash.

However, the first section of the film remains in the musical mould. Emma Stone took home the Oscar for Best Actress for her Mia, it’s questionable if this in hindsight was a case of sharing the love. La La Land tied for record nominations yet drew many blanks. She is good in this role, but is she better than Natalie Portman’s turn in Jackie? This writer has to say she isn’t.

But Gosling and Stone do share a good chemistry. It’s not obvious to begin with. You slowly get sucked into their chase of a shared dream. With it, come the recurring melodies that will make even a musical skeptic leave the cinema humming.

For a film that sets out to be a throwback, it does eventually become a contemporary offering. You’ll be forgiven for thinking at the halfway point the musical idea has been shelved. It’s also at this moment the movie starts to find its heart and voice.

This isn’t a failing. Chazelle is a great filmmaker and knows when to push and pull the audience. The closing chapter of the film presents an ending that the Oscars debacle on stage last night gave a tip of the cap to. It also questions if this was a movie about Hollywood for Hollywood or if it pays homage to the perceived simple lives that pursue love above everything else.

It could be that such ambiguity made judges opt for Moonlight when the two were so closely matched but one had a clear and important message.

If we were to split heirs, it could be argued Moonlight starts strong then levels out. The narrative jumping as it does, mean blanks have to be filled in, and the final act leaves one wondering if the Chiron we knew would have become this version. But we see that the essence of Little is still there. Still, the conclusion isn’t as explosive as what precedes it.

La La Land on the other hand, gains momentum the further into the film it gets. All the seeds that have been sowed throughout – musically, visually, emotionally – are brought together for an ending that surpasses expectation.

It means either film would have been a worthy winner and there’s something fitting that, for a time, they both knew what it felt like to be declared Best Picture.

You can’t have a tie in the Academy Awards, but this comes as close to one as you’ll ever see.


Ranieri Reign Makes Case for Manager Rules Review

Ranieri Reign Makes Case for Manager Rules Review

Claudio Ranieri – the man responsible for taking Leicester City to dreamland – was brought crashing back to reality with the ruthless nature of the Premier League once again being displayed by a twitchy chairman. He becomes the fifth top flight manager to leave his post this campaign, and the fourth out of the last five to win the title only to be axed the following season. The time to analyse each individual case on its merits has passed – if Ranieri can be sacked, there is no measure of safety to consider – it’s time to question the staff system as a whole.

Before offering an alternative to the current way of life for football managers, it’s worth noting every club making a change has clear (if cold) reasons for doing so. Swansea believed Bob Bradley was in a sink or swim scenario with his lack of Premier League experience and showed no signs of doing even a doggy paddle.

Mike Phelan on the other hand, had shown signs of improvement at Hull City. His seemed a thankless task: a small squad, no money, an eleventh-hour appointment. Despite the cards being stacked against him, he soldiered on. That aforementioned improvement didn’t translate into the only element club owners care about when faced with relegation: points.

That’s why Crystal Palace replaced Alan Pardew with Sam Allardyce. The former went on long runs without collecting many, the latter almost guarantees survival.

It’s the fear of not surviving that prompted Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha to wield the axe at Leicester. (Yes, the chairman’s name was copy and pasted.)

It’s the players at the King Power who should be taking ownership of a change in their application and work ethic. It’s clear to see their interest levels have only peaked in the Champions League. They used player power, regardless of what Craig Shakespeare says in press conferences, to avoid taking direct responsibility for their attitude and performance.

Ironically, the man favourite to replace Claudio Ranieri – Roberto Mancini – left Manchester City for the same reason.

He lost that dressing room and Manchester City hired a pussy cat. The Foxes have gone the opposite way, fired Mr Nice Guy and hired a disciplinarian. Makes sense when people need whipping into shape but the players who lacked professionalism will rue the day they got a good man fired.

All these managers needed the same thing: Time.

The panic of losing Premier League status, and all its rich financial rewards, has chairman all too eager to press the panic button. The League Managers Association (LMA) have a thankless task. They have no negotiating power in the boardroom and can only transition managers into the job market. The chance of them ever taking a big club to tribunal is on the same scale as it was for Leicester to retain the title and win the Champions League this season.

If the managers and the LMA can’t enable a fairer work place, who can?

Well, it has to come from the top. It would require UEFA to make it law or for the Premier League to take a bold step and make rules for clubs on these shores that would remove the equal playing field they currently enjoy with the rest of Europe.

And while this sounds outlandish at first, it’s worth remembering the Premier League has set out to differentiate itself from its European equivalents. The new branding seen this year, without the need for a sponsor, was an effort to make the Premier League a global symbol like the NFL or NBA.

It’s from those American counterparts they could take inspiration.

Before we get to their methods, there is already a system in place that could afford managers protection: the players’ transfer window. Seen as an awkward disruption nowadays (ask a West Ham fan about Dimitri Payet) and a way for clubs to inflate prices, it does offer one thing to players – a settled block period without the threat of being moved on.

Of course, a club can fire a player by releasing him from his contract, but they see the financial loss as too great to ever do this. Unless the player involved is Joey Barton. This gives players a fighting chance to prove themselves. And when the writing is on the wall, at least they have time to prepare and fashion a deal with their agent for a new club.

The modern day manager goes week-to-week – sometimes day-to-day – with the threat of the chop in the background. If they were afforded the same protection by only being removable during the player transfer window, clubs would have to show the same commitment they gave on day one of the manager’s reign.

Maybe it would only result in the January transfer window becoming a crazy merry-go-round of players and managers, but there’s also a chance clubs would buckle in for the season. Clubs that still felt the need to part ways when relegation loomed would only be able to promote from within, giving backroom staff a chance and some form of continuity.

But maybe the Americans have got it correct. In NFL, coaches are fired on the first day of the regular season. It’s known as Black Monday and several sackings is seen as harsh. A regular debate within NFL is whether firing bosses actually improves results. They still make changes during the regular season but across American sports it’s not as prevalent as it is in football.

So, what if there was no transfer window for managers in football because clubs couldn’t replace a Head Coach with an external appointment at any point in the season?

It would ensure clubs got behind their managers 100%. They’d have to make it work. The time, and undue pressure a lack of it brings, would be afforded to coaches often struggling against resistant waters. Some players don’t like a new ethos or coaching methods and in today’s football world, they know all the power lies with them.

If a chairman had to retain his manager, that power would swing back to where it should be: with the boss.

These ideas are the extreme end of the spectrum but the results they offer would please fans and clubs alike. Currently agents have more influence than the people that work long hours coaching teams and preparing for matches. A safety net and legal assurances for managerial staff would reduce this ugly side-effect of today’s game.

It seems far-flung right now, but everything has a breaking point. If the Premier League carries on its current trajectory, it will buckle under its own weight. The manager sack race is just another indication football is in silly season.

It’s time for calmer heads to prevail, and loyalty and respect to have more bearing than the potential of a few short-term victories to snatch the pound signs flying around.

The Real Fan Problem at Manchester City

The Real Fan Problem at Manchester City

After watching City overcome Monaco in one of the most exciting European nights imaginable, it’d be easy to think the next article will be wax lyrical about Pep Guardiola’s side. Or, perhaps to fit in with the mainstream media, it will take away from the spirit shown and focus on the many faux pas we saw and bemoan two poor defences. It will do none of these things but it will attack a certain element of Manchester City, while defending its most important aspect: The fans.

When Willy Caballero saved from Falcao’s penalty, this writer celebrated like City had won the Champions League, such was the level of tension and passion in the stadium. It was a night where the Etihad took it up a notch. The fans feeding off the team’s fight, the buzz energising the players. The perfect example of the symbiotic relationship that should exist between those in the blue shirts and those in the stands.

If the people that have the direct say in City’s success – the men on the pitch – can see the importance of the fan base, why can’t the people that organise the club’s affairs do the same?

The official line from Manchester City will be that the fans are the number one priority: #Together. It’s great marketing, and on some level, there’ll be people that work for the club who believe it. But constant oversight and a lack of corrective action makes one doubt how genuine the words are at corporate level.

Of course, the example last night, and reason for this article, is the continued problem of gaining entry to Etihad Stadium on match day – especially European nights.

To have it happen once is forgivable, twice is disconcerting but no major issue, for it to happen constantly with no cure in sight is sacrilege.

Just like the Celtic game at home, queues zigzagged around the concourse, patiently waiting in lines that needn’t be there but the club refuse to address. Thousands of fans – that have paid full price for their ticket – are expected to miss up to twenty minutes of the first half. All because of City’s arrogance.

Before we go any further, let’s nip the two favourite retorts in the bud once and for all.

Get to the ground with plenty of time to spare.

Fans shouldn’t have to arrive one hour prior to kick-off to ensure access to their seat.

Increased security measures will cause delays.

The extra searches do not slow down or hinder access to turnstiles. They mean the person(s) being searched are delayed by thirty seconds. The queue moves past them, the turnstile never stops turning.

Another, weakly spoken, response, is fans arriving at the wrong gate cause delays. This does happen, and cup games mean new guests or people in different seats, but it does not equate to thirty minute delays. If there is any argument for ticket issues, it’s staff not directing supporters quick enough when their card or ticket is repeatedly jammed into a turnstile that’s displaying a red light. Patience, in this moment, actually saves time.

No, none of the diatribe aimed back at the fans adds up. A main contributory factor is clear: unnecessary redesigns have purposely limited the volume of traffic at preferred gates.

Take the M2 to M1 situation. Once upon a time – before the club started their final corporate solution of hospitality clubs and glass tunnels – allowed fans in the third tier of the South Stand to use both turnstiles. And the traffic flowed, not a queue in sight.

Fast forward to the present day, a wall has been built meaning those gaining entry via M2 can’t walk across to the stairwell for the upper tier. The preferred upper class customer no longer need worry about the upper tier riff raff sharing their turnstile. They can watch them queue instead.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Donald Trump’s comments, it’s that people don’t like walls being built.

The annoying thing about this wall is that it has a lovely set of double doors. The same doors that are opened post-match to speed-up everyone’s exit from the stadium. But, for reasons known only to City – those doors must remain closed until the ref blows his whistle for the last time.

etihad-stadium-the-problem-doorIt’d make no sense to allow the queue to dissipate and direct people once inside. Best to keep lots of people disgruntled, right? And it means staff manning the M2 side get to stand around and avoid work based stress. Excellent for all involved…


Maybe United fans not being in the Champions League have gotten the last laugh: it gives them a free night to take jobs at the Etihad and help run City’s European nights.

It’s not as if City don’t know how many people to expect or can’t call upon vast experience of running match days. No fan should have to wait thirty minutes to gain entry to a ground. And it keeps happening. Against Everton, as reported here, the staff at the turnstile broke procedure and opened the exit gates to allow fans in. That, obviously, can never be the solution, but by now there should have been one.

Instead City show signs of madness, repeating mistakes, expecting a different outcome, and continue to neglect the working class fan. You can put your mortgage on the fact that if ten corporate visitors were made to queue outside in the cold for twenty minutes into the first half, there’d never be anything that resembles a line of people within a mile radius of Eastlands ever again.

Traditional fans, worried about becoming marginalised, continue to see basic consideration diminish. There’s no suggestion here it comes right from the top – Sheikh Mansour has gone to great pains to maintain inclusion for all City fans, all over the world – it’s the daily heads of office that are guilty of mismanagement, oversight, and a lack of care.

The current entry system (not security checks, the poor use of all turnstile resources) is not fit for purpose. If the people responsible for direction and management of City match days do not use some common sense to remove the current façade, they make themselves as effective as the crippled system they stand by.

Before the decision makers in Abu Dhabi consider further expansion, player acquisitions or ground improvements, they should look at the basic running of Etihad Stadium. There’s a lot of deadwood that needs removing.