People happen to us. They step in front of us, the stand behind us, they tower over us, they love us, they need us, they hate us, they remember us, they forget us, they inspire us, they help us. We are here with and for each other. It’s easy to forget about that in a disconnected culture where our closest relationships seem to be with reflected images of ourselves — or else with that brightly-lit screen that showcases refracted versions of ourselves for us to admire. It’s easy to forget our social bonds hold the whole game together.
The surprise of Richard Linklater’s approach as a filmmaker is to find the magic in the ordinary. It isn’t even that he finds the magic, it’s that he is perceptive enough to notice it. His most dazzling special effect is the sparks that drive thought, and those thoughts that turn into permanent markings on another’s experience. By choosing interesting people as his subjects, he’s taken us through his inventive cinema of ideas throughout his career, but especially in his collaborations with Ethan Hawke, the Before Series, and the twelve years that would become Boyhood.
Film at 24 frames per second turns out to be the perfect medium to record the rapid fire flashes of time that exist in our unreliable memories of who we were once. As you age you’ll discover that these memories come flooding back in snapshots. Too many of the bad ones linger, the humiliating moments, like getting caught in a precarious sexual encounter or stealing a candy bar. Linklater’s not as interested in a self-pitying take on a young man’s coming of age. This isn’t a revenge tale or a hero’s story. Maybe he gets the girl but he doesn’t ever become a “winner.”
What no one ever really tells so many young American boys growing up is that we aren’t all born winners. Too many films now, almost every film made in this country, is about how winning is everything. When you spend so much time on the end goal you miss the in between. That is what Boyhood does — it takes a series of moments in the life of a family and strings them together to fly by more quickly, in movie time, and oh my god. The sad/beautiful truth about time is that it goes by. We can’t slow it down no matter how hard we live, how much money we spend, how many activities fill our time. The sun comes up, the sun sets and we’re another year older.
For this film to have come so far in the Oscar race is nothing short of miraculous. Like its subject, its success seems almost accidental, a fragile ascent. There are so many reasons why it should not be winning any awards. It’s an independent film that screened in Sundance. It didn’t make much money. It doesn’t rely on the box-office draw of its stars and it won’t “play” in China or South Korea. It doesn’t make the actors jump up and down and it doesn’t idealize humanity. It is something entirely extraordinary that this little movie has been voted through by nearly all the industry entities — with the exception of the producers and the actors so far.
Boyhood is the best film of the year that so people have not yet seen. It is a film that will never be topped nor even attempted. All too often the awards race collapses in a gasm of likes. When tasked with the job of finding the “best,” voters tend to pick what they like the best, not what is awards-worthy. So many love Boyhood but how can it compete with a thrill ride like Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman? A film that exploded into the industry for its bravura film directing (seemingly all one take) while it takes apart the two things many filmmakers loathe: critics and superhero movies. Everything that’s wrong about trying to do good work is attacked in Birdman, though the hero is also satirized for trying to tackle an intellectual endeavor. Side by side these two films are both accused of being gimmicky, successful for doing a camera trick that masks authentic storytelling. What they both are, really, is a celebration of the auteur, the writer/director whose vision is complete. They say different things. One is at life’s beginning, the other at life’s end. One is swept up in the magic of super powers, while the other is a rolling stone.
In the end, though, it gets down to two different visions of art – one by Inarritu, who relishes intensity, and the other by Linklater, who seems more inclined to draw from his actors some kind of truth — they are not symbols to Linklater but with Inarritu they feel very much like cogs in an elaborate metaphor. They are equally brilliant films that offer vastly different experiences.
That this year has been such a hard Oscar year, with so many disappointments, ending it with a celebration that the auteur is alive and well in American film is not a bad way to go. The other auteurs in the race are Wes Anderson and Damien Chazelle. They share the Best Picture lineup with collaborators like the team behind Selma, American Sniper, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything.
Of these only Selma is rooted in auteurism, with Ava DuVernay’s early career dedicated to it. As a writer/director formerly, DuVernay brought much of that to Selma, writing authentic facsimiles of Martin Luther King’s speeches and rewriting much of the blacklisted screenplay.
Here we can clearly illustrate the disappointment so many of us felt when Selma found its way into the race. While the same could be said for films like The Blind Side and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, when a film with this much acclaim earns only two nominations, and THOSE nominations, it’s virtually unheard of:
But the Academy’s willingness to both celebrate the auteur, which was alive on every scale this year, all the way up to blockbuster level with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, and to make an effort to acknowledge Selma, even though clearly it wasn’t as popular with the voters in any other category.
This year calls for an extraordinary winner in the Best Picture category. If Richard Linklater wins Best Director he’ll have broken a four year streak of directors from other countries winning the prize. With so many British imports in the acting, writing and directing category, it brings up the argument about what is happening to storytelling in this country? What is happening to our actresses? What is happening to our directors?
I don’t know many things. I don’t know what drives a consensus to align behind one movie. I don’t know why anyone would choose Boyhood over any other film but I do know that once in a lifetime movies like that don’t come around very often. When they do, and when they’re rewarded with gold statues it makes the whole ugly game seem worth it; what are awards meant for but the extraordinary?
People have told me for years not to care about the Oscars. They aren’t worth it. They’re not worth caring about because they really are, at heart, a popularity contest. Maybe that’s true. What they are more than anything, though, is a night of dreaming for the dreammakers. It’s a night when their dreams come true, when their hard work is at last recognized by their peers, when they can matter instead of the rest of us out there in the dark.
Eddie Redmayne, Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
JK Simmons, Whiplash
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Imitation Game (maybe Whiplash)
Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design, Makeup
Grand Budapest Hotel
The Theory of Everything
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Wild Tales (maybe Ida)
Virunga (maybe CitizenFour)
Live Action Short
Parvenah (maybe The Phone Call)