Boyhood

Of all the great, deserving, American filmmakers that haven’t won the Best Director prize yet, Richard Linklater is up there with the most deserving. His filmography is as original and diverse as any of his generation. In 2014 he released quite possibly the best movie of his career. To many of us it’s unthinkable that the Academy might fail to honor such a landmark in American cinema with Oscars for Best Picture or Best Director. It stings when any great film is denied its place in the ranks of Best Picture winners, but we can regard it as inauguration into a pantheon of films just as prestigious: “Do The Right Thing”, “Goodfellas”, “The Player”, “Pulp Fiction”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, “Fargo”, “L.A. Confidential”, “Saving Private Ryan”, “Traffic”, “Lost in Translation”, “Sideways”, “Brokeback Mountain”, “There Will Be Blood”, “The Social Network”, “The Tree of Life & Zero Dark Thirty”. Whatever happens on February 23rd, Boyhood will join an ever-growing list of classics.

1) Boyhood, 2014

You’ve heard and read countless raves for this 12-years-in-the-making masterpiece; what else is there to say? Linklater used everything he learned in his 25 year career to make this movie. The pacing, the direction, the editing, the writing and the acting are all what we’ve come to know as Linklater-esque. There’s an every-growing maturity that is starting to comfortably creep into his work and, believe it or not, I think the man has many more great movies to come. What touched me most about “Boyhood” wasn’t just the sweet performances – especially by Arquette – but the way he makes the movie flow in such an organic and beautiful pattern. Many think it was about a boy growing up, but the film hit me hardest when it dealt with the bond between mother and child. It hit notes that felt so personal to me.

2) Waking Life, 2001

“Waking Life” is where Linklater decided to take huge risks and make personal, innovative cinema. It came out in 2001 when the theme of dreams and identity was very prevalent at the movies with the release of “Mulholland Drive” and “Memento”. Shot in Rotoscope and delivering vibrantly alive images, the film was a breakthrough for Linklater, unafraid to delve into topics that would become a source of obsession for him in the years to come: The meaning of life, dreams, freewill, consciousness and many more existential questions are at the heart of the movie. Its images linger in your head for weeks, months, even years – with every frame soaked in colors and palettes that have no limits to the shapes, sizes or imagination that can be used.

3) Dazed and Confused, 1993

This was the breakthrough. The first time I saw this movie I knew I had seen a damn-near classic. The atmosphere envelops you and makes you feel like you actually know every single person on-screen. The attention to detail is astounding. You are there in 1976 Texas, on the last day of High School for the graduates of Lee High. There are so many different characters, and so many different plots that, in a way, the film seems to feel plotless. This was a sign of things to come for the young Texan filmmaker. Although this was a big studio picture, the narrative structure was anything but conventional, focusing more on character than actual storyline. Linklater’s 25 year obsession with the passage of time is very apparent here as the film seems to take place within a 24 hour time frame and uses that to further explore the routes many of the characters are about to take in their lives. 

4) Before Sunset, 2004
5) Before Midnight, 2013

Celine and Jesse.  It started with “Before Sunrise” and then continued with the beautiful “Before Sunset” and capped off with the mature, pessimistic “Before Midnight”. Richard Linklater’s trilogy of romance in European cities has been building a solid cult following for more than two decades now.  “Before Sunset” is a masterful examination of love, family life and conversation.  Never has an audience wanted an on-screen character to cheat on his wife more than when Jesse shows up at Celine’s apartment in the climactic scene. Celine is indelibly played by Julie Delpy and Jesse is superbly played by Ethan Hawke. Linklater and his two actors wrote the screenplay, much of it clearly improvised, from the artists’ own experiences and points of views. This organic style brings a real sense of authenticity to the films. These movies ask us questions about love that many studio movies refuse to ask. Is our view of love as a society conflicted, disjointed? Or can we really love someone eternally, in a “forever” sense of the term? How much can we compromise until we end up losing sense of ourselves and our own independence? There is not one answer to any of these questions. Linklater is a curiosity seeker who asks more than he answers and the way “Before Midnight” ends makes you wonder what can possibly happen next. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Celine and Jesse.

6) The School of Rock, 2003

In “Boyhood”, Ethan Hawke’s dad creates a Post-Beatles “Black Album” mixtape for his son. Something tells me it’s something Jack Black’s riotous imposter substitute teacher Dewey Finn would do for his class in “The School of Rock”. Just like Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous”, this is Linklater’s love letter to rock and roll. A passionate, studio-backed project that did exactly what it had to do and did it in such an expertly crafted way. Black’s Dewey Finn is a firm believer of the power of rock and roll – he wants to pass down his knowledge to the classically trained school kids he substitute teaches.  “I have been touched by your kids… and I’m pretty sure that I’ve touched them”, Finn exclaims to a horrified group of parents whose jaws drop at the comment. We get what he’s saying; he’s just passin’ the torch, man. 

7) Tape, 2001
The passage of time gets dealt with again in this semi-experimental film that, with “Waking Life”, kickstarted Linklater’s second phase as a filmmaker after the ill received “The Newton Boys”. Taking place inside a hotel room in real time, “Tape” stars Linklater muse Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and an incredibly powerful Uma Thurman. In the ensuing hours our trio dissects a painful high school memory that may or may not be true. Linklater, the Auteur, is in full display here with the film’s themes of memory, time and place taking center stage. However, the most fascinating aspect of Tape is that you don’t fully know what is real and what is not. Some characters may be lying or might have just perceived events in a different way.  The 86 nail biting minutes the filmmaker lays out are thought provoking to say the least. This might just be the hidden gem of the Linklater canon. 

8) Bernie, 2012
Tackling the real-life story of a Texan man who shot and killed a “companion” in the back, you might expect one of the darker films in Linklater’s filmography. Suffice to say that what we got instead was quite possibly the most likeable murderer in cinema history. Bernie Tiede, as played by a never better Jack Black, was a well-liked church going fella who didn’t seem to have a bad bone in his body. What led to him committing such a terrible crime? Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth’s screenplay tries to dissect the events and come to an understanding. However, like most of the director’s movies, the answers don’t come easy; in fact, there might not even be many by the time the movie is done. It’s a fascinating look at human nature and, if at first it seems distant from his other movies, it couldn’t be more relevant to the themes he’s been seeking out his entire career. 

9) Slacker, 1991
Here’s where it started. This classic Gen-X film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress just a few years ago (and for good reason). Here is a director defining a generation, speaking volumes about human weirdness and connection.  “Slacker” is a film that flows from character to character on the streets, apartments and cafes of Austin, Texas. It is plotless, aimless but nevertheless mesmerizing in its random meetings and conversations that seem to connect to one another in unique, original and trippy ways. It isn’t hard to consider “Slacker” a ‘Stoner Classic’, but to call it that would also take away from the fact that it can be appreciated sober, as an organic exercise to open up your senses and make you think hard about our conscience and subconscious. 

10) Me and Orson Welles, 2010
Linklater’s ode to the stage came and went faster than any movie he has released in his 25 year career. This despite solid reviews and an incredible performance by Christian McKay as a rambunctious, youthful, Orson Welles trying to prove his worth by staging a play of “Julius Cesar”. The film takes place in 1937 New York and the attention to detail is beautifully rendered as Linklater gives us something he’s never given us: a period piece. This is a pleasingly simple but satisfying dramedy that pays tribute to one of the giants of our time and worked as a breather for Linklater, in between all the thoughtful dialogue-driven works of art he seems to consistently deliver effortlessly.

Writer-director Richard Linklater’s latest and unique cinematic achievement is less about a 12-year production and more because of his almost seamless blend of the melodramatic and the quotidian. One doesn’t need a context to appreciate Boyhood, but the film does need a little defense against some younger twitterers whose reactions can be summarized as “What’s the big deal?” When Gravity came out a bit more than a year ago, a thousand science-fiction-loving bloggers leapt to their keyboards to explain why the film was a “game changer”; Boyhood doesn’t have a constituency that’s quite so…naturally vocal, so this post is here for the next time someone shrugs at the marvels of Boyhood.

First, when have you ever seen a bildungsroman (a.k.a. coming-of-age story) where the plot hinged on nothing but the coming of age? No one does that! There’s always something else – Huck Finn helping Jim down the river, Pip unlocking the secret of his fortune, Narnia to be saved, Traveling Pants to be secured, the Stand By Me kids looking for the body, Pi trying to survive the raft with the tiger – authors never trust you to “only” experience a child’s maturing without some kind of larger artifice. If every other growing-up story is a symphony, Boyhood is the same song “unplugged” with no more than an acoustic guitar. And suddenly, you’re hearing the beauty of the notes in a way you never before understood.

Ever since Georges Méliès put his fantastical dreams on screen more than a century ago – dramatized by Martin Scorsese in Hugo three years ago – people have been trying to strip film narratives of their artifice. A laudable impulse against grandiosity and “unrealism” has inspired everything from the first documentaries to John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) to the Italian neo-realists to the anti-“cinema de papa” films of the French New Wave to the “gutsy” movies of the Hollywood Renaissance to the 1980s indie films by people like Jim Jarmusch and Steven Soderbergh to the Dogme 95 manifesto. That said, the exact tension between the demands of narrative and the desire for “lifelike” conditions was never expressed better, or funnier, than in Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s Adaptation (2002), in an exchange between “Charlie Kaufman,” played by Nicolas Cage, and screenwriting guru Robert McKee (who is still religiously followed by Pixar and half of Hollywood today), played by Brian Cox:

KAUFMAN
Sir, what if a writer is attempting to create a story where nothing much happens, where people don’t change, they don’t have any epiphanies. They struggle and are frustrated and nothing is resolved. More a reflection of the real world —

MCKEE
The real world?

KAUFMAN
Yes, sir.

MCKEE
The real f—ing world? First of all, you write a screenplay without conflict or crisis, you’ll bore your audience to tears. Secondly: nothing happens in the world? Are you out of your f—ing mind? People are murdered every day! There’s genocide, war, corruption! Every f—ing day somewhere in the world somebody sacrifices his life to save someone else! Every f—ing day someone somewhere makes a conscious decision to destroy someone else! People find love! People lose it! A child watches her mother beaten to death on the steps of a church! Someone goes hungry! Somebody else betrays his best friend for a woman! If you can’t find that stuff in life, then you, my friend, don’t know CRAP about life! And WHY THE F— are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie? I don’t have any use for it! I don’t have any bloody use for it!

KAUFMAN
Okay, thanks.

The truth is that McKee has a point: the ineffable feeling of the everyday has always taxed the patience of movie audiences. John Cassavetes and Andy Warhol well knew it while doing their 1960s experiments; today’s mumblecore artists know it as well. It’s very, very difficult to get audiences to invest in something with the veracity of a surveillance video for 90 minutes. When a filmmaker tries to produce that feeling of unrehearsed spontaneity, s/he almost always has to resort to certain tricks. Understated lighting and soft-speaking actors can help, as in films like The Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Celebration (1998). But all too often, narrative asserts its priorities, and the final thirds of such films tend to favor melodrama. Rarely, filmmakers can be boldly stylish even as they seek to highlight the everyday-ness of things, as Warhol was, and as Terrence Malick has lately been doing with films like The Tree of Life – not that everyone appreciates his efforts.

Malick’s fellow filmmaking Texan Richard Linklater, in his quarter-century of a career, has proved that he can be as bold and experimental as anyone – if you’re not sure about that, re-watch Waking Life (2001). Roger Ebert wrote that it’s not what a film’s about but how it’s about what it’s about, and Linklater found a deceptively terrific tone for Boyhood that’s all the more right for how it makes some people go “meh.” The trick is that the melodramatic moments and the “normal” moments feel all of a piece; they complement each other perfectly.

The big moments include one stepfather throwing things at the dinner table, another stepfather stopping Mason as he comes home late, the actual father at the bowling alley learning what his daughter remembers, Mom’s final scene about the shortness of life, Mason’s breakup on the bleacher seats, and Mom grabbing her kids and moving them out of the bad stepfather’s house. The more quotidian moments include video-game-playing, chore-doing, camping, shooting, politics-talking, and walking and biking around small-town Texas. This is a film where time marches on even as it seems like anything could occur. Thanks to some strong performances and Linklater’s clever mise-en-scène, which echoes the better filmmaking realists, Boyhood’s big moments feel as though they just happened to happen, and the little moments feel like tiny shards from some larger symbolic mosaic. When we arrive at the final half-hour, and Mason’s graduation party, we’re in a sort of giddy state between realism and melodrama that very few films have achieved. As the friends congratulate Mason, as Mom and Dad confer for one of the only times in the film, as Dad confides in Mason that he never liked his beautiful girlfriend, we almost don’t know how to feel – should we expect a big melodramatic culmination? Should we expect this to be as prosaic as pissing on a campfire? It feels like a little bit of both, and that feels almost unprecedented for a film’s final act…almost a brand-new type of imitation of life.

In 2014, we expect breakthroughs in realism to come only from television, perhaps from a show like Orange is the New Black, which is also a virtuosic modern blend of the everyday and the narrative-driven. As a movie, Boyhood has to ace the routine and stick the landing all at once. Yes, you could see a few breathless wobbles, particularly during Mason and Mom’s final scene, where Linklater shoehorned in framed photos of moments that we’d never seen, to remind us that this has been a 12-year journey – without resorting to flashbacks. (Imagine this film with flashbacks! Entirely destroying the sense of ineffable inevitability.) Mason’s spat with his photography teacher was a little too well-timed for the end of the film’s second act, just when things are meant to be bleakest (as Robert McKee teaches). But a few trembles wouldn’t stop the judges from awarding this a 10 out of 10.

Ever since someone said, “Every fiction film is partly a documentary, and every documentary is partly a fiction,” people have tried to split the difference, and if Richard Linklater didn’t quite hybridize the two classic bildungsroman franchises, 7Up and Harry Potter, into 160 elegant minutes, he came as close as anyone ever will. (As a side note, one wonders how well-received a similar movie would have been about an old man becoming 12 years older.) All this in a raw-edged, almost unsentimental film about the sensitive kids of working-class, divorced people, a film as proletarian as it is protean. Boyhood is already the film of a decade, but we’re not in bad shape if it becomes the film of this decade.

Weirdly, the most radical thing about Boyhood may be its title and the fact that it isn’t Childhood (About a Boy was taken). Deep in the red-meat heart of red-state America, even a boy named Mason is growing up painting his nails and piercing his ears, more metrosexual than his grandparents could have imagined. Brit Hume had a point when he stood up for Chris Christie: our culture is relatively feminized, but the Mason character provides compelling evidence that The Kids Are All Right with that. Because Boyhood begins in 2002 and ends in 2014, Mason naturally signifies a sort of sifter that decides what to keep and what to throw away from the previous century. And what a beautiful testament to our country and culture, that despite our divisive politics, divorce epidemic, and digital overload (Mason loudly rejects the latter), we can still raise Masons and Samanthas. That final bend in the river still leads to America, and “always right now” isn’t as bad as it sometimes seems. Boyhood skeptics, tell me: how is that “meh”?

If anything distracts from the achievement of Boyhood – notice that in 1500 words I haven’t yet mentioned this aspect – it’s the chance to see the film’s lead actor growing from age 6 to 18, which critics are fawning over perhaps a bit too much. Not that I’m not one of them: there’s something about the very actual aging that warms a rarely touched zone of the heart, like the first time you see a 30-second time-lapse video of a day in the life of a flower, extending its petals to the sun and then withdrawing. Having said that, I’d like to go out on a limb here and suggest that if Linklater had cast four different actors as Mason and shot the whole thing in one summer – like most filmmakers would have – Boyhood would have been about 85% as good. Going back to my Gravity comparison, 3-D long-take shots were to Gravity what the 12-year production was to Boyhood, the decorative frosting that masked a surprisingly meaty filling. We might express surprise that the initial premise – kids navigating divorced dating mom and absentee dad through wackadoo new century – was so durable, but we really shouldn’t be surprised that the author of the Before trilogy, given 12 years on his labor of love, was able to conjure up so many effective scenes. As expressed in the final edit, the script was nothing short of magnificent. But oh, oh…that 15% of watching them grow up is worth all the long takes in Gravity.

Just when we think we’ve seen it all, Boyhood challenges what we think is possible in film, even what we think during films, without ever being formally flashy like Linklater’s Slacker (1991), Waking Life (2001), and A Scanner Darkly (2006). Boyhood is a challenge to every future attempt at feature-length realism, but perhaps its most salient feature is that it feels nothing like a challenge. Instead it feels like a culmination of themes that ran through the Before films, Tape (2001), Dazed and Confused (1993), and even School of Rock (2003). Linklater’s patience, decency, humility, and generosity of spirit come through in every frame. His directorial signature has been to give his characters room to grow, and with Boyhood he found (created) the ideal canvas. Like John Sayles and Mike Leigh, Linklater must hurry up his actors just to stay on-budget, but you never sense that. Instead you feel life as it happens, life as it is: that gossamer-grabbing feeling of how 12 years can feel like 2 hours, that sepia-fading sensation of how one day you turn around and your kid is going to college. Boyhood will someday sit next to other films in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry, and there it will reside like a treasured photo album placed next to a group of great books.

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Read more from Daniel Smith-Rowsey at his blog, Map to the Future

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Kenneth Turan writes what I think is a fair dissent of the uniform critical opinion of Boyhood. And indeed, had he written his review, and had it gone on Metacritic, Boyhood’s score would not be a perfect 100 as it is now. Turan didn’t want to be the one bad apple who spoiled the whole bunch. Why would he want to dump on a movie before it had a chance to show in theaters? It is admirable, I think, that he held his tongue in light of such an ambitious project, such a hard thing to pull off, and an even harder sell to audiences. The big picture is that Hollywood needs more films like Boyhood and less like the kind its making now.

In Turan’s dissent, he admits that it might just be him:

For one thing, I find that as I get older and younger filmmakers focus more and more on their own young years, I have become increasingly resistant to coming-of-age stories, which at its core is what “Boyhood” is. Living through my own childhood was unnerving enough; I don’t take pleasure in living through someone else’s unless there is as good a reason as two personal favorites, Ken Loach’s “Kes” and Jean-Claude Lauzon’s “Léolo,” provided.

And that, in the end, he might just not like Linklater’s work overall:

Finally — and this is critical — I have always been cool to Linklater’s films, have never connected emotionally to his self-involved characters and a slacker aesthetic that treats banalities as if they were words of wisdom. Though “Boyhood” could be his best film and certainly has its satisfying moments, its narrative feels fatally cobbled together, veering haphazardly from underdone moments to overdone melodramatic contrivance.

On one hand, the fuss about “Boyhood” emphasized to me how much we live in a culture of hyperbole, how much we yearn to anoint films and call them masterpieces, perhaps to make our own critical lives feel more significant because it allows us to lay claim to having experienced something grand and meaningful.

And finally, he admits what very few are ever able to, and why guys like Turan are so valuable to the overall discussion of film:

Ultimately, however, what thinking about “Boyhood” brought home, and not for the first time, is how intensely personal a profession criticism is. Whether we like it or not, even if expressing it makes us feel clueless and out of touch in our own eyes as well as the world’s, we cannot escape who we are and what does or does not move us. As I’ve said before and likely will have cause to say again, in the final analysis, as a critic either you’re a gang of one or you’re nothing at all.

There is not enough humility in film criticism anymore. Too many critics today pronounce films as great or terrible and if you go against that proclamation there is something wrong with you.

Films contain doors that either open or stay closed for anyone seeing them. For me, the door to Boyhood opened with the mother watching her own children grow up and how that catches up to her in the final scene between mom and son, mom and ex-husband, mom and self. I know that since the majority of writers about film are men and since that generation seems to have difficulty letting go of their childhoods (hence the continual worshipping of things that should have been long left behind) their way into Boyhood was by relating to the boy. The only way I related to the boy was in watching him grow up and how precarious that view can feel as a parent. I just watched my own daughter grow up — she is now 16. So much can go wrong. They figure out who they are and it is rarely whom you think they are going to be. You worry constantly that they’ll be okay. This movie dug into that.

Finally, I DO relate to and love Richard Linklater’s films. I take a bath in the Before movies just to listen to the two smart characters talk on and on about things. For me, that is far more interesting and entertaining that the supposed “tight” structure of most films. I appreciate that someone out there still values the art of curiosity, observation and conversation. For me, that is what Linklater’s films have been to me.

I cried at many different points throughout Boyhood. It changed the way I look at the world. How much more powerful can a film get? There will be a temptation, as with all things, to generate backlash against something so good. It happened last year with 12 Years a Slave. All of its rave reviews amounted to an Oscar prediction to win Best Picture and an ultimate chafing from the major critics groups. The year before it was Zero Dark Thirty. If a film that is highly praised sits out in the sun long enough people start to think “it’s good but it’s not THAT GOOD.” That is human nature as observed by me, someone who’s watched this dynamic play out for years.

This is how Argo won. This is how The King’s Speech won. Fly under the radar, don’t make yourself a target for backlash – that is how it’s done in the Oscar race. And that rule is in place ONLY because human beings are funny. They like to be distinctive. They don’t want to be one of the herd. Film watching and observing is often like the Emperor’s New Clothes for many. Even if they don’t get the movie at all if the “cool club” liked the movie, they will like it. If the “cool club” doesn’t, they won’t. It takes guts to do as Turan is doing here, offer up a reasoned dissent in the face of uniform love.

Film criticism IS personal. It isn’t like writing a review of a new car you just bought or a hotel room you stayed in. There isn’t some agreed upon structure we’re supposed to think is “right.” Film is art and art is subjective. If a film like this did not offer YOU up any doors you will never find a way in. For me, with Boyhood, those doors flew open.

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I keep reading people on Facebook marveling at the high score Boyhood is maintaining. This is inspiring people to want the movie not to be THAT good, ripe for backlash. The thing about it is that it is backlash proof. This movie is every bit as good, and maybe even better, than even the critics are saying it is. It seems to be melting the coldest of hearts.

While it true that many of the critic on Metacrtic I’ve never heard of – like, who are they? Where did they come from? Is their opinion more valuable than yours? Is any critic’s? They have the power to expand your experience of a film, perhaps, along with the conversation of film overall. They can help to elevate a filmmaker’s place in history, or else do more harm than good until enough time passes to render that critic’s voice a laugh riot. But in the end, their enthusiaism for Boyhood should do one thing and one thing only: motivate YOU to see it.

So you can’t really measure today’s Metacritic by the collection of voice from, say, five years ago. But what you can see from this score is that Boyhood has broad appeal and makes a profound impact on audiences.

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“He stood at the window of the empty cafe and watched the activites in the square and he said that it was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they’d have no heart to start at all.”
― Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

In most Hollywood movies, memories of childhood are played in flashback. Younger actors are chosen to play older ones. History is viewed in hindsight, with writers and directors paying careful attention to what lasted, what people still talk about. But Richard Linklater chose to do the opposite. He filmed a story beginning at boyhood and filming the big changes in real time, over the course of a twelve-year period. You’ve heard all of this, of course, if you’ve been listening to interviews and reading reviews. You’ve heard everything — how great it is, how moving it is, and how ultimately life-affirming it is. This cannot be argued. It is unequivocal. This is a great film.

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Boyhood is a story of a boy who comes of age before our eyes, played with spectacular depth by Ellar Coltrane. He struggles through bullies and the trauma of being a sensitive artist growing up in Texas where he’s expected to be a macho football player, at the very least. He is expected to be a “man.” The kind of man he will become is the best kind. But he won’t know that, and we can’t know that either, until he grows up and finds his way.

Despite the fact that Linklater had been filming this movie for 12 years it feels as fresh as if he’d filmed it in 12 months. He never loses command of this story, one he honed carefully over a decade. This was a deliberate telling of, well, life. You might be inclined to think it’s a stunt or some useless gimmick, like why would anyone bother with all of that trouble? But it ultimately makes such a profound imprint while watching it that it achieves what most art simply cannot — it gives you back what time has taken.

In the blink of an eye you raise a child. It feels like work at first because the car alarm is going off every five minutes — they’re crying, they’re hungry, they’re tired, they’re having a tantrum, vaccines, school clothes, lunch boxes, hurt feelings, failed tests, successes! Before you know it, your squishy helpless baby is all grown up. They pull away from hugs. They think for themselves. They fall in and out of love. Good things happen to them. Bad things happen to them. The most surprising part of it all is you realize how much you like them. You like them so much you might never want them to leave. You like them so much you want to do it all over again. All of it. All of the diaper changing and bad Halloween costumes, the cavities, the tangled hair — the lectures, the time outs. Suddenly it comes flooding back as all good memories. The thing you don’t expect is that you’ll look in the mirror when it is all over and see yourself, only much older. Much, much older.

At a time when Hollywood is body-slamming up against all that visual effects can do, Boyhood comes along and shows what kind of level of difficulty there is in simply capturing life in real time. It is more dazzling, more breathtaking than any visual effect you will see this year and that includes what’s opening against it at the box office, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which arguably shows the best visual effects ever put on screen. In the end, what Dawn seeks is the same as what Boyhood seeks — to give us realism through the imagination to do what art does best: project whole human truths.

Linklater, it must be said, depends heavily on his actors. He chooses the right people for the parts, one of his gifts as a filmmaker. Ethan Hawke is once again Linklater’s muse, doing his best work. Patricia Arquette surprises at every turn, never playing the saintly mother as is so often depicted in any Hollywood movie written by male-centric dumb people. She is someone who wants to be a whole person on her own, to educate herself, take care of her kids and do some good in the world. She is also the someone who does the hard work of parenting while the absent father gets to slip in and out, and be the “cool” parent. The mother is often stuck with the harder job, all of the things that make her children not like her as much. The fun dad gets all of the credit usually, while the unfun mother is the drag. That is, until kids become parents and then they realize. Linklater is too smart, and Arquette way too smart, to let that cliche live and breath in Boyhood. What we see here is a mother who is also a person, capable of making terrible mistakes but also of raising two really wonderful kids. Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei is plucky and vibrant as the cooler older sister, and most of the other supporting characters are also so refreshingly real. Linklater was determined to mostly cast unknowns, although sometimes a few familiar faces show up.

Linklater also infused Boyhood with a love of music, which threads itself throughout the film in various ways, from marking a time and place in history (from Coldplay to Lady Gaga), to aiding some of the characters through stages in their lives. This entire story takes place within the framework of 9/11 and the two Iraq wars. Though that plays in the background to provide context, it does mark this film in history — we are probably too close to it now to see what that will ultimately mean.

What is probably most surprising of all about Boyhood is that it doesn’t hinge on the more dramatic life events — cancer or car crashes, cutting, suicide or rape — domestic violence at the hands of terrible stepfathers is the most drama we see here. The majority of this three-hour film is filled with the things about life that break your heart the hardest: the magic, the delirious beauty in the every day.

Each of us will come at Boyhood from a different perspective. I came at it as both a mother and a child who came of age under a parade of asshole boyfriends of my hard working single mom. I came to it as a woman who did not always have the best choice of men but who decided at some point to just not parade those men into my daughter’s life after one particularly bad one. I came to it as a mom raising a child and watching her grow so fast I kept wanting to hit the pause button. Watching Ellar Coltrane grow in Boyhood I felt the same way. Each time something happened, nothing particularly dramatic, time would jump forward and they’d all be older. I wanted to pause it, to stop it, to make him stop growing before my eyes. It was too fast.

My daughter who is 16 now came at it from a decidedly girl’s perspective. She wanted the movie to be more about the daughter, like, why didn’t we know what she wanted to do with her life? Girls have so much more on their plate than boys growing up — body image, period, the male gaze, mean girls. But I had to try to tell her that it wasn’t that story. It was more about Linklater’s experience coming of age. We paused to reflect the sorry truth that when it’s a man’s story it’s universal but when it’s a woman’s story it is marginalized. It felt like a scene out of the movie. I was awash in pride at my daughter’s ability to think that way. I told her to revisit the film when she gets older, maybe after she figures out what she wants to do with her life.

At the end of Boyhood my heart stopped and the tears were pouring out of my eyes. I felt like the most embarrassing kind of mom because I wasn’t crying out of sadness — but out of pride. I was so proud to see this boy become such a formidable man. And to be sitting next to my own daughter, a person I admire so much. Despite having grown with me, a single mother broke for most of her early life, despite the bad boyfriends, she is such a smart and compassionate kid. It all feels so accidental. You stand back in awe: what did I even do?

In real life we might wonder, is that all there is to it? We grow up at the hands of everyone we brush up against. Our parents, our siblings, our friends, our stepparents, our teachers, our girlfriends and boyfriends, strangers, good people, bad people, wars and presidents, sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. We are a mosaic of those imprints. They make their mark on us and eventually we emerge as who we are. Boyhood reminds us that much of life is figuring that out. It also reminds us that once we do figure that out we eventually uncover an even bigger truth: our lives are other people.

But you know, you can’t stop time. It’s one of two truths about this world. People die and time marches forward. But I guess you kind of feel like you can get a handle on it and that at some point you will not be carried forward by it but rather at the wheel of it, making it go where you want it to go. But this film, perhaps more than any other I’ve ever seen, shows you that you don’t and can’t control that part of time. All you can do is hope for the best and reach for what matters most in the wake of that truth.

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The Oscar race has nowhere near begun. But if you’re hunting around for a frontrunner, look no further than Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. 12 years in the making, with a 99 score on Metacritic – that has to be among the highest of all time on the site, behind mostly classics. Even Slant Magazine and Stephanie Zacharek loved the movie. That means not just Boyhood wowing critics, but it will fit snugly in the wheelhouse of your average Academy voter and/or industry voter. Boyhood appeals to both men and women but for men it probably takes on a slightly deeper layer being that it’s called “boyhood” and is about the childhood of mostly a young boy. So “boyhood” could really be the name that describes Hollywood overall – industry voters, critics, audiences, production companies, investors, etc. They aim right at: boys.
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Ethan Hawke talks to his children – or tries to. Boyhood is clocking in right now at 94 on Metacritic – even Slant Magazine gave it a good review. The film is wowing critics and will likely be a major player come Oscar time.

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The cast and the director of Boyhood, Richard Linklater, talk the process of coming together every year for 12 years to film a movie.

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Although its reception at Sundance was kind of mezzo mezzo, there is no doubt that Richard Linklater’s Boyhood has the stuff to become one of the nine by year’s end. There are several factors that will contribute to this but the top of the list would be Linklater’s dedication to the project.  Indiewire’s Erik Kohn calls it an “unprecedented achievement in fictional storytelling.”  Starting in 2002, Boyhood tracks a child as he comes of age. His parents, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are divorced and both play significant parts in the film.

The film is already setting itself up as a favorite among many film critics who’ve seen it, though its subtlety and careful construction requires more careful viewing and consideration than the usual chew it up and spit it out process of the Oscar race, particularly in the early phases of it.

Nonetheless, given the reviews, the subject matter, and Linklater’s own uncelebrated career thus far, it seems to me like it could be not just one of the nine but perhaps one of the five Best Directing nominees.

As a side note: I wish for a female director out there to think about this film and maybe make a corresponding film called “girlhood.”

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Thanks to Bryce, who advises us not to watch the trailer at all. Teaser poster after the cut.

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By Brandon Engel
for AwardsDaily

Filmmaker Richard Linklater’s body of work has touched upon a number of fascinating topics: everything from lucid dreaming, to speculative-fiction style dystopian projections of the future, to the subtle non-adventures of teenagers philosophizing and getting stoned in small town Texas circa 1976. In addition to his novel, and typically accessible, concepts, Linklater is also notable for using interesting visual storytelling techniques – for instance, his films Waking Life (which attempts to replicate the experience of a lucid dream) and A Scanner Darkly (which is an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel by the same name) both employ the use of a digital rendering process wherein real-time footage is animated over, creating a sort of uncanny, dream-like image quality reminiscent of what the animators of older times would create with the use of rotoscopes.

This year at SXSW, Linklater received the “Lone Star” award (issued to native Texas filmmakers) for his latest film Boyhood (2014). It’s potentially his greatest offering as a filmmaker to date, and it also stands as one of the most fascinating technical and conceptual experiments ever conducted in the annals of film. Linklater shot the film over the course of twelve years, and constructed a narrative that focuses on the growth and development of a young boy named Mason in Texas. The role of Mason was played by Ellar Coltrane, who was six years old when he first met Linklater. The film follows the boys intellectual, social, interpersonal, and even physiological evolution from first grade up through when the boy graduates high school and prepares to leave for college at the age of 18.“I was trying to write something about childhood,” Linklater said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, “and I couldn’t pick one moment – so I had this idea… ‘could you shoot a little bit, and have it evolve’… ‘cause I kind of wanted to bite off the whole thing: childhood.”

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The blood is just about dried on this year’s Oscar race but throughout the web are predictions for next year’s race. Yes, already. Here’s the thing. It ain’t rocket science. Early Oscar predictions aren’t some kind of magic formula – so people who brag about those are just fooling themselves. The truth is, the Oscar race is an industry that supports another industry – the film industry.  There is a pretty good chance the movies that head into the Oscar race are on the radar already before they’re even finished filming, perhaps even before getting financed, sometimes when the book rights are sold. You go by subject matter, director, stars, sometimes producer – almost always Oscar strategist.  These films have a 90% chance of making it in. The only thing that stops them is if they are poorly received.  Otherwise, their chances are pretty good they fly into the airport, land on the designated runway and glide easily into the gate. Lock and load.

Check out some early articles, like this one at Indiewire has some interesting selections, and The Atlantic has some early predictions that probably hew closer to “reality.”

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