You’ll hear a lot about Boyhood in the next month as the Oscars approach, though I don’t think I would have expected that this summer when I walked out of the theater after seeing the film. Not as a slight on the movie, but I knew that Oscar Movie Season was coming in December, what with its long establishing shots and silent, taut pauses and Meryl Streeps and what have you.
But now that January has arrived, all of the Oscar contenders have arrived and most of them have landed with a bit of a thud. Not that this has prevented them from getting Oscar nominations anyway. In the Battle of the Misunderstood British Geniuses, the The Imitation Game proved to be a better and more insightful film than The Theory of Everything, though one would assume Eddie Redmayne’s physically demanding Stephen Hawking imitation is more likely to land voters in the Academy than Benedict Cumberbatch's troubled, Asberger-y Alan Turning.* Either way, both landed Best Picture nominations and neither have a chance of winning.
*Though, while we’re on the subject: props to Cumberbatch for playing a role written so similarly to his oddball Sherlock Holmes performance without using a trace of his former character. That’s a difficult thing to do, and I feel like it’s been going unmentioned.
Meanwhile, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper had a massively successful opening weekend, which oddly, I would assume doomed it in the Oscar race. Mark Harris pointed out this morning that the last movie to win Best Picture while also being its highest grosser was 2006’s The Departed, and he didn’t even mention that that award was seen, even at the time, as a “thanks for all you’ve done” to Martin Scorcese.
However, it’s not the box office numbers that’ll doom Sniper, it’s that too many of what my dad always refers to as the Wrong Sort Of People saw and enjoyed the movie. You know, people who like war movies and deer stands and George Bush and God knows what, thank God I don’t know any of those people, they might get camo on me. Its chances of winning Best Picture are completely dead, and allow me to be the first person writing about this subject to not make the truly tasteless joke that the film’s title sets up.
That leaves five Best Picture nominees: Wes Anderson’s quirky, surprisingly dark The Grand Budapest Hotel (the very definition of an “it’s an honor just to be nominated” selection), tiny jazz drumming indie Whiplash (which is seen as more of an acting film, which is why its young upstart director, Damien Chizelle - he turns 30 today! - didn’t land a directing nomination), and the three actual contenders: Birdman, Selma, and Boyhood.
I won’t spend any time breaking down the merits of the other two films - I have strong affections for all three, and if I’d actually seen Selma in 2014 and not a few days ago, it might have landed this spot. But I suspect not. When I look back on 2014, the movie I’m going to remember most is Boyhood.
For the uninitiated: director Richard Linklater - a Texas director best known for critically-beloved talkers like his Before series and getting surprisingly excellent performances out of Jack Black - filmed a movie over the course of 12 years, casting his lead as a young boy and intermittently shooting the film throughout the child’s growing years. Nothing major happens - his mother stumbles in and out of a series of bad relationships, his father keeps showing up and making promises he can’t keep, he finds a girlfriend and loses her. It’s a few brief glimpses into a life, organic and meandering and surprisingly captivating. When his mother finally breaks down as he disappears off to college, trying to make sense of what she’d built with the scaffolding of her life (“I just thought there would be more,” she gently cries, as her son stands there awkwardly in the doorway, unsure of how to comfort her), the films finally puts into words the lesson its subject had been learning his whole life: you can’t trust someone else to build your life for you.
Boyhood is moving in a way that can’t be forced - there’s something magnetic and sincere about knowing the age lines the actors grow are real - and while it lacks the bombast one would expect of a Best Picture winner, there’s a very good chance that in a little over a month, that’s just what it’ll be.