The Oscars and Why I'm Still Thinking About Boyhood


Forward
I realize that this post should have gone up about a month ago. I've been busy. Forgive me. The fact that I am just now posting this may also signify the depth of my frustration with this year's ceremony.
I shall keep it brief.

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I loved Birdman. I think that any other year it wouId have been a great choice for winning Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards. It is an innovative, brilliantly crafted film with a commanding lead performance. Unfortunately, this year, it was the second most brilliant, innovative, and transformative movie of the year.

I certainly saw it coming but was still disappointed, particularly in that Birdman took both directing and picture. A split, either way, would have irked me far less. Linklater is one of my favorite contemporary directors who takes risks in his storytelling and continues to push the medium forward. He deserved some form of recognition at this ceremony. I was very annoyed that Keaton lost...his performance being the most deserving aspect of Birdman. Instead the Academy landed on their go-to montra of, "oh look! a non-disabled person playing a disabled person!" The last time I was so irked by a performance snyb was when Mickey Rourke lost to Sean Penn. Both Birdman and The Wrestler are honest and challenging films paralleling the personal lives of the main actor, a narrative that I find far more compelling than a performance cloaked in accents and disability, even if such performances are worthy of praise.

I was happy that Birdman won cinematography and writing though...two categories I strongly thought it deserved.

When it comes to Boyhood, however, I still simply disagree with a lot of the criticism it received. Firstly, in comparing the "gimmicks," a phrase I despise in such context, of these two films, that of filming over twelve years was something that I found completely engrossing throughout the entirety of Boyhood. The seamless editing of the film was brilliant and connected with me on a personal level. Birdman's one-take gimmick is brilliant in its own right and perfect for that film, but did occasionally pull me out of the moment, as I looked for the cuts and started thinking more of the technical achievement rather than the narrative at times. 

In both cases, this direction cannot be separated from the rest of the film. The story of Boyhood IS that it was filmed over twelve years. One criticism of the film, or rather a rationalization of "what should make a Best Picture" is that it has has to be brilliant on every level of filmmaking. Boyhood does this. It achieves greatness in terms of story (a nontraditional narrative depicting childhood as a memory rather than a defined series of milestones), acting (its most criticized aspect, but still a great accomplishment for exploring a character arc over a long period of time), direction (again with the effective arcs of all the characters and consistency of emotional progress), and cinematography (the technical aspect is so overlooked and, in my opinion, a greater achievement than that of Birdman because of the ability to maintain consistency in look over such a long time when the technology has changed so drastically). 

I agree that Birdman was great in all these aspects as well, but Boyhood was too. The major factor that should be used in determining the Best Picture of the year, however, is how transformative the film is to the medium. How it pushes the art and the storytelling forward. How it explores truth and how it presents a unique point of view. This is the same reason why films like Citizen Kane, Pulp Fiction, Brokeback Mountain, and Avatar should've won the award. Because we remember them now more than the films that won. Because these movies were not just great in each aspect of filmmaking, but they changed the game and pushed the medium forward. In that regard, I still view Boyhood as the best film of the year.

Of course, as is the case every year, we have to remind ourselves that comparing any of these movies to one another is an exercise in futility. In no way do I expect to convince anyone of my point of view, nor should you expect to convince me. Film is a personal experience and some things work for some people and other things don't. The Oscars are reflection of a select group of people whose opinions don't really matter anyway. 

With that I leave you with excerpt from Dan Kois' brilliant (and timely, unlike this post) Slate article on the aftermath of the ceremony:
By nominating Boyhood, the academy gave itself the chance to recognize a movie that is not just good but revolutionary—a film that reconsiders, in surprising and rewarding ways, the medium’s relationship with time, with storytelling, and with its audience. It’s both a singular work—no one but Richard Linklater could have made it—and a universal one, reflecting the elemental formative experiences of nearly every viewer, even those who don’t, on the surface, have a lot in common with Mason or Samantha or Olivia or Mason Sr. It’s the crowning work of a crucial American filmmaker and a profound statement about the lives we live. But the academy gave Best Picture to a movie about an actor’s identity crisis—a movie about, in Mark Harris’ perfect turn of phrase, “someone who hopes to create something as good as Boyhood.

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