Boyhood: wrongfully snubbed

It took Boyhood 12 years to lose an Oscar it rightfully deserved

Some time last July, my dad and I sat down in our local multiplex to watch Boyhood. As soon as the film cut to black and the overhead lights came back on, I knew that what director Richard Linklater had put together over the course of 12 years was nothing short of spectacular. “A movie like this,” I thought, without an ounce of hyperbole, “only comes about once in a lifetime.”

So it came as quite a surprise — to me, at least — that Boyhood, which was included on 536 “Best of 2014” lists and topped 189 of them, left last Sunday’s Academy Awards (mostly) empty-handed. There have been plenty of upsets throughout Oscar history, and this year’s ceremony was no exception: Boyhood should have won Best Picture.

Boyhood’s greatness comes from the beauty and elegance with which it treats the typical and the mundane. It strings together snapshots of everyday life and presents the world with such tender honesty that it feels less like a movie and more like real life. This feeling is because the film is, quite possibly, as close to real life as a film has ever come; Boyhood is as much a story about Mason, Samantha, Olivia, and Mason Sr. as it is about the performers that play them. Knowing that Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Patricia Arquette, and Ethan Hawke committed to this project not only spotlights the astonishing scope of the project and the admirable perseverance in its creation, but also the tremendous risk Richard Linklater took in bringing it to life.

Practically unprecedented (documentarian Michael Apted’s Up Series being the notable exception), Boyhood’s form forges a unique relationship with its audience. Despite its small budget and hyper-specific focus, it is a surprisingly big — perhaps even universal — film. This “gimmick,” as detractors have been inclined to call it, is Boyhood’s elemental strength; Linklater unflinchingly presents the journey every human being takes on their trek into adulthood, showing it in as close to real time as a movie shot over 12 years will allow. As Peter Howell of the Toronto Star wrote, “It mirrors all lives in the passage of one.”

Audiences can easily read themselves into the film; each formative experience shown onscreen inspires within viewers a distinct nostalgia, like a montage of moments from their own lives. In capturing the truth of human existence so exactly and in shooting the passage of time with such pointed attention, Linklater makes time visible — a distinct character as important as Mason or the rest of his family.

Boyhood tells a simple story: a child grows up to become a man. But it does so in a way no film has ever done before, and no film will likely ever do again. In its totality, Boyhood is more than a movie: it’s real life. And it’s a shame that, in an industry built upon the pleasures of predominantly uninspired fiction, the Academy can’t recognize and honour a three-hour glimpse of honest, beautiful reality.

— Daniel Konikoff

Birdman: a worthy winner

Despite the backlash, Birdman deserved its Best Picture win

It’s the same every year; after the biggest awards show’s red carpet has been rolled up and the gold statues given their new homes, there are always the complaints of snubs.

That’s not to say these aren’t sometimes justified — Crash over Brokeback Mountain, anyone? — but, despite this year being another demonstration of the Academy’s lack of diversity, at least two truly great and unconventional films were nominated: Birdman and Boyhood.

When Birdman won Best Picture I can’t say I was surprised; it was a masterful demonstration of innovation in film, one that explored so many ideas, yet never felt stifled by them.

Yet, inevitably, those convinced that Boyhood was going to win were up in arms across the Internet. Even my favourite film critic, BBC’s Mark Kermode, went as far as comparing Birdman’s victory to infamous snubs of the past: “It felt like there will be a pub quiz question in 10 years’ time, and the question will be: What won the Oscar for best picture the year that Boyhood didn’t?”

I know it’s an awards show, and by definition trying to say one piece of art is better than the other is futile, but it’s comments like these that really grind my Birdman-fanboy brain. To act as if Birdman will only be remembered in infamy, in the shadow of a Linklater snubbing, to me, is not a fair representation of one of the year’s best films.
Let’s get one thing straight: they’re both good movies. Both could be passed off as simply gimmicks: Boyhood with its filming over a 12-year period and Birdman with its simulated continuous shot. Both integrate these selling points marvelously, but Boyhood seems to drag.

When I watched Boyhood, I could understand why it was three hours long due to its filming period, but I could also definitely feel those three hours. Every so often, when I felt it was dragging, I almost felt guilty: “I can’t be bored by this film — it was filmed over 12 years, I’ve got to appreciate the effort,” I thought to myself. It was a beautiful film, with terrific performances, but when you become aware of your own boredom during a film, there is a problem.

Meanwhile, with Birdman, I wished it had lasted longer. Not only did the continuous take fit with the subject matter and heighten the other moments of theatrical symbolism — the exposed musician who popped in from time to time, for example — but for such an enclosed movie, it felt visceral. You could feel the anger coming from every member of the cast, every argument, every feeling of dread that couldn’t quite be articulated. Conversely, Boyhood lacked sometimes in terms of its script and its pace.

I’m not trying to say Boyhood didn’t deserve to win — I would have been happy if it did. Nevertheless, just because it didn’t, doesn’t mean there was a snub.

— Oliver Thompson