Does Boyhood really deserve an Oscar?

With the Academy Awards airing this Sunday, there’s always one big question on everyone’s minds:

What will win Best Picture?

The last 40 years Oscar-winning Best Pictures.  But how many truly deserved to win?
The last 40 years of Oscar-winning Best Pictures (minus last year’s “12 Years as Slave” which had yet to win).  How many truly deserved to win?

This year there are two clear front-runners: Birdman – a tale of a washed-up star trying to make his way back into the limelight after his past fame portraying a superhero, and Boyhood – the story of a boy, his family and his adolescent life.

boyhood
“A moving 12 year epic” …that felt like it took 12 years to watch.

Both borrow from real life in a sense. Birdman stars Michael Keaton, who once played a superhero himself  – Batman.  Boyhood shows glimpses into the relatively normal life of a (fictional) boy over twelve years.

The story of a star making his way back up in the ranks is an obvious one that Hollywood would take to, but what makes Boyhood so special? Why has it been getting so much praise and so many accolades?

The reason is that director Richard Linklater actually shot the film over the course of twelve years.

Every year, for just over eleven years — from May 2002 to August 2013 — the cast – Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater and the leading “boy” of Boyhood, Ellar Coltrane, would get together for a few days, shoot some scenes and that is how this film was born.

It was a huge and interesting endeavor, but is that a good enough reason to give a film a Best Picture Oscar?

In my opinion, no.

Whether a film deserves an award depends on the film and the product that comes out of those eleven or twelve years of filming, not just the novel fact that it was filmed over that time-frame.

Personally, I found that Boyhood isn’t a sparkling piece of art, so much as just random moments and snapshots in a boy’s life.

We rarely ever get a true sense of how he really feels or what he wants out of his life. When there actually are traumatic events happening around him, we get no sense of how he is reacting inside to them because he very blandly just passes from one phase to the next.

To be honest, the film is called “Boyhood,” but could have just as easily been called “Family Life.”  There is little to make the title boy character, Mason Jr, stand out.  There is no real internal monologue for him, so we never really get a good sense of who he is inside and how the changes in his life are impacting him, anymore than we do his sister or mother.

If this was a movie made in one year with different actors for each stage of life, it likely would be getting less than half the attention that it is now.  The editing was choppy, the story was non-existent and the premise – if shot in a year – would just be silly and mocked for not actually having a purpose or premise.

The best way for me to put this is in the frame of my past as a History major: the movie lacked a thesis.

There was no real cohesive idea that we could hold to about where this was heading or why we were watching it. The random glimpses of Mason’s life, to me, were akin to piling a bunch of snippets of facts and quotes into a paper without actually telling us what you were hoping to prove with all of that.

Maybe Linklater and others would argue that that’s precisely the point of the film – to not have a neat and tidy “thesis” or “point” because life, itself, isn’t like that…

But, if you ask me, life may not be like that, but an interesting movie should be!

So, will Boyhood win on Sunday? We’ll have to wait and see.

About a month ago, when the Golden Globes happened, everyone seemed quite enamored with it.  But, over the past few weeks that love seems to have cooled.  Many people are opening up more about the same types of criticisms I drew above, which means that the shiny novelty and excitement over a movie that was shot for more than a decade may have actually worn off.

I’ve only seen one of the other nominees at this point – The Grand Budapest Hotel so I can’t make a judgement on what I think deserves to win of the nominees. I can safely say, though, even having not seen the other six, that I’m sure at least one of them outdoes Boyhood in overall movie-making. (Even The Grand Budapest Hotel, with it’s sometimes convoluted and difficult-to-follow plot, was much more interesting, beautifully made and entertaining, to say the least).

I will agree, though, that Richard Linklater deserves the Oscar for Best Director for coming up with this ingenious and creative idea to film a movie with the same actors over twelve years.

[As an aside, I did wonder from the get-go if he got this idea from realizing we’d be watching the adolescent cast of the Harry Potter films grow up over the decade spanning 20012011, but have yet to find any proof of this fact. Linklater DID include Harry Potter a number of times in his film, which leads me to believe that maybe it WAS a bit of an inspiration…]

Even though I do not believe it necessarily deserves an Oscar, part of me hopes Boyhood will win because… well… now I’ve seen it and I’d like to add another movie to the list of Oscar-winning films I’ve seen!

-PJ

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