Oscars: ‘Boyhood’ & ‘Birdman’


Technical mastery elevate Boyhood and Birdman to a different level, according to Michael Rice as he looks ahead to this weekend’s Academy Awards.

I love the Oscars, I can’t help it, I just do. I am fully aware of how ridiculous they are, and how seriously these people are taking themselves, but it’s just great. That amount of star power in one room just makes me dizzy, and it’s not just the stars; it’s the directors, and the writers, and everyone else in that room connected to film.

I watch a lot of movies, and I’m invested emotionally in a lot of these people, I have an opinion on who deserves it, and this doesn’t necessarily correlate with who I want to win. Anyway, I’m going off point, rather I started off point, it’s just for some reason I always feel the need to start off defensively when engaging in a conversation about the Oscars, because my head is often bitten off about how trivial they are, and how it’s all politics, etc. I join in sometimes to be fair, and I’m good at backing up why they’re pompous, and self-congratulatory, and so on, but it’s just words filtering from my mouth with no meaning or soul, I’m just lying through the vehicle of logic, and regurgitation. I love them. So there, I said it – twice!

I’ve had to change paragraph here just to try and get to my point. My point being that I think this year’s Oscars are of the highest standards in years. This is mainly down to two films, Birdman, and Boyhood – two films that were made using radical forms that required such technical mastery from their directors that it’s hard to comprehend. These are two of the best mainstream movies made in the last decade, and are both competing for the same Best Picture prize.

I’ll start off with Boyhood, written, and directed by Richard Linklater, known for such cult classics as Dazed and Confused, and School of Rock. The film was shot over 12 years, chronicling the life of a young boy from the age of 6, to the age of 18, showing him growing up before our eyes, and doing so in a narrative that never even threatens to exceed the boundaries of plausibility, while remaining compelling. I’ve seen the movie twice, and I must say that my first viewing wasn’t matched by the second, but then again how could it be? The fact that this movie was made over 12 years is not something that immediately jumps out at you when you view this film, the transitions in time are so gradual and so smoothly done that the full effect of the movie is only felt when the end credits arrive on screen. It left a profound visceral effect on me that I can’t quite put into words, but I knew I had seen something very important. The film’s use of time and how it passes reveals in all its bluntness how short life is. My friend and I scurried away from the cinema making declarations about how we have to start making more out of life, and I vowed to kick-start a new improved chapter of my life. It was possibly a false dawn, but the sentiment has not left me since.  For a movie to have that sort of positive effect on your understanding of life is something that cannot be over-valued.

I have no clever seuge into begin my discussion of Birdman, only to say that this is a very different film, particularly distinguishable due to its use of the surreal. Directed by Alejandro Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel), the film is about Riggan Thompson, a once huge movie star of the Birdman franchise – those days are long over, however, and he is now trying to be validated as an actor by directing and starring in an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story. First things first, the technical mastery here is one of a different kind, but has common ground in its extreme level of difficulty. The movie, outside of a few opening and closing shots, appears to be all one take. This creates a frantic pace that causes a visceral feeling of discomfort in the viewer, as everything seems to be immediate and happening in the now, causing the stakes to rise throughout the picture. This is aided by a story that challenges everyone involved in the creative industry, from the actors, to the media, to the critics, no one walks away from this unscathed. But what the film really captures is something that is independent of any industry or social construct, and that is the human condition. We all want to be validated, we all want to be loved, we all want to be admired, and we all have a limited time to get these things. The frantic pace of the film coincides with Thompson’s battle with time, a battle to get all of these things before he dies. All his actions, and indeed most of ours are driven by ego, and a fear of death, and until we relinquish that fear we are stifled by it.

Both pictures leave you pondering what it is to be human, and both pictures in some way capture that very essence, through unconventional and original uses of the form of filmmaking. There can only be one winner of the Best Picture Oscar, if I was pushed to pick between the two, I’d probably go with Boyhood by a nose considering the scale of the achievement, but I could feel differently tomorrow. May the best film win. I think I might wear a tuxedo just to watch this one.




DIR/WRI: Richard Linklater  PRO: Richard Linklater, Jonathan Sehring, John Sloss, Cathleen Sutherland   DOP: Lee Daniel, Shane F. Kelly  ED: Sandra Adair   DES: Rodney Becker, Gay Studebaker  CAST: Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

Filmed over a period of twelve years with the same cast, Richard Linklater’s innovative Boyhoood is the first of its kind.  The film traces the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), from the age of six years old in 2002 to the verge of young adulthood and maturity.  Following the film’s striking first shot of the young, daydreaming Mason, Linklater portrays his handling of key life experiences such as the aftermath of his parents’ divorce and his mother’s ensuing relationships, undergoing puberty, falling in love and eventually leaving the family nest for college.

There is no doubt in arguing that Linkater’s pioneering filmmaking idea is a success.  This is because the use of the same actor to play Mason over a twelve-year period gives the film a sense of realism that makes it impossible not to become emotionally involved with his character.  It is as if we are watching a documentary that allows us to grow up with him and to share his experiences.  Therefore, the film is able to secure an emotional connection without the use of emotive music, opting instead for pop music released during the period of 2002 and 2014.  However, it can be argued that towards the end of the film, the emotional attachment to Mason begins to wane.  This is because his melancholic, teenage angst makes it more difficult to connect with him.  Nevertheless, his quirky personality ensures that he is not completely deprived of his likeability.

It is also impressive that that despite the long filming period, the film still maintains a sense of aesthetic continuity.  Clearly, the film was shot and edited with great focus and discipline in order to give the impression that it was filmed in a few weeks, rather than a period of over a decade.  Moreover, the visual continuity also affirms Linklater’s status as one of the noteworthy auteurs of this generation.

However, the film also reveals Linklater’s development as a filmmaker.  For example, instead of typically relying just on loaded, philosophical dialogue, he allows the characters and the long filming period to imply his philosophical ideas for much of the film.  This is clear from the film’s sense of timelessness.  In other words, it is implied that no matter how much music, trends or political frenzies change over a period of twelve years, what it means to be human and to grow up will always remain the same.  Also, the character of Mason‘s mother Olvia (Patricia Arquette) is used to infer, without any heavy dialogue, that adulthood is only an illusion; no matter how many experiences and important life events one lives through, there is always that permanent feeling of being lost, or of not having reached the point where it all comes together.

Overall, Boyhood is a significant piece of filmmaking and a worthwhile experimentation on the part of Linklater.  There are few out there who could make a simple documentation of growing up into something artistic and absorbing; it proves to show that with the right director, even the simple things can make sagas.

Aisling Daly

15A (See IFCO for details)
165 mins

Boyhood is released on 11th July 2014

Boyhood – Official Website