The Academy Award nominations are out, and of the ten Best Picture nominees, I have now seen three - The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Boyhood - and any of those three would be deserving of the honor of being named the best motion picture of 2014. They are all exceptional movies. However, Boyhood, is the film that is currently garnering all of the Oscar buzz.
Boyhood depicts the life of a modern American boy from the age of five to eighteen, but it tells the story on film using the same young man throughout as the central character, Mason. The director and writer, Richard Linklater, accomplished this feat by assembling the same cast year-after-year until the complete story made its way onto film.
As the story opens Mason and his older sister, Samantha, are living with their divorced mom as she struggles to make ends meet. Dad has gone off to Alaska to finish his work on his own maturation issues. During the opening scenes the mother is preparing to move the family to Houston where her mother can help watch the kids while she gets a job and goes back to school. Dad returns from Alaska and the two parents remain in relative proximity of one another throughout the rest of the movie - until the kids have left home and gone to college.
The kids follow the mother through two more failed marriages and several moves, but they still manage to grow up relatively normal. Mom (Patricia Arquette) struggles to get her bachelors and masters degrees and become a successful college instructor. Dad (Ethan Hawke), who at one point describes the process of being pulled into a formalized father role as "castration," eventually grows up, moves from music to insurance sales, and starts another family. Throughout all of their life crises, both parents remain focused on Mason and Samantha and manage to raise two fairly stable and likable young people.
The lives of the family members in this play are stubbornly realistic. The language is that used by real families and young people, and it's not always pretty. Mother is a victim of domestic violence, and the kids, once they reach high school age, smoke a little weed and drink with their friends. The young people go to school, have relationship issues, hold down jobs, develop interests outside of school and family, and discover sex in a gradual and natural manner.
Ellar Coltrane, the young man who portrays Mason, is a skilled actor who ages almost seamlessly through this movie, physically and emotionally. His performance stuns and amazes.
Director Richard Linklater took a big chance as he developed this concept and created a movie over more than a dozen years. So much could have gone wrong during that long of a period of time. Who could possibly know what a charming five-year-old would be like when he was eighteen - not to mention the other cast members as they aged? But the director (and writer) created his story as his artists were growing and changing. Together Linklater and the cast weaved a tale over time that became a very realistic depiction of a family as it ages in a changing world.
The film also conveys a real sense of what it feels like for a little boy to slowly evolve into a man.
Boyhood is likely to become fodder for classroom viewing and discussion for years to come. It is a film that will give young adults a long view of the realities of raising a family.
And as a Best Picture nominee, Boyhood will be damned hard to beat!