The 87th Academy Awards were announced last night at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre. I was live blogging the event all of the way through the night for the Bournemouth Rock website, commenting on every twist and turn.
Neil Patrick Harris proved a fun, if divisive, host and the majority of the awards went just as predictably as they always do. However, there was a huge surprise in store as, in the later stages of Oscars 2015, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s offbeat dramedy Birdman began to win many of the big awards.
This culminated in Birdman winning the coveted award for Best Picture, leaving long-time frontrunner Boyhood in its wake.
Both Birdman and Boyhood are terrific films. That much is obvious from the critical acclaim granted to both releases, including on this blog. However, in handing Iñárritu’s oddball the Best Picture gong, the Academy has made the wrong decision this year.
Despite everything that is impressive about Birdman, it is not a film that seems likely to be considered an all-time classic. It’s a whizz-bang journey through the world of a tortured psyche, which is presented with a cinematic flourish courtesy of its ambitious cinematography. In fact, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski scored his second consecutive Oscar for the film, having won last year for his work on Gravity.
Birdman is the cinematic equivalent of a fireworks display. Whilst you’re experiencing it, it’s a thing of beauty that draws you in with its spectacle. However, it’s not something that plays regularly on the mind days, weeks or months later. Boyhood, on the other hand, is a filmic gift that keeps on giving.
By filming Boyhood incrementally over the course of 12 years, director Richard Linklater created a movie that is a true slice of life. He distils a huge amount of human existence into a relatively short period, emphasising the flash with which life can pass.
As Patricia Arquette’s heart-breaking character shows, it’s easy to blink and miss youth and life. When she tearfully tells the audience that she “thought there’d be more” as her son leaves for college, she is echoing the feelings of many people as they enter middle age.
Whilst Birdman is full of jokes and cinematic brio, Linklater imbues Boyhood with something far more important – empathy. This is a film that holds up a mirror to humanity and reflects back the mundanity of existence, whilst also highlighting its beauty. It’s not the huge life events that matter; it’s the seemingly insignificant days in between.
Whilst, in any other year, Birdman would have been worthy of the Best Picture prize, it can only come up short when compared to Boyhood. Without doubt, Birdman uses an innovative conceit, but the one-shot technique has been part of many films over the years, including Alfred Hitchcock thriller Rope.
The natural passage of time conveyed in Boyhood, though, has never really been seen in a narrative film, with the Up documentary series its closest counterpart. Boyhood is something truly unique and deserves to be lauded both for its ambition and for the eventual execution of its mammoth editing job.
The genius of Boyhood is not just a gimmick and certainly isn’t a result of cinematic trickery. It may have lost out to Birdman at Oscars 2015, but when all is said and done, it’s the film from this year’s Best Picture field that will be remembered as a true masterpiece.