Sunday, January 11, 2015

Two Best Picture Possibilities: Boyhood and Selma

The Golden Globes show, and movie award season, is just hours away. I've been able to catch up with the list of nominated movies available in Reno. It's not quite as much as much as the selection I used to enjoy in Sacramento. Otherwise, I would have seen Whiplash and Foxcatcher by now. It seems those movies won't be in Reno until they reach Redbox. American Sniper, though, will likely be in theaters sooner or later.

Anyway, this weekend, I got to see two likely Best Picture nominees when the Academy makes its choices on Thursday. Thanks to Redbox, I saw Boyhood, a movie that was literally 12 years in the making, Writer and director Richard Linklater decided to make a movie about a boy's life from six to 18 in real time. That means the main character Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, was filmed all that time. That also goes for his sister Samantha, played by Lorilei Linklater (yep, his daughter), and the parents played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. The movie shows Mason's milestones, and how his family evolves with him. It's been getting attention because Linklater did this coming-of-age story in real time. The main actors actually had to set aside time to make the movie, no matter what they were doing.

While the movie centers on Mason's boyhood days, it also shows how the parents evolve, too. Arquette starts as a single mom set to move to Houston and go back to school, She marries her professor, but that does not work. There's a scene at the dinner table that is very difficult to see.
Hawke, as Mason Sr., starts as a dad who seems a bit irresponsible, but he also changes his life. Samantha's relationship with her mom is also interesting. There's some really good acting by the main characters. Usually a coming of age movie covering 12 years involves having more than one actor for the son or daughter. Not here.

The movie has been the near-unanimous choice for Best Picture by lots of movie critics competitions from L-A to New York. Still, if there's any flaw in the movie, it doesn't have much of a plot. It's just the story of a boy, and the many milestones in his life. It's also very long, at 2:45, which may have put off some Oscar voters. Still, the acting and directing in this movie are still first-rate. It'll probably do very well in the Spirit Awards, but I don't think it's an absolute lock for Best Picture in any of the upcoming awards. There's already been some backlash, but the real test will start tonight.

Then I went to see Selma, which has been under historic scrutiny lately. While I did read up on it, I just looked at the movie as the story of how injustice was fought by Martin Luther King and his supporters. People are especially upset that it makes President Johnson look like someone who didn't care Blacks were being killed in the South just because they want to vote. I think he cared, but he was obsessed with other things, poverty and Vietnam especially. Maybe he thought if he solved those problems, he could do everything after that without much opposition. He does figure out King was right, and it's done in an interesting way.

I was also impressed by Ana DuVernay's direction. Early in the movie, we see four girls in a church talking about things, then an explosion suddenly happens. We see it's that church that was blown up in Birmingham, AL in the fall of 1963. It makes a big impression of what someone people will do to prevent Blacks from exercising a right the Constitution gave them nearly a hundred years before.
There's also a scene where Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo) is hearing a tape supposedly delivered by the FBI (which historians say never happened, but a similar note was sent) that also supposedly gives proof King cheated on his wife. Seeing both of them dealing with that tape, whether it's true or not, speaks volumes of how much they are devoted to each other. The scenes of the march at the Pettis Bridge, including the violent response from the Alabama state troopers, was also very impressive.

David Oyelowo is just incredible as King, especially when he makes his speeches calling for the President to do something. Ejogo is also good as Mrs. King. Tom Wilkinson is also very good as LBJ, but Tim Roth was even better as Governor George Wallace. It is amazing what he does to preserve his state's way of life, while claiming his hands are tied when it comes to county offivials and sheriffs doing what they can to keep Blacks from registering. Oyelowo could conceivably win for Best Actor, and DuVernay could give Alejandro Gonzalez Inrarritu a run for his money in the Best Director race, too.

However, it is too bad the producers took too long to get screeners to SAG and BAFTA voters, which is why the movie won't be part of those award shows. That also means the last word on who is the best in movies this year will come on Oscar night. The Globes and the Critics Choice Awards will be this year's version of the "New Hampshire Primary" of the award season, while the SAGs won't be "Super Tuesday". No matter what, the real race starts Thursday.

For the record, Birdman should be Best Picture. It may also have a gimmick, just like Boyhood, but its story of an actor trying to escape the one role he's been identified with, and how that story is told,
makes it the Best Movie this year.

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