Birdman & Boyhood & the Academy Awards

The Oscars made me angry this year. I always say they won’t but they often do. This year I felt a bit to strongly about one of the nominees.

I’ve followed the making of Boyhood for the entire 12+ years it was in production. I’ve been a fan of the director, Richard Linklater, since I was a teenager. Boyhood was a brilliant idea. It was perfectly executed. It isn’t a film for everyone. I understand it not having mass appeal. It was experimental and it was about capturing the feeling of growing up, capturing the every day moments and giving the audience an immersive experience. There was no real narrative and that bothered some people. I assume most of those people were also not fans of Linklater’s other narrative-less films (Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight, Slacker, Waking Life). Which is fine, to each there own.

The thing is Boyhood was a brilliant and original idea. How many original ideas are even left? This isn’t something that can happen often. To make that even more impressive it was brilliantly executed. The result was an amazing movie. I DO admit to being a Linklater fan to begin with but my boyfriend is not and he also thought the movie was brilliant. It absolutely should have won Best Picture and Best Director. I could have even lived with it losing Best Picture (even though I fully believe it IS the best picture released last year) but how do you not give the Best Director award to a director that pulled off filming a movie for 12 years and showing the characters actually growing up? It was such a risky move and that it worked shows not only how brilliant Richard Linklater is but also how loyal his actors are to him. They weren’t even under contract for the majority of the film. I do not understand how the Academy could NOT give him the Best Director award..I just don’t get it.

Only I kind of do. In the sense that awards like the Oscars (and all of the others for that matter) are glorified popularity contests. Birdman has gotten ALL of the press. People were overly impressed with the faked one take shooting style that the movie employed. Long one take shots ARE hard to pull off. So, I know that doing a movie full of them is a difficult task. I don’t deny this. The problem I had with this film is that I do not think the style fits the film. It does not add to the story. It distracts from it. All I heard about was the gimmick. No one talked about the story or the acting. Which is unfortunate because the acting was very well done. I wouldn’t have an issue with it winning acting awards but everyones reasons for why it should win was the Oscars was the one take gimmick. The one take style was always talked about separately from the story (when the story was talked about at all). Despite director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s insistence that he did not want the style to be “showy” or to distract from the story it really was a decision made for the film – not a necessary part of the film. It felt very forced to me and like a way to draw attention from the press. It made what could have been a much better showcase for the actors a showcase for technological advancement instead. I don’t think filmmakers should win awards for showing off when the showing off distracts from the story. As Dr. Ian Malcolm says, and I’m paraphrasing, just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean that you should.

Along with mentioning that he didn’t want the style to be showy Inarritu was quoted in another interview as saying he did not like his film being compared to Hitchcock’s masterpiece Rope, the film that the fake one take style originated with, because he feels Rope is a mediocre film. He seems to feel the film failed to be suspenseful and didn’t live up to what Hitchcock was trying to accomplish. I guess I feel the same way about Birdman. Only I’m not entirely sure what Inarritu was actually trying to accomplish with his film and his use of the continuous take style.

Also, when Rope was made the technology made the one take technique extremely difficult to achieve. It was much more impressive when Hitchcock did it. I honestly don’t know why people are so impressed with it being done now when its been done better and with less technological assistance before. So, I maintain Birdman is full of good performances but is not the masterpiece it is being treated as. It just isn’t worthy of all of those Oscars it received. Perhaps if he had chosen a different way to shoot it, perhaps then it would be more worthy but the real question is without that gimmick (and it could easily have been made without that gimmick and still be the same movie) would it have been nominated for Oscars at all? Because if not then it definitely should not have won Best Picture.

In comparison, what makes Boyhood’s style NOT a gimmick is that it was an integral part of the story. Linklater wanted to show the boy really growing up. He wanted to show the parents actually getting older. Without seeing that it would not be the same film. He opted not to use on screen titles to tell us when we were changing years because it was meant to feel like memories slowly unfolding. It was immersive. You forgot you were watching a film as you were drawn into the lives of these characters. Using different actors would have changes the entire point of the film. The style and the story are inseparable. You can’t discuss one without the other.

Editing 12 years worth of footage as camera and editing technology changed through the years also deserved an award. Best Editing, Director and Picture should have went to Boyhood. Elar Coltrane also deserved a Best Actor nomination. I think its unfortunate that he is being so overlooked at award shows.

I’m not saying everyone should like Boyhood. Just like I’m not saying that everyone should dislike Birdman. I’m simply saying that of the two films accomplishments it baffles me that it isn’t obvious that Boyhood has the superior accomplishments in both the technical and creative fields of filmmaking.

But as I said, awards are popularity contests and people are easily distracted by shiny new things. Just like filmmakers go overboard with every new piece of equipment released and run out to buy it without thinking about if they really need it, if it will increase the quality of their work or if it will actually hinder them and lower the quality, film viewers also go gaga over anything new that looks shiny and impressive without thinking about whether that new gimmick REALLY adds to the quality of the film they are watching. Or for that matter, whether it is actually new at all.

Unfortunately, Academy members are just film viewers like everyone else. Often without even having real knowledge of all the categories they are voting in. So, Birdman won a lot of awards it didn’t really deserve. I’m not saying its a bad film. Just that it was not the most worthy film nominated and its fake one take gimmick (which is literally the only thing I ever hear people talking about when explaining why it deserved to win) isn’t actually that impressive.

Boyhood is available on DVD and Bluray from Paramount.

Birdman is available on Bluray and DVD from 20th Century Fox

*NOTE: I’m posting this now but I will add links to it later to show the interviews and things I used as research.*

2 thoughts on “Birdman & Boyhood & the Academy Awards

  1. I so agree. People evidently want all movies to be the same. Boyhood is a movie about life. It should make you think about the small moments and people that make up who you are.
    I’m baffled by the Birdman win. Baffled. I think Whiplash, GBH, Selma and American Sniper are better. Sigh…

    Liked by 1 person

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