In anticipation of the Academy Awards, we polled our contributors to see who they thought should win the Oscar. Once we had our winners, we asked various writers to make the case for our selection in each category. Here, Susan Wloszczyna makes the case for the Best Director of 2014: Richard Linklater for "Boyhood".
“Boyhood” is Richard Linklater’s Sistine Chapel, his “Mona Lisa,” his “Starry Night.” It is the movie he has been building towards since he captured a day in the laid-back life of the denizens of Austin, Texas, in 1991’s “Slacker.” Since that time, the Lone Star native, 54, has slowly yet surely built up the artistic reserves he needed to turn a 12-year filmmaking journey into a Rorschach test for a society that has grown used to charting their own personal milestones on such forums as Facebook and Instagram.
“Boyhood” manages to be ambitious yet humble, singular yet recognizable. The coming-of-age tale, brought to life by actors who were filmed over a dozen years, follows the trajectory of a young lad in suburban Texas (Ellar Coltrane) as he transitions from curious kindergartener to aimless pubescent to fairly level-headed college student. That Linklater earned the trust of his core cast (including his own daughter, Lorelei) to make such a leap-of-faith commitment is award-worthy in itself.
As the rare filmmaker whose resume is equal parts mainstream and experimental, Linklater has been prepping for this project for a while in the guise of becoming a cinematic anthropologist. You can see touches of “Boyhood” in his previous efforts, such as the “Before Sunset” trilogy (1993-2013), which follows the ups and downs of a couple’s relationship over a decade with the same two actors; in the stylized philosophical discussions found in the animated “Waking Life” (2001); and even in the raucous insights provided by the musical whiz kids in “School of Rock” (2005).
As a result, Linklater has arguably become one of America’s premier observers of commonplace humanity. In his hands, the seemingly unremarkable often becomes special. That is especially true of “Boyhood” as it encourages audiences to open up their own memory bank of events that have defined us as children and adults.
It might be tempting to see “Boyhood” simply as a stunt, a series of 21st-century Kodak moments generic enough that almost anyone can relate. But that ignores the distinctive emotional shadings provided by the actors, especially Patricia Arquette as a caring mother cursed with rotten taste in spouses and Ethan Hawke as her feckless first husband as their characters both evolve as much as their son and daughter. In the end, Linklater and his dedicated cast and crew have succeeded in capturing our daily routines and preserving them in a remarkably moving time capsule.