Monday, February 16, 2015

Going to the Movies...

…and so begins the annual mad dash to see as many of the Oscar nominated movies before actually Academy Awards ceremony begins.

As with other years, we chose to see some of the nominated films and skipped others. Of course, we may later change our minds and go see some of the nominees.  So, to help frame your reading, here are the nominees for Best Movie; Best Director; Best Actor and Actress; Best Supporting Actor and Actress. Yes, there are other categories but, be honest, do you really care?

"American Sniper"
"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"
"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
"The Imitation Game"
"The Theory of Everything"

Wes Anderson, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, "Birdman"
Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"
Bennett Miller, "Foxcatcher"
Morten Tyldum, "The Imitation Game"

Steve Carell, "Foxcatcher"
Bradley Cooper, "American Sniper"
Benedict Cumberbatch, "The Imitation Game"
Michael Keaton, "Birdman"
Eddie Redmayne, "The Theory of Everything"

Marion Cotillard, "Two Days, One Night"
Felicity Jones, "The Theory of Everything"
Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"
Rosamund Pike, "Gone Girl"
Reese Witherspoon, "Wild"

Robert Duvall, "The Judge"
Ethan Hawke, "Boyhood"
Edward Norton, "Birdman"
Mark Ruffalo, "Foxcatcher"
J.K. Simmons, "Whiplash"

Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood"
Laura Dern, "Wild"
Keira Knightley, "The Imitation Game"
Emma Stone, "Birdman"
Meryl Streep, "Into the Woods"

Two caveats--first, we did NOT see all the movies from which the nominations are drawn. Second, it comes naturally to me to do analyses using compare and contrast. So, let the lesson begin.

The first pair of movies is Boyhood and Birdman.

WHAT?  I can hear you saying--how do these two movies relate.
Well, here are the comparisons I see.  They are both about life. They both use innovative movie making techniques. They both have a great deal to say about parent/ child relationships. And they both feature relationships that have failed.

Ah, but the differences? That's where the richness of each of these movies comes in.

Where Boyhood is about the beginning of life, and of course on into adolescent years, Birdman is about the end of life.  Or at least a career at its end.

As for technique, you must have heard about Boyhood's approach. Probably one of the most creative techniques ever employed by a director--the story is of seemingly real people (although they are fictitious) over 12 years. And, yes, it was filmed over those 12 years. The actors stayed with the project, so we not only get to see the sweet coming-of-age story unfold (almost in real time), we also get to see all of the characters grow older. We see the changes in their faces, and their bodies, which wonderfully conveys the changes in their lives.

Birdman is a far more compressed time frame, as is the filming technique. Many scenes in the movie are filmed as one long unbroken shot. You get the sense that not much editing was needed. The camera follows the characters around--the setting is a theater on Broadway--until you feel dizzy and lost from all the twists and turns.

As for parent-child relationships, that is the primary theme of Boyhood. We meet the parents of two young children--a boy named Mason, a girl named Samantha, the mother named Olivia, and her ex-husband, the children's father, named Mason Sr.  When they are young, we watch the children bantering and bickering. As they get older their sibling relationship stays real, although there is a bit more love between them.  Understandably, it is the relationship with each parent that is the primary focus. Since the movie is titled Boyhood, it is on Mason, Jr. that the movie concentrates. He and his sister see their father on weekends, primarily, so that relationship is less nuanced. The mother, who has the main responsibility for the children, is working through her own growth--returning to college, getting a job teaching, going through failed relationships. Through all of the twists and turns that seem so much like real life, we watch these people as they move through stages.

Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are superb in their roles. And Lorelei Linklater (the director's daughter) is a believable young girl as Samantha. But the real star of this story is Ellar Coltrane as Mason, Jr. He is sheer delight to watch.

The parent-child relationship in Birdman is between Michael Keaton, as the father, and Emma Stone as his daughter.  Each of them has experienced failure that is almost debilitating. Keaton, as "Birdman" or Riggan Thomson, the real name of Birdman. Riggan was an actor who had several blockbuster movie roles as a super hero--Birdman. But that time has passed, and we meet him in the present when he is trying to resuscitate his career.  Stone, as Riggan's daughter Sam, has also failed although her youth belies the reason. She has been in treatment for drug abuse, and now seems aimless, having little motivation to do much.  The relationship, as depicted in the course of the story, has a rocky start but slowly moves toward a sweet father-daughter interaction.

The romantic relationships in the two movies are also complex. While the specific reasons differ, in neither movie have the characters established and maintained supportive loving relationships. 

There are several noteworthy scenes in each movie--at least, I have my favorites. I will share just one.

Toward the close of Boyhood, young Mason is getting ready to leave for college. He is with his mother, who has struggled to help get him to this point in his life. Suddenly, her face crumples, and she begins to sob. It seems almost out of character, at first, since she has been so strong. However, her reason is not exactly what you expect.  She has worked so hard--to better herself, to raise her children, to achieve success in a romantic relationship.  Seeing her son, her younger child, getting ready to leave to launch his life, she cries--she sees her life as being at its end. It is both funny and deeply touching.
Next blog post: The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything.


Anvilcloud said...

The tradition continues. :)

Ginnie said...

Wow, you really are doing some great research and I'm glad because then I can read your blog and sound like I know what I'm talking about. The only movie that I really want to see is "The Theory of Everything" ...but my 2 boys loved "The Grand Budapest Hotel".
BTW...I don't know if "my" Plum Island is the one of the book title but the Plum Island where they did experiments of animal diseases was off the shore of New York.