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Reviewing the movies of 2014, Part X: Boyhood and Calvary

Updated on February 14, 2015


One of the films that has been quietly making noise for several months now, and which many have pegged as the frontrunner in this year's Oscar race, is the peculiar yet deeply affecting film from veteran filmmaker Richard Linklater, Boyhood. Filmed over a twelve-year period with a core cast of Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, this is--in essense--one of the purest slice-of-life films since Linklater's own classic Dazed and Confused. Of course, this one covers twelve years while Dazed covered a single 24-hour period. Really, there is no major plot to this film; it is, simply, "Boy grows into a man." For some, that is a major demerit, and I must confess even I got restless by the end (the film IS 165 minutes long, though). If you sit back and think about it, though, the film takes on a bit more meaning. To wit, one of my biggest issues with the film was that, by taking a slice-of-life approach over a span of years, with no cues to the time jumps, there are times where you stop and go, "Whoa, there! What's happening? Did we jump ahead again?" There are also times when characters vanish without a trace--one particular instance actually sat very poorly with me until I thought about it and realized that that was part of the point; this is a film about the inexorable onward flow of time, and how we need to act "in the now," because tomorrow "the now" will be gone. So, what I originally saw as a major flaw in the film may actually be a great strength. I still think it's F'd up that THIS film got a Best Film Editing nod from Oscar while Birdman didn't, but that's the way things go sometimes.

As partially noted before, the film basically follows a boy named Mason, Jr. (Coltrane) from age six to age eighteen, ending with his first social outing as a college student. Coltrane does a fine job as Mason, literally growing into the role as the story progresses. He has an older sister, Samantha, a smart-aleck played with gusto by Linklater's daughter Lorelei; though she is not an earth-shattering actress, she does a good job with the material, and provides several of the film's laughs. Their mother, played quite capably by Patricia Arquette, is on the outs with their father (an excellent Ethan Hawke); she tries (and fails) to find a better replacement father for her children, while trying--successfully--to make a life for herself, eventually as a popular college professor. As for their father, he begins the movie as a shiftless layabout, and it's clear why the mother didn't want to stay with him. However, even at the beginning he offers good advice to his kids, and clearly loves them; eventually, he ends up quite settled and centered, and he and his ex learn to be friends again. Like I said, there's not much more plot than that. Anyway, this is an excellent film, a bit slow-moving at times, and more of a thought poem than a prose narrative, so it will not be to all tastes; that said, I watched it with two people who aren't all that into artsy films, and they both kinda liked it too. It's also worth noting that the Academy really missed the boat on honoring this film for its music. "Summer Noon" and "Ryan's Song" were both quite good, and could each have garnered an Original Song nod for someone I'd be pleased to see get it (Wilco's Jeff Tweedy for the former and Ethan Hawke for the latter). More importantly, though, this film is a POWERFUL argument for the creation of the Best Use of Music in Film category (though not nearly as strong as Dazed or another previous Linklater effort, School of Rock). Overall, this is a great film that probably should not win Best PIcture, but that certainly deserves much of the recognition it is getting--we surely need more boldly experimental films that manage to pull it off.


Next we have an interesting break from all the Oscar films I've been watching, a black-as-pitch Irish drama about a good-hearted priest (a subdued-yet-powerful Brendan Gleeson) who is targeted for execution precisely BECAUSE he is good-hearted. This is not an easy film to watch, and there were moments that sat poorly with me, but it was never less than fascinating, and it was a LOT shorter than Boyhood (so, you know, it had that going for it). The priest, Father James, tends a small and scattered flock in an isolated region of the Irish coast; as he makes the rounds during his final week, we see that even this tiny parish is full of all sorts of sins and sinners, and we watch as the good priest's faith is tested time and again.

At the start of the film, Father James is sitting in the confessional when a man from his parish addresses him with the shocking revelation that he had been abused, repeatedly, by a Catholic priest when he was a child. However, he is neither confessing a sin nor seeking absolution. Rather, he tells Father James, he will kill the priest in one week, precisely because it will have more impact to kill a GOOD priest than a BAD one. Knowing that he is sentenced to die, Father James then spends the next week tending his flock, his wayward daughter, a sort-of penitent prisoner, and whoever else he comes across. In a sense, this is a kind of a slice-of-life film too, albeit with a VERY different tone and tenor from Boyhood. Perhaps it is more accurate simply to say that it is an extremely meditative film. As Father James is beset on all sides by darkness, we are able to use him as a relatively solid focal point, making for a rather intriguing movie experience. I will say, though, that they could have used more finesse with that darkness. Some of the more balanced characters (M. Emmett Walsh's writer and the priest's daughter Fiona [Keilly Reilly]) are pretty well-acted, but many of the characters are pretty one-dimensional, and a couple of them are borderline disgusting. The overall effect is a movie that is interesting and somewhat thought-provoking but ultimately lacks true power; it is a shame, because this could have been a truly classic film if handled a bit better. It's still well worth a watch, however, if only for three things: Brendan Gleeson's acting, which is pretty excellent; the GORGEOUS views of Ireland (I see films like this and want to visit, badly); and the awesome music--this film is also a powerful argument for Best Use of Music in Film. Incidentally, one of the few solid performances was from Gleeson's son, Domhnall, who plays convicted cannibal Freddie Joyce; his brief appearance is one of the better arguments I've seen this year for a third level of acting categories, Best Cameo Appearance.

Final Analysis

Boyhood 8/10 Oscar-worthy for Best Director (Richard Linklater), Supporting Actor (Ethan Hawke), Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette), Original Screenplay (Richard Linklater), Original Song ("Summer Noon") and Original Song ("Ryan's Song"); arguably so for Best Picture, Actor (Ellar Coltrane), Supporting Actress (Lorelei Linklater), Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, Film Editing, Sound Mixing and Sound Effects Editing. Nominated for Best Picture, Director (Richard Linklater), Supporting Actor (Ethan Hawke), Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette), Original Screenplay (Richard Linklater) and Film Editing. Very strong argument for Best Use of Music in Film.

Will Purchase? Definitely, but likely not for a while.

Calvary 7.5/10 Oscar-worthy for Best Actor (Brendan Gleeson); arguably so for Best Supporting Actor (Domhnall Gleeson), Supporting Actress (Kelly Reilly), Original Screenplay (John Michael McDonagh), Cinematography, Production Design, Makeup, Film Editing, Original Score (Patrick Cassidy), Sound Mixing and Sound Effects Editing. No nominations. Very strong argument for Best Use of Music in Film; Domhnall Gleeson makes a fairly strong argument (and M. Emmett Walsh makes a fair argument) for Best Bit Player/ Cameo--Male.

Will Purchase? Likely, but probably not for some time.

There you go, two more films watched, two more films rated. I forgot to note that both of these films were written by their directors--yet another interesting happenstance. As ever, I hope you have enjoyed your read, and do let me know if you agree or disagree with my analysis of these two films. And, of course, happy viewing!


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