Why Richard Linklater Deserves an Oscar for ‘Boyhood’

Richard Linklater Boyhood Variety Interview
Dan Winters for Variety

The most influential filmmaker of his generation is long overdue

Even though it’s only July, it’s hard to imagine watching a better-made movie in 2014 than “Boyhood.” Shot in secret over 12 years, director Richard Linklater captures the journey, and struggles, of growing up — his lead actor Ellar Coltrane ages in real time, from 6 to 18 onscreen. No other film has ever been made this way. Coltrane could have bailed from the project once he hit puberty, since even the strictest contract couldn’t keep him on a project for so long, but he stuck it through to the end (along with Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, who play his parents).

For millennials and movie buffs, Linklater, who is 53, is one of the most influential directors of the arthouse boom of the early ’90s. When I recently interviewed Chris Evans, he said he modeled his upcoming directorial debut, “1:30 Train,” on “Before Sunset.” You could argue that Linklater, who was influenced by the French New Wave, is partially responsible for the talky way in which so many of our stories are now told (from “Blue Valentine” to the upcoming Daniel Radcliffe romantic comedy “What If” to HBO’s “Girls”).

Richard Linklater’s Films: Ranked from Best to Worst 

But because Linklater often tells more intimate stories, on smaller budgets, he’s never been nominated for an Oscar in the director category. Is it because Hollywood still thinks of Linklater as a niche filmmaker? Or maybe it’s because his movies aren’t always easy to categorize. Like the equally experimental Steven Soderbergh and the Coen brothers, who have been showered with awards, he’s dabbled in all genres of film, often working with his muse Ethan Hawke. Remember the micro-budgeted “Tape”? (It’s probably best to forget “The Newton Boys.”) Linklater’s best movies are “Dazed and Confused,” the “Before Sunrise” trilogy (especially “Before Sunset”), “Waking Life” and “School of Rock.” But “Boyhood” is his crowning achievement. No other American director has done a better job of capturing the verisimilitude of ordinary life.

For me, my favorite performance in “Boyhood” is from Patricia Arquette. She starts out in a happy marriage, survives a divorce and radiates so much love for her two children (the daughter in the film is played by Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei). And it’s breathtaking to see — in a business so horrified by wrinkles — a woman age on film, and only look stronger and more alive in the process.

The movie industry is understandably worried about this summer’s plummeting box office. “Boyhood” isn’t going to compete with “Transformers 4” or “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” but it’s an important reminder of why we go to the movies, for the stories. Only a filmmaker as soulful as Linklater would imagine a scenario where he spent 12 years unravelling a single narrative, and then actually go out and accomplish that. It seems premature to write about awards season in the summer, except that Linklater is so overdue. “Boyhood” shouldn’t just earn Linklater his first  director nomination. He should be the favorite to win.

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  1. frozensun11 says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

  2. cary jones says:

    This piece of art stays with you, or at least it has with me. It is in line with the thought of Stein’s “a rose is a rose, is a rose, is a rose” and all that followed. It was never intended to have “to have a third act”. It is an act of prolonged contemplation and it works…wonderfully.

  3. mwa says:

    Patricia Arquette gives an amazing performance. Simply human and honest. She plays a human being with flaws, nothing melodramatic, no over the top acting. She understands the human soul and drive. I challenge anyone to give a better performance this year. She should take home every award possible. I hope the Academy reads this!!!

  4. MARCELO says:

    Richard Linklater is a long overdue. But it’s understandable. The Academy Awards don’t care very much about the artistic values of a film. It’s a show, where Hollywood celebrates itself. That’s why most of the best U.S. filmmakers in history never won an Oscar for best director, like Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, Sam Fuller, Nicholas Ray, and John Cassavetes, among others.
    It’s preposterous that Linklater hasn’t even been nominated as a director yet. He should have won it for the screenplays of the Before trilogy. And he should have been nominated (and even win it) as a director for those films, Dazed and Confused, The Newton Boys, Waking Life, or Bernie.
    But he’s pretty much an independent filmmaker, who works outside of the industry. Unless Boyhood becomes a commercial success, I doubt that he will ever be nominated, even for this bold and epic project, Ultimately, the movies that really matter are the ones which remain in the filmgoers’ memory.

  5. claudia says:

    Reading some of your comments makes me think that you probably watched the godfather thinking “this is an apology to mafia!”

  6. Edkargir says:

    Ramon, I agree with everything you wrote. Boyhood is a landmark in film history. I hope it sweeps the oscars .

  7. So he apes the “7 Up” gimmick, filming with his friends and neighbor’s kid on days off, and that qualifies as Best Director quality work?

  8. tlsnyder42 says:

    The movie actually seems to fit in well with Hollywood boundaries and what Hollywood thinks a “real-life” drama made independently should be. I like the audacity of making a movie over multiple years of a cast’s life, but, for me, the story and dialogue needed a little more thought behind its structure and a little more restraint, or at least a moral condemnation, in depicting and approaching underage drug use, even if it was “only” marijuana. I don’t believe in getting stoned or drunk – our lax attitudes on pot and other drugs have dumbed down the younger generations, and many older people. America is a worse place now in too many respects because of the drug culture that Hollywood promotes too often. Clinton and Obama kind of laugh off their younger drug use. George W. Bush did not. Also, it didn’t really say much of anything about the human condition.

  9. David says:

    What better way to explore the human condition than to actually watch a boy grow into a man?

  10. tlsnyder42 says:

    Can’t quite agree, despite the audacity of the filmmaking and the performances. Some minor scenes in the first two acts were more inspiring, touching and dramatic than most of the third act, including the ending. Also, the third act doesn’t seem to have a climax. I’m not looking for a Death Star to be destroyed, and I realize this is a “slice-of-life” kind of movie that probably won’t have any final resolution, but, come on, where’s any sense of real dramatic narrative in BOYHOOD? Also, although the movie does seem to say that building a career of some kind is a good idea (Duh!) and loving your children and stepchildren and treating them well is a good thing, the movie endorses marijuana use by young people aged 18 and younger, including at the very end. What’s up with that? I don’t get it. Furthermore, a scene of boys briefly looking at Internet porn develops into nothing and seems to be just a chance for a joke, as if it’s no big deal, just part of childhood and life in today’s America. What’s up with that? So, this is at most a three-star movie with little positive to teach me, or at least little that seems consistent, developed into a real story, truly profound, or morally, spiritually, or philosophically uplifting. Sorry, that’s not great cinema to me, but I’m willing to hear other people’s reactions and opinions.

  11. Glenn C. says:

    I am a member of the Academy. Thanks for this. Will remember.

  12. Ken says:

    The writer neglected to mention Linklater’s BERNIE, which I – and many of my friends – felt was the best flick of 2012. Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine were both awesome. Seriously looking forward to BOYHOOD.

    • Michael Anthony says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Bernie was one if the TOP films that year. And not a single accolade! Of course, what do you expect from a group that hands best picture to Crash several years before. Makes me wish that a certain percent if academy voters were “regular” people.

  13. steve barr says:

    Regarding Boyhood and the critical stampede in praise of this movie . Thank God for another opinion. Love him or hate him Armond White is never afraid to speak out .

    • filmsharks says:

      Armond White speaks out so much he was kicked out of the New York Film Critics Circle for heckling director Steve McQueen as he was accepting his award for ’12 Years a Slave.’ The man has no class.

    • terry tucker says:

      Lighten up – it’s just a movie. albeit an extra good one – and one that subverts Hollywood boundaries…

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