The Academy’s Big Blunder

(Image: Davidlohr Bueso)

Does the Academy’s failure to recognise Richard Linklater’s ‘ordinary masterpiece’ Boyhood mark the final hurdle in a decade of snubs and injustice?

To say that the 87th Academy Awards left me with a bitter taste in my mouth would be an understatement. Even though some pinned it ‘Boyhood vs Birdman‘, for me it was one of the clearest and most obvious choices for best picture in the last decade. I am, as you may have already guessed, one of thousands left touched and traumatised by Boyhood: Richard Linklater’s stunning twelve-year time lapse through modern middle class America in the eyes of 6-18 year old Mason Jr.

So as you can imagine, when Sean Penn announced this year’s best picture, I was left wishing Kanye West was lurking in the front rows, so he could rush up and give a preposterous look of disgust that Brangelina and co would have to pretend to be appalled by.

But more than this, I feel a genuine pang of sadness that Boyhood hasn’t got the credit it so deserves. Thinking of Linklater, Coltrane, Arquette and Hawke gliding through Hollywood after-parties empty handed makes me feel like the parent of some absurdly gifted child, snubbed at a schools talent contest.

I think of Boyhood now as a peoples film. Subtle, relatable, deft and haunting so rare in its loveable, yet immense quality – I cannot remember a film I felt so confident in recommending to a ridiculous variety of people. It glides through seamlessly, with un-dramatic insights into each year – moving house, dinners, trips to the bowling alley – all collating to present a simple and memorable reflection on life. Partricia Arquette gives a raw, and brave performance, as mum, Olivia, presenting a twelve-year transition equally as memorable as Mason Jr himself. Boyhood will (I hope) be remembered for many, many years to come. Perhaps even more so now for being, in my mind, the Academy’s greatest blunder of recent history.

I do not want this to become: “Boyhood is a masterpiece; Birdman is ‘You Don’t Mess with the Zohan’ reincarnate”, because Birdman is, undeniably, a very good film. It is refreshing to see Inarritu shake off the gloom of 21 Grams, Babel and Buitiful, with a black comedy of genuine quality. However, there is a distance as big as the pacific ocean between a good film and a great one, and Boyhood is one of the great triumphs of modern cinema.

The Academy, in my eyes, lost it’s edge some years ago. With dull films drenched in mediocrity like Argo, The King’s Speech and The Artist denying bolder, more creative and memorable pieces of cinema to take the prizes. But it would appear that it has now lost its sense too. To think of the best pictures of the last decade that could have been; Boyhood joining There Will Be Blood, Amour, Brokeback Mountain – some of the real greats of recent times, left to be remembered and cherished in years to come, despite having walked away empty handed.

If the modern (slightly behind the times) man or woman was considering immersing themselves in the world of “quality” cinema, a Sunday’s marathon of recent best picture winners would probably leave you bored, overtired and with a lingering back ache that would no doubt make you wonder how much better you could have spent your day off.

Perhaps there is some unseen, back room politics playing a part in the Academy’s failure in recognition. Indeed, it is actors who make up the largest portion of the Academy’s 6000 odd members, so Michael Keaton’s undeniably brilliant performance as Riggan Thomson in Birdman coupled with a stellar ensemble cast may have swayed a few decisions.

But in my mind the honour of the little golden man is dwindling under the weight of the glitz, glam, singing and dancing, and I can only hope that Boyhood is remembered down the line for being what it genuinely is: a masterpiece.


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