In what’s become an annual tradition, last weekend’s Writers Guild Awards weren’t much of a trial heat for the Oscars. Membership requirements repeatedly keep out many of the higher-profile Academy Award contenders. And sometimes the two branches, even when they both love certain scripts, disagree on where to slot them. Behold the miraculously adapted-original screenplay for Whiplash, of which the shenanigans that led to its “exclusion” here at least excuse me from having to fantasize about how thrilling voters likely find Damien Chazelle’s 50 shades of gay panic. (Ed gets that honor of unpacking the whole gory mess, so stay tuned.) That glitch aside, this slate is still a four-for-five match with the guild’s.
Richard Linklater (#1–10 of 41)
Even as Boyhood steamrolled the critics groups, even as it dominated the Golden Globes, we had our doubts about its frontrunner status here and in best picture. This little film that so deeply ponders matters of life and love struck such a universal nerve that it seemed as if it could actually buck the trend on Oscar night wherein the most self-congratulatory totem to Hollywood itself typically reigns supreme. After losing the PGA, then (more expectedly) the SAG ensemble, only to then persevere at the BAFTAs, Boyhood was following in all of The Social Network’s footsteps. And just as David Fincher lost the DGA award to Tom Hooper, solidifying The King’s Speech’s frontrunner status leading into Oscar night, the nail in Boyhood’s coffin seemed to come when Richard Linklater lost to Alejandro González Iñárritu. Boyhood, a bigger-hearted film than The Social Network, may still win best picture—that is, if the PGA, SAG, and DGA victories for Birdman can be understood to represent a passionless kind of respect for the means by which the film’s producers, actors, and director, working in perfect congress, realized the pyrotechnic wonder of their one-take stunt. But that’s Eric Henderson’s argument to make next week. In this category where formal bombast is so often rewarded, as conductor of Birdman brute-force razzle dazzle, González Iñárritu is your winner almost by default.
1. “Previously On: In Praise of the Television Recap Sequence.” As plots become more and more complex, the humble summation has risen to an art form.
“Some recaps are technical masterpieces. On a complex show, an editor might have to reach back into previous seasons to pluck the narrative buds that the latest episode unfurls. Sharp, quick cuts of dialogue work with expert visual precision (Friday Night Lights did an extraordinary job with this—a character walks into the night with a pissed-off expression, while another character, seen in the previous fragment, describes her perspective on the drama in voice-over). Other recaps play a more expository role, and might not even be chronological, as with The Newsroom or Lost, which kicked off its last few seasons with hour-long recaps. And some shows choose to set a mood rather than offer any kind of chronology, as on Mad Men, whose enigmatic recaps and teasers have proved maddening to some viewers.”
1. ”Selma Star David Oyelowo Says Academy Favors ’Subservient’ Black Roles.” The actor, who was snubbed for his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr., said: “We, as black people, have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings or being at the center of our own narrative.”
” As evidence, Oyelowo argued that ’Denzel Washington should have won for playing Malcolm X’ and that Sidney Poitier should have won his Oscar for In the Heat of the Night rather than Lilies of the Field. ’So this bears out what I’m saying,’ the actor continued, ’which is we’ve just got to come to the point whereby there isn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy—a notion of who black people are—that feeds into what we are celebrated as, not just in the Academy, but in life generally. We have been slaves, we have been domestic servants, we have been criminals, we have been all of those things. But we have been leaders, we have been kings, we have been those who changed the world.’ The audience responded with applause.”
It’s decision time and our gurus of gold bring you tidings of great confusion. This year’s nominees for documentary short are all, almost conspicuously, united by their deployment of the canniest of distancing effects. They’re also among the most galvanizing selections we’ve ever had the pleasure of screening—if pleasure is the word to describe how they’ve harpooned our hearts, minds, and seemingly impenetrable tear ducts. Just about the only thing we can agree on is that, as a piece of filmmaking, Gabriel Serra’s The Reaper has no equal here, but that a victory for this haunting, expressionistic, and deeply graphic articulation of a slaughterhouse worker’s relationship to death seems impossible in a world where Richard Linklater is probably the only AMPAS member to have ever made it through the entirety of Fassbinder’s In a Year of 13 Moons without covering his eyes.
1. ”Reverse Shot’s Best of 2014.” Below is Ashley Clark on their best in show, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.
“Without wishing to indulge in hyperbole, the real miracle of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood—a moving, intimate family drama shot in small chunks with the same core cast over a period of twelve years—is not simply that its audacious concept was ushered through to completion. (Ellar Coltrane, who plays Mason, the youngster at the center of the film, could have at any moment decided the acting life wasn’t for him, and effectively scuppered the enterprise.) Rather, it’s the unshakable faith that Linklater has invested in stillness, subtlety, and—whisper it—banality, as a pathway to emotional resonance. Think about it: how many other directors would make a film over the same period and resist the temptation to shore up the intimidatingly diffuse timeline with dramatic clichés, coming-of-age touchstones (for instance, young Mason’s hilariously perplexed reaction to a pair of locker-room douchebag bullies), and actorly pyrotechnics? Save for one spectacular, alcohol-fueled family blowout, Boyhood is comprised of hushed, beautifully observed interactions that cut across generational lines, performed with grace and restraint by underrated actors like Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, who both shine as Mason’s separated parents.”
1. ”TIME Picks the Top 10 Photos of 2014.” From Ukraine to Ferguson, Gaza to Liberia, TIME picks the most influential photos of 2014.
“There are more people than ever on Earth, but never have we been this connected with each other. Photography plays a large role, with the still image continuing to hold extraordinary power, bypassing borders and languages and cultures, to inform and educate us. Its success is its impact, altering our actions or thoughts merely because it exists. It’s our proof. And technology has kept pace. Each photograph selected for TIME’s Top 10 photos of 2014, unranked and carefully culled from thousands, takes us into a dramatic scene that provides an important visual record of history. As these images came through our news-gathering operation over the course of the year, they not only astounded us, but they also moved us.”
1. “The First Oscar Lock of the Year Is Here (It’s Not What You Think It Is).” If only all Oscar punditry was as well written as this.
“So much for why the film isn’t necessarily fated to lose. But explaining how it could go all the way connects to more delicate aspects of Hollywood, and Academy, psychology. And here’s where Boyhood becomes a special case: More than almost any movie I can think of, the emotional and fascinating story of how it was made is practically part of its plot; it doesn’t need to be sold as a campaign talking point because it’s manifest in every frame. I imagine that most people who have seen the film can figure out for themselves that its conceiver-writer-director, Richard Linklater, shot it intermittently over 12 years, starting when its star, Ellar Coltrane, was 6 or 7 and reuniting him with Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette for a few days every year in Texas until he was 18. One of the most popular and durable of all Oscar narratives is the Passion Project—the story or screenplay or property I toiled away on (or the career choice I stuck with) for years and years in the face of opposition, underminers, or general indifference to my fervent belief that it/I could be something. (Anytime you hear, in an acceptance speech, ’What a journey this has been!’ you’re hearing that narrative.) Boyhood has completely commandeered that trope this year; it doesn’t matter how long anybody wanted to make Into the Woods (a long time!) or Foxcatcher (a pretty long time!) or Inherent Vice (not that long!), because no other 2014 movie—in fact, no nondocumentary movie in history—has taken ’What a journey this has been!’ and so visibly literalized it.”
1. “An Auteur Is Not a Brand.” Richard Brody on why so many are piling on the idea of the auteur.
“That polemical side of auteurism is what fell away as the idea spread widely. Movies also have a role in civic life, and directors’ political ideas are inextricable from their worldviews (and careful viewing entails distinguishing the orthodoxies of a studio or a government from a director’s inflection of, or departure from, the official line). Yet politics and sociology have come to the fore again in the discussion of movies, for the very reason that auteurism has run rampant: the empiricism of critical discourse. Social trends and ideological casts are easy to talk about, as are the diverse traits of habit or style that render a formerly overlooked filmmaker distinguishable. But what makes a movie—and a filmmaker—great is something that veers toward the ineffable.”
1. “Steven Soderbergh On Why He Really Quit Movies.” The director talks about his new TV show, his old films, and the one-asshole theory of everything.
“And I’ll tell you why. This country is too fucking big. I honestly think…In nature, if a cell gets too big, it divides. You can’t come up with a set of rules that’s going to work for 350 million people. You’re just not. So we’re stuck. Robert Kennedy had this great quote: ’20 percent of people are against everything, all the time.’ That’s a big number now. And you know what? ’No’ is easy. ’No’ doesn’t require any follow-up, commitment. ’Yes’ is hard, ’yes’ has to be worked on. It needs a lot of people to keep it as ’yes.’ That’s where we’re at. When I’m president, we’re going back to the Thirteen Colonies, is what we’re going to do. It’s a weird time. Because the trajectory…Wow, I look around and I’m alarmed. I guess every generation feels that way, I don’t know, but I’m really alarmed. I talk to smart people who work in fields either, you know, neuro-cognition or social analysis, I go, ’Am I going nuts or is this thing going a certain direction, really fast?’ All of them go, ’You’re not imagining things.’ And I go, ’What do we do?’ This could turn into Mad Max, like tomorrow. The fabric is so thin, I feel like.”