What a year! Both Boyhood (2014) and Birdman come out, both with two “gimmicks” that test the conventions and abilities of filmmaking. I find both “gimmicks” as incredible ideas that bring artistry back to filmmaking. In Boyhood, director Richard Linklater follows the life of a boy over 12 years. In the span of two hours and forty-five minutes, you literally see a boy grow up. It’s absolutely incredible.

Boyhood follows the life of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), a six-year old boy. He has an older sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater) who is two years older than him. They live with their mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) who starts the film as a struggling single mother. Each year, they filmed a little bit, creating a story that spans 12 years. What this film does that other movies with similar themes never achieve is clearly and artfully articulating the process of growing up. What I mean by that is that you not only see the children physically grow older but you actually see them become the people they will be as adults. Samantha starts out as a spunky and chatty girl. Over the years, she becomes introverted and reserved, always hiding behind a pair of headphones or a cell phone keyboard. She doesn’t make much trouble, she goes to college, and she’ll be alright. She makes a pretty big change though, from outgoing to withdrawn, which is fascinating to watch.

Mason Jr. makes another big change. He starts off also chatty, a little strange, but sweet. Over the years, dealing with a couple of horrible alcoholic step-fathers, plenty of moving, seeing his mom finish school and stabilize the household, and interacting with his father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), his journey through boyhood is a little more colorful than his sister’s. He deals with varying degrees of work ethic. He experiments with drugs and alcohol. He finds a passion for photography which keeps him motivated through high school. He becomes a soft-spoken young man with a hint of an anarchy streak in him. He doesn’t open up to people very often, but when he does, he’s loyal. He basically becomes a hipster artist who somehow sidestepped a move to Austin, Texas. This film really accentuates what parents see over the years, succinctly in a film: children meander around, looking for their personalities and characters until they finally discover themselves and root themselves into the adults they will be. I don’t have children and I don’t have any younger siblings, so I haven’t really been aware of this phenomenon. The film brings it to life artistically with poignant clarity.

Arquette delivers the performance of a lifetime. She starts off as a struggling single mother, who works so hard juggling parenting and school in order to give her children a better life. She stumbles into two bad marriages, one of which was very toxic. She finally landed a great job and was able to finally start giving her children a comfort and stability in life they hadn’t ever experienced. Her character is incredibly dynamic and her performance is just as dynamic and beautifully nuanced. At the turn of a hat she can switch from a loving mother to the strict parent and to a vulnerable person. What I find wonderful about her character is that, despite the ill-suited men she kept marrying and their thoughts about her children, she always trusted her children. Even as Mason started experimenting and saying out later, she knew him and trusted him, and I believe that Mason valued that trust and never abused it. Patricia Arquette will surely be winning an Oscar tonight.

Not only is Boyhood a meaningful journey through life, it’s also funny. The film sports a lot of pop culture references that keep each year distinguishable from the one before and after. Early in the film, Samantha smacks Mason with a pillow and starts dancing and singing to Britney Spears’ “Oops…I Did it Again”. Such a funny moment. Later on in the film, Mason and his dad are shooting the breeze and start wondering if there ever will be any more Star Wars movies, which, in itself isn’t funny, but it’s hilarious when the movie comes out the year before a new Star Wars movie is released. Humor is an important part of the recipe for Boyhood. It’s not enough to have a solemn look at the upbringing of children. If there’s no humor and laughter in life, what’s the point? I think the humor beautifully balances out the drama in Boyhood.

I had the opportunity to see Boyhood right when it came out and I missed it. Ever since, I have been eagerly waiting to see it, as it gained more and more acclaim and accolade. Finally, I’ve seen it, and while I wasn’t able to identify with it very much, I was astounded with the story and means of telling that story. The attention and care that Linklater took to actually make this film happen, year after year over twelve years, is absolutely remarkable. For that, I expect him to win an Oscar for Best Director tonight. He had the forbearance to recognize that he had a great cast, particularly in his boy star, who he had to believe would grow into his talents. Boyhood has a remarkable cast who performs beautifully, especially for revisiting their characters once a year. For me, the most important impact from Boyhood is the marvel parents must feel to see their children become the men and women they find for themselves.


“We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy.” — Amy

“The past is just a story we tell ourselves.” — Samantha

Her (2013) is a Spike Jonze love story starring Joaquin Phoenix. Set in Los Angeles in the future, Her is a story about lonely Theodore (Phoenix) who spends his time at his letter writing job, playing video games at home, and using his futuristic smart phone. The new OS1 is released, boasting that it is the first artificial intelligent operating system. Theodore purchases it, decides to give his OS a female identity, and begins to interact and bond with his OS: Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Samantha is an entity of great intelligence, but Theodore is surprised by her sensitivity and her capacity for emotion. They create a very intimate bond with each other and eventually fall in love. While he and Samantha are “dating”, Theodore is finalizing his divorce with Catherine (Roony Mara), his childhood sweetheart, and he finds solace and comfort with his friend Amy (Amy Adams). He is both excited and doubtful about his relationship with Samantha. He’s never felt so close to someone, but is Samantha actually “someone”?

While Her is a love story, the film is also a masked science-fiction commentary. Her is cautionary tale about smart phones and the problematic over-reliance and over-consumption of technology in general. As Theodore commutes home from work, he has his earphone device continuously in his ear, listening to e-mails read aloud to him, checking up on constantly updated news, etc. The other commuters around him also are constantly engaged in their smart devices that you never see people interacting with each other. It’s hard to think that technology could actually become more ingrained into daily life than it already is, but Her offers up a possibility for what may happen if mankind continues down the road it is currently on. I, myself, felt the impact of its message when the film ended: I attended a Oscar Movie Showcase in Chicago but went by myself; when the film ended, I immediately reached for my phone so I could talk about the film with a friend, but I felt awkward going straight for my phone.

Her is a beautifully artistic film. It’s so refreshing to see a film that steps outside the usual reservations. Her is a colorful film, saturated in bright warm colors, primary colors, oranges, reds, cyan. Theodore almost always wears an orange shirt. It seemed that the city and all its settings were sleek and patterned, a reflection of the modernity of technology and this advanced operating system. I love the idea of a future world improving itself just as technology improves itself. Los Angeles in Her is much bigger, but it is also much cleaner and more glistening than it is today. The wardrobe also played an interesting part in the film’s aesthetic. While set in the future, the style was vintage, evident by all the high-waisted pants. It’s a strange juxtaposition: cutting-edge, forward-thinking technology with classic and reinvented style. I think it contributes to the romanticism of the story — adorning the unconventional love story with color and patterns and paradoxes.

Joaquin Phoenix performs beautifully in Her. I say he was robbed of an Academy Award nomination, because he truly embodied the sweet and sensitive Theodore. Theodore has many flaws, but he is a sincere and earnest man, who found love and doesn’t want to give it up. He wants to believe in love and wants to lose himself in the comfort of partnership. Phoenix expresses these qualities so tenderly. When doubtful, he speaks with a hesitant honesty, and when he is happy, he laughs an unrestrained and liberated laugh. I connected very much to Phoenix’s portrayal of Theodore; I connected with him because he was a real person, a man whose goals and ambitions I understood.

Her is a gorgeous film, challenging us to redefine what love is. Among a backdrop of beautiful and bright colors, sleek patterns, and Arcade Fire’s fantastic score, Joaquin Phoenix shows us what it’s like to fall in love — an honest look: with both the good and the bad. Love with an operating system can very well be a metaphor for any unconventional relationship (i.e. a gay relationship, polyamory, etc), something real and beautiful but difficult to embrace among social pressures — but Amy’s above quote is the answer to any doubt or restraint: “We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy.”