Category Archives: Movies

Boyhood: A Story of Mason, and Me

Boyhood: A Story of Mason, and Me. Why this movie was such an important, transforming experience for me.

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Boyhood: A Story of Mason, and Me

In the middle of Boyhood, Ethan Hawke as Mason Sr., absent father, drives his son, Mason Jr, played by Ellar Coltrane, to his 15th birthday party being held way out in the dry countryside of Texas. As they motor along in dad’s sleek new minivan, father tells son, “When you get older you can save up and buy a car of your own, be cool like I used to be”.

Nostalgia, always wanting to be cool like we were in the past, plays a large role in the film Boyhood, just as it does in real boyhood. This masterpiece, directed and shot over 12 years by visionary auteur Richard Linklater, follows the life of Mason Jr., as he grows from a six-year old in kindergarten to an eighteen-year old entering his first year in college. Mason is a child of divorced parents, living with his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) along with his older sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater). The family isn’t very stable, and moves around often as Olivia works on her dream of earning a psychology degree.

In Boyhood, Mason constantly is uprooted from his barely lived-in homes, and is always wishing for that chance to recapture the greatness, the simplicity of his last home. Even though he doesn’t realize it, all Mason wants to do is “be cool”, even though he wants to be cool in a far different way than his father does.

In our own boyhood (or girlhood), we also move from place to place, from school to school, from friend to friend. People enter our lives; people leave them. We experience milestones, from our first day of kindergarten to high school graduation; from our first baseball game to our first day of college. We constantly look back at past lives, desperately wanting to cling on to the pieces we loved and just cannot leave behind. We don’t want to turn our backs on the comfort, the coolness.

For Mason, Harry Potter was cool. In the beginning of the movie, his family lines up eagerly to buy the newest addition to the wizarding saga, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. For Mason, Game Boy is cool. Mason plays one of this favorite games on his device as he waits to see his father for the first time in over a year. For Mason, Kings of Leon and the Beatles are cool. Mason receives a definitive collection of the solo works of the Beatles for his birthday from his dad, and Mason kisses a girl in the back seat of a car as a Kings of Leon single blares in the background. For Mason, art is cool. Mason eventually falls in love with photography, and he also falls in love with a girl. For Mason, love is cool.

For me, and for many kids of my generation, these things are all cool. I vividly remember reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in bed with my mom and dad and siblings many years ago, just like Mason and Samantha. I remember waiting with great anticipation in line for the premier of the last Harry Potter movie. I remember long hours playing Game Boy with my brother, just like Mason. We played Pokemon sometimes, each of us having a favorite version of the game, mine the obviously superior Pokemon Sapphire, his the obviously lesser Pokemon Ruby. Often we would battle each other for hours playing Mario. I remember listening to Kings of Leon for hours on my iPod Nano, similar to the iPod Nano that Mason has. I remember talking to my dad about my favorite Beatles’ album, just like how Mason talks to his dad about his favorite member of the band (Paul McCartney).

Most of all, I’ve always thought art is cool. I’ve wanted to be a writer for a long, long time now. I have never felt the joy of expressing my true self like when I’m writing. I get the feeling that Mason feels the same way about his photography. And just like Mason, I experienced something like love when I was younger. Just like Mason, the love ended. It was no one’s fault; it just happened. As Hawke so rightly says about adolescents, “Everybody’s just changing so much, you know. The odds of two young people staying on the same wavelength…”. That is what happened to Mason, and that is what happened to me. In boyhood, we all change so quickly. Oftentimes, we cannot cope with the changes occurring in our children peers, whether they are friends, enemies, or love interests. These changes force people to move apart. This happened to both me and Mason. So, we both grieve for a period, and then move on.

Now, as I stand mere weeks from moving away from home, from becoming a true adult, from ending my own boyhood, I could not have seen Mason’s Boyhood at a better time. This movie is receiving rave reviews across the country. It has a perfect score on Metacritic; only movies like The Godfather and Lawrence of Arabia achieve that ranking. This is probably my favorite movie of all time. It has been greatly praised for the writing, direction, score, and cinematography, among other things. I love this movie for all of those things. But most of all, I and so many others, including many of my fellow young adults, love it because it so perfectly encapsulates the emotions I and others felt growing up, whether it was in 1960s or 2000s America. For me, it seemed to illustrate so many of the emotions running through my mind at this time. Now, the specifics of my and Mason’s stories are different. My parents stayed together, while his didn’t. I played sports and acted, while Mason took pictures. We attended different high schools, lived in different states, grew up in different atmospheres. Yet, when Mason felt happiness playing Game Boy, I understood. When Mason was bullied in middle school, I understood. When Mason felt isolated from his parents, I understood. When Mason didn’t try his hardest in school, I understood. When Mason was in love, I understood. When Mason was heartbroken, I understood.

And, most importantly, when Mason wanted to move on from his boyhood, wanted to put his mark on the world, wanted to be happy with his life, I understood. Leaving -friends, a hometown, and family- is the hardest thing that anyone can ever do. It almost seems like an impossible task. But, just like Mason, I have my life to live. Just like Mason, I love my family, and will owe them greatly for everything they taught me. Just like Mason, I am part of the Class of 2018. Just like Mason, I am unsure of what lies ahead, but willing to move forward confidently, and ready to live my life how I have always wanted to live it. Just like Mason, my boyhood is ending. If I ever grow grow nostalgic for my boyhood, grow nostalgic for the time I was really cool, I can always crack open my Harry Potter and crank up the Kings of Leon to eleven. Just like Mason, my boyhood may be over, but that doesn’t mean it never existed.

Oscars Takeaways: Deserving Winners, but One Huge Snub.

Last night was the first time that I ever watched an awards show in full. Being a cynic, I always thought that awards shows were just a vehicle for pretentious people to bask in the applause of their contemporaries while wearing fancy clothes that cost a year’s worth in college tuition (that was just a guess, but could certainly be right). But I watched more new movies this year than I ever have before. I saw Solomon Northup’s story unfold in the extraordinary 12 Years A Slave; I witnessed Sandra Bullock make her astonishing escape from certain death in Gravity; I laughed in horror at Leonardo Dicaprio’s antics in The Wolf of Wall Street, and then stared in boredom at the Coke Zero version of Wolf (not just in the obvious cocaine way), American Hustle. In a year with so many great movies, it was surprising how many of the awards seemed locked before the show started. In the end, all of the locks won: Matthew McConaughey for Best Actor, Jared Leto for Supporting Actor, Cate Blanchett for Best Actress, Gravity in the technical categories. And while not locks, the two major awards were won by the heavy favorites: Alfonso Cuarón for Best Director and 12 Years for Best Picture. While I wasn’t interested enough to watch the various celebrities parade into the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, I was interested enough to care who won. So, in a year of great movies but little controversy in terms of which ones won the awards, I have 5 general takeaways:

1. 12 Years A Slave gets its due:

The best movie of the year is rewarded with the Best Picture. Seems obvious, right? But there were definite reasons for director Steve McQueen to be worried that his magnum opus wouldn’t win: Gravity was dominating the categories it was nominated in, and many people loved American Hustle. But in the end 12 Years walked away with the big award. Not only an important “message movie”, 12 Years is an extraordinary, seemingly impossible artistic achievement. McQueen films his movie with a sense of serenity. He could have opted for a much more frantic movie, but instead his calm shooting makes the film more powerful. The performances are excellent, from the Best Supporting Actress-winning Lupito Nyong’o, nominated Chiwitel Ejiofor in the lead, and Bendict Cumberbatch in a cameo, to the evil Michael Fassbender, also deservingly nominated for Best Supporting Actor. These actors thrive off of the superb script from John Ridley, which like McQueen’s shooting is powerful because of its willingness to be subtle at times. This subtlety only makes the more emotional parts more powerful.

2. Gravity’s technical wonder is rewarded:

While a great movie in its own right, Gravity cannot compare to the overall impact of 12 Years. But in one way, Gravity  does surpasses 12 Years: its technical accomplishments. It won 7 Oscars, and 6 of them in technical categories, like Best Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Sound Mixing. Gravity is a technical masterpiece. Visually it is breathtaking: some of the shots of the earth are shockingly good, and Cuarón’s and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s long shot style is used to great effect, as Lubezki’s camera zooms in and out of the rubble surrounding Sandra Bullock. And Cuarón deservedly won Best Director. While McQueen also did an amazing job, not to mention Martin Scorcese, Cuarón is almost solely responsible for Gravity. A great movie that deserves the accolades it received.

3. The best Best Actor race in a long time:

Every single nominee deserved to win, from Dicaprio in Wolf to Bruce Dern in Nebraska. Even people not nominated (Oscar Issac in Inside Llewyn Davis, Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, and Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station, among others) had a legitimate claim to giving the best performance of the year. Now, McConaughey probably should have won for his great performance as Ron Woodruff, straight AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club. One of the great things about McConaughey’s performance is that even at the end, after he has saved the lives of many AIDS patients by providing them with illegal medicine, Ron Woodruff does not consider himself a savior, nor does he even like gay people. He solely considers himself an opportunist who now has some sympathy for people different than him. This ensures that the movie does not become too preachy and instead is focused on the internal struggle of a man. But even though that performance was so great, the other nominated actors have real gripes. Leo gives arguably his best performance yet in his already storied career, and Ejiofor gives a beautifully reserved performance in 12 Years. For my money, my favorite performance of the year was Issac’s, as he gives a truly despicable character some needed humanity.

4. American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street both go home with nothing:

One of these movies I loved, the other I didn’t. Wolf of Wall Street broke barriers and went beyond normal measures in its efforts to depict the debauchery of Wall Street during the ’90s, while American Hustle wasted great performances from its A-list actors in a movie with no real climax or interesting hustle. But both movies went home awardless. I very much wanted Wolf to win something. I felt that such a bold movie should have been rewarded with an award. I was secretly rooting for Scorsese to bring home his second Director trophy, and for Leo to get his much deserved Oscar. And even though I didn’t like Hustle, I wouldn’t have minded Bradley Cooper winning Best Supporting Actor. American Hustle even had a chance at Best Picture and Best Director, as the Academy generally loves David O. Russell. Jennifer Lawrence also had a legitimate chance of upsetting Lupita Nyong’o. But none of these things happened. In a weaker year, these two movies would have dominated the Oscars. But in such a strong year, Wolf was too polarizing and Hustle too bland. Dicaprio must be shocked that The Great Gatsby won 2 Oscars while Wolf won none.

5. Inside Llewyn Davis is snubbed:

This is a true tragedy. In my opinion, Llewyn Davis was the only movie that could hold a candle to 12 Years. It was smart, sad, funny, interesting. Oscar Issac was truly phenomenal as the title character, a folk singer down on his luck. As I mentioned above, Issac inserts some essential humanity into this truly bad person. Without this humanity, the audience would feel no sympathy for Llewyn Davis. But instead, we spend the whole movie rooting for him, even as he takes advantage of people and criticizes his fellow performers. Issac is supported by stellar showings from Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, and the amazing John Goodman (how he has not even been nominated for an Oscar, much less won one, is beyond me. He must have deserved to win for playing the immortal Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, another Cohen brothers’ classic). The cinematography is brilliant, creating a depressed atmosphere. And of course the score is superb. Issac not only sings his own songs, he sings them live. Overall, this was an outstanding film, which had very interesting things to say about the futility of being an artist, and whether creating art actually fulfills people. This is my favorite Cohen brothers’ movie, and that is saying something.

And one more: Ellen was funny!

I know, shocking! A funny awards show host host! The only other Oscars I’ve watched a ton of is last year’s, and Seth MacFarlane was just not funny. I don’t like his work in general… Actually, I hate it (I’m sure he’s a nice guy though!). So that was bad. But Ellen was good! The pizza bit was good, the selfie was funny though manufactured, and her other jokes were good. She was by turns self-depricating and self-promoting with her trademark sense of irony. Good job, girl.

Hopefully we get half as good a movie year in 2014. Happy movies!

Oscars 2014: Predictions and My Favorites

2013 was considered by almost everyone as an awesome year for movies. I saw many more movies this year than I have previously, and I agree with this sentiment. So, I am actually interested in the Oscars on Sunday. Here are my predictions for some of the major categories, and my personal favorites in those categories. (NOTE: I didn’t see every movie nominated for these categories, though I did see a lot of them.)

Best Supporting Actor:

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Prediction- Jared Leto. Although I didn’t like this performance at all (way too over the top), it seems like Leto is a lock.

My favorite- Michael Fassbender. Fassbender was excellent in this great movie, but has very little chance of winning. Mark Harris on Grantland made an interesting point about Fassbender, saying that the Academy will not want to make itself look bad by giving a white performer from a movie about slavery an Acting award.

Best Supporting Actress:

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

Prediction and my favorite- Lupita Nyong’o. Great performance here. I think that the Academy will want to reward one of the actors from 12 Years a Slave, and I think Nyong’o is in the weakest category of the actors.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater, Before Midnight
Billy Ray, Captain Phillips
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street

Prediction and my favorite- 12 Years a Slave. Powerful script, with some great, subtle passages. The tension between the white slave owners and the slaves is so noticeable, and not just through the visuals.

Best Original Screenplay:

Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, American Hustle
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club
Spike Jonze, Her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska

Prediction- American Hustle. An Academy favorite, though I didn’t like it very much.

My favorite- Her. I really liked this movie, although the screenplay was not amazing. It was certainly good. My favorite screenplay of the whole year was Inside Llewyn Davis, which did not get a single nomination in a major category.

Best Actor:

Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club- Excellent performance, and the probable winner. The Academy loves when someone has to change their appearance for a role. Recent examples of this include Anne Hathawy for Les Mis and Christian Bale for The Fighter.  McConaughey carries this movie.

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street- Maybe Leo’s best performance, up there with The Departed and Blood Diamond. Magnetic, charismatic, shocking, Leo proves again that he can play a movie star role with the skill of the best character actor around.

Christian Bale, American Hustle- My least favorite nominee out of the 4 that I saw. He was fine, but was nowhere near the class of the other 3, and American Hustle was the worst movie out of 12 Years, Wolf and DBC.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave- An amazing, reserved performance. Ejiofor will probably lose out to either Dicaprio or McConaughey in the end because his performance was much less flashy, and the voters will probably want to reward multiple movies with the top award instead of giving everything to 12 Years.

Bruce Dern, Nebraska

Sidebar: Oscar Issac for Inside Llewyn Davis was totally ripped off for his amazing job as the title character, somehow putting some humanity into a dreadful, horrible person. And he sings live during the movie. Probably my favorite performance of the year.

Best Actress: only saw one of these performances (Amy Adams in American Hustle) so I can’t say which my favorite was. That being said, it seems like Cate Blanchett is a lock for Blue Jasmine.

Best Director:

Alexander Payne, Nebraska- Didn’t see it.

Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street- Scorsese directs another great movie here, although one that is probably too polarizing to win Scorsese the award. Some classic Marty touches here.

David O. Russell, American Hustle- I like Russell a lot. I think he does a really good job in Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter. But he can’t find a movie plot or any kind of climax here in the mess on display. 

Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave– A remarkable job, but one that won’t win him the award. McQueen puts a remarkable stamp on the movie, overseeing some amazing shots of the swamplands in Louisiana and depicting the struggle of slaves in such an intense, vulnerable way.

Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity– This technical masterpiece will win Cuarón the award. Without him, Gravity could not exist. He is truly a visionary filmmaker, previously making my favorite movie, 2006’s Children of Men. His extraordinary cinematography is on display here again.

Best Picture:

Dallas Buyers Club– Very good movie, though probably doesn’t deserve to be nominated. Without McConaughey, it flops.
Nebraska– Didn’t see it.
Captain Phillips– Great movie, but no chance to win. A couple of stellar performances, particularly from Tom Hanks and the nominated Barkhad Abdi.
Philomena– Didn’t see it.
The Wolf of Wall Street– a glorious debauchery, with Leo at his finest and excellent performances from the supporting class, including Johan Hill, McConaughey (this guy owned 2013, and has started out 2014 well with True Detective) and a great cameo from Rob Reiner. Too polarizing to win, although in 20 years may be the 2nd most remembered movie from 2013.
Her- Cool atmosphere, with some awesome performances, especially from Rooney Mara and Scarlett Johanson. Spike Jonze does a great job of setting this futuristic atmosphere where technology is sentient.

American Hustle– a mess of a movie that would crash without the great performances, especially from Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, and Bradley Cooper. But the two leads (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) aren’t as good as the Academy says, and there is very little climax. A lot of show, but little substance.

Gravity-  A visual masterpiece, although not a good enough movie to win. Some great cinematography, but the script is weak, which will hurt it come Sunday.

12 Years a Slave– The best movie of the year, and should certainly win the award. This movie is extraordinary, combining great performances with an amazing script and and vibrant atmosphere. In a year when many of the other favorites (Hustle, Wolf, Gravity, DBC) were flashy, 12 Years will win off of the back of its reserved script which is far more powerful than any other script this year.

Final note: Inside Llewyn Davis was totally ripped off. I think that it is the only movie that compares to 12 Years. It has amazing things to say about life in general, and making art in particular. And some great backup performances from John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake, and Carey Mulligan. The Coen brothers have made some fantastic movies, from The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men to Fargo, but I think that this is their best movie.