For Your Consideration: July 11, 2014

Watching childhood home movies can be a confusing experience, a mix of amusement, embarrassment, and nostalgia, as we watch our past selves—creatures so familiar and yet horrifically foreign—grow, change, and do silly things. So what would it be like to grow up in an actual movie? Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” coming to theaters this weekend, answers that question.

Filmed over the course of 12 years, “Boyhood” follows one six-year-old boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he stumbles and jumps through the years—all the way until he is 18. It’s a fictional plot acted out by actors as they aged in real time, in some ways a movie and a documentary. While we can’t wait to bring you a review of the actual film, here are three movies that also condense and play with time in the course of a film, and in so doing, paved the way for Linklater’s audacious new creation.

– Elaine

“Seven Up” series (since 1964)

Cast: Bruce Balden, Jackie Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Susan Davis, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Suzy Lusk, Tony Walker

All installments in the “Up” series are streaming on Netflix; “Seven Up” is free on Amazon Instant with ads, further installments available for purchase

The spiritual ancestor of “Boyhood,” Michael Apted’s extraordinary documentary series began as a social experiment and evolved into something much larger and more profound. Begun in 1964, the original intent was to test the famous Jesuit saying: “Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.” To do so, Apted brought together 20 British children from all walks of life and asked them about their likes, dislikes, aspirations, and prospects. They then reconvened every seven years to follow the children as they grew up and fulfilled (or failed) those aspirations and prospects. It is a fascinating study of the British class system and social mobility, but it’s also an eerie, poignant abstract of human life—decades compressed into the space of a few hours.

Apted chooses ordinary lives and places extraordinary focus on them, and life, documented in such a way, seems both ordinary and extraordinary. There’s something extremely uncanny about watching this series, as if seeing all the possible permutations of your own life unfold upon the screen. Time passes, choices are made, and it’s only afterwards that the narrative becomes clear.

The most recent installment was “56 Up,” released in 2012. Only five more years to go until the next, for Apted, for the participants, and for us all.

– Elaine

“Slacker” (1991)

Available streaming on Netflix, Hulu, or to rent/purchase streaming on Amazon Instant or iTunes

From the one-crazy-night construction of “Dazed and Confused” to the nine-year-installment cycle of the “Before Sunrise” trilogy, Richard Linklater has always had an interest in exploring and playing with time, bending the temporal flexibility of film to suit his purposes. The ambitious production behind “Boyhood” wasn’t the first time Linklater has gone to such extremes, either: his very first feature was a similar experiment in the cinematic time-space continuum, only at the opposite end of the spectrum. Unfolding in what is meant to feel like real-time, “Slacker” seems to be following a drifter (played by Linklater himself) fresh off the bus in Austin, Texas – until that drifter collides with another aimless young man on the street, and suddenly we’ve spun off into a whole different story. Five minutes later, a wandering musician becomes our new protagonist, and then a sidewalk t-shirt salesman, then a paranoid schizophrenic, an aspiring psychic and her companion, and on and on and on, rolling through characters credited with names like “Dostoyevsky Wannabe,” “Sadistic Comb Game Player,” “Budding Capitalist Youth” and “S-T-E-V-E With a Van.” The rotating focus is not a new gimmick (Max Öphuls’ “La Ronde” tried the same structure, to similar success, about 40 years earlier), but Linklater’s unobtrusive, observational style and penchant for vivid characterization makes “Slacker” a sensational debut for a career that, even after the massive critical acclaim given the director’s way the past two years, might remain underrated.

– Ethan

“Synecdoche, New York” (2008)

Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Tom Noonan, Dianne Wiest

Available for purchase on Amazon Instant or iTunes, on disc from Netflix

If “Boyhood” quite literally condenses a life in front of our eyes, Charlie Kaufman’s baffling cerebral drama opts for the more post-modern route. Are we seeing the life of playwright Caden Cotard (the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his best performances) genuinely play out, from the banality of early fatherhood to the isolation of death? Is it all part of Cotard’s elaborate, seemingly planet-encompassing theater project? Or is this the fever dream of a screenwriter desperately seeking meaning in his art, in his personal life, in his very existence? Considering this is the same man who had no trouble inserting himself (along with an imagined twin brother) as the protagonist of “Adaptation,” one might lean toward the latter. But there’s something eerily empathetic about Kaufman’s floundering, a compression of an endless array of questions and problems into this one man, representing many. It is easier to say what “Synecdoche, New York” is NOT about than what it is (hint: it’s not about transforming robots).

– Ethan

For Your Consideration: April 11, 2014

 

 

Have you ever looked at a film’s cast list on paper and wondered if some studio assistant made a mistake in the press release? Clicked through the IMDB page and just been at a total loss to picture how two actors could mesh together on the screen? It’s not even necessarily a negative reaction, nor ultimately a judgment on the movie itself – there are some savvy casting directors out there in the industry that can find fruitful collaborations in the most unlikely of places. But this week at The Best Films of Our Lives we’re celebrating that fleeting moment of uncertainty, that perverse moment of defied expectations (before we all go on Twitter to bitch and moan a bit). For this weekend’s viewing, here are some on-screen pairings that made us, at least initially, think nothing but, “huh….that’s weird.”

– Ethan

“Harold and Maude” (1971)

Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant

Cast: Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon, Vivian Pickles

This might be cheating the spirit of this column a bit, since much of the point of Hal Ashby’s cult film is the apparent mismatch between its romantic leads, young Harold (Bud Cort) and the 79-year-old Maude (Ruth Gordon). But even taking into account the intentional eccentricities and subversiveness of writer Colin Higgins’ scenario, it’s easy to forget how peculiar the specific casting was. Cort had been plucked out a revue show only a few years earlier by Robert Altman, and his only previous film role of note was the title role in Altman’s “Brewster McCloud,” a generally ridiculed flop at the time (it’s since gained something of its own cult following). Gordon, meanwhile, though an accomplished stage actress, had mostly made her Hollywood career in screenwriting, receiving Oscar nominations for “A Double Life” and the Tracy/Hepburn classics “Adam’s Rib” and “Pat and Mike;” it wasn’t until she was in her 70s that she gained widespread fame as the satanic busybody of “Rosemary’s Baby.” Together they made the most perverse combination of obscurity and broken expectations, and it ended up making Ashby’s black comedy all the more bizarrely poignant.

Ethan

“Take This Waltz” (2011)

Cast: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman

Streaming on Netflix

Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen make a pretty weird couple, but “Take This Waltz,” a sad, sweet story about an affair, pivots upon this clumsy but endearing pairing. Margot (Williams) loves Lou (Rogen), and in many ways, they fit well together. But as it always is in these kinds of stories, there’s that inexplicable something missing. That something seems to appear in the form of Daniel (Luke Kirby), a handsome, artistic man who lives across the street. In this beautifully directed film by Sarah Polley, Margot’s face is often inscrutable, her motives baffling, but the movie is not interested in understanding why a marriage falls apart. Rather, it seeks to document the process of falling in love, out of love, and maybe landing somewhere in between. Williams inhabits her character so fully that we feel the weight of Margot’s life, the ennui and the frustration, the intimacy she seeks, and the mistakes she carries with her as lightly and yet as permanently as if they were within her beige tote bag.

– Elaine

“Only Lovers Left Alive” (2014)

In theaters today (limited release)

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, Jeffrey Wright

If ever there was a weird couple, then Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston take the cake. Playing vampire lovers who have spent their centuries inspiring artists as varied as Lord Byron and Schubert—and hanging out with the undead Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt)—Hiddleston and Swinton grace the silver screen across America this weekend. Twilight and True Blood fans need not apply here. Plot is irrelevant to “Only Lovers”—which is not to say that nothing happens—but this moody, atmospheric movie, which takes place entirely at night, looks to be a visual treat: an artist’s stylized meditation on love and art. Besides, who doesn’t want to be cool with Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton for two hours?

– Elaine