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 4, 2014

Have you already been to see “Captain America: The Winter Soldier?” Have you seen it twice? Don’t snigger, apparently our midnight showings now start at 8 pm, so that’s actually a thing that could happen. But for those who like their patriotism with a little less bombast, it’s possible that the latest Marvel super-buster (I feel like we need a new word for these mega-franchises that automatically generate $300 million or more – submissions welcome!) isn’t high on the priority viewing list. So this week we’re offering a smorgasbord of alternative jingoism: films that put America right up front in the title, but but maybe don’t immediately follow it with a string of explosions.

– Ethan

American Graffiti (1973)

Available to rent streaming from Amazon Instant or on disc from Netflix

Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul le Mat, Charlie Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, Wolfman Jack, a very young Harrison Ford

There’s some sick cosmic joke in the fact that the man who invented not one but two major strains of American cinema – the sci-fi/franchise blockbuster and the American indie film about teenagers wandering around on a single day or night, not doing anything in particular and talking about sex and stuff – also came up with Jar Jar Binks. But long before he succumbed to the Dark Side of VFX, George Lucas made “American Graffiti,” a charming one-last-night take on adolescence that became the model for “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Dazed and Confused” and all the rest. So thoroughly retro as to basically be a historical artifact, Lucas recreated the early 60’s with the precision of intense nostalgia. He’s assisted mightily by the underrated performances of Dreyfuss and Howard, who subvert the gee-willikers innocence of that era’s image with just the right touch of liberated 70’s anarchy.

– Ethan

American Dream (1990)

Streaming on Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant, available on disc from Netflix

Barbara Kopple won an Oscar in 1976 for her searing documentary of a rural mining town racked by company-on-union violence, “Harlan County USA.” She collected a second, appropriately, for “American Dream,” which plays like something of a companion piece to the earlier film. Intrigued by the plight of a union threatening to go on strike at a meatpacking plant in Minnesota, Kopple filmed in the town for almost two years, watching as the workers’ dreams of improved wages turned into a lockout nightmare during the nation’s most hostile era toward labor unions since the 1930’s. Focused on the tensions and emotions between the individuals behind the strike, Kopple remains sympathetic while never losing sight of the flaws and ambiguities in the workers’ aspirations.

– Ethan

In America (2002)

Available to rent/buy streaming from Amazon Instant or on disc from Netflix

Cast: Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Sarah Bolger, Emma Bolger, Djimon Hounsou

Irish director Jim Sheridan’s semi-autobiographical story of immigrant life in New York City is shamefully sentimental, but so touchingly and gracefully sincere it’s hard to be annoyed. A lot of that has to do with the superb cast, the adult trio of Morton, Considine and Hounsou in particular, reaching out beyond easy stereotypes to create strikingly rounded characters, flawed and utterly individual. There’s much emotional trauma to sort through (perhaps an overload), but it’s handled so unassumingly by Sheridan’s gentle direction that you’ll still walk away charmed and hopeful.

– Ethan