War of the Words: Birdman, Best Picture?

Still of Ellar Coltrane & Ethan Hawke in Boyhood (2014)
Still of Ellar Coltrane & Ethan Hawke in Boyhood (2014)

Why ‘Boyhood’ should have won at the Oscars

By Andrew Perkins, Contributor

If the purpose of the Academy Awards Best Picture category is to reward the single most significant piece of filmmaking in any given year, 2015 is a year when it failed. Among IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic scores for Birdman and Boyhood, Boyhood beats Birdman on every account.

Birdman is perhaps an Oscar winner in an average year. It is well-paced, features an incredible performance from Edward Norton, and provides a compelling look at the commercialization of the theatre industry. But it is also self-indulgent, largely overacted, and overly long.

Birdman is full of clichéd speeches, and ends in a parade of ambiguous false endings that add nothing but confusion to a front-heavy film with little payoff. Worst of all, it’s ultimately guilty of all the sins it indicts Hollywood for, such as placing the artifice of filmmaking above its purpose: to illuminate something about the human condition though a visual medium. It ends up writing largely sophisticated but ultimately shallow critiques. Boyhood takes a suburban story and makes it universal and timeless. Birdman paints caricatures in a universe seemingly comprised solely of New York and LA.

Boyhood exploits filmmaking to its limits for the sake of honesty. It abandons conventional plot in favour of reality without sacrificing pace, and adds a revolutionary temporal element, thus blending the realism of documentary with the condensation of narrative in revolutionary ways.

Beyond even that, Boyhood’s crowning achievement is its respect for the audience. It doesn’t pander and it doesn’t overstate. Boyhood never tells you what to think the way Birdman does. Boyhood lets you feel things on your terms, which is remarkable in a largely prescriptive medium. It is a unique work of art that feels like an extension of the human condition, not a critique of it. In two hours and 30 minutes, you really feel like you’ve been through 12 intimate, fleeting years in someone’s life, passing like a memory.

Boyhood introduced me to depths that I didn’t know movies had. In Boyhood, art doesn’t imitate life—the two are inseparable. Birdman tells you what film can’t be. Boyhood shows you what it can be.

There’s a prevailing cynicism about the Oscars. People argue that it is a political, self-indulgent, and classist parade. However, when it recognizes achievements that truly move filmmaking forward, the Academy has the power to make a cultural impact.

I have no doubt that history will be kind to Boyhood, and director Richard Linklater. Can the same be said for Birdman? As it stands, the Academy has rewarded cynicism over realism.