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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Best Film of 2014

The Oscars forced me to sit down with my print-out of the movies I'd seen that opened in 2014, and without further ado...

1.  Boyhood

The very notion of the movie is crazy.  The challenges in making a film with a 12-year shooting schedule go far beyond anything.  You can't even compare it to the 7/14/21/etcUp documentary series by Michael Apted that has followed a group of kids from 7 until very close to today with films every 7 years.  It's one thing to just get together every seven years and see what's happened.  You don't have to worry about what happened in the intervening, you just have to report on it.  And in any event, Boyhood director Richard Linklater has already replicated that with his Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight series of films with Ethan Hawke and Juliette Delpy.

Let's look at this:

You can't sign a contract for longer than 7 years for an actor/actress, so for your primary cast members, there's the chance that you could be left adrift if someone becomes rich and famous.  Or they could go Full Robert Downey Jr. for a year.  Or they could die.  And then there's the child you start filming at age 6 who could be lots of different things by age 18, and almost certainly it's bucking the odds to expect the kid to grow up to be Miles Teller.  Or something could go wrong with the director or an important crew member.

Aside from the pragmatic considerations, the script has to evolve because the world changes in twelve years.  You can start the movie with an outline, but it's like the military setting about no plan surviving contact with the enemy.  There are so many opportunities to fall on your face.  As it is, the scenes set amidst the 2008 Presidential campaign work, but there's no guarantee of it.  

And then you've got the money considerations.  Empires in Hollywood rise and fall in a dozen years.  IFC Films, which backed this, is a part of a big entertainment conglomerate, but these companies change management, or they get parceled out in different mergers and business arrangements.  

To set out to make Boyhood is insanity.

And yet it was made, and it is a stunningly good movie, and it is always much harder to talk about the bad in something than about the good.

As a matter of effect, I've now seen Boyhood three times.  It's three hours.  I didn't look at my watch once.  To be sure, the structure of the movie helps because the movie goes into a different year every so often so I don't need to look at my watch to know the movie is progressing, but there are versions of this movie where there would be looking.  Lots and lots of looking.  The "I can't believe it's been an hour and I'm only in year five and I have seven more agonizing years and two more painful hours" looking.  And I would go see the movie again.  Not tomorrow, but it's like a Kubrick movie, 2001 or The Shining, which I'm just thinking I need to see every two to five years, just because.

The editing is seamless, which doesn't help with the Academy Awards.  Showy is nice, seamless is bad.  But the movie cuts from year to year with ease, and any three hour movie that moves as fast as this is a well-edited movie.  Not just between years, but in each scene, especially because some of the scenes go on for a bit.  The conversation between the boy and his photography teacher that goes on at pretty much the exact length it would go on in real time.  My favorite shot is a minute or two of a tracking shot of two people talking as they walk down the street in San Marcos, which uses the same toolkit for these two minutes that the "Before/Beyond" series uses for fifteen minute conversations.  

But what good would it do to cut or not cut in some of these long set pieces if the words being said didn't feel right.  And every word in this movie feels right.  Which, when you think about it, is an amazing thing to say about a movie that was scripted and shot over twelve years with no do-overs for the early scenes.  Every once in a while there's something that skates just to the line of feeling a little bit off.  The scene in the restaurant with the manager who was set on his path by Patricia Arquette a few years earlier is one of those.  It's just a little too perfect.  But the thing of it is that this stuff happens in real life.  I'll go to a convention and some writer will come up and thank me for some piece of advice in a rejection letter or something like that.  Since the script always feels right when it's talking about something I can relate to, I can trust it when it's lingering on a scene I can't relate to, like the birthday party where Mason gets his first gun.  

The soundtrack is well-curated.  

Even on the third go-round, the film was affecting in the final scenes.

I feel like I'm underselling the movie, that it's rife with virtues I can't articulate.  But there's no denying it, Boyhood is the best movie of 2014.

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