#1 — Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
If the best film directors can be said to have central preoccupations that run through their entire oeuvre like a central nervous system, then Richard Linklater’s is the stealthy, patient alchemy that manifests when time passes. I don’t assert this as some grand epiphany that belongs to me. Other, far more impressive thinkers on cinema alit on this thesis well before I did. But I still feel compelled to offer it as the starting point to a consideration of Boyhood, Linklater’s greatest film and a work that I think solidly surpasses all others released during the twenty-tens.
Boyhood is about a Texas youth named Mason (Ellar Coltrane), from the time his is six years old until he departs for college, Unable to bend time to his storytelling needs, Linklater instead succumbed to it, letting the aching progress of days, weeks, months, and years dictate his creative movement. Beginning in 2002, Linklater shot the film in installments, reconvening cast and crew annually across a dozen years, shaping the screenplay in accordance with the shifting world. He reinvented along the way, reflecting what he saw in the people around him and the relationships he was privy to. Mason goes through joys and miseries, discovery and uncertainty, moments of danger and breakthroughs of rescue and safety, He makes sense of the world around him with mounting interest and intellect, and Linklater follows it with an acute sympathy.
What could have easily come across as a stunt — a curiosity in prolonged production — is instead a film of astonishing achievement, largely because Linklater is uniquely skilled in amassing the mundane until it becomes profound. An accumulation of details into a surprisingly full portrait of a shared existence is exactly the approach Linklater took with his breakthrough feature, Slacker, and it is echoed in the long linear storytelling of Boyhood. With precision and care, Linklater shows the way that the march of incidents through a person’s developing years give shape to an identity. Placing Mason in a lower–middle class family scorched by divorce and financial struggles — a familiar way of living in the U.S. that isn’t often honestly depicted in major movies — Linklater fulfills the most difficult and important mandate of a creator of modern fiction, making the specific into the universal.
Time slips away, and time takes a toll. Time turns experience into memories, and then performs another transformation on those memories, making them into mere theories on the past. Although he has a propensity for lofty theorizing that shows up in plenty of his films, Linklater lets the big statements of Boyhood emerge as subtext. The characters on screen are too busy living to try to figure out life. They react and change and maybe get the opportunity to sort it out later. Linklater is there with them, and the film he makes about it is funny, warm, lovely, and truthful.