Some folks in the mainstream media are starting to agree with our prediction that American Sniper has a real shot at winning the Best Picture Oscar next month. Over the next mont, we'll look at some of the other Oscar contenders to get ready for the big show. Up today: Boyhood (considering by many to be the favorite and out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD) and Gone Girl (which admittedly got shut out of most of the major categories except for a Best Actress nomination for Rosamund Pike. It's also out now on Blu-ray/Digital HD).
Both movies turn out to be meditations on the American family: director Richard Linklater does it spectacularly in an obvious way in Boyhood, but his counterpart David Fincher hides his real objectives inside what looks like a garden variety crime thriller.
Filmed a little bit at a time over twelve years, Boyhood is the story of a single mom (Patricia Arquette, who seems almost certain to win Best Supporting Actress) and her two young children, Mason Jr. (played by Ellar Coltrane) and Samantha (played by the director's daughter Lorelei Linklater). Both of the kids were in elementary school when filming started and they're both college students in the final scenes.
You watch two untrained actors grow into their roles and get to filter Mason's adolescent struggles with meaning through the very recent memory of the little boy you first met in elementary school. Ethan Hawke gives an equally strong performance as the kids' father, a guy who struggles at first to participate in their lives but slowly finds his footing as they grow up. Hawke and Arquette portray the divorced parent's life in a way that it's never been seen before: as time passes, they learn to communicate to raise their kids and have left behind almost all of the drama of their own relationship.
The kids live through two more of their mom's failed marriages and Linklater has stepfathers (and even a stepbrother and stepsister) disappear from the family's lives in a way that's both natural and alarming. The movie shows the beginnings of those relationships and the effect of the kids but skips the bloody details of the breakups.
Husband #3 (Jim, played by Brad Hawkins) is a veteran of the war in Iraq who's introduced as a well-adjusted idealistic student studying on the GI Bill. He ends up working as a corrections officer and slowly slides into despair before the relationship falls apart.
Richard Linklater's best movies (Dazed & Confused, Before Sunrise, Bernie) show an incredible eye for the small details of everyday life that lock their stories into a particular time and place. With Boyhood, he gets to take that ability to an almost unthinkable level, adding in specific references that lock each chapter in the story to the time it takes place. If it can hold off the late rush by American Sniper, Boyhood seems likely to win Best Picture.
Gone Girl was a runaway bestseller as a novel and a huge movie hit. It seemed likely to capture one of the ten possible Best Picture nominations and a slew of technical ones, but Pike's Best Actress nod is the only one that came through. Which is weird. Hollywood respects David Fincher and this is not the genre picture it seems to be from the marketing and trailer.
Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunn, a failed writer whose Midwestern life gets rocked after his wife Amy (Pike) disappears. The media jumps all over the story, partially because Amy was the inspiration for the Amazing Amy children's books, a series written by her parents. The story of their marriage is told in flashbacks as the police and media begin to suspect that Nick killed her and hid the body.
The movie gives up its big twist about halfway through and the rest of the film gets down to business: it's really a satire about marriage and the conflicts and (emotional) violence built into what novelist and screenwriter Gillian Flynn would likely insist are all marriages. I guess there's still a SPOILER issue here, but say this: don't skip the movie because you think it's just another creepy copy movie and don't be disappointed if you don't get the serial killer you were expecting
Flynn has created an actual Amazing Amy children's book and a copy is included in the Blu-ray set. You also get a digital copy of the movie (from your choice of retailers), so fans of the book and movie might want to buy this set.