Thursday, 15 January 2015

Best Supporting Actor 2014: Ethan Hawke in Boyhood

Ethan Hawke received his second acting Oscar nomination for portraying Mason Evans Sr. in Boyhood.

On initial viewing I found Boyhood an underwhelming film, but not necessarily a bad one.  On re-watch I must amend this statement and I say I found Boyhood almost to be a terrible film. The first half (not quite as the film is lopsided with far more time being devoted to teen than boy, but Boyhood does have more of a ring to it than Adolescence I guess) devotes much of its time through the most standard child time behavior, and is similar to watching a family's home videos. Not exactly terrible but not anything noteworthy. Of course this is not all there is as we are given a melodramatic detour into an abusive step-dad that's done in such an over the top fashion you'd think it suddenly became a thriller. Past that the plot points are marginalized and we are treated to Mason the teenager who's not exactly Lou Bloom from Nightcrawler. That's to say he's not at all an interesting character and is even problematic for projecting because he does establish himself as a self indulgent philosopher. There's not much to be found there are than him watching other characters who for the most part are as just as dull and uninteresting as him and waxing off about his views about the world. Then the film progresses with a false endings until it stops on a note that is so deep I couldn't believe it, I'll admit I'm being somewhat sarcastic with this final sentence.

On reexamination I can't help but believe that the film would not be receiving any of its plaudits if it were not for the real aging on screen. An interesting idea, and I'm sure a difficult task, but this film did not use it well at all. Anyway that's one of the two things that stands out still in a slightly positive way. The other is a performance. I admit the majority of performances also went downhill for me as well. Ellar Coltrane as the Mason Jr. is just passable as a boy and seems to have no real investment in the later scenes, he performs as though he's a kid fulfilling a duty he stopped caring about a long time ago. Lorelei Linklater, as Mason's sister Samantha, is manic in her first few years then seems to have lost all motivation. In some of her more serious scenes she always smiles in a way like a person does when they're really trying hard to keep a straight face but just can't. Oh and Patricia Arquette as Mason's mother, I did not believe her for a second as their mother, and every line of her's felt forced. Even in the basic moment of anger toward evil step-dad it seems a bit halfhearted. I won't even get into the long list of horrible supporting players. Luckily there is one man who knows what he is doing.

That man being Richard Linklater's frequent collaborator Ethan Hawke who plays Mason's father Mason Senior. Mason Senior is divorced from Mason's mother before the film starts. It is some time before Hawke's first appearance as Senior does not take a particularly active role in his children's lives at first. He does show up though to take the children out bowling. Hawke at first takes an excessively enthusiastic approach as Senior acts though he is interested in everything little thing about his kids and constantly tries to praise them as much as he can. Hawke lays it on a bit thick but in doing so takes the right approach for the part. Hawke portrays this enthusiasm as technically a bit of an act, he does care about his kids, but Hawke suggests that Mason Senior is trying a little too hard to convince his kids that he loves them. In his overt energy Hawke suggests that Senior is trying very much to make up for his time away. Hawke creates Senior as a very inexperienced father as it all is a bit too much, and conveys the way it all overwhelms Mason a bit. Hawke portrays the youth in Mason Senior well and expresses the way in which that youth keeps him from being the best father.

Hawke disappears again for some time until he comes to take them out again, during the reign of alcoholic tyrant, which never comes up in Hawke's storyline although that's a good thing for Hawke.  Hawke again keeps that same overt enthusiasm as Senior is still trying hard to make up for time, but Hawke nicely portrays that he has relaxed a bit. Most importantly though Hawke is effective in quietly showing some maturation in Senior's manner by removing some of the unease of his first appearance. The film continues to keep Hawke in these weekend trip appearances, and Hawke continues to be good in these scenes. He is terrific by so gradually and honestly portraying the way Senior grows as a father. In his third appearance there is an even stronger warmth that comes from his portrayal as he shows Mason Senior becoming a better father as well as a man. The wisdom nuggets of the film often fall ridiculously flat except the ones delivered by Hawke. Perhaps this is that he's on the same wavelength as Linklater, or perhaps the best at improvisation, but when Hawke speaks the words they actually seem to have meaning.

In his last two acts Mason Senior has started another family but of course still spends time with his ever growing kids. In his last two sections Hawke nicely rounds out the character as he finally seems to become the father he perhaps needed to be originally. Hawke is very good by portraying that more than anything that Senior has accepted his place. Hawke does not play this as though this is a bad thing, even if he makes a few snarky jokes, but rather Senior finally understanding what is that he needs to be. Although he might still have reservations Hawke gives a happy man in the end, and a much better father than he was in the beginning. Hawke wholly earns this transformation from almost a kid himself to finally the old man giving some much needed advice to his son. Every scene Hawke built to, although Hawke still does well to give little hints of Senior's past, to Mason Senior finally comprehending and fulfilling his role, although technically maybe a bit too late. This is a very good performance by Hawke, it's true he benefits from an actual character arc, but to Hawke's credit he succeeds in creating this largely through his performance. It's even more than that though as he finds the complexity of an inexperienced young man's relationship with his children and his attempt to connect with him. Hawke actually creates the sense of time passing through the growth we find in Mason Senior as a man rather than simply seeing the passage because he ages. Hawke's work stands well above the film as he makes Mason Senior the only element in the film that is consistently compelling.

49 comments:

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Perhaps it's because I don't hate the film or even many of the performances outside of Perella and that kid from The Descendants, I have an even higher opinion of Hawke's work. I do have the sneaking suspicion he had a hand in writing his own lines like the Before trilogy, but I'll get to why his performance works so much for me.

For me Hawke works so well because he takes a character who had SO much potential to be distracting. The "fun dad" archetype could be uncomfortable to watch and ends up the most touching aspect of the film. My favorite scene of him and by extension the film is where he pulls over the car and tells his kids he wants to be in their lives. He doesn't just want to be the "fun dad". For me he not only is the standout of the cast, but adds meaning to the film. He's an easy 5 and will probably not be dethroned for me for Supporting Actor AT ALL.

Matt Mustin said...

Robert, what did you think of Arquette?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Well I certainly don't think she's as forced as Louis does. In fact, I don't even understand that criticism. I don't think she's the best of the year by any stretch, but she's good enough. My biggest issues with her stem more from her character than the way she played it. I'd give her a 3.5 or 4.

JamDenTel said...

I don't think as little of the film as you do, but I'm glad to see someone challenge the universal praise.

And that final line. Ugh. So, so bad. I really hope this doesn't win the Oscar.

Anonymous said...

Boyhood is good but I'm hoping desperately it doesn't win. Hawke, though, gave a terrific performance and I'm super glad you liked him a lot. Is Arquette still a 2.5 or is she now a 2? I have to say I liked her mostly, I just felt that the breakdown in the end rang false and phont to me.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

I'm changing my predictions:

1. Simmons
2. Norton
3. Hawke
4. Duvall
5. Ruffalo

Lezlie said...

I too thought Hawke was great, and didn't think Arquette was that bad, I'd probably give her a 3. Though that white savior mini-story arc was rather facepalm-worthy, and her final breakdown didn't work for me neither (or either? which one?).

luke higham said...

1. Simmons
2. Norton
3. Duvall
4. Hawke
5. Ruffalo

RatedRStar said...

1. J.K. Simmons
2. Edward Norton
3. Robert Duvall
4. Ethan Hawke
5. Mark Ruffalo

L Rime said...

I'm not entirely surprised he viewed Boyhood in such a manner. Richard Linklater doesn't seem like the kind of director Louis would appreciate. You either get him or you don't. And I don't mean that in a "you're not smart enough to understand his work" way. I mean that he's an acquired taste. Normally, his movies just come out, find their fan base and that's really it. But this film seemed to transcend his own fan base. Considering Louis ignored Before Midnight last year(which had one of the best lead performances of the year by Ethan Hawke), his reaction to Boyhood was expected. Louis doesn't seem like the kind of guy that would enjoy naturalistic movies(which is the bulk of Linklater's filmography).

Anyway, I thought the movie was brilliant. Some issues here and there, but overall, a fantastically made film. I think the whole "if this was made normally, nobody would be talking about it" argument has been over done at this point. You can't just ignore an entire aspect of the film that defines it. It wasn't made normally, so you shouldn't judge it that way.

As for Ethan Hawke, I have this distinct feeling that it's because I'm a man that I connect more to his character. The acclaim that Arquette has gotten, while not entirely baffling, is a bit weird considering I thought Hawke was also the best part of the film. He does have a character arc, but I think it's also easy to be charmed by him. He's extremely charismatic in Boyhood. I'd give him a 5 out of 5.

I think Hawke has slowly but surely found his way on to my list of favorite actors. There was a time when I didn't view him in all that great of a light. But going back and watching some of his films, I finally get his talent. He's a natural.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Have you seen any films recently.

L Rime: He liked A Scanner Darkly & Bernie, but hasn't even seen The Before Trilogy or Waking Life, so you can't presume whether he likes it or not, plus Hawke will be reviewed via request for Before Sunrise and will get around to the others for the bonus rounds.

L Rime said...

luke higham: A Scanner Darkly and Bernie don't really represent Linklater's general style. Like I said, the bulk of his career don't have movies like the two you mentioned. His normal style are philosophical and "a day in the life" movies like, Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Tape, SubUrbia, The Before Trilogy, and Waking Life.

I doubt he would like any of those to be honest. But I'm happy to be proven wrong. Surprise me Louis.

luke higham said...

L Rime: I stand corrected, Hawke is great in all 3 Before films, especially the last one, but I myself can't criticize Louis, for not reviewing him last year, since the competition was so great last year and just didn't have the time to see it whenever he hadn't seen the first 2 either. also, I'm confident, he'll like Hawke more in Midnight than in this film, since I felt the Before Films were far better, as it only focuses on a grown up couple, rather than some boring ass shit teenager.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I somewhat mirror L Rime's thoughts on this one. Part of the reason I like Boyhood is the "day in the life" aspect. The smaller moments sprinkled throughout the film of just normal childhood were enough to make me love it. There's a simplicity to it all that I just found fascinating. I also agree that Louis should take into consideration the 12 years aspect more. Especially when it comes to Hawke's performance. You did consider he had the nigh impossible task of showing his character's slow progressing arc over the course of 12 years, right? He had to keep it consistent and steady that whole time.

RatedRStar said...

@Luke: I am afraid not, theres only A Most Violent Year left for me to see and then thats it but I am in no hurry.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Also, I never found Mason Jr. THAT annoying as a pretentious wannabe art student. I knew people like that in high school. Someone I know is EXACTLY like him, and even more of a stoner.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Have you seen Inherent Vice then, because you definitely didn't give your ratings & thoughts before.

RatedRStar said...

@Luke: Ive actually been doing some spreadsheets on my top 10 films of each year since 1931, I am thinking of seeing most of them again just to rank them correctly.

L Rime said...

Really, there was only those one or two years in the film where Mason was an annoying teenager... but he's a teenager. Most of them are annoying to begin with. Near the very end of the movie, he was much more like-able. But I appreciate that they weren't afraid to make him an annoying little brat. It was treated almost like a phase, which we all go through, especially when we're young.

Despite its loose structure, it's a very meticulous film. I really do enjoy it.

luke higham said...

L Rime: I'll freely admit that despite not being the biggest fan of Boyhood, it does have alot of replay value, so I am willing to watch it again and again for those minor details plus, Hawke's great performance as Mason Sr.

L Rime said...

luke higham: Yea, Hawke really is pretty fantastic in it. I'm glad he's at least getting some recognition for his acting. He hasn't gotten much in his career, at least from award ceremonies. I guess it's perhaps he tends to be surrounded by flashier performances, but I'm starting to get the feeling that he brings out the best in his fellow actors. Sort of like an unsung hero.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I love that Keaton gave a shout out to Hawke last night at the Critics' Choice during his speech.

Psifonian said...

I absolutely despise most of the film, but Hawke is damned good in it and is the only thing that should be garnering awards attention. Shame that his phony-as-hell counterpart in Supporting Actress is reaping the benefits.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Hey Psifonian, what do you think of Essie Davis in The Babadook? I'm curious to what your thoughts on her are.

Michael Patison said...

I liked the film more to Robert's level, but my appreciation of it continues to decline. I completely agree about Hawke, though. I sort of disagree with Psifonian about Arquette. I thought she was very good at the beginning, but then the movie screwed her over by just having her repeat the same basic storyline over and over. As a result, by the time she was dealing with her final bad marriage and raising teenagers, she did seem very phony, as Psifonian put it.

Psifonian said...

I still have yet to see "The Babadook." Just can't drum up excitement despite the vaunting praise.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

SEE IT

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

No really, just see it. It's horror that actually is scary. Plus Davis gives the best performance I've seen this year bar none.

Psifonian said...

I'll absolutely see it sometime. At least before I update Best Actress.

tahmeed chowdhury said...

My predictions:
1) Simmons
2) Norton
3) Hawke
4) Duvall
5) Ruffalo

I must be the only person who doesn't mind Bradley Cooper getting nominated. With such a crowded competition, great performances will always be left out.

moviefilm said...

Speaking of Best Actress year, I am currently doing this year on my blog. First review will come around Monday, but till then it's time for your predictions of my pick. (Sorry Louis, this is the last post, in which I mention my blog.)
And by the way, guys. I am a bit sad of the nominees. No love for Big Eyes (leading actress, art direction, costume design and score would be deserving), not even Harvey helped. But then from who wasn't nominated, I am disappointed from who actually was, since these nominees don't look very strong, almost in any category...

Louis Morgan said...

Robert: Well allow me to elucidate for why I describe her performance as forced. How one views a performance is already subjective but what I am driving at here seems even more so than usual. When I watch Patricia Arquette's performance I see about the amount of effort she is putting into memorizing her speeches.

I don't see her trying to get the heart of anything her character is going through but rather going very much through the motions as though she is doing a project she might not care about all that much. Therefore she is forcing out the most basic emotional responses without making them seem to come from the character. I have to say from watching the film the only actor who truly seemed to care throughout was Ethan Hawke.

Also its an interesting thing to talk about how Hawke had to work out his arc over 12 years, but I don't feel that should give him any bonus points so to speak. With that sort of logic I could say something like the other nominees deserve more respect since they had far less time to fine tune their performances.

Anonymous:

A 2. I will admit I've never been a fan of Arquette anyways.

L Rime:

The reason I ignored (as you put it) Before Midnight was because I had not watched the previous films. Out of curiosity What would be your definition of a naturalistic film?

Also I will judge the film as a normal film. The fact that it simply was made over 12 years does not give it some higher place among the stars. That's an element within in it for sure but I'll still judge the film the same exact way I judge any other film, that being how I react to what I hear and see from the screen, not some behind the scenes information about it. A film I admire very much Apocalypse Now has quite the back story, but I don't think someone should treat that film any differently because it was made through difficult circumstances.

moviefilm said...

And Louis, can you now give us a rating and comment for Waltz in Big Eyes. Because as much, as I loved Adams in that, I absolutely hated Waltz in this. I don't remember when was the last time I saw something so... even bad is not concise enough.

Louis Morgan said...

moviefilm: My thought on Waltz are in the previous post.

luke higham said...

tahmeed: Cooper's nomination doesn't bother me one bit, he redeemed himself after Hustle, Carell's the only one that really pisses me off, although Louis may think otherwise.

moviefilm: I'm just going to give my personal ranking as a prediction
1. Cotillard - 5
2. Pike - 5
3. Moore - 4.5
4. Jones - 4.5
5. Witherspoon - 2.5, I decided to watch Wild, didn't like it at all

luke higham said...

1. Simmons
2. Norton
3. Duvall
4. Ruffalo
5. Hawke

luke higham said...

Louis: I think you may have let the cat out of the bag with that last comment on Hawke.

I'm really conflicted on my bottom 2 right now, also since you described Hawke's performance as very good which is the equivalent of a very high 4 to a low 4.5, I'm putting Ruffalo 4th since you do like Foxcatcher more than most here on the blog.

RatedRStar said...

Ah all this bickering on Boyhood while I am watching High and Low (1963), classic films really are better than todays films =D.

Michael McCarthy said...

High and Low? Haha me and the gf are watching Seven Samurai, we're doing a weekend long Toshiro Mifune marathon XP

RatedRStar said...

=D haha sweet lol

RatedRStar said...

=D I dont really knoq anyone who would personally watch Kurosawa films with me lol, they dont tend to like my taste and just see me as some guy obsessed with the oscars.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Shame on them.

RatedRStar said...

I am not popular lol, I wonder why =).

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I just subjected myself to Men, Women, and Children today. WOW you were not kidding. Though I'm slightly more forgiving towards Garner because there was only so much she could do with that strawman cartoon (only a 1.5 for me), Ansel Elgort just proved to me to be the worst overall actor of 2014. This kid is worse than Hayden Christensen.

Kevin said...

1. Simmons
2. Norton
3. Hawke
4. Duvall
5. Ruffalo

mcofra7 said...

I'm going to take a shot here.

1. Simmons
2. Ruffalo
3. Norton
4. Hawke
5. Duvall

Louis probably won't like Ruffalo that much, and probably won't rank Duvall last (because its Robert Duvall), but that's okay.

Louis Morgan said...

Robert:

You have my sympathies.

L Rime said...

Louis: It's really quite simple, saying things like "It wouldn't have gotten the praise it did if it was shot normally" is damn near admitting that you're judging it based off what it's not, not what it is.

Anyway, a naturalistic film is a film with a loose narrative that's only real goal is for you to be invested in the characters. It's not trying to get some broader concepts or ideas across. And it probably doesn't have a three act structure like most films. It doesn't adhere to any particular formula.

Louis Morgan said...

L Rime: I'm just merely saying that when I watched the film there was nothing notable in it, to me, other than Hawke's performance and the real time aging. From my perspective I can't see the massive love for the film without the 12 years concept being involved. I'm not judging it as a different film than what it is. I'm also even more compelled to make that statement when what I hear most about the film is simply the 12 years concept, not a great scene, a great character, or anything else.

Well then with that definition I've liked plenty of "naturalistic" films, Naked, Secrets & Lies, Goodfellas (there are plot points but the characters come first), and Mean Streets just to name a few.