Tag Archives: Golden Globes

Best Pic Nominees Are So Fabulous, Choosing a Winner Hurts a Little

The task of sitting through each of the movies nominated for the best picture Oscar can sometimes feel like just that — a task, a chore, a tedious homework assignment.

That wasn’t the way I felt this year. For once, I enjoyed and admired all eight selections vying for Oscar’s top prize. They truly are the best Hollywood had to offer in 2014.

(If I have one complaint, it’s that the Academy failed to use one of its extra best picture slots to nominate the year’s most entertaining movie, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” I know, it’s a — gasp! — comic book movie, but it’s every bit as deserving as the more “serious” films on the list.)

Of course, the universal excellence of this year’s best picture bunch makes deciding which film deserves the coveted gold statuette all the more difficult. It’s made the race more unpredictable as well.

Despite the added challenge, I’m willing to take a stab at which picture will emerge victorious on Sunday night (the Academy Awards air at 5:30 p.m. on ABC). And while we’re at it, let’s discuss the best director race.

For predictions in the acting categories, click here.

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Best Picture

There isn’t a weak or overrated film among the nine nominees for best picture, but if I had to pick my least favorite, it would be “The Imitation Game.”

The story of British mathematician Alan Turing’s heroic code-breaking exploits during World War II, and subsequent persecution for his sexuality, showcases a powerful performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. However, some aspects of the drama feel sensationalized, more so when you realize how many elements of this biopic are actually fictional.

When it comes to dramas about eccentric British geniuses, “The Theory of Everything” tells the life story of physicist Stephen Hawking in a way that rings truer — it plays out, unexpectedly, as a messy love quadrangle — and with far more style. The fact that “Theory” is not a by-the-numbers romance, told from the point of view of Hawking’s long-suffering first wife, is its biggest strength. It also contains a couple of powerhouse performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, whose chemistry evolves from tender to heartbreaking.

“Selma,” another biopic vying for best picture, has been roundly snubbed this awards season. The Academy failed to nominate director Ava DuVernay — she would have been the first African-American woman to receive the honor — and lead actor David Oyelowo, who is a marvel as Martin Luther King Jr., radiating the civil rights legend’s charisma and expertly mimicking his rousing oratory style. It’s a shame because “Selma” is a compelling and necessary reminder of the power of protest in a divisive and confusing year for American race relations. I love the way DuVernay juxtaposes seemingly mediocre moments with great ones to elegantly humanize King.

The young upstart in the best picture category is “Whiplash,” debut director Damien Chazelle’s electrifying cat-and-mouse game between a sadistic music instructor (a terrifying J.K. Simmons) and the ambitious drummer (Miles Teller) he pushes to the edge. The audience is pushed to the edge, too, with an intensity few films achieve. There’s a precision, an originality and a dark side to this movie that is a whole lot of twisted fun. Like Teller’s drummer, however, Chazelle’s gotta pay his dues before he can win Oscar fame.

The most widely seen of the nominees is “American Sniper,” director Clint Eastwood’s account of the life of sharp-shooting Navy Seal Chris Kyle. Despite its popularity, “Sniper” is far too controversial to win the Oscar. Conservatives embrace Kyle as a hero. Liberals denounce the film for failing to condemn America’s messy Middle Eastern wars. This disparity is evidence that both groups have oversimplified what is actually a work of surprising complexity, a film that confronts the domestic consequences of war, something we tend to ignore.

As much as I admire the aforementioned films, there were three movies in 2014 that captured my heart and took my breath away with their technical innovation and artistry.

Director Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is undoubtedly his masterpiece. The filmmaker has reached the pinnacle of his talent for delightfully rococo pop-up book production design. The movie’s pulse is found in a hilarious, oddly touching performance by Ray Fiennes as a poetic, scheming gentleman concierge, presiding over a faded hotel in a fictional, war-ravaged Eastern European country. With all the visual flair of “The Royal Tenenbaums” and the bittersweetness of “A Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” the movie is a genuine charmer.

Sadly, “Grand Budapest” doesn’t have much of a shot against the two front-runners in the best picture race, even after winning the Golden Globe for comedy.

Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” took the Golden Globe for drama, as well as the top prize from the British Academy of Film and Television and dozens of critics’ groups. The film is neck-and-neck with “Birdman,” which captured the best picture prize from the producers and screen actors guilds. I find myself torn between these two remarkable films and I think Academy voters will be too.

Both films are exceptionally innovative. Director Gabriel Gonzalez Inarritu created the illusion that “Birdman” was shot in one single, exhilarating take, inspiring raw and captivating performances from a stellar ensemble cast. Michael Keaton’s turn as an insecure, aging actor trying desperately to build a last-minute legacy for himself is astoundingly funny and full of ugly, bleeding emotion.

Linklater filmed “Boyhood” a little at a time, over a period of 12 years, which lends the story of a boy’s ordinary but amazing childhood a rare and lovely verisimilitude. Armed with naturalistic acting by young star Ellar Coltrane — who becomes a young man before the audience’s very eyes — and a fine ensemble cast, subtle but transporting pop culture references and a killer soundtrack, the movie inspires intensely personal reflections on memory, wonder, mortality, family and the passing of time.

It’s a tough call, but I’m betting Academy voters will be seduced by the hopeful optimism and sweetness of “Boyhood.”

Don’t rule Inarritu out, though. (See my best director prediction, below.)

What Will Win: “Boyhood.”

What Should Win: “Boyhood.”

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Best Director

“Who is Morten Tyldum?” you might ask.

He’s the Norwegian director of “Foxcatcher,” whose thriller “Headhunters” was previously nominated by the Academy for best foreign language film. And he’s got a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this year’s best director Oscar.

Bennett Miller is a more established Hollywood presence, earning a director nod for “Capote” in 2006. Sadly for him, the race comes down to three veteran filmmakers finally getting their due from the Academy: Anderson, Linklater and Inarritu.

Inarritu recently took home the Directors Guild Award, a big predictor of who will win on Oscar night, while Linklater scooped up the Golden Globe and the BAFTA.

The contest is so close between these two, I’m betting the Academy will make the rare but not unprecedented decision to split the best picture and director prizes. Inarritu will win the gold for the edgy and awe-inspiring technical achievements showcased in “Birdman,” while Linklater’s “Boyhood” takes the best picture trophy.

I’m usually not a fan of such splits — logically, the year’s best director is the director who made the best picture — but I’m so torn between “Birdman” and “Boyhood,” I’d be happy to see them both triumph.

Who Will Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Who Should Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Photos: ca.complex.com, http://www.selmamovie.com.

 

 

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Is Oscar On Tempo With Acting Nominations? Who Will Win. Who Should Win.

Eccentric geniuses, men of violence and artist/performers with raging egos.

Mothers who love fiercely and women who struggle to tame or embrace their wild sides.

The 2015 Oscar nominations for acting highlight roles rooted firmly in the head and the heart.

With the 87th Academy Awards just a little less than a week away (the ceremony airs Sunday on ABC), here are some educated guesses as to who will take home the gold. More importantly, who really deserves to?

Look for another post about this year’s amazing crop of best picture nominees this week.

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Best Actress

There’s no suspense this year when it comes to the best actress category.

Julianne Moore is the surest of sure things for her turn as a linguistics professor suffering the slow mental decline of early-onset Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice.”

Moore has already taken home the Golden Globe for drama and the Screen Actors Guild and British Academy of Film and Television awards, along with a slew of honors from critic’s groups. This also happens to be her fifth nomination, so the Academy owes her a win.

That leaves two previous winners in the dust, even such formidable competition as Marion Cotillard, nominated for French drama “Two Days, One Night,” and Reese Witherspoon, recognized for memoir adaptation “Wild.”

(In the interest of full disclosure, as of this post, I haven’t seen “Still Alice” or “Two Days, One Night.” Neither film has been readily available for viewing in my area.)

Witherspoon is clearly gunning for a statuette to keep her first Oscar company. Her de-glammed portrait of soul-searching Pacific Crest Trail hiker Cheryl Strayed is raw with rage and despair.

First-time nominees Felicity Jones, who plays the long-suffering spouse of physicist Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” and Rosamund Pike, as a deceptively perfect wife in “Gone Girl,” will just have to wait another day for a chance at winning the little gold guy.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Pike, but she surprised me with her weird, darkly hilarious transformation from prim, privileged housewife to off-her-rocker revenge seeker.

My vote, however, goes to Jones, who shares such lovely and painful moments of chemistry with co-star Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything.” Redmayne has been enjoying the lion’s share of the limelight, but his performance wouldn’t exist without Jones’ heartbreaking blend of strength and tenderness.

Who Will Win: Julianne Moore

Who Should Win: Felicity Jones

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Best Actor

Fortunately, the work of the five men nominated for the best actor Oscar is in no way diminished by the fact that Academy voters snubbed three of the most electrifying performances of 2015.

That would be Ralph Fiennes as debonair concierge Gustave H. in “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Jake Gyllenhaal as a hypnotically creepy news stringer in “Nightcrawler” and David Oyelowo, capturing Martin Luther King Jr.’s greatness in “Selma.”

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, on to the actors who were actually nominated.

The Academy has long favored roles that take a physical as well as emotional toll, which is why Eddie Redmayne is likely to emerge victorious in the best actor race.

To play Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” Redmayne re-creates the celebrated physicist’s torturous decline, contorting his body and changing his speech patterns, all while capturing the wheel chair-bound scientist’s charm and sense of humor. For this remarkable feat, the actor has already captured the Golden Globe for drama and the SAG and BAFTA awards.

On the off chance Redmayne doesn’t triumph, the gold will go to “Birdman” star Michael Keaton, awarded the Golden Globe for comedy in January and enjoying the sort of Hollywood career comeback Oscar voters can’t resist.

In the most revealing and risky role he’s ever played, Keaton bares body and soul — not to mention a balding skull and wrinkled mug — as an aging, insecure actor searching for redemption in a doomed Broadway play.

Rounding out the competition are Benedict Cumberbatch, who somehow manages to make socially awkward genius attractive in “The Imitation Game,” and Steve Carell, sporting a fake nose in “Foxcatcher” to rival the faux schnozz that won Nicole Kidman an Oscar for “The Hours.”

Ironically, it’s the most talked about performance in the category that may have the least chance of victory. Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Navy Seal Chris Kyle in “American Sniper” is so mired in controversy, it would be a shock if the Academy deigned to touch it with a 10 foot pole.

That’s a shame. Though I was wowed by Redmayne’s bold physicality, Keaton’s lack of vanity and Cumberbatch’s smarts (I have yet to see Carell in “Foxcatcher), I was most impressed by the maturity of Cooper’s work in “American Sniper.”

The actor has been on an upward trajectory since 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” which landed him a first Oscar nomination, followed by another for “American Hustle.” In “Sniper,” he takes a man whose image has been appropriated by a dizzying array of political persuasions and makes him, simply, human. In his hands, Kyle is admirable and tragic, a man of conviction whose beliefs don’t spare him from paying the devastating price of war.

Who Will Win: Eddie Redmayne

Who Should Win: Bradley Cooper

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Best Supporting Actress

The supporting categories only further reinforce the fact that there just isn’t a lot of mystery when it comes to the acting nominees this year.

The predetermined winner in the supporting actress race is Patricia Arquette for her emotional, endearingly naturalistic turn as a flawed but loving single mom in the drama “Boyhood.”

Arquette waltzed away with the Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards and just about every other critic’s honor, which virtually guarantees she’ll go home with the gold on Sunday.

Two-time nominee Laura Dern played a similar role in “Wild” — a free-spirited single mother who receives a crushing diagnosis just as she’s beginning to discover herself. I love her graceful portrayal — glimpsed in brief snippets in flashback — of a vivacious, nurturing woman who bravely confronts whatever life throws at her.

I also love Emma Stone in the part of Michael Keaton’s defensive recovering addict daughter in “Birdman.” Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu shoots her as if she is the most wide-eyed of damaged dolls, capturing her searing performance in extreme close-up.

Also wonderful is previous nominee Keira Knightley’s prim, quintessentially British, heartfelt turn as a crackerjack code breaker and close confidante to mathematician Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game.”

In a year without “Boyhood,” the most towering presence in this category could have been Meryl Streep, racking up her 19th Oscar nomination as the witch in “Into the Woods.” But even her haunting rendition of the song “Stay With Me” — Is there anything Meryl can’t do? — won’t secure her a fourth win.

There’s something so powerful about the way Arquette allows herself to age on camera in “Boyhood” over a period of 12 years and how unaffected she is as Ellar Coltrane’s no-nonsense, painfully honest mama. The performance is a brave accomplishment for an actress in a Hollywood that mercilessly judges its female stars.

Who Will Win: Patricia Arquette

Who Should Win: Patricia Arquette

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Best Supporting Actor

Another category, another case in which there’s no contest.

Seasoned character actor J.K. Simmons, known for his jollier appearances in the “Spider-Man” films and “Thank You for Smoking,” took a startling trip to the dark side in “Whiplash” as a sadistic music instructor who drives aspiring drummer Miles Teller to the brink of a psychological meltdown.

Simmons has always been an excellent, woefully underrated artist, but it’s impossible to ignore the electrifying mind games he plays with his co-star and the movie’s audience, which is why he earlier took home the Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA awards.

I have to agree with the voting members of these organizations. Watching “Whiplash,” I was terrified, I was mesmerized, I was totally stressed out by Simmons’ off-tempo tyrannical tantrums. And did I mention this is also a surprisingly funny performance? Nobody deserves the gold more.

That leaves little by way of consolation to Simmons’ competitors, including two actors whose performances I didn’t catch. They are Robert Duvall, earning a seventh nomination with his turn as a stubborn, old coot forced to rely on his estranged son’s help in “The Judge,” and two-time nominee Mark Ruffalo as an Olympic wrestler in “Foxcatcher.”

Simmons has some stiff competition — if you’ve seen “Birdman,” you’ll get the pun — in the form of Edward Norton, who is volatile, amusing and infuriating as a method actor who inflicts his pretentious philosophies on his theater colleagues. After years of phoning it in, Norton seems to have somehow time-traveled back to the dynamic, unpredictable young thing he was in such films as “American History X” and “Fight Club.”

If anyone else could wrest the trophy from Simmons, it’s Ethan Hawke, who has earned more writing nominations than acting nods when it comes to Oscar. After settling into less-than-challenging roles as a horror movie star, Hawke shakes things up with a beautiful, easygoing, poignant turn as a flawed father determined to redeem himself in “Boyhood.” Like Norton, the actor seems to have rediscovered himself.

Who Will Win: J.K. Simmons

Who Should Win: J.K. Simmons

Photos: http://www.sbs.com.au, moviepilot.com, entertainment.ie, http://www.hollywood.com, bestsundancefilms.com

Those Golden Globe Jokes About George Were Hilarious, But Let’s Remember, He’s a Damn Fine Actor

Once again, the funniest joke of Sunday’s Golden Globe ceremony targeted Hollywood golden boy — or is that good, old boy? — George Clooney.

Mentioning the actor’s soon-to-be-awarded Lifetime Achievement honor, hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hilariously referenced Clooney’s wife, Amal Alamuddin.

“Amal is a human rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case, was an advisor to Kofi Annan regarding Syria, and was elected to a three-person U.N. commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza Strip. So tonight, her husband is getting a lifetime achievement award.”

As you may recall, Alamuddin’s hubby was also the butt of a priceless gag last year by Fey and Poehler, who described the movie “Gravity” as “the story of how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.”

As one of Hollywood’s biggest, most beloved stars and, until recently, a confirmed bachelor with a taste for younger women, George is an easy target. Despite the fact that he’s celebrated as a humanitarian, perhaps his save-the-world credentials aren’t as impressive as his spouse’s.

But watching all those film clips during the Globes lifetime achievement presentation reminded me what a formidable actor he is — one who turned a hunky stint on “ER” into a remarkable, versatile, risk-taking career.

Equally adept at comedy, caper films and classy dramas, this is a guy who has made good choices about the movies he’s appeared in, with a few exceptions, of course. (Can he ever be forgiven for “Batman & Robin”? I don’t know. And honestly, “Monuments Men” wasn’t that bad, despite everyone’s constant ribbing about it.)

In recognition of George’s stellar career, here are 10 of his most memorable film roles.

Feel free to share your favorite Clooney classics.

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1. “Out of Sight,” 1998: Clooney’s famous charm is on full display as a smooth criminal in this underrated but slick Elmore Leonard adaptation. The actor shares an unlikely yet smoking hot chemistry with Jennifer Lopez as a U.S. Marshal who can’t resist him.

2. “Three Kings,” 1999: As a jaded Special Forces soldier in director David O. Russell’s satire of the Persian Gulf War, the actor indulges his passion for politics while showcasing his talent for irreverent humor.

3. “O, Brother, Where Art Thou?,” 2000: Dim-witted isn’t a quality you’d typically associate with Clooney, but the actor succeeds brilliantly in portraying a scheming prison escapee who isn’t as bright as he thinks he is in the Coen Brothers’ absurd take on “The Odyssey.”

4. “Ocean’s Eleven,” 2001: Clooney’s penchant for playing suave con artists — not to mention his generous leadership of ensemble casts — reaches its apex with the role of casino-swindling ringleader Danny Ocean in this playful remake.

5. “Good Night, and Good Luck,” 2005: After a rocky start to his directorial career with 2002’s “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” Clooney forges a place for himself, and partner Grant Heslov, behind the camera with this biopic of First Amendment champion Edward R. Murrow (David Straitharn). He reserves the memorable role of CBS president Fred Friendly for himself.

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6. “Michael Clayton,” 2007: Clooney may have won his first Oscar for his supporting role in 2005’s “Syriana,” but he should have taken home the trophy for this wrenching drama about a law firm fixer suffering from moral qualms. The film’s final shot, one long, unbroken take focusing on the actor’s face, reveals his gift for subtle expressiveness.

7. “Up in the Air,” 2009: In the role of a seasoned traveler who makes an unsavory living by firing people, Clooney’s sometimes smarmy smile proves an invaluable asset. As his romance with a fellow frequent flyer (Vera Farmiga) melts his character’s heart, George quietly succeeds in breaking ours.

8. “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” 2009: Unlike a lot of A-list actors, Clooney has mostly steered clear of voiceover work, but he made an exception for Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animal fable. He’s perfectly cast as a rapscallion of a carnivore/family man who moonlights as a chicken thief.

9. “The American,” 2010: Director Anton Corbijn’s thriller about a tormented assassin on the lamb in Italy didn’t receive a lot of attention, probably because of its extremely slow pace. But the film contains one of Clooney’s most internal and intriguing roles. In a film with little dialogue, the actor’s face almost solely communicates everything we need to know.

10. “The Descendants,” 2011: Clooney took home a much deserved second Oscar for perhaps his most unattractive role to date in Alexander Payne’s exquisitely awkward tragicomedy. Playing a clueless, cuckolded, grieving husband whose idyllic Hawaiian life is shattered by a family tragedy, the actor delivers one of his deepest performances and one of his best scenes — a heart-rending goodbye speech to his character’s comatose wife.

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Photos: watchesinmovies.info, popcornreel.com, yts.re, http://www.fanpop.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Celebrate ‘Boyhood’s’ Big Win

I don’t know why I was surprised when “Boyhood” swept up three of the top prizes at last night’s Golden Globe awards.

The uniquely made coming-of-age story emerged victorious with the best motion picture trophy for drama, the best director laurel and a supporting actress win for Patricia Arquette.

I think perhaps I was expecting something more weighty or topical to take the best drama trophy, like “Selma” or “The Theory of Everything.” But I probably should have seen “Boyhood’s” triumph coming.

After all, was there a more human, irresistible, hopeful, bittersweet film released in 2014 than Richard Linklater’s rumination on a decade of existence? It’s not the least bit shocking that the movie so effortlessly captured the affections of critics and viewers alike.

I don’t know whether “Boyhood” will fare as well at next month’s Oscars — the Academy Award nominations are set to be announced Thursday — but despite my love for “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” I wish Linklater and company all the luck in the world.

In the meantime, I’m reposting my original review of the film below, in honor of “Boyhood’s” big night at the Golden Globes.

Boyhood
Three and a half stars (out of four)
R (language, including sexual references, teen drug and alcohol use)
165 minutes

For many Americans, the last 10 years or so have passed in a blur. So many things have changed in our post-9/11 world that it’s impossible to process it all. That’s why Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age tale, “Boyhood,” is so remarkable. In spanning the childhood of Mason, a kid from Texas who is at once ordinary and extraordinary, the film functions as a vivid time capsule of the past decade.

Watching “Boyhood” sent me flashing back to my wedding in 2003, when I walked down the aisle to the sounds of Coldplay’s incomparable “Yellow.” It made me remember the magic of holding a new copy of J.K. Rowling’s latest Harry Potter book in my hands. It brought back the hope I felt, however short-lived, when Barack Obama was elected president.

It made me realize that my own daughter will be grown in the blink of an eye, every minute of her life miraculous. When Patricia Arquette’s character despairs, toward the end of the film, exclaiming, “I thought there would be more,” I knew exactly what she meant.

Your reaction to “Boyhood” is likely to be different but it will be no less personal. You don’t have to be a boy, a Texan, or a parent to be deeply impacted by this languid, lovely rumination on childhood, memory, family and the small but glorious moments that make a life. Watching the movie is a surreal and amazing experience.

Linklater’s obsession with aging and time previously manifested itself in the “Before” trilogy, which charted the on-again, off-again romance of vagabond lovers Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) over the course of 18 years. The trilogy’s first installment, “Before Sunrise,” brims with youthful romance, while the latest chapter, 2013’s “Before Midnight,” is older, wiser and more painful to watch. It won’t exactly come as a surprise if Linklater should choose to reunite Delpy and Hawke for another rendezvous, say, 15 years from now.

“Boyhood” is an even more ambitious project. Linklater filmed it over 12 years, gathering his cast annually for a few days of shooting. The movie’s magnetic star, Ellar Coltrane, was just 6 when production began. He was 18 when it finally wrapped, so the audience is treated to the rare and strange experience of watching this young man grow up on camera, while the adult actors age right along with him. It’s an approach that resounds with authenticity, throwing into stark relief the sentimental artifice of virtually every coming-of-age movie that has come before.

“Boyhood” is the story of Mason, who we first see as a scruffy but thoughtful kindergartener, circa 2002. Mason lives with his struggling single mother (Arquette), who has terrible taste in men but is fiercely protective of her children, and older sister Samantha (Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei), who annoys him by singing Britney Spears songs.

Mason and Samantha find themselves uprooted when mom moves the family to Houston so she can attend college. The migration leads to a reconnection with the kids’ absentee dad, who could very well be Hawke’s slacker musician from “Reality Bites,” 10 years in the future. To his ex-wife’s chagrin, the father attempts to forge a relationship with his children over bowling and drives in his awesome car.

As with the “Before” trilogy, there’s no conventional Hollywood structure to “Boyhood.” The film takes a meandering approach, checking in with Mason each year and not necessarily at the most dramatic points in his childhood — a poignant reminder that it’s not always the major milestones that shape us, but a collection of small events.

Linklater traces Mason’s path to adulthood, from traumatic haircuts to family squabbles, bullying in the school bathroom to camping trips with dad. We watch Mason do what most kids do — play video games, shirk his homework, take an interest in the opposite sex — and it’s fascinating.

In a gradual and incredible cinematic alchemy, the dreamy, shaggy-haired boy who asks his father with utmost gravity whether elves exist transforms before our eyes into a cynical, skinny, quietly charming teenager with a passion for photography, a first girlfriend, a first job, college plans and lots of questions about the meaning of it all.

As a road map to the various stops along Mason’s journey, Linklater brilliantly uses pop songs of the decade and subtle references to changing technology, politics and pop culture. We know roughly when and where we are because Arcade Fire is playing on the radio, or there is a conversation about the Iraq War, or someone is watching a Lady Gaga video. Since the movie was filmed in the moment, there are no flashy attempts at retro costuming or art design. It feels real.

The film’s intensely naturalistic tone mimics the unpolished rhythms of improvisation. It’s actually painstakingly scripted, drawing from the filmmaker’s Texas boyhood. The movie’s sprawling scope is casual but electric, although it runs on for too long, clocking in at almost three hours. I suppose if I spent the last 12 years shooting a film, I’d be reluctant to whittle it down, too.

In casting Coltrane, Linklater hit the jackpot. How could he know this young actor would remain such a marvel over 18 years of growth, even through the awkward stages? And Hawke is so winning as a flawed father who nevertheless loves his children and really tries, in contrast to the string of alcoholic stepdads Mason’s mom brings home. Here’s hoping he never has to squander his talents on another “Sinister” or “The Purge.”

“Boyhood” celebrates parents, no matter how imperfect, and the way they protect and nurture their children, and acknowledges the many people — siblings, teachers, bosses, family friends — who influence who we become. It’s one of the few films that provides a clear-eyed view of 21st century families and its view of that tarnished but still sacred institution is sweetly hopeful.

This Weekend, See ‘Birdman,’ Skip ‘Exodus’

This weekend, a tsunami of holiday films will crash down upon us, threatening to submerge us in cinematic overindulgence.

(The deluge actually began Wednesday with the release of the final chapter of “The Hobbit.”)

With dozens of movies vying for your attention and Christmas fast approaching, it’s unlikely you’ll find yourself with much free time.

However, if you should happen to be in the mood for an alternative to the obvious yuletide fare — like “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” or “Into the Woods — there is one choice that rises above the rest, along with one over-hyped epic that deserves to be passed over.

Here’s why you should see “Birdman” and skip “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

Birdman
Three and a half stars (out of four)
R (language, sexual content, brief violence)
119 minutes

There are few cinematic experiences that truly astonish, but “Birdman” is one of those rare discoveries.

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s darkly funny, painful, unexpectedly deep rumination on showbiz, ego and the human condition is a movie that has to be seen to be believed. Nominated for seven Golden Globe awards, the film has a serious shot at carting off the best picture Oscar in February.

“Birdman” is exciting on several levels, beginning with the way Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki create the illusion the film was shot in one long, exhilarating take, winding its way through backstage corridors, out into New York’s Time Square and back again.

The movie is fun to watch even as Inarritu heaps his signature humiliations upon his characters, chiefly Michael Keaton’s has-been actor, who briefly tasted fame in a before-its-time superhero flick and seeks redemption by writing and starring in a Raymond Carver adaptation on Broadway.

The role feels more than a little autobiographical for former Batman Keaton, who basically lays all his wrinkles and a receding hairline at our feet in a vanity-free performance that is a breathtaking revelation. The entire cast of “Birdman” is amazing, including an adorably messy, big-eyed Emma Stone and Edward Norton, so vital and commanding here, you’d think he somehow resurrected his younger self from his “Fight Club” or “American History X” days.

Playfully meta with a feverish intensity that recalls “Black Swan” and “All That Jazz,” “Birdman” has smart, clever, pop culturally literate things to say about our celebrity obsessed society. It’s the anti-“Avengers,” but like a good comic book movie, it’s a total rush.

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Exodus
Two stars (out of four)
PG-13 (violence, battle sequences, intense images)
150 minutes

With “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” director Ridley Scott intends to give one of the most famous Old Testament legends the blockbuster origin story treatment, but instead he ends up remaking his 2000 hit, “Gladiator.”

The filmmaker takes more than a few liberties with the Biblical account of Moses, but sadly none of them are very compelling. In this version of the scriptural saga, the revered leader of the Israelites is played by Christian Bale as a wise and brave general in Pharaoh’s army, raised alongside heir-to-the-throne Ramses (Joel Edgerton, bald and resplendent in eye liner).

Sibling rivalry and daddy issues breed resentment between the siblings, just as they did between Russell Crowe’s general and Joaquin Phoenix’s prince in “Gladiator.” When Pharaoh (portrayed in an odd bit of casting by John Turturro) kicks the bucket, Ramses becomes Egypt’s ruler, even though Moses is the better man. Ramses discovers Moses’ true roots as a Hebrew slave and is terribly, terribly vexed, while his adopted bro reluctantly begins his journey as revolutionary savior of his people.

With its opulent Egyptian sets and costumes and impressive rendering of the plagues and other divine judgments in CGI, “Exodus” aims for the pomp and melodrama of great Biblical epics like “The Ten Commandments,” “Ben-Hur” and “King of Kings.” But with a running time of two-and-a-half hours, it plods along so slowly, it begins to feel as if the audience has been wandering the desert for 40 years.

When it comes to Moses’ identity, Scott and the “Exodus” screenwriters can’t commit. Bale talks to God — the form the deity takes is bound to miff some viewers of faith — but only after suffering a blow to the head, so it’s possible his hero enjoys a direct line to heaven. Then again, he might just be insane.

In the end what “Exodus” lacks is a well defined vision and the courage to examine religious conviction in all its complexity.

Photos: moviesmxdwn.com, http://www.digitaltrends.com