7 Reasons I’d Give Boyhood the Oscar for Best Picture


It’s a great year for film. Think Benedict Cumberbatch in the Imitation Game; Julianne Moore’s acting in the weep-a-thon that was Still Alice. The brilliant Selma and Birdman for everything. But it was Boyhood that stole my heart.

Richard Linklater’s story of a boy growing up before our eyes was filmed annually, a few weeks at a time, over a 12-year period. In our immediate gratification world, the fact that Linklater’s actors, his backers, his team were willing to commit like that—that’s special. As a creative (and risky) venture, Boyhood gets 5 stars.

But honestly, I didn’t fall for a process. I fell for a story. Here’s seven reasons why Boyhood is my pick for Oscar’s best picture (spoiler alert, will reference specific scenes):

  1. Boyhood didn’t try to push our emotional buttons. A whole host of movies do that to you; the grief and agony and joy are signaled loud and clear (cue tragic music, long tortured stares into the abyss). There was none of that in Boyhood. It was the quiet unfolding of a boy’s story to be taken as you would.
  1. Those early childhood scenes slayed me, perhaps because they were me. If you’re lucky, your first encounter with death will be coming upon the still form of a lifeless wild creature. But just because you’re strangers doesn’t make it any less momentous. Mason found a dead bird; for me it was a dead squirrel. (I still remember where we buried our squirrel, in the alley behind Sarah B’s house. We said a “Hail Mary” and were surprised at the adults’ reaction. We thought they of all people would understand the need for ritual.) And then there’s the kid who bikes after Mason’s car, when he’s moving that first time. I’ve been that kid. Linklater nailed a child’s unspoken heartache with one glance from a moving car at the figure left behind.
  1. The film reminds us how arbitrary adult decisions can seem to a child. How basic evidence goes ignored. How strange and incomprehensible we grown-ups are, sometimes. We forget that sometimes. It’s good to remember. Especially if you’re a parent, a teacher, someone who’s around kids a lot. To little ones, we’re all powerful, even if we don’t feel that way in real life.
  1. Mason’s parents were as real as it gets. Remember the conversation in the car when the kids call their dad out on his lame questions? Brilliant on all fronts (Because there’s no better way to build trust with your kid then admitting when you’re wrong). And Patricia Arquette, how tired she looked sometimes, working hard and studying for that better life. That’s a big old chunk of motherhood. She was imperfect and snappish and she loved her kids. Um, get that.
  1. There was a gun scene and it was actually kind of tender and while I really, really don’t like guns, it shone another light on a gun culture I know very little about. In the scene, Mason’s step-grandfather gives him a gun for his birthday and you can tell the older man is sharing something treasured. I didn’t identify with the scene or the hunting that followed. But the film gave me a glimpse of why some do.
  1. This film celebrates all kinds of ways to go to college. Mason’s mother makes some seriously bad choices, but going back to school is one of her best. And later, her off-handed complement sends a laborer to his community college, and next we see him he’s in management. I wondered too, if Linklater was making a small but careful statement about when and why we go to college. Mason and his sister expect to go; we see them enjoying the social side. Mason’s mother and the laborer go because they understand it can change their lives. They know the alternative.
  1. Finally: the film itself felt as real as… well, real life. Maybe more so. Bear with me. In his book The Night of the Gun, the late, great David Carr writes about the faultiness of memory; that “it is the memory we are recalling when we speak, not the event… people can remember what they can live with more often than how they lived.” In Linklater’s film, we got to see how a boy lived. It felt as though we were there with Mason in real time: there through the ugliness of life with a controlling alcoholic, the bravado needed to survive early teen-hood, the heartache of a first breakup. It was as intimate as a film can be. Yes, I know Boyhood was fiction. But fiction must ring true for us to believe it and in Boyhood, there was not a single false moment. It was Mason’s story, unvarnished, ours for the watching.

Some people complain that nothing happened in Boyhood. You guys. A boy grew up and we got to see it. What could be more stunning than that?


Author: Kristin O'Keefe

Kristin O’Keefe has bartended in Scotland, written speeches for college presidents, and led communications & marketing for an economic development organization. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney's, Barrelhouse, Your Teen, Grown and Flown, and Scary Mommy. Find her on Twitter @_KristinOKeefe and Facebook at Kristin O'Keefe, writer.

16 thoughts on “7 Reasons I’d Give Boyhood the Oscar for Best Picture

  1. mom says:

    The tears are running down my cheeks. Thanks for recalling and naming these great moments in Boyhood. I loved the film as well.

      1. Michael Jones says:

        Unfortunately, the characters in the scripted ‘Boyhood’ are not real people they are invented. They do not represent real law abiding, mainstream America. They represent trashy Drunk abusive parts of low society. 1st Father teaching the children to Steal signs (criminal) and suppress free expression. 1st Father acting just like a glorified older Brother, no real discipline, firm talks, no molding him to be a real man. Just big brotherly input. 2nd Father Drunk beatings of mommy. Drunk reckless driving endangering the children, stereotypical sexist portrayal of the Avg. sleazy lefty professor hitting on the young girls. Scum. 3rd Father stereotypical righty x-military drunk abusive no-good man. The stereotypical loser mom consistenly putting her children in the presence of scum men over and over, luckily the kids grew up and are getting away from her. Then the MJ – cute kid to hook you on the movie who grows up to be an unphaseable, insolent deadpan rube. UNINSPIRING drivel. Bad cinematography, Bad writing, the list goes on. I am liberal, but this political pandering and endorsement of this movie is a disgrace to the movie industry and America. That’s right I said it!

        1. Kristin O'Keefe says:

          Hi Michael- Good, someone to debate! I won’t disagree with the assertion that not every character was likable. I just saw a lot of nuance–for example, that first deadbeat dad? He tried, and he got better. And that’s just very human to me. As for the teen, I have some old journals from my own teen hood that suggest I was–how shall I put it–insolent at times. So I was ok with the teen version of Mason. The film just felt incredibly real to me–but I understand not all will like it, and that’s fine. We’re a vast country with varying tastes. So what was your favorite film this year, and why?

          1. Michael Jones says:

            Thanks for the reply, and I think Boyhood is great film for people who really identify with it. I am definitely not knocking that. Nor do I think anyone who likes Boyhood is dumb or out of touch by any means, I am dealing with how the Academy evaluates potential best picture nominees and I hate political pandering in any form, once a nice topic has politics unnecessarily thrust in – it becomes propaganda. My favorite this year 2014 – The Imitation Game – Excellent writing, Excellent acting, decent directing, decent editing, the whole package, definitely a stereotypical “Prestige” film. Alan turing’s work shortening WW2 considerably and saving upwards of 14 million lives. I had a chance to meet and hear Graham Moore speak about his experience writing the script. That young man put more heart into this script than I can fathom. The only controversy about The Imitation Game along with Sniper, Selma, TTOE, is some factual embellishments. Graham Moore addressed those issues to my satisfaction at the screening and it is a movie anyway – not a documentary. The message of him saving 14 Million lives than being charged with homosexuality is a crime in and of itself, by far the most important and most moving message of the year. I see how Boyhood is touching, but without the cute young child/man and the 12 year filming it is left wanting, Alan Turing’s life and message trumps it, with all due respect there is really no comparison. I hope you have or will see the Imitation Game.

          2. Kristin O'Keefe says:

            I did see Imitation Game, and found it quite wonderful–a story well worth telling and the acting was superb. And you’re exactly right about the bitter irony of a brilliant man who saved so many from evil/hate only to be destroyed by the hateful laws of his own country. My only criticism: there were times it ran a bit false for me–the scene where Alan’s machine is not yet working and his superiors come in intent to smash it to bits that very moment–scenes like that were a bit eye-rolling for me. Perhaps that’s my criticism with the films you mention re: factual embellishment–it’s every right of the director/writer to do it; they’re not documentaries. But we the viewers can see through it. And isn’t the original story dramatic enough? Regardless, it was an excellent film, as was Selma. I also liked Birdman very much–the characters aren’t the best people but the story-telling there is rather magical. Anyway, cheers to movies and the ones that make us think, question, discuss, even argue. They’re such an accessible art form and I love hearing what people think. Thanks for sharing your critiques.

          3. Michael Jones says:

            The last time I went with my Heart for a best picture nominee was March 82′ Raiders of the Lost Ark, it lost to the best and most inspirational film – Chariots of Fire. Just a quick recap of Loretta Young speaking about the Academy before announcing the award will give an insight to how the Academy evaluates Movies. I believe substance will beat out form every time.

          4. Michael Jones says:

            I am still waiting for someone to explain how the message of Boyhood has a such a more compelling message and Societal value than Selma, The Imitation Game, TTOE, etc. That is what a best picture is all about. Loving a film is great, but even considering the Academy stamping its imprimatur on ‘Boyhood’ is quite disturbing. Having ‘Boyhood’ stamped worldwide as a representation of American taste and putting ‘Boyhood’ in the same category as Schindler’s list. So my blunt critique is not against people loving Boyhood, I think that is fine. It is about a bandwagon of non-industry people pushing it for Best Picture when it is nowhere even close. There are plenty of movies that I “Love” as much as people “Love” Boyhood. Ex: Stealing Home (1988) , Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) , Vanilla Sky (2001) , etc. However, I would never ever consider these for a Best Picture nominee, ever. They are not and will never be the type of movies for Best Picture, just like ‘Boyhood’. Best Picture nominees typically have a enduring message or are based on true events. Boyhood at it’s core is none of that. It can make someone reminisce or love a cutie boy and maybe feel good, tears and all that. The movie Beaches is 10 times the movie boyhood is for that. I only wish is for folks to Love boyhood and any movie they want, but to address the truth about “Boyhood” compared to what the Academy really believes are best pictures. So far it has been mostly selfish evauations, if it makes me feel good than it should be best picture instead of what is best to represent good taste and a compelling message. There are a few exceptions, but Boyhood is no comparison.

  2. Sally says:

    Todd and I went to see Boyhood on our anniversary in August. It was in a small theater and I was so moved that I wanted to discuss with everyone but not many had seen it. I’m glad it got the recognition it deserves with the Oscar nomination. Thanks for reminding me why I loved it so much!

  3. Andrea Brenner says:

    Such a special film and such a dead-on review… well said.

  4. Darlene Campbell says:

    I was as entertained reading the comments here as well as your post Kristin. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but you have me intrigued. Cheerios-Darlene

  5. Michael Jones says:

    Birdman! What a production. Wish it was The Imitation Game, but Birdman is very rewarding to the actors, producers, directors, the entire industry. Birdman! Is a quality picture worthy of best picture! I personally like the message better of Imitation Game, but Birdman does strike at the heart of the people who bring truly quality movies to our lives. Boyhood sure touched many people, but it just didn’t have the overall quality of an Academy Best Picture.
    Hooray for BIRDMAN!

    Long Live Birdman!

    1. Kristin O'Keefe says:

      I did like Birdman too, we agree on that one! Very well done. I’m still grappling with ending but a very well acted and written story that made us care about some truly egotistical, self-centered characters. Michael Keaton was terrific in role. Cheers to 2015 and another good crop of movies!


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