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And the Oscar goes to: Common themes from a varied list of Best Picture nominees
Ellar Coltrane at age 6 in a scene from the film "Boyhood." - photo by Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock
The films nominated for top honors at the 87th annual Academy Awards (Sunday, 6:30 p.m. MST, ABC) deal with everything from parenting, maturation and artistry to war, invention and social justice.

The eight Best Picture nominees "Whiplash" (R), "American Sniper" (R), "Birdman" (R), "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (R), "The Imitation Game" (PG-13), "Selma" (PG-13), "The Theory of Everything" (PG-13) and "Boyhood" (R) feature starkly varied themes. And as far as families are concerned, there's much to be aware of in terms of objectionable content.

But the Best Picture lineup also shares some common underlying themes that reflect the types of films that are impressing critics, audiences and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Some of those themes can also be conversation starters for parents and families.

Nominees for Best Picture are oftentimes chosen because they are difficult productions to put together, according to Alissa Wilkinson, chief film critic for Christianity Today.

Whether or not you like it, it gives you a way to ask, 'Why are these films important?' Wilkinson said. Is it the story, the aesthetics? Why do so many people resonate with this film?"

One of the most talked about movies of the 2015 award season, and the front-runner to win Best Picture, is "Boyhood," a film 12 years in the making that examines a family over more than a decade.

"Boyhood" is resonating with audiences across the country. According to the film review aggregation site, it is the best reviewed film of 2014 with a "fresh" rating of 98 percent.

This coming-of-age story follows the protagonist, Mason, from age 6 to 18. Mason is the child of divorced parents and is raised by a single mother, played by Patricia Arquette, who is nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The film, directed by Richard Linklater, began production in 2002 and shows the natural aging of the characters. Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, experiences an at times rocky childhood. The Guardian says the film "isnt life as we know it, but life as it really was."

According to Wilkinson, it's the way the film was captured, not just the plot, that is affecting audiences so poignantly.

One of the main themes of "Boyhood," Wilkinson said, is the relationship of maturity and time.

"It's not just the boy you see grow up, but the family, too," she said. "It's really about how time grows us up and our experiences help us mature.

"The fact that the cast grew up together was a big part of (the film's themes.) They came together, made a movie, and it became a rhythm for their lives. It's quite a feat."

"Boyhood" portrays an at first disconnected divorced father who gradually becomes more attached, and a single mother who has to learn to let go as her children grow up.

Wilkinson said the film teaches that all parents mess up their children "in their own special ways," she said.

"But there is a lot of what we would call 'grace' there," Wilkinson said.

With the themes of maturation, single parenting and the effects of alcohol abuse comes some objectionable content. Boyhood was given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America for language including sexual references and for teen drug and alcohol use. One scene in the film includes a graphic conversation about girls, Wilkinson said.

According to, "Boyhood" features 39 uses of the F-word. Common Sense Media, which gives the film five stars, recommends "Boyhood" for ages 15 and older.

Julia Emmanuele of lamented the rating, writing that the "MPAA has a history of giving violent films lower ratings than ones that deal with sex or foul language, and it has long been an issue of contention between the organization and filmmakers who don't want to see their films struggle to find an audience due to a high rating."

Wilkinson pointed out that the definition of objectionable content may vary among viewers. For example, some audiences find war to be objectionable, she said. Content such as the language and teenage drug and alcohol consumption in Boyhood is more merited when it helps develop the character, Wilkinson said.

The important thing with families, if they choose to bring their teenager to a film like that, is to talk with them," Wilkinson said. "Ask them, Have you had that experience?"

Common Sense Media recommends several talking points for families, such as the morality of teens experimenting with drugs and the effect of domestic violence and alcoholism.

One film among the Best Picture nominees that could definitely serve as a discussion-starter for families is "Selma," Wilkinson said.

Selma, rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment and brief strong language, is the biopic chronicling Martin Luther King Jr.s efforts to grant black Americans voting rights. The film highlights the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Director Ava DuVernays deep-down look at a key point in the civil rights movement ought to fascinate teens who wish they knew more about it, reads the review from the The Washington Posts Family Filmgoer.

Wilkinson said Selma is important to discuss because of its historical roots. Conversations that follow the film could include: How did that make you feel? How does that match up with our values or what we believe?

Use (films) as a springboard for discussing the world, Wilkinson said. The worst thing anyone can do (after viewing a film) is think, Well, thats over.

A strong contender in the Best Picture field is Alejandro Gonzlez Irritus Birdman, starring Michael Keaton. The film is about a "washed-up" former superhero actor who "battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career and himself in the days leading up to the opening of a Broadway play, according to

But the darker comedy is definitely more for adults, Wilkinson said.

Its not a film that any kid or teenager would like," she said. "Its a film about a very specific splice of the world. If you talk about how it relates to the world, its about feeling like youre past your prime. I cant see that being a family film."

Birdman is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence.

Though the 2015 nominees vary widely and are difficult to link together, a common theme seems to be the art of telling true stories.

Why are people so attached to true stories?" Wilkinson said. "Four of the films ... American Sniper, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game and Selma, are all biopics. Why is it that we want to see (films) based on true stories? Why do they make us care more about people?

Wilkinson pointed to another underlying theme: accomplishing great things.

Even Birdman is about people accomplishing things as a group," she said. "The Grand Budapest Hotel is about relationships, The Imitation Game is about working together, as opposed to other films about individual genius."

And its indicative of the times, she said.

We are grappling within our culture right now about politics or celebrities, or whose job it is to make the world a better place," Wilkinson said. "This has been a year were really obsessed with this."

One final underlying theme is the recognition of individual genius.

We are cloaking the superhero thing in a different outfit. How is that of interest to us today? I dont know the answer, Wilkinson said. But we are interested in figuring out how genius works. Thats what the (Academy Awards) are all about figuring out who is the best at something.
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