And the Oscar goes to…
“Birdman.” For Best Picture. Huh.
Don’t get me wrong, “Birdman” is a pretty cool movie—except when I saw it several weeks ago with a visiting friend (I take out-of-town friends to movies—it’s lame but it’s my life), I certainly did not walk out of the theater thinking it was going to win Best Picture. It was good, great even, but at the time I was still pulling for “Interstellar,” which wasn’t even in the running for Best Picture when all was said and done. Shows what I know.
“Birdman,” directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, follows washed-up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) through the final days leading up to the opening of a Broadway show he is directing and starring in. The show is Riggan’s last chance at revitalizing his failed career as a movie star—and his egomania and his desperation only increase as the show’s release looms closer.
There is an obvious comparison to make between the careers of Riggan and Keaton, given that Riggan was once the star of a blockbuster superhero series. He played Birdman, a flying, telekinetic superhero with a franchise not unlike the pair of hugely grossing Batman films Keaton starred in way back in the day (they were, to put it mildly, different than the Dark Knight series the youth of today have enjoyed). Because Keaton does such a tremendous job of giving an erratic depth to Riggan, and because his own career enhances the ethos of his performance, I suppose I should have known “Birdman” could win an Oscar.
But Keaton’s strong performance as Riggan was not all that earned “Birdman” the acclaim of the ol’ Academy—director Alejandro Iñárritu did his part in helping the film secure a place in Oscar history. The film appears to be shot almost entirely in one continuous take—that is, until about ten minutes from the end of the movie, the camera does not so much as blink. The effect gives the movie a distinct texture, and it was used in such a way that it complemented the action on screen rather than distracting from it.
While the continuous shot is not necessarily a completely original innovation in cinema—having been used in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, “Rope”—the Academy has been known to honor the use of old time “Hollywood magic” cinema tricks with acclaim, as it did in 2011 when “The Artist,” a silent film, took home Best Picture. I suppose the depth the continuous shot effect added to the film should have hinted that the Academy might consider “Birdman” the best movie of the 2015.
The movie also features a pretty great supporting case. Riggan’s crumbling personal life features a daughter named Sam, played by the fantastic Emma Stone. If Riggan is a wreck, then she’s somewhere close to that mark. Fresh out of rehab, she hangs out at the production of her father’s play, and ultimately delivers one of the movie’s most gut-wrenching monologues. Edward Norton plays Mark Shiner, something of a lost soul with a talent for stage acting brought in to the show after a cast member is injured. Riggan’s long time friend and producer Jake is played by a personal favorite of mine, Zach Galifianakis—and while his role is relatively minor, Jake offers some insight into the inner workings of the film’s complex plot.
The breadth of talent in the supporting cast helped to further support the already impressive performance by Keaton, so I suppose acting strength on display should have hinted to me that “Birdman” be considered better than “Interstellar,” which, again, was not nominated in that category.
The Best Picture award is often an enigmatic one, the Academy likes what it likes and “Birdman” was certainly a terrific movie. It was intense, funny, dark, surprising and entertaining all at once. Time will tell if it will remain in the public consciousness or fade out of memory as the spotlight shifts away.