Movie: Birdman (Or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Director, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Original Screenplay
Let’s start this year off with a bang, shall we? Warning: This one’s gonna be a little long due to the sheer number of nominations.
From the moment I saw that Birdman had a secondary title (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), I knew things were going to be interesting. The movie follows former-blockbuster-actor-turned-Broadway-play-writer Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) as he and his cast and crew are preparing for the opening of their play. Riggan struggles with his identity as an actor who is known so prominently as a cinema superhero but wants to create art at a different level. As preparations progress, one of the actors has an accident and is replaced by Mike (Edward Norton) who has already made a name for himself in the stage acting world.
I will say that when I watch movies, I tend to focus on the technical aspects more than the actors. Therefore, in my opinion, I thought that the cinematography was the most outstanding characteristic of the movie. About five or ten minutes into the movie, I realized something – almost the entire movie is one “continuous” shot. (I put continuous in quotation marks because it looks like it was all shot in one smooth stroke but is in fact accomplished through some very clever transitions.) It is THE most unique cinematography and directing choice I have ever experienced. I had thought that the burden of that kind of filming was on the editor, but my father (who is a videography professional) told me that what it really takes is an amazing director to accomplish continuous shots and seamless transitions. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu is a Mexican director who also wrote the screenplay for the film. Seeing as the screenplay and direction go hand-in-hand, you can see how Iñárritu being at the helm of both helped create a smooth and astounding end product. On top of the breath-taking effect of an almost two-hour long continuous shot, the rest of the cinematography aspects were also unique and beautiful. The use of camera angles and lighting in particular were memorable, including several ways of using mirrors that I had never seen before.
The nominations for sound editing and sound mixing I don’t particularly understand considering all the movies that came out this year that required the creation of lots of new sounds and difficult soundscapes. There were quite a few special effects that required some good editing. The rest of the movie was almost devoid of background noise except for the score which was entirely composed of just music from a drum set. The score was disqualified from consideration by the Academy, but their reasoning doesn’t make much sense. The drum score keeps the plot moving at a hurried pace that accentuates what’s happening on-screen exactly how a good score should. I was thoroughly expecting a nomination.
Ok, on to acting. Out of the three nominated for Oscars (Keaton, Stone, Norton), Keaton stood out to me the most. The fact that he basically IS Riggan (as in, former superhero turned artsy), it brings his performance to a whole new level. The specific comment I wrote in my notebook after seeing the movie regarding his acting was “Holy crap”. I’ve only seen one other of the leading actor nominees so far, so it’s hard to tell how he compares to the others at this point.. Stone and Norton were excellent but they didn’t wow me in the same way. Emma Stone (as Riggan’s recovering drug addict daughter) in particular was her typical amazing self…but emphasis on “typical”. Meanwhile, Zach Galifianakis was so unique that I didn’t even realize it was him at first! Sure, it wasn’t “best supporting actor” material, but he still deserves some recognition.
The film as a whole is thought-provoking and unique. It criticizes critics and puts the audience into the viewpoint of an actor. It opened my eyes to some new thoughts and perspectives. The greatest guilt trip given by the film is that “people” only want explosions from their on-screen stories, not art. That criticism immediately made it Oscar fodder so I’m not surprised that it got so much attention from the Academy.
One last comment….SPOILER ALERT:
Riggan kills himself at the end after reaching a very low point and it is frightening reminder of Robin Williams’ tragic death this past year. It is quite the coincidence.
*As this is my first post and one of the first movies I saw this year in many of the categories it’s been nominated for, I’m not posting my predictions yet. Stay tuned…