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Awards season reviews: Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

So the Oscar nominations are up, take a look here http://oscar.go.com/nominees if you want to see the list.

My next review is of Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

I’m going to start right now and say I think this film deserves all nine of its nominations and perhaps deserves to win them all. Let me do a quick synopsis before I get into the nitty gritty.

Birdman is a tough one to pin down. The story, as basic as I can put it, follows actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who, back in his hay day, was the Birdman, a comic book hero and blockbuster sensation. But this was 20 years ago and now he’s washed up and looking to theatre to redeem his fading career, all the while battling severe delusions. He has super hero powers, including flight and has the image of the Birdman following him wherever he goes, giving him illusions of grandeur and self pity. Thomson’s career (and patience) is further tested when he hires Mike (Edward Norton), a pretentious, loud mouth, egotistical method actor to star in his play ‘What we Talk About when we Talk about Love’; an adaptation of a short story by Raymond Carver. After a disastrous start, the play has mixed reviews and Mike continuously manages to steal the show (as well as the affections of Thomson’s daughter, Sam, played by Emma Stone). That is until Thomson makes a tremendous sacrifice for his art and finally the play is a raving success and Thomson is back to his former glory. But even that doesn’t quell his need to be the Birdman.

This film is so wonderfully weird and yet the best comment on real life, modern life, cinema, acting and Hollywood that I’ve seen for a while. It plays with realism and surrealism so brilliantly. The director and cinematographer would have you believe that the entire film is just one long take. Each edit and cut are conscientiously hidden in a light, or a pan, or a blackout, that you almost don’t notice them and they’re minimal when you do. The scenes are timed so perfectly that the camera runs smoothly from one conversation, one outburst to the next. Just like a play. And within the play-like film, is a play.

At the beginning of the film, it’s hard to distinguish what is play and what is film. One specific scene in particular, the first interaction between Thomson and Mike when they’re rehearsing the play on stage, sees them bounce from one another so brilliantly. You don’t know if the lines Keaton and Norton are delivering, with such passion and integrity, are from the script of the play (which technically is still the script of the film) or the script of the film. It’s so mesmerizing you forget to blink.

Keaton’s performance, for me, is a little haunting. It could perhaps be viewed as a slightly satirical comment on his days as Batman and how his career has been fairly under the radar since, but I’m almost certain Keaton’s cool, collected image doesn’t have an underlying psychotic need to be Batman again. But this haunting nature makes his performance as Riggan Thomson that much more believable. You struggle to like the character, but you dislike anyone in the film who doesn’t like him. He’s like the family member only you are allowed to insult. Although there are endearing scenes between him and his ex-wife and his daughter, he still can’t see anything but his career and for that reason, you’re stunted in your admiration towards him.

Emma Stone’s character is perhaps the opposite to Keaton’s. Sam is crazy yet lucid, a hot mess on the surface but trying to find her way through life without having any blinkers on. She wants to see it for what it is, something her dad fails to do. These two steal the show in my eyes. Their ability to hold a scene with minimal, to no edits and still transfer such realness in such a fantastical way is incredible and trophy worthy; Emma for best supporting actress and Keaton for best actor. Edward Norton’s craft is also impeccable as Mike and he too has a good chance to win best supporting actor.

I like watching movies that don’t advertise the position of the people behind the camera, especially when it’s a film based on a true story, The Theory of Everything, for example, but I LOVE watching a movie that overtly advertises the positions of the directors, cinematographers, sound crew and everyone else when the film calls for that and Birdman is the perfect example of this. It uses the camera, the editing and sound as an art form and layer upon layer, it’s provided us with an ever-unraveling piece of cinematic art. The film student in me was very happy.

Out of all the films I’ve watched so far this year it’s by far the best for cinematography, directing and screenplay, so for that it should be awarded.


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