Oscars!: Birdman

Movie: Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director

So. Birdman. I admit, I was not looking forward to this movie, though many of my friends were. I think the chance to see a serious film that seemed to have a sense of humor about the whole comic-movie phenomenon was greatly appealing for a goodly number of people. I'll bet not one of them was expecting what they got.

We went in during the previews and sat down, and the opening credits begin to roll, and at the end of them, there's a quote from Raymond Carver:

“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”
― Raymond Carver, A New Path to the Waterfall
That sets the tone for the central struggle for Riggan Thompson, the central character (played brilliantly by Michael Keaton). We follow the character into a rehearsal of an adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," which I recognized from the opening lines the actors were saying.  Now, for the folks at home, you should know that I admire Raymond Carter's work, but I don't like it. I would never read Carver for sheer entertainment value, although I admire the hell out of his craftsmanship. All things being equal though, if you haven't read any Carver and you plan to see this movie, you should. It'll put a new spin on it for you.

When I came out of the theater, I could not say I loved this movie. It was good, and I appreciated it, but I couldn't say I loved it. It grows on you, though... the more time you have to settle in with it, the better it becomes -- and it starts off pretty darn good. The director is Alejandro Inarritu, and he set himself up for a heck of a challenge in this film. It's got echoes of Carver and Macbeth and a thousand other small life tragedies running madly through it in opposition to the heroic ideal that Riggan turned away from, in the form of the voice in his head that is Birdman, which dogs him and makes him wonder if he's ascending to a higher form of consciousness -- one with his own superpowers. He shot the film to look as though it's all one long take, and while it isn't -- some parts had to be edited together, naturally -- the number of long takes he did do makes it pretty seamless. It was shot in under a month and the process was pretty grueling, according to IMDB and interviews with the actors, but the feeling of all of it seamlessly flowing together is amazing. The work paid off in spades. 

Birdman is an incredible technical and theatrical experience. Michael Keaton gets to break out of all the crap roles he's had thrown at him and soar, and it's beautiful. Emma Stone gives the film its humanity by being Keaton's equal and breaking through the facade of the actors she's surrounded with, in yet another stellar performance. Edward Norton... man, I am not a huge Edward Norton fan, but I loved him in this film. Holy cats. 

Now, all of that said? I don't know that Birdman deserved all the nominations it got. I'm not sure it deserves to win Best Picture. Inarritu's examination of the supposed costs of consumer culture film (which is by no means altogether negative, regardless of the experience many of the characters have in trying to decide between success and "art") is transformed into something else entirely by the movie's lionization by the Academy, wherein it becomes a sort of political "fuck you" to all the Marvel/DC/sequel/genre films for being noisy and successful and appealing to a broader demographic than the old, white, male Academy filmgoer/auteur, at the same time casting doubt on whether those stories can ever have something meaningful to say. I don't like the implications of that, and I'm not altogether pleased with even the most beautiful art when it's brandished as an insult. That said, I'm refraining on predictions at this point, though Birdman is definitely worthy of some sort of reward -- it's a hell of a film. 

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