BIRDMAN (2014)(directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu) (****+ out of 5)
> Yee-haw, that’s some ambitious filmmaking!
. Alejandro Iñárritu has done it again. I’ve seen all five of his features now. All five are extraordinary pieces of art. (The others being BIUTIFUL, 21 GRAMS, BABEL, and AMORES PERROS.) Of all the films I’ve seen from 2014, this title is the single best of the lot. There are problems with it. It is not perfect. (There are pacing problems for example. I felt there were pacing problems in all of Iñárritu’s films. Perhaps it’s a cultural difference. Though he now makes big, mainstream American films, Alejandro González Iñárritu is very much a Mexican director.)
. But BIRDMAN is as good as any “Best Picture” winner I have ever seen, so I would be surprised not to see it nominated and happy to see it win. And it is impossible to come away from seeing this without imagining Michael Keaton accepting that golden statue. BIRDMAN is certainly the crowning glory of his career. This is not the Michael Keaton of BEETLEJUICE! This is a performance so big the silver screen can barely contain it. Keaton is at once fascinating and pitiful, inspiring and repulsive, energetic and exhausted, defeated and triumphant, playing Riggan Thomas- a world-weary, embattled has-been Hollywood actor, attempting his first Broadway production. He wants to prove to the world, (and to the gruff voice of his former superhero persona that growls and hisses derision and criticism in his ear whenever he’s alone), that he is more than a celebrity- he’s an actor and capable of making art. But making art is bloody business-not for the squeamish. He has to deal with the unfinished business of a hovering ex-wife he still loves (Amy Ryan), an angry daughter he has never been able to be there for (Emma Stone), a girlfriend who announces she’s pregnant with his baby (Andrea Riseborough), a best friend desperate to keep the theatres precarious finances from imploding (Zach Galifianakis), a volatile and maddeningly unpredictable leading man (Edward Norton), an emotional leading lady (Naomi Watts), and a nasty theatre critic determined to destroy his play with a scathing review on opening night, sight unseen (Lindsay Duncan). Of the lot, Edward Norton and Emma Stone fare the best- both giving wonderful performances that would be very deserving of “Best Supporting Actor” noms.
. Yep, Riggan has his hands full, and he’s barely coping. His world is a house of cards, and the foundations are shifting.
. This film is also a technical wonder of the highest order. Emmanuel Lubezki, the genius photographer of GRAVITY, dazzles us again with some of the most amazing cinematography ever committed to film. It’s a pretty unique structure: there are no cut-aways within a scene. Every scene is shot with a single camera that rarely stands static, but moves fluidly, following the characters from one interaction to another in a nearly invisible way, that succeeds brilliantly in drawing you into their world. All production values are top-notch and the sense of time and place (New York City, this moment: 2014) is expertly recreated. At 18-22 million dollars, (by varying accounts) this is, by today’s standards, a low-budget film. But this does not show in a single frame, and BIRDMAN deserves to make truckloads of money, if only American audiences are sophisticated enough to give it a shot- unfortunately, a dicey proposition given their predilection for the cinematic equivalent of comfort food and their silly aversion to anything truly new and original. No, it’s not a sequel, not a blockbuster and not a blind paean to the excesses of youth. But I’m rooting for audiences to take the leap of faith and check out this nearly indefinable film.
. A friend characterized BIRDMAN as the filmic equivalent of scratchy jazz: a somewhat obvious observation, considering the soundtrack throughout is freeform percussive jazz- another absolutely perfect choice, excellently encapsulating Riggan’s state of mind. The poor schlub lives primarily in his head, imagining telekinetic powers that serve to lend him some illusion of control over his chaotic life. These sequences are an absolute magical delight, especially when his illusory world threatens to engulf and take over this actual life, and the comic book world of Birdman muddies the mix. The harried director begins to shout his own directorial commands to the unseen crew, calling for them to cut the musical soundtrack- and the film obeys. He walks past a room where the soundtrack percussionist is laying down the track. It’s a magical chimera that works in nearly every moment.
> Safe to say, I am in love with this film. See it, and share the love!
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