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And the Oscar goes to…Birdman

lars logoINSPIRED – There once was an actor named Michael Keaton. He blew us away with a handful of fresh, inspired comedies that showcased his considerable charm and wicked smart timing. From Night Shift to Mr. Mom, he was undeniably in his element in this genre.

Then Hollywood shocked us all by casting Keaton as Batman in Tim Burton’s Batman – still to this day my favorite of all the Batman films, including the Christopher Nolan trilogy.

Keaton looked down his nose at a third bite at the Marvel Comic apple and apparently has regretted the decision ever since. A classic example of commerce having the last laugh over art.

BirdmanAll of the aforementioned is basically the set up for Birdman, the amazingly rich, thought-provoking, intoxicatingly entertaining new film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Much like my other favorite film from this past year, John Favreau’s  Chef, Inarritu’s script takes a long, brutally confrontational look at both the new role of social media in our lives as well as the age old role of critical analysis, and how what others think – and write! – about us can make and/or break our spirit.

The similarities between the two films are startling. In both cases, you have a major talent (Favreau, Keaton) making career choices that would haunt them, with Iron Man and all of its blockbuster trappings at the core of both men’s narratives.

Favreau lost his indie filmmaking spirit once he jumped behind the camera and found what had to be somewhat unexpected success with Zathura, which led him to the helm of the Iron Man juggernaut. Keaton was never able to regain his star power once he chose to walk away from the Batman franchise, resigned to decades of regret as the Marvel Comic movie monstrosity continued to churn out mass marketed pablum like a gum ball machine, most notably fueled by…the Iron Man juggernaut.

Both films are about men trying desperately to connect with their children.

Both men have sympathetic ex-wives, sitting on the sideline rooting for the resurrection of the men they once loved.

Both men fall victim to the unforgiving reality of social media viral phenomenon “fame.”

Both men go nose to nose with the critic who sits on the sideline and condemns results rather than celebrate or even acknowledge effort and artistic risk taking.

The biggest difference between these two stars’ self-examination stories is their age gap. Favreau is in his late 40s, plenty of time to flip the internal flame switch and recapture his bliss (Chef’s central theme); Keaton is now in his 60s, and his laundry list of regrets threaten his inner peace at a time in his life when mortality looms like a vulture on the telephone line.

A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.

But I am still going to say this: Birdman is a spectacular cinematic achievement.

It’s a film that celebrates bold, risk-taking artistic expression, both in its presentation and in its examination of how and why actors do what they do.

Accomplished stylistically with one never-ending camera move (a direct homage to the cinematic style of Martin Scorsese), Birdman keeps us engaged from the very beginning, introducing us to all of the cooks in the kitchen of a Broadway show.

As you would probably guess, the performances are all passionately engaged and effective;  from Edward Norton’s turn as a critically adored Broadway peacock, to Naomi Watts’ emotionally exhausted “Why don’t I have any self-respect” starlet, to Zach Galifianakis‘ stressed out, but loyal agent; finally to Emma Stone’s pouty, spoiled, apathetic collateral damage to stardom offspring.

A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.

birdman 2

But I still have to say this: Birdman is a triumph of process worthy of a 5-star review for successfully celebrating those who choose a life in the arts and dare to put their soul-revealing expressions up on stage for the world to see.

A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.

I’ve said enough.

Go see this film…and mark your Oscar ballots now. Keaton is a lock; Inarritu and his script are a lock; the film might just win too.

6 thoughts on “And the Oscar goes to…Birdman

  1. Lars, I am thrilled to see Keaton back on top. I have missed his sharp wit and sardonic form seen in his earlier films. The Batman franchise hasn’t been the same since his stellar performance. Thanks for the review. I am looking forward to this film.

  2. Pingback: Theory of Everything plays small ball | Lars Beckerman

  3. Pingback: Best Films of 2014 | Lars Beckerman

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