Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) [Celluloid Hero]
This year's Oscar nominations were led by The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman, each with nine. Birdman took home four awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography. I understand why Birdman was nominated in all those categories, but I'm actually surprised it took home Best Picture. Don't get me wrong, I think it was fantastic, I'm just surprised that the Academy felt the same.
"Birdman" is something of a meta-movie. It's a sort of surreal documentary, which is a contradiction but the best I can come up with. The idea of an actor who used to be a famous costumed superhero now trying to establish his career after the bubble burst mirrors Michael Keaton's real life. Edward Norton has a bit of a reputation of being difficult to work with, and his character nearly ruins everything more than once. The connections between the fictional characters and fictional plot run parallel to the real-life actors and their lives. It's the sort of movie I enjoy watching because things are exaggerated just to the point where I'm left wondering how much was really true.
I absolutely loved the direction and editing and cinematography. The movie gives the illusion of being one long uncut shot, with a few exceptions towards the end. I'm always fascinated by long takes, from classics like Hitchcock's "Rope" to modern ones like "Russian Ark". The camera follows characters from room to room, up and down stairwells, backstage of a theatre, outside down the streets of New York, inside a bar, circling the characters, rising above them or falling below. The technique totally immerses the viewer. The long shots also really forced each actor to perform to the height of their abilities. If you know the director can just yell "cut" if you blow a line or giggle at your co-star, there's a small reminder in the back of your mind that you can relax. If you know that you enter a scene after the others have acted for ten minutes, you know that blowing your line means every has to start all over again, so you strive for perfection each time.
I can't fully review this without devoting time to the soundtrack. A majority of the score was performed by jazz drummer Antonio Sánchez. He's not backing a band, it's not a small trio with a focus on percussion; it's just drums. As a drummer, I appreciated it; as a movie critic, I couldn't think of anything like it. It was a totally unique choice, and felt perfect at every moment.
I said I was suprised the Academy chose this for Best Picture. I feel like the Oscar usually goes to a safer movie, not one that skewers Hollywood and critics and such. I almost never agree with the Oscars (or any award, for that matter), but maybe this decision could be the beginning of some new thinking. "Birdman" is one of the best, most complete movies I've seen in a long long time.