With the 87th Academy Awards having taken place on Sunday evening, I thought I’d review the winner of the most prestigious category – Best Picture. Last year produced a plethora of utterly brilliant films, and so it really is testimony to Birdman’s excellence for it to join Hollywood’s exclusive club of best pictures.
Birdman is a psychological black comedy-drama film (it encompasses a lot) focusing on a washed up Hollywood actor (Keaton) struggling with his inner turmoil and trying to come to grips with the fact he doesn’t matter in the eye of the public anymore. To reinvigorate his career, he invests everything he has to mount a Broadway adaptation, but as well as battling the inner conflicts in his head, he tries to deal with his estranged daughter (Stone) and egotistical co-star (Norton) whilst his world seems to crumble around him.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
Birdman has received unanimous acclaim, and right from it’s release was pipped to win many Oscars with Michael Keaton accumulating much of the approbation. I think part of the reason Keaton excelled in this movie was that it mirrored his own life in many ways, though his demise is not as great as the character’s he portrays, but the parallels are certainly conspicuous. Keaton reached the pinnacle of his career with Batman in the early nineties much like his character Riggan Thomas did with Birdman. Discontented however with the label Birdman brought him, being a celebrity as apposed to an actor prompted him to seek more fulfilling work, to strive for more challenging and complex characters. Upon pursuing these roles, Riggan begins to drift away to the periphery, not long after vanishing completely from the public eye. This is where the first of the film’s many references/beratements is unveiled.
The film is certainly an indictment on big budget blockbusters and the film industry in the fact that these big movies are shallow with no deeper meaning, no thought provoking content. Us the audience have become mindless viewing junkies for gratuitous violence and action, having preference over these types of films rather than the more artistic ones which encourage thought from the viewer. The blockbusters are the films garnering all the attention, independent films pushed to the background, with actors choosing to feature in them receiving a similar fate, like Riggan or to a lesser extent Michael Keaton. The film is not a direct attack on this trend, rather a subtle nod to it and how we as viewers should try and negate it from being such a prevalent occurrence. That’s not to say that I disparage big blockbusters or wish to discredit them, but the film did make me more aware of how we should value the more artsy films and give them as well as the actors and makers the attention they deserve. As mentioned earlier, the film lambastes many things in the film industry, from the actors and producers to the audience and especially the critics. There’s a scene devoted to rebuking the latter which was brilliant, in which Riggan completely undermines a film critic in a bar expressing all his built up deprecation for the pompous film critics in how they belittle the work of actors only out of self content and jealousy that they were unable to be the artists they wanted to be. You find that the film alludes to so much, really opening your eyes to a number of things that ought to be rectified.
Another way in which this film stands out is that it gave the impression it was one continuous shot which was something really original and played off very well. Scene transitions were done through the motion of the camera, there were no scene cuts which gave the film a very fluid feel. The cinematography in fact for this film was fantastic and a really great new take on how to film a movie. The camera was seldom stationary often being in motion, such as encircling the characters. There was also a heavy use of POV shots which were pertinent to getting into the minds of the characters, but by also having the camera often at eye level, it allowed for a much more engaging perspective and vicarious viewing experience. This was a great choice seeing as this film was such a psychological one, feeling that you could immerse yourselves into the character’s minds by watching the movie through their perspective really enhanced the viewing experience. The film had a very energetic feel to it, much of it owing to the cinematography but this was accompanied with a high tempo jazzy snare beat in the background, which matched the energy of the acting on screen, and it has to be said that all the performances in Birdman really was incredible.
Birdman is a profound psychological triumph. It has invigorated many critics/reviewers and rightfully so, there’s so much going on – it’s a very weird movie! This film has hopefully reignited Keaton’s career as he showed some real depth in playing this role. This year’s Oscar for best actor was certainly in contention with the likes of Redmayne and Cumberbatch producing flawless performances in their respective films. After having watched Keaton in Birdman, I really did think he’d get acting’s most coveted award, but lo and behold I was proven wrong on Sunday evening when Eddie Redmayne claimed Best Actor for The Theory of Everything.