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Awards season is upon us and one of the films that has generated a large amount of Oscar buzz is Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Over the last few years I have been thoroughly disappointed with some of the films that have dominated the awards categories. Sometimes I feel that awards shows have become very predictable, nominating films that are highly praised by critics but ultimately end up being disappointing and bland to a modern audience. However fortunately this was not the case with Birdman. The film is faultless from start to finish and is one of the few films that bursts with originality and creativity. Birdman deserves all the acclaim that it is receiving and I’m sure it will triumph at many awards shows over the coming month!
The film follows the story of Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) a washed up actor whose career faltered after he gave up playing the eponymous role of Birdman in a number of superhero films. We follow Riggan’s journey as he attempts to make a comeback and prove himself as a serious actor by adapting, directing and starring in a Broadway play. Keaton is an extremely talented actor who has been somewhat overlooked in the last couple of years. Ironically his real-life acting career resembles that of Riggan as Keaton rose to fame playing Batman in the original Tim Burton films. Keaton is finally getting the recognition he deserves, bringing his versatility, energy and exceptional comic timing to the challenging titular role. The supporting cast are also note-perfect and make a lasting impression even with limited screen time but Edward Norton and Emma Stone are the true stand-outs. Norton’s hilarious performance as method actor Mike Shiner injects each scene with vivacity and very nearly steals the film from under Keaton’s feet. Emma Stone is also a highlight playing against her ‘good-girl’ image as Riggan’s daughter Sam who has just been released from rehab. She is raw and real and delivers some of the most emotionally charged lines of the film.
Despite dealing with some heavy issues Birdman is actually one of the funniest films of the year! The writing is genuinely witty without sacrificing character development or resorting to crude humour. Another aspect which makes Birdman truly unique is the fact that it is made to look as if it was shot in one whole take without any cuts. There were many moments in the film when I thought ‘How on earth did they do that?’ This style of shooting truly draws you in and makes you feel like you are part of the action in a way that few films nowadays accomplish. The ending is also left deliberately ambiguous and will leave you scratching your head for days after.
Overall, Birdman is a film about the importance of cinema, the difference between high-art and low-art and the dangers of egotism. It may be slightly too artsy and pretentious for some viewers and as a huge comic-book movie fan I found the film’s message about superhero films being the ‘cultural genocide’ of modern cinema to be un-founded and slightly snobbish. Ironically, the three actors in the film who have generated the most awards buzz have played vital roles in superhero films (Keaton played Batman, Norton briefly played the Hulk and Stone was Gwen Stacy in the Amazing Spider-Man series). However Birdman is visually stunning and intellectually alive, defying all cinematic conventions and daring to be different, and for that, it deserves to be seen!