Sunday, January 25, 2015

11 Things I Loved About "Birdman"

Thank you, Birdman -- the movie, not the superhero. Frankly, he's kind of an annoying guy who, hopefully, will never see the light of opening day at the center of a summer-blockbuster franchise. (I'm still trying to wrap my head around the upcoming Ant-Man.) It's been a long time since a movie made me want to stand on my balcony and cheer. Yes, I finally have a balcony again, and no, unlike a certain movie character, I didn't leap from it.

I loved Birdman for a lot of the same reasons I loved Sideways, Before Sunset, Being Julia and The Artist. I'm a sucker for an engaging cinematic contemplation on second acts, getting older and legacy. Riggan Thomson, Michael Keaton's character, might have a couple of decades and 79,500 Twitter followers on me, and people actually know who he is when they pass him on the street, but I understand his dilemma perfectly. And having fallen in love with Raymond Carver's work after reading Where I'm Calling From in the '90s, his artistic inspiration makes sense, too.

My favorite things about Birdman:

1. Michael Keaton: He deserves all of the acclaim he's received for a performance that will hopefully launch a lengthier comeback than Mickey Rourke's after The Wrestler several years ago. There are hints of the funny cut-up I was raised on (the Michael Keaton of Night Shift and Mr. Mom) with a gravitas rarely seen when he wasn't wearing his Batman suit (the Michael Keaton of Clean and Sober and Pacific Heights). If Eddie Redmayne gets the Best Actor Oscar for impersonating Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, someone's going to choke on that stupid little naked gold man.

2. Edward Norton: This was something of a major comeback year for the talented Mr. Norton, who appeared in 2014's two most Oscar-nominated films, this and The Grand Budapest Hotel, a movie whose humor was too self-conscious to be funny and its characters too cartoonish to make me care. Was it me or was Edward channeling a little Adam Levine into Mike Shiner? Brilliance.

3. Emma Stone: She's finally delivered on the promise of her breakthrough in Easy A. That Best Supporting Actress nomination doesn't have even a whiff of coattails-riding Amy Adams. Totally deserved.

4. The one-take tactic: I thought this and the meta angle (a washed-up actor playing one, a difficult actor playing one) might be an overload of wink-wink and technique, but they weren't. In fact, unlike Boyhood, another B A-movie with an attention-grabbing hook that probably wouldn't be a contender without it, Birdman would still be laudable even without its attention-grabbing hooks. I was worried that a lack of cutting would make the movie as claustrophobic as a play set in a closet, but director Alejandro González Iñárritu managed the time- and place-shifting as cleverly as he did the multiple arcs in 21 Grams.

5. The jazz score: A nice touch, underscoring the improvisational, slightly Dadaist feel of the movie.

6. The setting: God, I miss New York City!

7-11. The screenplay: The story was compelling (from Bullets Over Broadway to Shakespeare in Love to Being Julia to Smash, how to launch a stage production never gets old) and so was the banter, which accounted for at least five memorable lines.

"The blood coming out of his ear was the most honest thing he's done so far." -- Riggan Thomson (Keaton) after one of his actors gets nailed in a head by a projectile light fixture.

"Do it again." -- Lesley (Naomi Watts), shifting from tentative to ravenous after Laura (Andrea Riseborough) kisses her

"I'd be afraid I couldn't get it up." -- Mike Shiner (Norton) to Sam Thomson (Stone) when she asks why he doesn't want to fool around with her

"I'd pull your eyes out of your head. I'd put them in my own skill and look around so that I could see the street the way I used to when I was your age." -- Mike Shiner to Sam Thomson when she asks what he'd do to her if he wasn't afraid to fool around with her.

"Sixty is the new thirty." -- Zach Galifianakis, in the Jonah Hill sidekick role and, for the first time ever, making me want to see more of him

Does that mean I'm still in my teens? Thank you, Birdman, for that, too. You reminded me that I'm getting ancient (as if I could actually forget) and made me feel young again at the same time.
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