The unexpected virtue of movies about movies
By Angela Espinoza, News Editor
Birdmanor (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) took home the Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as Best Director, Screenplay, and Cinematography on February 22.
There are a lot of positive aspects to Birdman that make the film work as a whole. The film carries a consistently intense and unsettling tone, yet its wit keeps the grip of its tone from suffocating the audience. Antonio Sánchez’s fantastic score constantly edges its jazz drumming from relaxed to chaotic, coupled wonderfully with baffling cues of classical music. Creative editing and special effects add a unique ability to the film that plays with the audience, always steering the viewer in one direction before taking yet another sharp turn down a jagged albeit stunning cliff.
But Birdman’s strange, oftentimes uncomfortably realistic tale of an actor, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), desperately wanting to be respected by his audience is likely what secured the film’s Best Picture win.
In recent years, films that directly address “Hollywood” or filmmaking tend to grab the attention of the Academy. Of the past five Best Picture-winners, Birdman (2014), The Artist (2010), and to an extent Argo (2011) all explored different aspects of filmmaking. All three films focussed on the art of acting in particular, and how the lives of those “actors” depended on their craft.
In the case of Birdman, Thomson has a yearning to be recognized as a great actor, to the point that it affects his sanity. In The Artist, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) struggles as a silent film actor trying to stay relevant in the new era of talkies. As for Argo, six members of the US Embassy risk their lives if their “performances” as a Canadian film crew don’t fool their captors.
Keaton’s casting was reportedly sought from the start, the actor being best-known for his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). Like most well-known actors, Keaton has had a long career starring in films ranging from great to terrible, but up until Birdman, most loved and remembered him specifically because of the Batman films. Birdman’s plot, title, and casting of Keaton all directly play off of that fact, creating a borderline parody, borderline self-addressing realm that asks the question of, “What if my popular superhero movie(s) technically ruined my career?”
So while Birdman is (arguably) a great film overall, Birdman won and deserved Best Picture not because it was great but because it was existential about the process and execution of acting in a way that won over its desired audience: fellow actors.