During the lead up to this year’s Oscar’s on February 22nd I will be covering a lot of the nominees for the upcoming Academy Awards. This will not be your usual Oscar primer, but in fact more of a “catching up to speed” series. I will be dissecting a few films in each instalment. I will be going over what the nominees are, and what chances it stands to win. In the last instalment HERE I covered “The Imitation Game”, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”. This time I will be talking about “Birdman”, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past”.
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, released on November 14th and distributed by Fox Searchlight. The film has nine nominations.
- Best Picture- Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole
- Best Actor- Michael Keaton
- Best Supporting Actor- Edward Norton
- Best Supporting Actress- Emma Stone
- Best Director- Alejandro González Iñárritu
- Best Original Screenplay- Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo
- Best Cinematography- Emmaniel Lubezki
- Best Sound Mixing- Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montano and Thomas Varga
- Best Sound Editing- Aaron Glascock and Martin Hernandez
“Birdman” is tied for the most nominations with fellow Best Picture nominee “The Grand Budapest Hotel” which is noteworthy by Academy standards since they are both very odd films. Normally the films with the most nominations are classical period pieces, war films, strong social critiques or bio-pics. With the exception of “The Grand Budapest’s” bouncing between periods these films are non-conformists. “Birdman” succeeds so well because it crafts a narrative about failure and inner turmoil that is relatable with some of the fanciest camera work this side of “Children of Men” (same cinematographer). The film is funny and sad and pitiful and exhilarating to watch all at the same time. Even with all its nominations it is still far too weird to win Best Picture, especially when it is already behind “Boyhood”, “The Imitation Game” and that other weird film “The Grand Budapest Hotel”.
What makes this weird film work so good are that the performances are outstanding, not only some of the best of the year but so perfectly cast this film will be talked about for a while because of the strength of the actors. Michael Keaton returns to the spotlight after not being a star for almost twenty years, playing a character that is seemingly based on him as he is a former super hero turned washed up has been. You can see the failure in every crease mark on his forehead and the shame of being a poor parent to his daughter played by Emma Stone, who surprisingly got her own nomination. Stone playing a rehabbing young adult is the most relatable person in the film as she is the one who cuts through all the bull shit and asks the blunt questions. She’s the one who is just trying to find her way in life and not lie to her own self like everyone else is around her. What was so remarkable is Stone loses the cocky comedic timing for something much deeper and she proves she isn’t just a bubbly personality. Edward Norton plays an actor in Keaton’s play that he is directing and staring in and the two clash nonstop, to the point where a nearly nude Norton is wrestling Keaton. Norton has a reputation of being difficult on sets and he plays it up with plenty of smugness and sass, but when he is off stage and talking to Stone’s character you see the shy awkward man he really is. In any other year Keaton, Stone and Norton would all be frontrunners for their categories but with the Supporting categories all but sewn up JK Simmons and Patricia Arquette, Keaton is the lone wolf who could win. Keaton is likeable enough and has the comeback story in his corner, which could help unless the Academy really wants to honour Steve Carell’s dramatic turn or Eddie Redmayne’s pitch perfect performance.
Alejandro González Iñárritu pulls triple duty on the film by directing, producing and writing the script allowing every inch of his madness to be in control of the film. He made sure the actors were never too over the top calling for silence at the right time, but also knowing that the insanity of life was on full display. Keaton’s Birdman alter ego is shot to make you question every time if what you are seeing is real or not. He is in a tough spot to win Best Director facing off against the innovative Richard Linklater, but Iñárritu could pull off an upset, even without winning Best Picture something that has occurred in that last two year’s. As for the screenplay it will be a battle between the odd films as it can go to either “Birdman” or “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. The screenplay categories usually reward bravery by pushing the film medium forward or tackle uncomfortable subject matters, it is considered a consolation prize for non Best Picture films and both deserve the award.
Even with the fantastic acting, the playful script, and steady directing, it is all over shadowed by the carefully crafted cinematography. Emmanuel Lubezki has one of the greatest resumes with films like “Gravity”, “The Tree of Life” and “Children of Men” all three of which would be in contention for the best shot films of all time. The film was shot almost entirely in an old New York theatre and every nook and cranny is explored with long tracking shots making every scene feel both intimate and expansive. With “Interstellar” not making the cut, “Birdman” is a virtual lock to win this award with no other film able to match its pedigree.
For Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, these awards almost always go to the same film in both categories. Since four films are in both categories it is anyone’s game, but the awards usually go to most obvious sound filled films and “Birdman” doesn’t really offer that. Sure the drum score/on screen drumming is fun to listen to and there is some brief action scenes at the end it isn’t showy enough. Look for “Interstellar” or “American Sniper” to clean up these awards.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, released on April 4th and distributed by Marvel Studios. The film has one nomination.
- Best Visual Effects- Dan Deleeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Daniel Sudick
When it was announced that the guys who helmed most of “Community’s” episodes would be taking over in for the “Captain America” series of films, people scratched their heads. It isn’t such a stretch that the guys who helmed the paintball themed episodes could do action and do it well. The film was a smashing success and it proved to be a high water mark for the franchise. Unfortunately the film’s special effects will pale in comparison to Marvel’s other franchise film “Guardians of the Galaxy” which it in itself is in the looming shadow of “Interstellar”. There isn’t a scenario where this film can come ahead, which when you’re making billion dollar grossing films I’m sure Marvel won’t lose too much sleep over it.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” was directed by Bryan Singer, released on May 23rd and distributed by Twentieth Century Fox. The film has one nomination.
- Best Visual Effects- Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer
Are you sick of reading about the Best Visual Effects films yet? I apologize as I had seen all five nominees at the time the nominations came out so it made my scheduling for these primers easy as I had plenty to dissect. If you are sick of them fear not, there is only one other film in the category after this one!
After the terrible “X3” film a while back people were obviously leery about a prequel series, but with the fantastic Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy as the leads it turned out way better than anyone thought. They followed it up with a time travelling, universe expanding quasi-sequel that united basically every single actor who ever was in an “X-Men” film. With so many mutants there was no shortage of special effects put on display, no more present than in the first act where it is a gangbusters war of superheroes versus sentient bots. Fire, ice, teleportation, lasers and way more were coming out of every shot. The film suffered from being a bit too complicated (you literally have to watch all six other films to even follow along) and way too many characters (the “Spiderman” curse) from elevating it past the previous film but it still does a damn fine job of being fun. If the Academy doesn’t go and award every technical statue to “Interstellar”, “X-Men” stands a fighting chance of fending off “Guardians of the Galaxy”. It is unlikely that it will prevail but it is too soon to 100% say it has no chance.