The Oscar Reviews: In Appreciation of the Birdman Soundtrack (and everything else in it!)

Oscar night is up next month. Save American Sniper the contenders for the Best Motion Picture Award are flawless.

BoyhoodSelmaThe Grand Budapest HotelThe Imitation GameThe Theory of EverythingWhiplash and Birdman (also known as The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). I have absolutely adored every single aforementioned film. My first view of the contenders was The Grand Budapest, and I loved every itty bitty bit of it because: Wes Anderson!

Benedict Cumberbatch gave a gut wrenching performance in The Imitation Game and Eddie Redmayne made sure he gives Smaug a fight to the announcements with an uncannily terrific performance as Professor Stephen Hawking. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood saw Ethan Hawke return for yet another decade spanning film, and to see Ellar Coltrane grow up on screen in just under 3 hours was beautiful. Selma and Whiplash were hauntingly endearing to watch.

But the film I abso-frickin-lately enjoyed is  Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s Birdman.

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And my number one reason for it? The Soundtrack. THE SOUNDTRACK. It bloody deserves an Oscar. Antonio Sanchez has already won an award at the Venice Film Festival, where the film debuted in September. The soundtrack in the film, which is mostly comprised of captivating drums reminiscent of the New York street music scene, has a life of its own; it is an active player, the most important character in the film. Its outright genius. It draws you in, it bloody draws you into the claustrophobic lobbies and gives you a rush. It maintains a constant playful, energetic and lively upbeat; gives you an effing adrenaline rush. It also keeps the comic undertone of the film up and cawing from start to end. I’d run out of parables to describe it if it were performed right before me.

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To make sure the drums don’t have too much on their delicate shoulders, the camera work by Emmanuel Lubezki is so intimate and exciting. I love the handheld camera work, especially when it works hand in hand with the soundtrack every time a character walks through the iconic lobbies. I enjoyed the pace of the cameraman and the very personal angles at times, like the one where Michael Keaton is highlighted from under his chin and the other when Edward Norton is followed around. Also noteworthy is the lighting in the film. I love the lights. They capture New York’s Theatre scene in its crudest beauty. I love the soft glows, the faint hues, the shadow work. It is an irreplaceable mood setter of the film.

_AF_6405.CR2 Now transcending to the next cog of this enigmatic piece of cinema: the performers. Michael Keaton and Edward Norton steal the show from the get go. Edward Norton is my all time favourite actor and he was one of the first reasons for me to watch this film. And O boy, did he perform! That cheeky bastard brought his usual behaviour with directors into his performance and rocked it naturally. A moment he is this eccentric douche nozzle – aye, that’s my term for an A-hole; it sounds cute to say out aloud – another moment he is this semi manipulative do gooder; and then he is on the stage being a natural perfectionist knowing his trade like his own twisted brain. He is connected to Naomi Watts, to Emma Stone, to Michael Keaton…and he sort of brings them all together while he keeps his calm and chills in the isolation chamber of his brain.

birdman-21-258-3 Michael Keaton – the titular Birdman – must have had several tongue in cheek moments throughout the course of the film’s shooting. Birdman, in this film, was released in the year 1992, somewhere around the same time as Michael Keaton’s Batman films. And he is pretty much super famous for being Batman…I mean the whole “I am Batman!” thing started off with him, he owns that line. In the film, under a different name, he is famous for literally the same role; albeit that of a feather donning superhero.

birdman-2014-movie-review-21803177 It might have been easy for him to play the character, showing off to the audiences a inhibited and riddled-with-befuddlement side of his which he possibly hides post his Batman days. In other words, it was a well paying and very, very satisfactory exercise in unburdening expression for Mister Bruce Wayne.

That other growling baritone voice in his head – reminiscent of his Batman time – was unapologetically straightforward, and very funny. It was a joy to watch all sides of Michael Keaton – the scared wuss, the egotistical douche nozzle, the passionate actor, the compassionate father, the inconsiderate colleague, the determined director, the nervous producer, and the fantastical Birdman!

birdman_stone Emma Stone was fun. She is always fun to watch. She is adorable and she knows it, yet she loves snarking like a puppy and owns it like a boss. Her character was refreshing to watch; she’s got absolutely nothing to do with the production, she contributes zilch, and only goes around being a chatter who wants to be a loner…in short the perfectly imperfect broken child of a once famous and 40s crisis hit actor. I love how she is messed up in the head and goes straight for the guy who is mano-a-mano with her dad. All she wants is her escape and she will find it one way or another. In conclusion, she was fun.

Screenshot (4595) Naomi Watts is a lovely lady. I have sort of a crush on her since her Peter Jackson’s King Kong days. That does not cloud my examination of her performances though, and in all honesty she seldom disappoints. Her desperation to realise her broadway dream, a somewhat similar role to one of her old movies, was a nice angle to view from.

Screenshot (4589)The scene where she is weeping and self loathing, knowing not what to do with herself even though she is passionate and when Michael Keaton barges in and gives her a powerful pep talk and leaves, that was great to watch. In seconds she transforms from a nervous self critic to a confident babe and schools Andrea Riseborough before making out affectionately with her.

Screenshot (4594)Andrea Riseborough is a talented and truly charming actress and she deserves more prominent roles on a frequent basis like this one. She carries herself really well in the role of a confident yet doubtful actress.

Screenshot (4592) Her character is feisty and likes to take the cream off the shake for herself. She knows her place in the production and knows how to get things done around and be there for her colleagues/lovers/friends.

Andrea Riseborough

Amy Ryan was our bridge to Michael Keaton’s past and present and family in the film. She is the sympathetic voice of reason, the unforgiving divorcee and a nostalgic lover who is afraid of her past yet reminisces its glory moments.

And lastly Zach Galifianakis. I missed this man. He was less comedy and more of an authority in the film, but nevertheless attention grabbing (in the right sense). 

Fun fact: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone – the three protagonists of the film – have all played superhero and comic book characters in the past; namely Batman, The Hulk and Gwen Stacy.

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To conclude, everyone was right to eagerly anticipate the film. Its worth every dime. It replenishes that broadway dream inside of you and takes you on a little tour of the theatre’s perilous mirths with an endearing camera and an awesome soundtrack. Its my joint favourite for the win with The Grand Budapest Hotel.

My ratings are much like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, but a little more fair as this was truly flawless: straight 10 on 10, a 100 on 100.

~ Zalysar Cuvegis