Road to the Oscars: Why Birdman Was a Worthy Winner

“No!” wailed some folk at the final result of the 87th Academy Awards two years ago.

“This is a farce!” screamed others from the rooftop of Twitter.

“This is worse than Crash winning over Brokeback Mountain,” said most, grissling at the unexpected results.

“CAW-CAW MOTHERFUCKERS!” I said, extremely loudly.

I am, of course, talking about that spectacular shock, in 2015, when Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) won the Best Picture gong over bookie favourite  Boyhood at the Oscars. The upset has rippled for a good year. After all, Boyhood’s win looked to be secure after scooping up the gong at previous award ceremonies and garnering more critical praise than you can shake a stick at. Yet Alejandro G. Inarritu, who looks set to win more awards this weekend with The Revenant, and his band of merry men scooped up top prizes in Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director.

Both films were deserving of the award last year. If Richard Linklater’s tentative portrayal of growing up, shot over 12 years and pulled together for a masterpiece of human emotion walked away with Oscar, many would be contented, happy, and elated. Yet the story of a struggling actor’s rejuvenation on the stage, contending with the spirit of his ego and the chaos around him, flew in and snatched up the award – causing people to squawk with disdain.

That was the most infuriating thing. The minute Birdman won, critics and audience members who’d previously lauded the film were now lamenting about the “ridiculous win.” True, the movie wasn’t exactly as emotionally growing as Boyhood (literally) and the intricate and patient efforts that Linklater went to in order to bring it to life should be celebrated – he should’ve, without a doubt, won Best Director (with Inarritu winning for this year’s icy epic.)

The problem is that, story-wise, Linklater’s tale is very, very simple and similar to other dramas as well as his own work. A visceral journey that depicts the reality of humanity and detailing childhood to young adulthood so evocatively and…tediously. As much as people would love to harp on about his work, Linklater is not without faults and, at times, Boyhood became boring in its stillness and overlong running time (though if I made a film over a decade, I’d relish in it as much as possible). Linklater is still an acquired taste and Boyhood had faults too, lying underneath the furore of the experiment.

Arguably, Birdman is a detailed and astute look at humanity, just at its extreme edge. In the case of Inarritu’s work – the exploration of ego, fame, art, and artists is a ferocious and gripping one that is not without the emotional journey either. From the outside, it seemed that Hollywood were applauding a vanity project about themselves. Yet Birdman is a layered piece about the dissolve of a mind, fixated on soaring higher than he ever did and pushing his artistic boundaries. The film is anarchistic about the world it is trying to portray too, swiping at the egos and ids of the entertainment industry – from theatre luvvies to film addicts, the actors to the critics. It’s filled with these rambunctious themes that you can peel away within every watch. Helmed by Michael Keaton’s enormous and accomplished comeback, throwing himself into the mettle of this work and all its minutiae.

Not to mention the visual spectacles that saw Inarritu strive for these long continuous shots and visuals that grip you. There are moments of fluidity and fantasy that explosively melds into this opulent aesthetic. Helped by the naturalistic backstage lighting of Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman is filled with intense imagery and exquisite look. Birdman had a strong story, impeccable acting, and was entertaining as well as emotional – however, it also had an intense cinematography and direction which took a lot of skill too.

So was Birdman (or The Unexpected Ignorance of Virtue) a worthy winner? Damn straight it was, and arguably, so was Boyhood. Yet the chips landed in favour of the latter. As we turn to the Academy Awards this weekend, La La Land high on everyone’s list for Best Picture winner, remember that anything is possible…

A Birdman could fly defiantly.

The 89th Academy Awards screens 26th February! 

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