boyhood

The International Online Film Critics’ Poll has announced the winners its 2013/14 survey. I was honored to have been asked to participate for the fourth edition of this poll (see previous surveys here). I was worried when I saw Scorsese’s messy, unchecked ego-trip of a movie, The Wolf of Wall Street among the nominees in one too many categories. Everyone knows my disdain for the film, which reeks of missteps in film-making from someone I consider a master movie maker, and my review of the film in 2013 still continues to attract like-minded film-goers who have made the comment section a sort of sanctuary for their equal disdain for the film (Film review: ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ is one nasty, vulgar film about nasty, vulgar people– for 3 hours!). It made the top 10, but nothing else. No, the big winner was not a huge surprise. Over a hundred on-line film critics from around the globe were polled, and they gave the major awards to Boyhood (Film review: ‘Boyhood’ is Linklater’s masterpiece on youth, existence and humanity), which should speak to its chances at the Oscars, as it rose above last year’s major Oscar winner, 12 Years a Slave.

Other big winners were Gravity (Film Review: ‘Gravity’ harnesses the power of uncut images to thrilling heights) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (Film Review: ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ may be cartoonish, but it’s also one of Wes Anderson’s most human films). As the headline for my Gravity review indicates, the film won the deserved prize for editing and other technical prizes: cinematography and special effects. When I got my ballot, I almost went down the row voting for The Grand Budapest Hotel, but at least it also won three prizes (ensemble cast, production design and score).

grand_a

I’ll never protest Michael Keaton’s win for Birdman. He’s terrific in this intelligently subversive film (Film review: ‘Birdman’ lampoons Hollywood with humorous, hyper-real, hero-hating satire). But my fave will always be Ralph Fiennes for his work in Grand Budapest Hotel, even if I am biased for having had a chance to interview him for the film (Ralph Fiennes on Working With Wes Anderson: “A True Auteur in the Best Sense”). His thoughtful answers to my questions spoke to how deeply he connected to this character.

I have no real complaints about the results of the poll. All are deserving winners and include some favorites. I am particularly happy that many critics did not forget such great foreign language films as Ida (‘Ida’ comes to South Florida in 35mm; My review appears in ‘Reverse Shot’), The Great Beauty (Film Review: ‘The Great Beauty’ earns it’s title by looking beyond the superficial) and Blue is the Warmest Color (Film Review: ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ and the pain of loving). But too bad Something in the Air (Film Review: ‘Something in the Air’ presents vibrant picture of youth in tumult) and Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ presents complex, enthralling portrait of the jaded vampire) were both missing.

OK, enough links to our old reviews glowing with praise for most of these films. Below is the official press release. Winners are in bold and my picks have an asterisk next to them:

PRESS RELEASE – IOFCP WINNERS

The International Online Film Critics’ Poll is proud to announce its  winners for the 4th biannual awards for excellence in film. Founded in 2007, the IOFCP is the only biannual poll of film critics from all around the world (over one hundred critics from USA, UK, Italy, Spain, Canada, France, Mexico, Australia, India, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, South Africa, Serbia, Poland, Romania, Estonia, Pakistan, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden). The awards are biannual to allow the comparison of different film seasons.

The IOFCP voted the coming-of-age drama Boyhood as Best Film, according to the results of its biannual critics’ poll which was released on January 26. Director Richard Linklater was voted as Best Director and Patricia Arquette won Best Supporting Actress award.

Michael Keaton was voted Best Actor of the biennium for his performance in Birdman, and Cate Blanchett won Best Actress award for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel won Best Ensemble Cast, Best Production Design and Best Original Score. Another big winner was Gravity with three awards: Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Visual Effects.

For the screenplays, Spike Jonze’s romantic comedy-drama Her was chosen as Best Original Screenplay. Instead Best Adapted Screenplay went to Steve McQueen’s Academy Award winner 12 Years a Slave.

At last, for his performance in Whiplash, J.K. Simmons was awarded as Best Supporting Actor of the biennium.

Past IOFCP Awards winners include Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Inglourious Basterds and Slumdog Millionaire.

Complete list of winners (and nominations)

TOP TEN FILMS (alphabetical list)

12 Years a Slave
Blue is the Warmest Colour
Birdman
Boyhood
Her
Ida
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Great Beauty
The Imitation Game
The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST PICTURE

12 Years a Slave
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel*

The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST DIRECTOR

Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel*
Paolo Sorrentino – The Great Beauty
Roman Polanski – Venus in Fur

BEST ACTOR

Michael Keaton – Birdman
Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel*
Mads Mikkelsen – The Hunt
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Adele Exarchopoulos – Blue is the Warmest Colour*
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Marion Cotillard – The Immigrant

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Edward Norton – Birdman*
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave*
Emma Stone – Birdman
Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
June Squibb – Nebraska

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST

12 Years a Slave
Birdman
Boyhood*
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

BEST ORIGINAL SCEENPLAY

Birdman
Boyhood
Calvary
Her
The Grand Budapest Hotel*

BEST ADAPTED SCEENPLAY

12 Years a Slave*
Gone Girl
Snowpiercer
The Imitation Game
The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Birdman
Gravity
Ida*
Nebraska
The Great Beauty

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Gravity
Her
Mr. Turner
The Grand Budapest Hotel*
The Imitation Game

BEST EDITING

Birdman
Boyhood
Gravity*
The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Gravity
Her
Interstellar
The Grand Budapest Hotel*
The Imitation Game

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Interstellar
Gravity*
Guardians of the Galaxy

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

* * *

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

posterMexican DJ turned filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu has so far made a name for himself as a director of weighty films with bleakly serious subjects in search of transcendence. Ever since his Spanish-language debut Amores perros, his 1999 Oscar-nominated film that had Hollywood knocking, it has been an uphill battle for the director to achieve the same level of respect. It seems what he needed was a tonal shift. The black comedy of his fifth feature film, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), is that shift, as it sends up virtually every aspect of the entertainment industry with dark humor on a meta level. Though Iñárritu has often reached too hard to make big statements, Birdman feels breezy by comparison and still achieves the resonant kind of statement fitting of his aesthetic.

Michael Keaton plays actor Riggan Thomson with a complex dynamic of ego and insecurity, as he tries to reinvent himself during a midlife crisis. Just like Keaton, Riggan once played a famous superhero in the movies that spawned a series of sequels: Birdman (fun fact: there is indeed a Birdman superhero). Riggan groans about Robert Downey Jr. and Michael Fassbender as they rake in fame and fortune by donning superhero costumes in this new era of movies based on comic books with a mix of disdain and envy. He seems plagued by a bitter resentment that he hasn’t somehow been recognized for paving the way for the superhero movie star in some impractical way (maybe he’s secretly hoping for “Pioneer Superhero Tentpole” Oscar?). Yet, he also desires recognition as an artist, so he decides to adapt Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” for Broadway. Meanwhile, the voice of Birdman, in a husky growl not unlike Christian Bale’s interpretation of Batman’s voice, seems to always belittle him when he’s alone. Oh, and one more characteristic of Riggan’s worth noting: he displays powers of levitation and telekinesis when no one else is looking.

image-039902c9-26b2-4237-b443-1fef4369cb12

If the richness of the satirical implications of this character is not enough, there are many others who enter into Riggan’s world with their own quirks. Edward Norton does hilariously self-deprecating work as Riggan’s nemesis, Mike Shiner, the heroic stage actor who will save the play. Mike is literally cocksure. He strips to nothing backstage, in wardrobe, fists on hips, ready for his fitting. While Riggan strains for respect with his grave adaptation of serious literature, Mike oozes confidence in his craft that relies on method-like process. When on stage, he needs real gin to feel drunk and must follow his erection when he lies in bed with his actress girlfriend Lesley (Naomi Watts), who herself is a bundle of nerves in search of her own respect on Broadway. Riggan only wishes to earn appreciation as an actor with integrity and clashes with Mike over what Riggan sees as inappropriate behavior, but Mike wants Riggan to respect his process as essential to his craft. Hovering over that, Riggan’s best friend/manager/attorney Jake (Zach Galifianakis) sees integrity in making this production a commercially viable affair, but the constant collateral damage of ego puts him on edge. On the periphery, lackadaisically observing the ship sink and lusting after Mike, is Sam (Emma Stone), Riggan’s daughter and assistant.

All of these people pine for a sense of their own version of what is essential to their own vision of reality, which they hope will grant them some sense of value, but that means struggling against the other titanic egos that surround them, which is key to the film’s humor and drama. The generalizations are so piled up in this film that it would be image-22891d8e-aa7a-45d2-8221-c72d6a5125cbunfair to fault it for presenting tropes or clichés. This is a movie about demolishing expectations where expectations often lead to disappointment. It thrives on generalization. But beyond that, Iñárritu presents it with a filmmaking style that at times defies the tenets of film language, adding yet another layer of meta reality to this satirical vehicle.

The editing in the film is invisible, but the story does not take place in real-time. Even though the entirety of Birdman seems like one take, with the camera slipping through corridors and other nice moments of trickery to meet the actors at various moments of crisis, the story covers several days. It speaks to the idea of theater where acting cannot lean on editing as a crutch. At the same time, it also speaks to the lack of connection between these people. There is no room for match cuts, associative cuts, shot-reverse-shot, etc. because no one genuinely connects. It’s also a departure for the director, whose films have often depended on action off-screen and silent moments of time trickling past cut and pasted together jarringly to add a sense of levity to the contemplation of his characters. It’s as if the film has lost a superpower, much like Riggan/Birdman.

The film’s musical accompaniment is worth mentioning. In his first film score, Grammy-winning jazz drummer and bandleader Antonio Sanchez  — who, like the director, also hails from Mexico City — gives the film a chaotic, cacophonous rhythm with a free-jazz, percussion-centric score, speaking to the nervous, scatterbrain of Riggan. Sanchez’s presence is so vivid, he even appears in the film at a drum image-83d3ecdf-6887-4c4f-be3e-ad184b9742b6kit on more than one occasion, giving physical form to the harried Riggan’s nerves. The always amazing and fluid camera work Emmanuel Lubezki is also key to the film’s tone. His sharp focus not only presents unforgiving images of the creases of many a weary face but also highlights makeup and styling designed to make some of the actors look like birds. Whether this is intentional or not, it speaks to Riggan’s perception of his world and to the fact that this is also an alienating presentation of reality, keeping the audience at arm’s length, building toward a finale that no one can truly, definitively understand because this is Riggan’s world … and ultimately, just a movie.

In its hyper-real presentation of story, Birdman takes an almost encyclopedic survey of every trope, generalization and prejudice we might have about Hollywood and celebrity culture and in turn lampoons it in some way. Critics, the PR machine, social media, the idea of fame by viral video, sexual relations between actors, clashing egos, it leaves none of it out. Much of it is reductive, but it’s also offered in a spectrum: there is the cynical theater critic for he powerful “New York Times,” the serious journalist with the social/theoretical concerns of the art and the star-struck reporter who will believe any rumor as insight into the unknowable person behind the celebrity. Of course, the film also does this with the colorful actors at the center of the film but still does not forget the personnel behind the scenes, as well. With Birdman, Iñárritu sets out to bite the hand that feeds so hard and with such force so as to dazzle those bitten with stars. It’s a caricature filled with magical realism that never forgets entertainment value, inviting everyone to have a laugh at themselves.

_MG_0817.CR2

Though it is implied that Riggan may or may not have super powers, whether or not he does is unimportant. What Iñárritu is doing with this character quirk is offering a metaphor for the power of celebrity, which Riggan is trying to suppress so his craft might be taken on its own terms. Ask any artist worth his or her own work, and they will tell you that they view celebrity with a wary eye. Galifianakis noted as much in his interview regarding the film in “Hollywood Reporter.” Recently, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau told me about it as if it exists outside of his control. It’s a double-edged sword that gives actors value, but that they do not have the same kind of control over. Scott Haze, another actor I interviewed, spoke about the prejudice that surrounds the work of his friend James Franco, who directed him in the underrated Child of God.

For all its smart satirical qualities, it’s hard to ignore a sense of genuine bitterness that informs the stories that make up Birdman. Iñárritu himself has had to combat high expectations from the beginning of his work in the U.S. But if you do not care to look behind the screwball farce of the action of the film, you will only be disappointed by this movie. It targets Hollywood as a business that thrives on celebrity to make its fortune at the sacrifice of people whose only dream was to express themselves in front of an audience before the machine gobbled them up, which is the true tragi-comedy of the reality of the entertainment business. What can you do? Enjoy the show!

Hans Morgenstern

Birdman runs 119 minutes and is Rated R (language, sexual humor and pathos). It has already opened in many theaters across the U.S. It opens in my area, South Florida, this Friday, Oct. 31. Fox Searchlight invited us to a preview screenings for the purpose of this review.

Update: Birdman arrives at Broward’s indie art house the Cinema Paradiso Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Dec. 25.  It also won the Florida Film Critics award for best picture of 2014.

Previous update: On Nov. 7, it will be the premiere film at O Cinema’s newest theater in North Beach, at the former, newly renovated Byron Carlyle. (Update: due to technical issues the O Cinema premiere of Birdman was postponed. It now opens Friday, Nov. 21, and the cinema is honoring tickets from Nov. 7 for any Birdman screening at O Cinema Miami Beach).

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)