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‘Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)’ a solid work of craftsmanship

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) tells the story of Riggan (Michael Keaton), a washed-up actor known for playing the superhero Birdman in a number of films, as he tries to stage a Broadway production of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, a last desperate plea for true artistic brilliance. He is forced to deal with a dwindling budget, his demanding agent (Zach Galifianakis), squabbling actors (Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough), his ex-wife (Amy Ryan) and his recently-out-of-rehab daughter (Emma Stone), all while tackling the little voice in the back of his head that continually reminds him how much of a failure he has been throughout his life (which also just happens to be his Birdman alter ego).

The film creates the illusion that it was shot in one continuous take, various effects used to hide the cuts. By removing the cuts in the film, the viewer is forced to stay with the characters continuously, never having the luxury of an edit to escape the drama onscreen. At times, this becomes a bit of a show-off technique and distracts from the plot, some of the scene transitions a bit overdone, but the effect is nevertheless compelling and commendable for a movie of this type.

Michael Keaton steals the show for his portrayal of Riggan. His own self-doubt echoes in every frame of his performance. The rest of the cast is also very good, especially Edward Norton and Emma Stone, who portray their incredibly flawed characters with a strong degree of empathy.

The film is able to balance comedy and drama in a very compelling way, keeping both in check as Riggan breaks down over the course of the film. It is an incredibly raw vision of life, full of love and hate for the self, for others and for the world. Films that are able to balance both humor and tragedy carry a richness with them that creates an encompassing feeling for the viewer, and Birdman, with a few tonal discrepancies, handles this balance very well.

What is most interesting about Birdman however, is how many themes it manages to juggle without toppling over into incoherence. The film is about how self-love and self-loathing are equally present in ourselves, the inability of true works of art to overcome works of pedestrian violence and sex, how pressure and failure can drive you over the edge, how motivations can actually mean little in the grand scheme of things, how an age of instant media can create sensationalism for sensationalism’s sake, among a list of other things. Indeed, there are so many interpretations from just one viewing that multiple screenings are sure to elicit further theories. The film rustles inside the viewer’s head, and that is all an audience member can ask of a movie nowadays.

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Oscar Predictions 2017

Best Picture

  • Hidden Figures
    • Going for the upset here. I’m thinking politics will ultimately win out over heart.

Best Director

  • Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
    • He’s won the DGA. That usually leads to success.

Best Actor

  • Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea”
    • Denzel has already won, and that might be enough for Affleck to sneak a win.

Best Actress

  • Emma Stone, “La La Land”
    • She’s won everything. This is the easiest category of the night.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
    • He’s won the SAG and is the favorite.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Viola Davis, “Fences”
    • She also won the SAG and has no real competition.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Moonlight
    • Any of the nominees could realistically win. “Moonlight” might win by a hair.

Best Original Screenplay

  • Manchester by the Sea
    • It’s seen as a writer’s film, but watch out for La La Land if it sweeps.

Best Animated Film

  • Kubo and the Two Strings
    • “Zootopia” should put up a fight, but the beauty of the animation of “Kubo” might sway the voters.

Best Cinematography

  • La La Land
    • Alternative: Arrival

Best Costume Design

  • Jackie
    • Alternative: Florence Foster Jenkins

Best Documentary

  • OJ: Made in America
    • Alternative: I Am Not Your Negro

Best Documentary Short Subject

  • The White Helmets
    • Alternative: Watani: My Homeland

Best Editing

  • Arrival
    • Alternative: La La Land

Best Foreign Language Film

  • The Salesman
    • Alternative: Toni Erdmann

Best Makeup

  • Star Trek Beyond
    • Alternative: A Man Called Ove

Best Original Score

  • La La Land
    • Alternative: Lion

Best Original Song

  • “City of Stars”, from “La La Land”
    • Alternative: “How Far I’ll Go”, from “Moana”

Best Production Design

  • Arrival
    • Alternative: La La Land

Best Animated Short Film

  • Piper
    • Alternative: Pearl

Best Live Action Short

  • Timecode
    • Alternative: La Femme et le TVG

Best Sound Editing

  • Arrival
    • Alternative: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Sound Mixing

  • La La Land
    • Alternative: Arrival

Best Visual Effects

  • The Jungle Book
    • Alternative: Doctor Strange

‘La La Land’ an enjoyable love story

Directed and written by Damien Chazelle, ‘La La Land’ tells the story of Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone), two dreamers living in Los Angeles, one looking for fame as a jazz musician, the other as an actress. As they meet and fall in love, their passions for fame and artistic brilliance threaten to tear them apart.

It is an incredibly well-made film, utilizing dramatic camera movements, a full color palette and strong performances to tell its story. Emma Stone’s huge blue eyes have never been used more effectively.

The music is not all that memorable, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be either. It stands as more of a metaphor for how the characters (as dreamers) view the world: full of love and possibility, a poem from the heart. It is both sad and happy, full of longing, hope and regret.

Much like his previous film “Whiplash” though, there’s something about Chazelle’s work that feels just a tad off. It doesn’t stick with you as much as it should. Perhaps it’s a case of style over substance. Perhaps because his characters are not wholly developed, more archetypes than fully fleshed out. Perhaps the stakes are not deep enough, the forces confronting both characters not crafted well enough to understand the character’s plights.

Regardless, “La La Land” is an enjoyable ride, full of great little moments and great visuals. Experience it for yourself and see what you take away from it.