In this man’s opinion, 2014 has been one of the best years in film in recent memory. We have seen many films from numerous genres turn out to be creative successes. I think we are reaching a Golden Age of cinematic storytelling. With films like Under the Skin and Interstellar, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is a film that has felt so ahead of its time for so long, is starting to feel like a film with a cinematic storytelling style that comes from the present. Another film from this year that has the ambition in its cinematic storytelling that 2001: A Space Odyssey has displayed for so long is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). With an amazing cast and a storyline that is willing to take risks and even change genres, Birdman is one of the highlights of the year.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) follows Riggan Thomson, an actor on the downside of his career ever since he left the Birdman superhero franchise which made him a star, as he tries to make a comeback with a Broadway play. As numerous things go wrong in the lead up to the play’s opening (including Riggan’s own battle with insanity), Riggan must try hard to keep the play afloat.
In its first two acts, Birdman is a very well done version of the typical performance anxiety film that we have seen so often in recent years (think The Wrestler, Black Swan and Whiplash for the better examples of this type of genre) with the added twist that most of the film is edited together into one take thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki’s typically fantastic work as the film’s director of photography. This time allows the actors to showcase their skills as Edward Norton (in a scene-stealing performance as a literal scene stealer), Zach Galfianakis (who still finds time to be funny despite his role being more serious than his typical work), Naomi Watts (as a stressed out actress) and Emma Stone (who has a couple of great scenes as Riggan Thomson’s daughter) all shine. The glue that holds these sequences together, though, is Michael Keaton who plays so well off of every actor in the film.
The film really shines, though, in the film’s final act, which becomes much less of an ensemble piece and more of a study of insanity in today’s world. This is easily one of the most out there sequences in film since 2001: A Space Odyssey’s “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” sequence, and it can occasionally get too close to becoming a parody of itself (one small sequence is almost shot for shot from The Tree of Life). However, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu somehow finds a way to navigate this film to a satisfying conclusion that leaves a lot of room for interpretation and discussion.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is another gem to add to a great year for film.