Today marks the 87th Academy Awards and if previous award shows this season are any indication, Birdman will be flying (pun intended) out the door with the most gold hardware when the clock strikes 11:45 p.m. on the East Coast.
Birdman is the favorite to win Best Picture and Michael Keaton is a lock to win Best Actor for his performance in Birdman. The problem with this likely scenario: Birdman and Keaton don’t deserve to win either of these awards.
And I know what you’re saying to yourself, “Well Mr. Smart-Ass-Critic, who are you to make such a decree?” Just a dude with an opinion who still believes in the honor and integrity of good storytelling.
And listen, the Oscars are more Hollywood political pandering than anything else. For the producers of Birdman, or the film that wins best picture, it means getting to put a gold sticker on your Blu-Ray/DVD cover to help boost sales. Hollywood is a business, BIG business, and winning an Oscar is just another marketing cog in this entertainment machine. But if you still believe (stop being so naïve) or demand honor and integrity in the films you watch, it’s imperative to recognize those truly deserving of being called the BEST.
Of the 8 films nominated for Best Picture, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler, The Imitation Game, and Boyhood are all superior to Birdman. It’s a small miracle The Grand Budapest Hotel is even nominated considering it was released almost a year ago. Wes Anderson‘s Grand Budapest Hotel is classic Anderson-ian: Smarmy, pretentious and stylish. But Grand Budapest Hotel, unlike Birdman, finds a way to charm its audience with self-deprecating humor and a super likeable cast.
Nightcrawler deserves applause for being the darkest and smartest satire since American Psycho. It is a contemporary tale about the struggles Millennials are facing in the “post” recession world: Unpaid internships, loneliness, the cult of celebrity and the manipulation of media. Jake Gyllenhaal‘s Lou Bloom, the star of Nightcrawler, is a monster, but he’s a monster with a strict code on how to succeed in business and life. This is a character you should loathe, but because Gyllenhaal is so devoted to Lou’s code, an antihero emerges. Gyllenhaal isn’t even nominated for Best Actor (and that’s bullshit).
The Imitation Game, structurally, is the best of the lot and its screenplay scores an A+. Based on the true story of England’s desperate attempt to hack the device the Nazi’s used to communicate during WWII, the film focuses on the life of Alan Turing and the machine (it was the first computer) he built to break the Nazi’s codes. The Imitation Game does something no movie should be capable of: it makes mathematics exciting!
And then there is Boyhood, the other darling of the awards season. Boyhood is the dark horse (shout out to Katy Perry) that could steal Best Picture from Birdman. If you haven’t seen Boyhood, you’re missing a film that took 12 years to complete, and in the era of shrinking attention spans, Boyhood’s emphasis on character building is something to be cherished. Boyhood, because of the way it was filmed, using the same actors over said 12 years, is that rare film which has the gravitas of a Jonathan Franzen novel. The film’s director, Richard Linklater, should win for Best Director.
It is difficult to say how Birdman became the front runner this Oscar season. I think a lot of it has to do with the nostalgia factor. While Keaton isn’t playing ‘Batman’ in Birdman, the role is an obvious reference to the cape and cowl he donned in the early ’90s. But Keaton’s meta performance of a washed up actor trying to resurrect his career isn’t new or fresh. Hell, Mickey Rourke attempted the same meta performance in 2008 with his role in The Wrestler.
This year, Best Actor belongs to Eddie Redmayne for his sublime portrait of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Redmayne’s performance is so complete and authentic, Mr Hawking had this to say about it on his Facebook page: “At times, I thought he was me.” I don’t think it gets much better than a ringing endorsement by one of the smartest men ever to live.
Is Birdman a lock to win Best Picture? It’s not 100 percent guaranteed (like anything in life). And the Academy has been known to throw a curveball at us every now and then.
This year’s curveball could come in the form of a Navy SEAL and his rifle. American Sniper has already stirred the controversy pot by being accused of being jingoistic USA military propaganda. It’s not a great movie by any means, but it’s not a rally cry to sign up and kill ISIS after you watch it either.
But if American Sniper was to beat out Birdman for Best Picture and Bradley Cooper was to beat out Michael Keaton for Best Actor, well … when the clock strikes 11:45 p.m. on Sunday, I might just be yelling USA! USA! USA! at the top of my lungs.
It might not be the best, but it at least it won’t be Birdman.
About Bryan Kish
Bryan Kish writes reviews and articles for NID Magazine.