Friday, December 12, 2014

Bad Shakespeare's Movie of the Year

Can you smell it in the air, everyone? It’s that magical time of year, when all of the lights are up, everyone puts on their finest outfit, and all of the movies and TV shows start announcing their big awards for the end of the year, somehow three weeks before the actual end of the year. That’s right, go ahead and announce best movie of the year before The Interview comes out. James Franco is the man, and may be an acting god. Just throwing that out there.

Now I’m not a professional film critic. Thank God I haven’t dulled my love of movies to the point that I’m calling out all the flaws in a movie as awesome as Let’s Be Cops. But, as you loyal readers know, I do love me some movies, and I’ve spent a good portion of this year when I’m not busy activating my awesome Grad School Powers in the movies. I love them so much I took a class in Film Theory, which taught me to embrace my love of the bad movie as the very first film we watched was Cat People, and it was just that a 1942 horror film about a woman that turned in to a panther when she was sexually aroused but since it was 1942 they couldn’t say “sexually aroused” but come on we all knew what it meant.

And, yes, there are a few more movies have to see this year, including the aforementioned The Interview, and let’s not forget that there’s a certain movie about a Hobbit learning the very important life lesson to not trust wizards who come knocking smoking a strange pipe. But that being said, I do want to talk about my favorite movie of the year, because despite the fact that I’m going to sit in awe for both The Hobbit: Three More Hours of Dwarf Fighting (They should let me name these things) and The Interview (and Annie if there’s time. There will be time.) I really am ready to announce my movie of the year.

The Movie Gods: Nicolas Cage, Tom Hanks, and Joss Whedon have blessed us with a fantastic year of movies, both the good and the bad. My highlights did include some slackers pretending to be cops and some slacker cops pretending to be slackers. I enjoyed watching the Guardians saving the Galaxy. Spiderman was back in action, and Paul Walker did Parkour. There were Boxtrolls, Dragons, and Bill Murray doing his best St. Vincent impression. Angelina Jolie went evil, Tom Cruise was actually kind of good, and don’t get me started on George Clooney and Matt Damon fighting in World War 2. Or saving stuff. We got inventor dogs and a movie about toys where everything was awesome. However, I have to say, for me, the best film of the year was…

Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

I wanted to find some obscure movie, or look back at some unappreciated gem like Wish I Was Here (everyone hop off the Zach Braff hate train. It’s ok to like him) or the November Man or look at something I disliked like Tammy or Snowpiercer and try to find the good in discovering it’s actually awesome. But I have to go with the movie that everyone is talking about. 

For those of you who don’t know, Birdman is about a washed up actor named Riggan Thomson played by Michael Keaton, who once played an iconic superhero named Birdman. After three successful films, he walked away. He wants to relaunch his career by writing, directing, and starring in his own play. 

I wasn’t prepared to like the movie as much as I did. I heard about the gimmick: the movie looks like it’s all shot one one take with the camera following the actors and the cuts hidden (some in pretty obvious ways, such as time lapse footage, etc.) But I don’t know. It just stuck with me in a way that no other movie did this year.

First, there’s the acting, which is flat out incredible from everyone involved, from Michael Keaton slowly unraveling while doing voiceovers not in his voice, but in the rumbly growl of Birdman’s. Edward Norton plays an egotistical actor (ahem, insert the “not much of a stretch” joke here…) and Emma Stone plays his daughter, assistant, and only real advocate as he slowly loses his mind. 

I really liked the casting of Norton and Stone, particularly because of their involvement in other successful Superhero franchises. Norton walked away from his and Emma… well, she was sorta killed off like everyone knew she was going to after she was cast as one of the most famous homicide victims of all time. It was particularly interesting for her to have her blonde hair leftover from her Gwen Stacy role. I’m not sure if that was a directing or acting choice, but it really pointed to her previous role.

Yes, then there’s the ultra meta story about an actor leaving behind a multi-billion dollar franchise to star in a smaller comeback role that is starring a guy who walked away from a multi-billion dollar franchise and is now starring in a smaller comeback role. It also means his only role this year wasn’t in the Robocop remake. Again, another blockbuster that he could have starred in, he was overshadowed by the fact that the movie didn’t do very well, and now he’s in a smaller role. This is punctuated by the big action sequence that goes on in his head that feels jarringly out of place in an otherwise quiet movie, but is totally necessary. 

I also like the darkness of the storyline. At it’s core, it’s about a man who is trying to walk away from something that he loves, but is also unravelling. He’s desperately trying to cling onto what he loves, and not by taking the easy way out, either. In the narrative of the film, he’s turned down the role of Birdman for a fourth time, and this seems to be the first question anyone asks of him. The first time we see him, he appears to be floating in nothing but his underwear, but when the camera returns to him, he’s standing. This is the first instance that this is going to be a movie that messes with you a little bit. 

Everything stands out in this movie, even the gimmicky one shot camera movement. It adds to some of the chaos that is this movie, and even helps add to the confusion. The best sequence is that of Riggan flying over the city after apparently jumping off the building. the camera lands at an angle so we see him walk into the theatre, quickly followed by a cabbie, demanding his money for the ride he was just given. It really helps add to the slow sensation of madness that this movie hopes to invoke. 

I was going to write about this a lot later, but about a million awards shows are coming out and they’re all naming Birdman as one of the best movies of the year, so I pumped up my timeline a little. It needs to win all of these awards. And I’m quite frankly dying to see it again. This is an awesome movie, and one that once you see it, will stay with you for quite a while. I know I talk a lot about movies, some of them good, some of them bad… but this is a must see. 

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