Awards Profile: Birdman

Birdman Michael Kaaton Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo
Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan, and Merritt Wever
Synopsis: A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego, career, and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

Why It Could Succeed:

Alejandro_González_Iñárritu_with_a_camera_in_productionAlejandro González Iñárritu’s last feature film, Butiful, earned a surprising Best Actor nomination for Javier Bardem.  Prior to that, his globally inclined psuedo-CrashBabel, earned both Best Picture and Best Director nominations.  In 2003, his 21 Grams earned two acting nominations.  His debut feature, Amores Perros, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.  So…every feature film Iñárritu has made has garnered Oscar’s attention.  Could Birdman make him the second Three Amigo in a row to win Best Director?

Birdman marks Iñárritu’s premiere on the American comedy stage, since much of his prior work is quite dramatic.  The change of pace could contribute to the film’s potential success.  Specifically, Birdman is described as a “black comedy”…and when Oscar goes for comedies, they’re typically of the dark variety rather than gut-busters.  Again, this could help. Iñárritu is know for his emotionally destructive dramas, but he’s also known for assembling brilliant casts.  He’s definitely pulled together a great troupe here.

Leading man and titular Birdman, Michael Keaton, looks to nab his first Oscar nomination.  Known for playing Batman, Keaton is looking for a comeback much the way his character is seeking career revitalization in Birdman.  Perhaps this meta storyline will help the film’s narrative.  Likewise, the great cast (which includes two-time Oscar nominee Norton and Oscar nominee Ryan) looks to have much to chew on.  I have a feeling that Emma Stone, who will also have her own superhero movie coming out in 2014, could be a standout as Keaton’s daughter.  She seems at just the point in her career to nab some much-needed critical recognition.

And behind the camera?  The talent runs deep.  Recent Oscar champion Emmanuel Lubezki is shooting the film.  We don’t know much about the plot specifics or the visual style of Birdman yet, so there’s a possibility that Lubezki’s lensing will land on the side of serviceable as opposed to showy.  The Academy treats modern films like red-headed stepchildren in the costume design category, but perhaps the resume of 83-year-old two-time Oscar winner Albert Wolsky will change their minds.  Wolsky won his Oscars for All That Jazz and Bugsy, and has nominations for Sophie’s ChoiceThe Journey of Natty GannToysAcross the Universe, and Revolutionary Road.  As the picture above indicates, he might have some clever superhero costuming to play with along with some Broadway costumes.  As for the rest of the techs, the editing team of Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione are Oscar nominees for their work on Babel and composer veteran John Powell received his first Oscar nomination for How to Train Your Dragon…both of these technical categories could be in play (especially Powell, who’s also composing How to Train Your Dragon 2). We’ll have to see.

Why It Might Not Succeed:

It’s a comedy.  The Academy only likes comedy on occasion, and they usually only give a favored comedy a screenplay and/or an acting prize. I imagine Iñárritu will have some buzz thanks to Alfonso Cuaron’s recent Best Director win for Gravity.  However, I’m slightly worried about the September 11 release date.  If it’s really good, it will last in voters’ memories…if not, the early release date will cause them to forget. This film might be a good bet for the Golden Globes regardless of release date since they’ve shown affection to Iñárritu in the past and have separate Drama/Comedy categories.

While the cast is certainly stellar, it’s not exactly ripe with actors the Academy is prone to nominate.  Keaton is an industry vet who’s yet to nab his first Oscar nomination.  This could be either a narrative on which to capitalize or a hindrance.  Likewise, Emma Stone has yet to prove herself as a real force of acting to many people.  She’s a hilarious actress, and if this role is funny, it could work.  But how are her dramatic chops?  Indeed, we know little about Edward Norton’s role, but many will be hoping it is showy enough for the late-90s Academy favorite to get his first nomination in fifteen years.

Early word is that the films takes place only in a few locations: NYC city street, inside of a Broadway theatre, etc.  Films with such few set pieces don’t usually do well in the technical categories…but perhaps the ability to design a Broadway stage is a creative opportunity I’m underestimating.  Indeed, as mentioned, Lubezki’s work may not be showy.  The lack of a multi-cultural and multi-national storyline might forestall a nomination for the Babel editing duo. In the end, I think the first trailer will give us a truer understanding of this film and a better gauge of its Oscar Potential.  But, until then….

Oscar Potential:

Best Picture
Best Director (Iñárritu)
Best Actor, Michael Keaton
Best Supporting Actor, Edward Norton
Best Supporting Actress, Emma Stone or Amy Ryan and/or Andrea Riseborough
Best Original Screenplay
Best Cinematography (Oscar-winner Emmanuel Lubezki)
Best Film Editing (Douglas Crise & Stephen Mirrione)
Best Costume Design (Albert Wolsky)
Best Score (John Powell)