A “fictional” story about a washed-up action-movie-franchise hero’s return to the spotlight in a last-ditch effort to retrieve the cred that has eluded him for so long, the titular Birdman could really have only been Michael Keaton, right? Maaaaybe Val Kilmer, but ain’t nobody want to see Batman #2 cruising around Manhattan in his underwear these days.
No, it was the OG Caped Crusader that this role demanded, and MK had us in the palm of his hand from curtains up. Keaton’s performance would be Oscar-worthy even despite the unique external circumstances, but toss those meta-moments into the argument and we’re left with a Charlie Kaufman–worthy head trip to savor for ages. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s filmmaking and co-written script deserve to share the podium with his lead actor’s performance, as do director of photographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s long-take hallway shots, Antonio Sanchez’s drum score, and Ed Norton’s delicious portrayal of the antagonist prick. But, still, it was Keaton’s film, and I think my favorite part of Birdman was the Times Square underwear shot: the actor’s nightmare come to life. It was so obviously coming from the second Keaton stepped outside the backstage to have a smoke, but that hardly mattered. It was a brilliant, skewering, sensitive moment that surely every person on earth has dreamed and dreaded at one point or another, a moment that sums up what it means to bare your soul creatively in a sea of gawkers and strangers. And that was the heart of Birdman, or as the movie’s sub-title declares, the “unexpected virtue of ignorance.”—Pat McGuire