The Oscar Case For and Against Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Birdman”

Birdman Alejandro González Iñárritu Michael Keaton
We’re less than a week away from the Academy Award ceremony folks, and by now we all know that it’s basically a sprint to the finish between Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. As such, this week I’m going to be looking at the Oscar cases for and against both films, starting today with Birdman (Boyhood will get its moment in a day or two). The movie has taken a strange road to the finish line, so it’s a fascinating case for Iñárritu’s work (the same for Linklater’s, incidentally), regardless of the outcome. Come with me now as we start off this final series (more a mini series, honestly, since there’s only two parts) and look at what’s working for and against a big Oscar night for Birdman.

I’m sure you all know the trek that Birdman has been on, but to quickly re-iterate, it was more or less a Best Picture/Best Director afterthought right up until the guilds began. Sure, Michael Keaton was seen as potentially the one to beat in Best Actor and both Edward Norton as well as Emma Stone were likely to get in for their supporting work (in Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively), but the film itself was a number two at best. The precursor season had seen Boyhood thoroughly chosen by the critics, with the Golden Globes going that same route. Iñárritu and company got a Globe lifeline in the form of Best Screenplay, but it wasn’t until the Producers Guild of America crowned it in an upset that the tide began to turn. The Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild followed suit, so the trifecta of DGA, PGA, and SAG makes it probably the new frontrunner in this final stage of the game.

Working in the movie’s favor is the fact that it co-led the Oscar nominations and has support across the entirety of the Academy. It’ll undoubtedly go home with at least one technical award (Best Cinematography, which is a lock to give Emmanuel Lubezki his second statue), though more than one tech citation is certainly possible. Furthermore, it still has Keaton alive in Actor and is all but guaranteed to not come up short in all three of the big categories…Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. It’s possible that it could lose one, or even two of those, but all three? That’s not happening. It’s all the most likely to lead the win totals when the Academy Awards conclude (as I wrote about last week), so that’s another feather in its cap. All told, the case for Birdman is a decently strong one. Guild love, widespread acclaim, and a diverse Academy body that could vote for it.

On the flip side though, there are some cons here for Birdman, not just pros. One, this is still a very close race, one where Boyhood could easily still split or even sweep past this one in Picture and Director. Aside from that, Keaton is now trailing Eddie Redmayne in Actor, while the flick itself is probably behind The Grand Budapest Hotel in Original Screenplay, though we can’t tell since the script that Iñárritu wrote with Armando Bo, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Nicolás Giacobone wasn’t eligible for WGA. Regardless, that’s not exactly a winning formula. None of those are deal breakers, but it’s perhaps prudent to wonder how many of the early Boyhood fans are holding tight and not switching at the last minute to Birdman, as that could be what the latter needs. If the guilds didn’t impress voters, it might not matter. Honestly, this makes a split more likely than Birdman falling flat on its face, but if it’s not watching out for Boyhood and considering itself basically in a dead heat/tie, that could be a recipe for Oscar night disappointment.

Overall, it’s a nice case that Birdman makes, but not one that wraps things up. The split between Picture and Director is very possible, though I still have no clue which direction that split would go…perhaps I’ll tackle that before the week is out? Anyway, what you should take from this is that Birdman may very well be the slight frontrunner, but this is the closest race in some time. When else have we been knee deep in Oscar week and not known who was going to win either of the two biggest categories? It’s insanity, that’s for sure, but I love it…

Stay tuned for my follow up piece on Boyhood this week!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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