Clenching the Nomination - Birdman | Can't Stop the Movies
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Clenching the Nomination – Birdman

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Kyle discusses why the already-iconic scene in Birdman, in which Michael Keaton runs through Times Square in his underwear, secured the film its Best Picture nomination. You can check out all of our overall guesses on the major Oscar categories for 2015 here.

Michael Keaton running through Times Square in BirdmanKyle Commentary Banner

In reality, I think Birdman earned its nomination before it was even released. There's just so much appeal to the Comeback Narrative couched in Hollywood meta-commentary, that when Keaton's performance turned out to be at least a fraction as good as was rumored, the nomination was a lock. This is how the Oscars work—they confirm the narrative myths that Hollywood wants to tell about itself while pretending sometimes to subvert convention with nominees just ostensibly innovative enough to seem like they're doing something new and daring, and not safe and expected. That's a harsher tone than I meant to set starting off talking about Birdman—on to the scene that clenched the Best Picture nomination.

And that scene is the one where Riggan, after getting locked out of the theater during the preview performance, runs through Times Square in his underwear so he can get back inside through the front audience entrance. This scene captures so much of what Birdman purports to be—the simulated single-take camerawork is never more impressive, central to the effect of the scene without being a distraction, as Riggan bursts onto the loud, bustling street, pedestrians slowly realizing who is is and pulling out their phones to start filming.

But the technical prowess acts to highlight the character's somewhat ironic narcissism—he's so focused on getting back to the theater to finish the play, so devoted to the idea that the success of his middling-at-best production will bring him career salvation, that he barely notices the crowd around him. His fixation on a delusion of personal and professional renaissance blocks out the potentially very embarrassing, persona-damaging scene he himself is creating.

Keaton plays this sequence with such full commitment that we have to give him credit for not winking at us a bit—it would have been easy to show the faintest hint of self-deprecation, a kind of “look at how vulnerable I'm being” nod to acknowledge that he doesn't take his image too seriously. Instead, he never breaks from Riggan's laser-focus on finishing the play, retaining a hilarious gravity as he puts on and adjusts his wig despite wearing none of the rest of his costume (or anything at all), and uses his thumb and forefinger to pantomime the gun he's supposed to be holding.

The in-film audience's reactions here—wondering if this is all part of an increasingly unorthodox show as Riggan recites his lines walking down the aisle from the back of the theater to the stage—may have mirrored Academy voters. They're a little surprised, definitely entertained, and are wondering if what they're seeing is dedication in spite of mediocrity or craziness that's a little brilliant.

Posted by Kyle Miner

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