With the summer movie-going season now closed, there's just a few weeks before awards season begins. Right now, there's no telling who will be nominated for the biggest movie award of the year, the Academy Award, but with the fall film festival season starting up with the Venice Film Festival, we're getting a better idea about Best Picture nominations for the 87th Academy Awards. One of the films that seems to be an early favorite is Alejandro González Iñárritu's latest film Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which got me thinking, could Birdman be the first superhero movie nominated for Best Picture?
Let's take a look at the brief history of the Oscars and the superhero genre. The first superhero movie nominated for an Academy Award was the original Superman in 1978. The groundbreaking movie was actually nominated for three awards for Best Film Editing, Best Score for John Williams, and Best Sound Editing. Superman also received an award for Special Achievement Academy Award for Visual Effects. Needless to say, the original Superman movie is probably the most important superhero movie in cinema history, next to Tim Burton's original Batman movie, which won an Oscar for Best Art Direction for Anton Furst and Peter Young.
Batman Returns received two Oscar nominations for Best Makeup and Best Visual Effects in 1992, while Batman Forever was nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. Imagine that; Batman Forever was nominated for more Oscars than the first two Batman movies. To be fair the original Batman actually won one. Batman Begins returned the Batman film franchise to prestige with an Academy Award nomination for Wally Pfister for Best Cinematography in 2005. The big sea change came three years later for the release of The Dark Knight.
In 2008, two important things happened with the Academy Awards and the superhero genre. The first was The Dark Knight was one of two game-changing superhero movies, along with Iron Man, that matured the genre for a mass audiences. The Dark Knight was wildly successful gain critical and commercial praise. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and gained a posthumous win for Heath Ledger (as The Joker) for Best Supporting Actor. It was the first time an actor won an Oscar for a performance in a superhero movie. The Dark Knight was positioned for a Best Director nomination for Christopher Nolan and Best Picture, but that didn't happen. The second important thing was the Academy of Arts and Sciences expanding its Best Picture nominations from five to 10 to ensure broader movies would be included in the Oscar race. While the following year introduced 10 nominations, it was too late for The Dark Knight, but not for Iñárritu's Birdman.
With a field of 10 possible Best Picture nominations, Birdman seems like a likely candidate to fill one of those spots considering the director's pedigree, all of Iñárritu's films were nominated for Oscars, and the early buzz the film is currently receiving from Venice. Let's take a look at what critics are saying about Birdman. According to Jenelle Riley from Variety:
"In a year overloaded with self-aware showbiz satires, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s fifth and best feature provides the delirious coup de grace — a triumph on every creative level, from casting to execution, that will electrify the industry, captivate arthouse and megaplex crowds alike, send awards pundits into orbit and give fresh wings to Keaton’s career."
While Todd McCarthy from THR writes:
"Birdman flies very, very high. Intense emotional currents and the jagged feelings of volatile actors are turned loose to raucous dramatic and darkly comedic effect in one of the most sustained examples of visually fluid tour de force cinema anyone’s ever seen, all in the service of a story that examines the changing nature of celebrity and the popular regard for fame over creative achievement."
And finally, HitFix's Catherine Bray contends:
"It’s also a technically superlative exercise (as was last year’s Venice opener “Gravity”). The much-vaunted single-take effect achieved by DP Emmanuel Lubezki and editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione (with a couple of exceptions the film appears to play without cuts) is not a gimmick, but a storytelling technique that achieves an arguably superior effect to that realized by Alfred Hitchcock in “Rope.”
Now that's some high praise! The film will surely stick out in the hearts and minds of The Academy, while the film plays with ideas of creativity and blockbuster trends. The superhero genre is prime for a movie like Birdman to challenge these notions, while I'm afraid this movie might be lost on superhero genre fans because it's not based on a property from Marvel and DC.
The casting of Michael Keaton as a washed up actor battling demons of a past role, in this case an iconic fictional (I'm hard-pressed to use this term because *all* superhero characters are fictional. Maybe "non-existent" is a better term) comic book character called Birdman. Interestingly enough, Michael Keaton, of course, played Batman/Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton's Batman movies, so the casting choice brings up loads of ideas about the genre and celebrity as a whole.
The film doesn't hit theaters until October 17, 2014, but it's closing out this year's New York Film Festival in September, which I will be attending for Moviepilot.com. I'm very much looking forward to Birdman because I'm a big Alejandro González Iñárritu fan (although I didn't like his last film Biutiful) and I'll let you know if it's worth your time as a superhero genre fan. While Birdman doesn't seem like a conventional superhero movie, it looks like it demands your attention as a movie fan nevertheless.