I wrote on Twitter yesterday that, at least in my observation, a number of “Birdman” critics seem to miss the fact that the film is inherently about confronting the very narcissism they often accuse it and director Alejandro González Iñárritu of having. That led to a back and forth with someone about the idea that meta movies sometimes cast so large a thematic net that “that's the point” becomes a retort to any criticism. And that's a fair enough complaint, though I don't think it really applies to “Birdman.”
This film is, to me, laser-focused in its thematic ideas. It's about high brow versus low brow. It's about substance versus bullshit. It's about art versus commerce. “It's about people trying to do something that they care about,” producer John Lesher puts it in the exclusive featurette you can watch at the top of this post, and I think that puts a fine enough point on it. I haven't been able to distill how I personally feel about the film any better than I did in my top 10 piece from December:
“'A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.' That's the note taped to Riggan Thompson's dressing room mirror in the film, and it's the very thesis of a movie less concerned with pitting art vs. critique than reconciling that yin and yang. What is art to an artist, much less to a critic? What is criticism to a critic, much less to an artist? Is what we leave behind the thing, or how we left it? The answer won't come easily, if at all, but 'Birdman' – the best film of 2014 – understands the necessity and value of wrestling with the question.”
I never thought a movie like this would find itself staring at a Best Picture Oscar, but ever since that PGA victory, I've found it hard not to feel sold. But this is such an odd year. I frankly keep going back and forth, wrangling with the preferential ballot of it all and trying to understand the tea leaves. No easy answers have come. It's rare that my pick of the year's best ends up winning the Oscar, so, I don't mind saying my fingers are crossed.
For now, if you want to learn a little bit more about the film, check out the featurette above.