Friday, February 13, 2015

OSCAR WATCH 2015: Birdman and Whiplash

I've paired Birdman and Whiplash together, and if you've seen both you will know why. They are both intense dramas (with some comedy within) about a character and their foibles trying to break through. They feel claustrophobic and are tightly wound. They feature striking tunes with an outstanding story and cinematography...up close and personal cinematography. And of course, Oscar worthy acting.

I'm still thinking about Birdman, it was an incredibly intense claustrophobic film to watch, and that was intentional, and it made it amazing.
Birdman is about Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) a washed up actor who used to be mega famous as Birdman (it's very meta!) and wants to be taken seriously. So he rewrites, acts, directs and produces (along with a friend played by Zach Galifianakis) a Broadway Play, and it isn't going so well. The majority of the film is shot in the winding hallways, small green room, or stage of the theatre.
Thomson is overwhelmed by the experience and still haunted by the Birdman character, hence the closed-in feeling. This filming, along with very long takes becomes an integral part of the film. It is clever and works brilliantly, with you starting to feel a little fenced in as Thomson does. Ed Norton and Naomi Watts are also in the play, and are linked to Thomson's past also. They are both wonderful and comedic in their roles on the stage and behind the scenes. Emma Stone shines as Thomson's daughter/manager. I've always been a fan, so it's great to see her in a meaty role. She gets all the best scenes with Keaton and they are magnificent together.
Birdman IS funny, but it's also incredibly dramatic, very intense, and has the most extraordinary dialogue. So much so, I felt I needed to watch it again as soon as it finished, a mix of meta, in-jokes, philosophy, and clever; the screenplay for this is king.
There are other levels to this movie that are difficult to explain without giving away plot points, they are quite superb, eyebrow raising, and (to me) unexpected.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, Biutiful, Babel) has created the most amazing film, his direction in particular stunning. It is just one of those jaw droppers of a film.
But it's really the acting that impresses here, each of the mains are outstanding, and this also includes a teeny part by the always wonderful Lindsay Duncan. But it is Keaton's show. I've always been a fan of Keaton and his eyebrow raising charisma. He strips back to the rawest of his being in parts of this film and is also incredibly funny, balancing between the two is masterful. If only it wasn't for Eddie Redmayne's heartbreaking performance of Stephen Hawking, Keaton would be taking home an Oscar.

This is a great little indie about a jazz drummer, Andrew (Miles Teller) who enrolls in a prestigious music college and gets into their best jazz band. This is led/conducted by Fletcher played by the magnificent J.K. Simmons. Fletcher, quite simply, is a beast, and his influence over Andrew will challenge and change him in ways he never even thought of. It really is a two-hander between Teller and Simmons who have the most powerful relationship on screen, and feed off each other in ways that just need to be seen. Paul Reiser plays Andrew's Dad, and there's a love interest, and some mates but really it's just Fletcher and Andrew.
The acting between them is intense, abusive, and breathtaking. Everyone is raving about Simmons, and he is certain to take home Best Supporting Actor. But Teller is equally as good, yet been missing out on the praises, maybe because he is young and a newbie. But his performance was shatteringly good. I'm guessing he did a lot of the drumming. But yes Simmons is mesmerising, from the moment you lay eyes on him he demands your attention, and watching his rage and deep beliefs in his dreadful actions at work is a thing to behold.
I first came across Simmons on Oz, and he was a force to be reckoned with there, but I would say Vern Schillinger might just shake in his boots at Fletcher!! Of course, Simmons is probably more well known as Juno's Dad, and from the Spiderman movies, so his strong character may be shocking to some. But not to me, he was superb.  
And then there is the music, this film is all about the music, or rather the beat of the jazz drum. The soundtrack is a heady mix of fat, loud, sharp big band sounds recreating Ellington and Getz, and lighter jazz for incidental and background music. The music keeps the movie rushing, and moving, and supports the angst and terror of what is being played out.
When the movie ended, after a few unexpected twists and turns, I felt my body relax, and I realised I had been tensed up the entire time, complete strangers made similar comments to each other. You carried every piece of dialogue, drum beat, and frustration within you. And whilst a supremely intense experience, I also wanted to stand up and applaud at the end too. This is a must see, the sound is outstanding. I cannot wait to see Simmons baldy grinning head up there on the Oscar stage.


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