“The Citizen Kane of the digital era. . .”

               

That’s not me talking. That’s what the great editor (great friend) Dov Hoenig said about  Birdman the other day, as his wife Zoe and I were trying to shorten the distance between London and Seattle over the phone.

My enthusiasms you can take with a giant grain of salt.  Dov’s you should take very very seriously.  The secret in the IMDb listing of his 40+ films, abroad and crucially with Michael Mann, is that it spans movies shot on film (Thief, Manhunter, Last of the Mohicans) and digitally (Heat, Collateral Damage) and he knows the virtues and frailties of both.  Never heard Dov — impassioned but also measured and serious — be this swept away before and this seems the time to share his fervor.

What particularly revved me up was seeing Birdman a second time last week. I’d forgotten just what a deckle-edge comedy it is, with all its soulfulness.  I think it’s a reflection of my inner Olive Kitteridge that I’ve held fast (for 3 months!) to not just popping in the screener so that my husband could see what I’ve been hyperventilating about, but insisting on a dark quiet theatre, so he could see it as it should be seen, in its full wonder.  Worked, too; he has come back to moments from it, again and again.

I wasn’t much help, have to say, when he asked what it was about, (his second favorite question after “What’s the running time?”) because it’s not about any two-sentence summary.  Fox Seachlight and New Regency are doing a full court press currently in Los Angeles, showing all of director Alejandro G. Inarritu’s films, with a section of “themes ” from Birdman added each night  (Risk, Respect, Love, Honesty, Truth.)

Well, okay, if you say so; I’d never disrespect the publicity arm that has brought this film to so many podiums and Best Of awards thus far. Still, highlighting themes does sort of tear up the — sorry, but there’s no better word —  soaring quality of the film. The camerawork of  Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity) appears to be one pell-mell, hurtling, breathless single take, following Michael Keaton’s character, Riggan Thomson, indelibly stamped as the alter-ego of Birdman, a very dead franchise, as he dares to transform reclaim himself one last time — on Broadway.  (More about Keaton’s unsparing brilliance to come — as they say.)

I did like it Saturday night, when the beautiful Inarittu (below) won the Directors Guild  Award, and someone had to ask him flat-footedly What It All Means. Full of the moment, and translating from inside his head, the ebullient director answered,

“The actor as the representation of every human man who has a creative process. It’s about anyone with ambition, anything we feel; we try and fail, we question, we go deep then we rise up again.  I wanted Birdman to be an extension of that state of mind that every human being has [had] in his life, embodied in an actor.”

(Thank you Deadline Hollywood.)

I think of all the awards this shimmering film has accumulated  — and the uber-reliable IMDb logs them at 139 won and 163 nominations, excluding its 9 at the Academy Awards* — the one that truly took me aback was winning Best Film from the Producers Guild.  Until I thought about that for a long minute.

Yes, of course that Guild could be considered the bastion of old Hollywood.  I don’t even want to look at the stats on its lily-whiteness or average age or how many women are members.  But Inarritu’s words stuck in my mind:  he made his beautiful film for anyone who has a creative process, who has ambition, who tries and fails, goes deep and rises up again.

How could it not have struck a chord with Hollywood’s producers — very possibly the biggest risk-takers in the business? .

* Let’s celebrate every single nominee:

Best Motion Picture of the Year
Alejandro González Iñárritu
John Lesher
James W. Skotchdopole

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Michael Keaton

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Edward Norton

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Emma Stone

Best Achievement in Directing
Alejandro González Iñárritu

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Nicolás Giacobone
Alexander Dinelaris
Armando Bo

Best Achievement in Cinematography
Emmanuel Lubezki

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Jon Taylor
Frank A. Montaño
Thomas Varga

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Aaron Glascock
Martín Hernández

.

Wait, wait! First the Golden Globes, THEN the Oscar nominations.

I know, I know: old and slow. My only possible defense is that we have either been guests or had guests since December 23rd, a sojourn involving passports, dear distant family, dear semi-distant friends and a last emotional good-bye at the airport yesterday. The cats barely know what lap to turn to, while I’m summoning up all my reserves to turn up in two  matching shoes.

To get to those Globes: they were just Sunday and I know I’m behind on the newspapers, but where’s the outrage? Or even the irony over the results of the Globes TV Movies or Mini-series category I’m talking about the sublime Olive Kitteridge, anchored by the unsparing eloquence of Frances McDormand, being beaten by the TV show Fargo. Let’s be honest, the initial good will of  Fargo-the-miniseries would never have existed without our collective infatuation with McDormand’s singular character in, ummm, Fargo-the-film. (Just the memory of the actress’s back, squared in rectitude as she marched up to get her Fargo Oscar in 1997 is enough to kick off a smile.)

OK_poster

Following that, in an act enough to make our Fran swear off getting all dressed up forever, she lost — a seeming impossibility –in the Globe’s Best Actress category, to Maggie Gyllenhaal as The Honorable Woman, running, running, running as she brought peace, sex and swell clothes to the deadly Israeli/Palestinian cats-cradle.

Did the assembled Hollywood Foreign Press see Olive Kitteridge?  Did its essential Yankee-ness not play well with them, or just not as well as a semi-optimistic middle-East melodrama?  Unlikely that we’ll ever know, but the double loss is as stunning as it is opaque.

HBO put together a pretty representative trailer for Kitteridge, for those outside the HFP who missed it. (You can find it at the IMBd listing for the film.)  I’m especially partial to it because it opens with McDormand and an actor new to me, Cory Michael Smith, who seems to positively glow with potential (as well as a darting sense of humor.)

It’s unfair, really to single out Smith, when each of Kitteridge’s actors seems the inevitable. . irrevocable choice, top to bottom: Richard Jenkins as Olive’s husband, against all odds, in for the long haul; Zoe Kazan as “the mouse” at his drugstore and in his life; Peter Mullan as Olive’s singular fellow-teacher, a man with a passion for, among others, John Berryman; John Gallagher Jr., as Olive’s deeply put-upon adult son, Martha Wainwright’s lounge singer extraordinaire.  Clearly I cannot run through each actor and character, there isn’t a wrong player in this chamber piece, you’ll just have to meet them for yourself. You will, won’t you?

OliveK_Fran & RJ

Watching it again, post Globes, was the chance to pick up on more of its almost throw-away snap and edge. To notice the way Jane Anderson’s canny adaptation of Elizabeth Strout’s multi-prize-winning novel lingers here and pares there to fit into 4 hours (even though, as McDormand said — channeling Olive — “Could have been 6.”)  To consider the ways in which Lisa Cholodenko has bloomed as a director (from her blazing opener High Art.) To remember the startling collaboration of actress and director once before (Laurel Canyon), as Cholodenko pulled out usually hidden facets of McDormand, which have deepened into this portrait of the prickly, wounded, complex Olive. Mostly, the fun of a second viewing came from watching all the interactions, delicate or blunt, among this pitch-perfect cast, and to luxuriate in the story’s deep humanism.

Fran_OKPremiere

And then I simply wanted to sit on the floor and howl in outrage.

Well, time to pick myself up and make a note or two about the Oscar nominations. Plenty to celebrate — and howl about — there. Helluva way to observe Martin Luther King day, Academy. .