The Venice International Film Festival has a long history of introducing Oscar contenders, with critically-acclaimed hits and Best Picture nominees such as The Wrestler, Black Swan and last year's Gravity making their world premieres at the festival. This year's Venice International Film Festival kicked off earlier this week with Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman, and if the overwhelmingly positive reviews are any indication, this could be the year's first major Oscar contender.
The story, as we saw in the first international trailer from last month, centers on Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a washed up actor who used to play a famous superhero character on the big screen. He tries to mount a comeback by putting on a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, although little goes as planned.
Take a look at excerpts from some of the early reviews that have come in from Venice, which shower heaps of praise on Birdman, co-starring Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan.
"A quarter-century after Batman ushered in the era of Hollywood mega-tentpoles - hollow comic book pictures manufactured to enthrall teens and hustle merch - a penitent Michael Keaton returns with the comeback of the century, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), a blisteringly hot-blooded, defiantly anti-formulaic look at a has-been movie star's attempts to resuscitate his career by mounting a vanity project on Broadway. In a year overloaded with self-aware showbiz satires, Alejandro González Iñárritu'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."
"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. An exemplary cast, led by Michael Keaton in the highly self-referential title role of a former superhero-film star in desperate need of a legitimizing comeback, fully meets the considerable demands placed upon it by director Alejandro González Iñárritu, as he now signs his name."
"It's been said that when the movies want to make fun of show business, they turn to the stage, and vice versa, but both Hollywood and Broadway take their lumps in Birdman, a compelling tale that's a backstage drama, a character piece, a stab at magical realism, and much more.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and legendary cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki (Gravity) have used camera and editing tricks to make the film look like one continuous take, and while it sounds gimmicky, the constantly moving camera and seeming lack of edits underscore the jitteriness of the proceedings, from various characters desperately holding on to their fragile egos to the million catastrophes that beset those panicky final days before a Broadway opening."
"A magnificent and enthralling film that fits into no easy genre bracket, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) - to give it its full title - is a technical tour de force, a beautifully performed and smartly scripted black comedy that will leave its audience keen to head back for more, perhaps just to work out how Alejandro González Iñárritu staged some of the film's more striking moments. Plus it finally offers the talented Michael Keaton a role that really shows off his range and charisma and one that should see him in contention when it comes to awards season."
"Michael Keaton plays Riggan in an astonishingly good performance. Not washed up exactly (he can afford to stage a vanity project of dubious financial wisdom), Riggan's got creative ennui and a love-hate relationship with the alter ego that made him a success: Birdman. We don't ever find out all that much about Birdman; we don't need to. He's got a deep, critical voice, which talks to Riggan constantly. He's the linchpin of a superhero franchise from before superhero franchises were fashionable. We also know that Riggan said no to "Birdman 4." Sure, he's kind of Batman, but we don't need that to be said (more on the intersection of Keaton's career with his role here in a bit). Riggan has alienated his family and surrounded himself with "yes" men, with the dubious exception of his daughter (Emma Stone), hired as his PA after a stint in rehab. When he casts Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) in his own vainglorious adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," he opens himself up to a nightmare of insecurity and ego.
"Hubristic, humble, heartfelt and hotheaded, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is phenomenal. The feverishly anticipated (not least by us) movie from Alejandro González Iñárritu blasted through its Venice premiere (it's the opening film) in a giddy, gonzo rush -so exciting, so moment-to-moment enjoyable that to expect profundity would be greedy. And yet it delivers on that level as well; the film is as thoughtful and smart as it is infectiously absurd. And that's perhaps the biggest surprise of an endlessly surprising, inventive movie: whatever the sum of its parts, like how it launches and completes the "Keatonnaissance" in one fell swoop, or the incredible camerawork that is imperceptibly stitched together into (mostly) one long, seemingly cutless take, Birdman adds up to more. It's borderline miraculous."
"What the film ultimately talks about, however, is more rich and profound that Iñárritu's earlier works, dealing with issues of art, artistry and why we create. That Iñárritu has done so with a multi-layered script is a thing of wonder in itself, but the perfect physical precision with which he has done so - his restless camera takes us into every peeling nook and cranny of the theatre, until its dank corridors become as familiar as home - is a miracle. The ending will baffle or delight, but like the rest of the film it is uncompromising, a true throwback to the '70s - Alan Arkin's Little Murders springs to mind - a time when surrealism and abstraction weren't alien terms and people watched Batman for laughs."
Are you more excited for Birdman after reading these rave reviews? Chime in with your thoughts below, and stay tuned for more information about this critical favorite before it opens in U.S. theaters October 17.