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'Birdman': Your Oscars 2015 cheat sheet

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The Academy Awards are just days away—which means it’s time to buckle down and really get to know this year’s Best Picture contenders. Next on our list: Alejandro González Iñárritu’s gonzo portrayal of a man at the end of his wits.

Name: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Tweetable description: Aging star of blockbuster superhero film stars as an aging star of a superhero film who probably maybe is definitely going insane.

Movie Math: Birdman = (The Wrestler + Venus in Furs) x (Synecdoche, New York + Walter White goes grocery shopping)

Release date: Limited release: Oct. 17; wide release: Nov. 14

DVD release date: Feb. 17, 2015

Run time: 119 minutes 

Box office: First weekend (wide): $2,471,471; total domestic (so far): $35,380,200

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92 percent

What Chris Nashawaty said“The film breaks with reality too, jackknifing into a trippy detour that audiences will either go with or not. For me, there was never any question. I was so all-in on Keaton’s vanity-free, go-for-broke metamorphosis I would have followed him, or the movie, anywhere. Which is pretty much where it asks you to go. Birdman is a scalpel-sharp dissection of Hollywood, Broadway, and fame in the 21st century. But more than that, it’s a testament to Keaton’s enduring charisma and power as an actor. He soars.”

Best Line: “Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.”

Worst Line: “What has to happen in a person’s life to become a critic, anyway?”

Number of Oscar nods: Nine; Best Picture, Best Director (Iñárritu), Best Actor (Keaton), Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton), Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone), Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), Best Original Screenplay (Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo), Best Sound Editing (Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock), and Best Sound Mixing (Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga).

The movie’s Oscar history: If things go Birdman‘s way, a lot of people will be getting their first Oscars. Iñárritu was up for Best Director for 2007’s Babel, also a Best Picture nominee, and two of his films (Amores perros, Biutiful) have been nominated for Best Foreign Language film, but he has yet to win. This is Norton’s second time in the Best Supporting Actor category, in addition to one nomination for Best Actor for American History X. These are the first nominations for both Keaton and Stone.

What it’s won thus far: A whole lot. But here’s the ones that matter: Two Golden Globes (Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay). Wait, those don’t matter at all. Moving on… a SAG Award for Best Ensemble, BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography, and Director’s Guild Award for Best Director. (That last one’s a biggie, considering there have only been seven DGA Award winners who have not gone on to win Best Picture.)

Why it should win: While Richard Linklater may be generating a lot of the “How did he do it?” chatter for Boyhood, Birdman‘s biggest threat in the Best Picture race—”It took 12 years to make! Twelve years!”—what Iñárritu did with Birdman is just as audacious, both technically and thematically. Birdman is something of a cinematic optical illusion. It looks as though it were shot in one take—one take that moves and breathes on its own. That, of course, wasn’t the case, but even so, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki clocked the longest take in at around 15 minutes, with each of the others averaging 10 minutes. Ballsy. Just as audacious is the multi-layered story at the center of Birdman, which challenges the distinction between reality and fantasy and madness. There were plenty of ways Birdman could have fallen flat on the pavement, but it didn’t.

Why it shouldn’t win: Because… it didn’t take 12 years to make?

Vegas Odds: 2/3, according to Las Vegas Sports Betting.

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