Michael Keaton in ''Birdman''

By Keith Staskiewicz
Updated December 05, 2014 at 05:00 AM EST

In 1992 Keaton followed up his massively successful turn as the Caped Crusader with the sequel Batman Returns. But then his Batman didn’t return. After more than two decades without another role of that size — by choice as much as by opportunity — Keaton flew back into the conversation this year with Birdman, a gonzo backstage comedy-drama from director Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The role is so bespoke that it’s practically meta: Riggan Thomson is a Hollywood actor whose heyday is a memory and who’s trying to recapture the spotlight long after he walked away from his own superhero franchise. Keaton, 63, plays Riggan with a perfect cocktail of self-destructive hubris and panicked desperation. He’s the center around which the whole crumbling enterprise revolves, and he keeps everything in orbit with a star’s gravity. It’s a performance that made us realize how much we’d missed him.