‘Birdman’ Confirms Its Awards Buzz at Telluride

The “Birdman” awards buzz grew louder Saturday night at the Telluride Film Fest, as a packed screening confirmed that the film has potential for across-the-board kudos attention.

Praise for the Fox Searchlight film has been quietly building for weeks, and there was such a demand for tickets to the first screening that hundreds were turned away from the 650-seat venue.

Variety had recently made two upbeat predictions about its awards outlook, in Peter Debruge’s review (the film opened the Venice Fest) and an accompanying column by Jenelle Riley, stating Michael Keaton is a lead-actor front-runner. She’s absolutely right, but he’s just one of the film’s big hopes.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (in the photo above, with Keaton) could be a multiple contender, for his work as director, co-writer and one of the producers. He and his team of artisans balance substance with a lot of technical razzle-dazzle that will put the film in contention in the craft/guild prizes.

Keaton lives up to the advance praise, and the ensemble is excellent. Inarritu has directed five actors to Oscar nominations  in his last three films (“21 Grams,” “Babel” and “Biutiful”) and every actor in “Birdman” gets moments to shine, with Edward Norton and Emma Stone shining particularly bright.

The film will likely continue its momentum at the New York Film Festival. But not everyone will love the film; it’s radical and unorthodox, and some voters will be confused by its jangly eccentricity.

But it has a built-in appeal for actors, who account for one-fifth of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters. Keaton’s character, an actor attempting a comeback, ponders the connections (or lack thereof) among his self-esteem, creativity, love, career success, the opinion of others and ultimately, the meaning of his existence. In other words, the film offers show business as a metaphor for life. And the existential crisis is universal enough to touch the Academy’s other branches (as well as the general public).

Fox Searchlight last year faced stiff competition, but eventually landed the best-picture Oscar for “12 Years a Slave” (which also had wowed Telluride and then Toronto). The distrib was already riding high in 2014 with “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and now it’s got a triple whammy, with “Wild” and “Birdman” at Telluride. So it could be a happy but exhausting awards season for it.

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