Michael Keaton Bursts Into Oscar Race with ‘Birdman’

Michael Keaton is back, in a big way.

With his new film “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” premiering to favorable early buzz at the Venice Film Festival and set to play Telluride this weekend, word is out on the 62-year-old actor’s kinetic, revelatory performance. Variety’s Peter Debruge called it the “comeback of the century” and other rave reviews have begun to trickle online. In a bit of meta casting, Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an actor famous for once donning a superhero’s cape, now trying to revive his career on Broadway.

Filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a true actor’s director; his last three films, “21 Grams,” “Babel” and “Biutiful,” all saw actors nominated for Oscars. And Keaton seems certain to continue that trend. Though many names have been in the mix, at this point the only performance that seems like a lock for a nom has been Steve Carell for “Foxcatcher,” which made waves at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Keaton now joins that list.

Keaton has much on his side. First of all, everyone knows Hollywood loves a comeback. And while Keaton didn’t completely disappear, the last two decades of work certainly weren’t as visible as his work in Tim Burton’s “Batman” movies — or even as heralded as his scalding turn as an addict in 1988’s “Clean and Sober.” That early promise gave way to likeable but unremarkable fare like “White Noise” and “Multiplicity,” films that were elevated by Keaton’s charm. Soon, Keaton was only appearing in the occasional supporting role, from 2010’s “The Other Guys” to this year’s “Robocop” reboot.

But Keaton is now front and center in a role that he devours, much as he leapt off the screen as the title character of “Beetlejuice.” As Riggan attempts to mount a comeback, he veers from arrogant to insecure to desperate, sometimes all within one breath. But the humanity is never clearer than in his scenes with his ex-wife (Amy Ryan) and daughter (Emma Stone.) His energy is relentless — the film is shot in long, unbroken takes and he commands every second. And if anyone could tackle the film’s ranging tone of high drama and outrageous comedy, it’s the man who’s played everything from the sociopath in “Pacific Heights” to “Mr. Mom.”

Unlike Riggan, Keaton has been able to move on from his bigscreen persona. There’s something poetic in the fact that he will likely earn the biggest raves of his career for returning to a superhero.

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