Golden Globes Losing Credibility: Awarding the Wrong Film
Last Sunday the Golden Globes delivered an upset in the Comedy Movie or Musical category when heavy-favorite, Birdman, lost to The Grand Budapest Hotel. While both films are examples of filmmaking excellence, the Best Movie loss for Birdman was contradictory to the hype and to the awards given to both throughout the evening’s ceremony. Both films are similar in structure, yet it is Birdman that was more effective in utilizing all facets that were available to it, opposed to Grant Budapest Hotel, which bordered on being gimmicky. Furthermore, despite The Grand Budapest Hotel being a remarkable feat of storytelling, its structure and narrative voice isn’t as effective as Birdman’s, whose plot offers deeper symbolism towards mortality and what it means to create a legacy.
Both films were revolutionary in filmmaking. Grand Budapest Hotel offered the concept of a generational plotline that traced the background of a mere book to its original story content. Wes Anderson was strategic to convey these lapses in time with differing cinematography and wide camera angles. Moreover, he placed a large reliance in his ensemble cast, to which, they delivered quirky performances that fit within the world canon Anderson established within his film. In comparison, the components that establish Birdman also fit within Alejandro González Iñárritu’s world. Yet the world Birdman exists within isn’t the typical quirky world one would expect when an original environment is invented for the purposes of a film. Instead, Birdman exists within an ordinary world where farcical elements are deemed as ordinary. These elements are ordinary only through the eyes of the film’s central character, which challenges the audience to accept these qualities as demented or an acceptance of his former glory that he pines for again. For that, Birdman has the more difficult task of weaving real and fantasy within its narrative without being distracting towards the plotline.
Regarding casting, The Grand Budapest Hotel nearly functions as a who’s-who throughout the film. Anderson presented an all-star cast with some extremely notable actors, such as Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Tom Wilkinson and Jude Law, in mere bit parts that do not contribute tremendously to the overall plot. While this is a typical trend with Wes Anderson films, this type of casting leads to a distraction of the plot with audience members being more enticed by the presence of a recognizable face and forgetting the necessary development in plot. As a result, this form of casting becomes a gimmick, suggesting Anderson felt the need to distract audiences from his script, and thus, make his film more of a visual medium than a dialogue-driven one. This is a misrepresentation of the film’s overall plot, which aims to show the transgression from the film’s events to its eventual book publication in “real time.” Shifting the film from script to visual is weak filmmaking and a glaring admission of flawed direction and production.
In contrast, Birdman utilizes its cast because the movie is entirely dependent upon them. While Iñárritu’s casting is similar in that he hired big-name stars for his film, his casting of each of them was deliberate and necessary for the film’s plot. Each member of the supporting cast of Birdman functions as a foil character to Michael Keaton’s Riggin Thomas. For instance, Edward Norton’s character serves as the actor Thomas wishes he could be. Emma Stone functions as his inability to be the parent he wishes to be. Therefore, Birdman’s principle character is reactionary to each of the supporting cast, thus he depends upon their acting delivery in order for him to respond accordingly. While Michael Keaton’s performance is extraordinary on so many levels, his character wouldn’t appeal to the environment established in each scene if it weren’t for flawless performances from the supporting cast. Conversely, the manner in which this film was made also placed a reliance on the cast as a whole, demanding that they be able to adapt to filming long, continuous, unedited takes. Even the slightest of flaws from the cast would have made any of the film’s long scenes feel amateur and be deemed as a filming gimmick. Instead, this method of filming was so effective, it created the illusion of watching the film’s actions as if they were live, such as one would watch a show on stage at the theater.
However, both films heavily rely upon their lead actor; Ralph Fiennes for The Grand Budapest Hotel and Michael Keaton for Birdman. In retrospect, their performances cannot be compared with each other considering they are vastly different in style. Yet what can be said regarding their respective film’s dependency upon them is that neither of them fail to deliver what their films demand of them. In both instances, each of the actors contribute more to what the script demands of their performance and they truly become the character. By that rationale, whomever won the Golden Globe between the two in their category was clearly the actor that was able to utilize the most within their film and offer a better scope of the environment that was established for audiences. That winner was Michael Keaton for Birdman. By such rationale, Birdman has a better establishment of character and plot.
Regarding plot and message between the two films, both of them deal with the same concept: mortality and the establishment of a legacy. In order to achieve this overall message, both films are additionally reliant upon their screenplays. Both films are relatively dialogue-driven and the events of both films are retrospective of their film’s lead character wanting to create and maintain a legacy. Both films have a screenplay that support this, which were also written by the film’s respective directors. However, both films differ on how this message is delivered. Anderson relies on action-sequences that are overtly expressive, while Iñárritu placed an emphasis on character monologues that allowed for the Birdman to be situational-comedy/drama. Therefore, whomever won the screenplay category was the Golden Globes declaring which film had the better crafting of the same message. Birdman won the screenplay Golden Globe.
This begs the question, when comparing both writer/directors, which one of them truly deviated from their former work to make something unique even to themselves. For Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel fits within his typical filmmaking canon. In hindsight, Grand Budapest Hotel is very similar to Anderson’s previous work, The Royal Tenenbaums. In The Royal Tenenbaums, Gene Hackman stars as a father who has been banished from his family, but uses a quirky method to reconnect with them. His ultimate worry is maintaining a legacy of who he is, rather than how he has been perceived. The Grand Budapest Hotel is essentially the same film, only Ralph Fiennes seeks to exonerate himself from a crime he didn’t commit while also maintaining the legacy that is The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Alejandro González Iñárritu, in comparison, has shown a complete deviation from his former work. His former projects, such as Babel or 21 Grams, are films that are introspective and representative of societal flaws. Birdman is a departure from such filmmaking and instead poses the simple message of ‘how does one create a legacy’ and ‘does creating a legacy mean one must sacrifice part of their existence.’ Even more of a departure, Iñárritu gave his cast more space to make the film’s script their own, rather than the screenplay being the dominant component of his film. This allowed for Michael Keaton to deliver one of the most expressive, scene-stealing performances in recent years. Lastly, Iñárritu essentially invented a new style of filmmaking, merging cinematic and theater action into one entity. This is an astonishing achievement by giving the film a continuous feeling, as though being watched from the stage, while also providing cinematic drama. This is directing brilliance and ought to be acknowledged more. More importantly, Iñárritu’s direction allowed for Birdman to be the only non-generic film of 2014.
Therefore, Birdman’s loss to The Grand Budapest Hotel is contradictory. When listing both films’ achievements, it is evident that Birdman was more of a departure for Iñárritu, the supporting cast was more effective, the screenplay conveyed the message of mortality and legacy with better fluidity, and Michael Keaton carried the film more profoundly than Ralph Fiennes did with The Grand Budapest Hotel. With the Golden Globes awarding Birdman with Best Screenplay and Best Actor, yet denying it the Best Picture, it shows a complete lack of credibility with the awards ceremony by failing to award the clearly-better film.