2015 is off to a great start filmically: in just the first four days of the year I saw a pair of really interesting character studies that are also showpieces of meticulous direction. I thought I’d put together nothing more than a couple of paragraphs of encouragement to seek out these movies, as they’re both better seen without too much in the way of preconceptions.
Birdman dir. Alejandro G. Iñárritu (2014)
I’ve been a Michael Keaton fan for a long while, and the run up to this film’s release was all about the excitement of getting to see him in a leading role that he could really get his teeth into. I found director Iñárritu’s Babel (2006) overlong and too ponderous, and the highly acclaimed Amores Perros (2000) remains a shameful blind spot in my recent cinema knowledge. However, the trailer for Birdman had an intriguing punk tone to it, and coupled with a really neat poster, I was also going in interested to see how the movie would work visually.
I was blown away on both counts. Keaton has perhaps never been better (though I remain a huge fan of the performances he delivers in Multiplicity (1996), Pacific Heights (1990) and, of course, Batman (1989) in particular), and Iñárritu’s direction (along with Emmanuel Lubezki’s DP work) is absolutely mesmerising throughout. The supposed trick here, of course, is that the whole 119 minutes appears to pass in one solid take - but the real trick is that Iñárritu & Lubezki find a way to do that which doesn’t feel like empty showboating, but rather a vital element of the film’s interrogation of the relationship between the sibling media of cinema & theatre.
Enemy dir. Denis Villeneuve (2013)
And then, just after having my head spun by Birdman I find that Denis Villeneuve’s latest is available for rental. I really enjoyed his previous movie—2013’s Prisoners—and had been looking forward to Enemy after seeing the trailer a while back.
Again, not to give too much away: Jake Gyllenhaal here plays two characters—a shy, somewhat withdrawn teacher, and a C-list movie actor—the relationship between whom is unclear. They circle each other, their orbits each affected by the other, in trajectories that complicate and darken as the film goes on. Both of Gyllenhaal’s performances are really accomplished: it’s genuinely impressive how he’s able to distinguish the two characters through posture and gesture where a lesser actor would resort to caricature. And the film itself—its look, its feel, its oddities—has really stayed in my thoughts. Immediately that it was finished I started looking around the internet for some explication of its more opaque corners, and I’ve found myself returning in my mind to some of the really striking imagery that Villeneuve constructs. As with Birdman, I’m aching to see it again already.
If these two don’t end up in the top five movies I see this year then 2015 will have been an absolutely outstanding year at the cinema. There are plenty of good reviews for each out there (eg. Little White Lies on Birdman & The Dissolve on Enemy) but if you trust me enough I fully recommend going into these as cold as possible and having your head opened up a little. Enjoy.