With the 87th Academy Awards fast approaching and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s quirky and affecting Birdman looking like a favorite to win in a few categories (Best Actor, Cinematography, and Director are my predictions), it’s a good time to take a look at the past careers of the people involved in making the film. You can find that everyone – from actors to director – has an incredibly varied filmography and that a project like Birdman is in no way outside any of their wheelhouse. If you’re looking to catch up on a few good movies over the next few days, or what to get the jump on your friends who will be googling the cast and crew of Birdman after this weekend, you can start here.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Inarritu has a list of impressive and acclaimed films under his belt. American audiences will probably know him from 21 Grams and Babel, both movies where people from various backgrounds are thrown together as a result of a seemingly random initiating event. Biutiful, starring the ever wonderful Javier Bardem, is similar to Birdman in the sense that it is about a man who lives very much in his own mind and whose eyes the audience often sees through. All these movies have a sense of raw honesty and deep humanity. Birdman, for all its depiction of the surreal inner life of its main character, feels incredibly genuine when it comes to the relationships between characters. By the end of an Inarritu film, you feel like you’ve seen something both very intimate and hugely cosmic.
While Keaton had been keeping busy before Birdman, with voice roles in Cars, Toy Story 3, and Call of Duty: Black Ops II, guest a starring role on 30 Rock, and a lead role in RoboCop – it had been a while since we last saw Keaton in a really juicy role. He started his career as a comedic actor in the 80s, with the title role in the middling but entertaining crime caper parody Johnny Dangerously and a break out role as the title character in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. Although, most of us probably know him best for his second and third team up with Burton for Batman and Batman Forever, in which he once again played the title character. Lesser known highlights of Keaton’s career include Dogberry in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, Ray Nicolette in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, and for some trashy action movie fun, Peter McCabe in Desperate Measures.
When you think Edward Norton you might think Fight Club, which is understandable. But Norton had an impressive filmography long before he starting trading blows with Brad Pitt. He co-lead with Richard Gere in his first feature film role (Primal Fear) and rounded out the ensemble of a Woody Allen movie musical for his second (Everyone Says I Love You). Considering Norton’s last film right before Fight Club was American History X, I’d say there’s a lot more to Norton than Tyler Durden and Meatloaf. While Norton’s filmography after that can be hit or miss, no one can ever say his film choices are boring. My one recommendation is that you don’t skip Death to Smoochy. I know you’ve probably heard bad things about it, but I personally find it hilarious and unique. If you like black comedies and can understand irony, then I think you’ll love it too.
Stone probably has the newest filmography among the main cast, but her body of work still manages to be quite extensive. She started acting when she was seventeen and pretty much hasn’t stopped since. I’m not the biggest fan of her early work because it centers in a genre I haven’t any interest in. I don’t know exactly what you would call that genre – dumb comedy, maybe – but it usually involves a woman being degraded in a comedic way. Not my cup of tea. Zombieland, however, is exactly my cup of tea and is well worth seeing regardless of your interest in Emma Stone. And while she was one of the celebrities that populated the unfortunate Movie 43, her roles in The Help, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight might even the score.
I am always surprised by Watts’s body of work. I never really think about her until she shows up in something and I’m always surprised by what she’s chosen to be in. I’m not sure what that says about her as an actor. While she was among the hoard in Movie 43 and the damsel in King Kong, she’s also obviously interested in artistic and intellectual cinema. David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, and David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises are among her most prominent films. She’s even previously worked with Inarritu with Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro in 21 Grams. She even managed to squeeze in St.Vincent with Bill Murray last year and will be starring in Noah Baumbach’s upcoming While We’re Young.
You probably recognized all the other names on this list, but maybe you don’t recognize this one. Duncan is one of those character actors who show up in anything calling for a certain type of woman of a certain age. And you always recognize her, but you probably don’t know who she is or even what else you’ve seen her in. Duncan is a very familiar face for fans of British television, guest starring in shows like Sherlock as Lady Smallwood or in Doctor Who as Adelaide Brooke. She started out like many actors of her generation, on BBC2’s or ITV’s Playhouse. You probably know her from Mansfield Park or Under the Tuscan Sun, or more recently, About Time. I highly recommend Christopher and His Kind or Bruno Heller’s Rome.
Bonus: Zach Galifianakis is absolutely wonderful in Birdman. It is the best thing I have ever seen him do and his character is just fantastic. I didn’t put him on the list because to my knowledge I don’t like anything else he’s ever done – except for maybe Up in the Air.