First up this month, Birdman (January 2), starring Michael Keaton as a washed-up former superhero attempting a Broadway comeback. There is a little addendum to title (‘The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance’) but let’s dispense with such tiresome titular affectations and focus on the story, which is thus: Riggan Thomson (Keaton, who, for anyone under 25 reading this, was Batman in Tim Burton’s 1989 film) is the down-on-his-luck, decaying former star of the popular ‘Birdman’ franchise. Decades after success has flown the coop, Riggan hatches a plan to reinvent his career by way of a Broadway rebranding, so he hires some actors (including a wonderfully loathsome Ed Norton) and sets about reclaiming some non-avian acclaim. There’s more to it, but I don’t want to make things hawkward by giving too much of the plot away. (That’s enough of the bird puns now – they’re getting owled.)
An excellent cast and stellar performances – particularly Keaton’s gravelly-voiced Birdman inner interjections – have earned Birdman well-deserved universal praise. And so it should – it’s a-viary good film (sorry).
Next up, Into the Woods (January 9) starring Meryl Streep as a wonderfully wicked witch (and they say Hollywood doesn’t have any good roles for woman over 50). The story – based on the Sondheim musical – is a sort of post-modern Grimm’s fairytale, populated with characters from assorted popular tales.
The action kicks off with the childless Baker and his wife (Gavin and Stacey’s James Cordon and Emily Blunt), who, in order to lift the infertility spell placed on them by witchy-poo (scene-stealing Streep), need to find the four ingredients that she needs for a special potion: Red Riding Hood’s (Lilla Crawford) red coat, Jack’s (he of Beanstalk fame) white cow, Rapunzel’s (Mackenzie Mauzy) gruaige, and Cinderella’s (Anna Kendrick) slipper. However, what begins as light-hearted musical eventually becomes an intelligent preponderance on the consequences of action and true cost of all those wishes.
Finally this month, Wild (January 16), which bears a synopsis as succinct as its title: a woman, Cheryl Strayed (played by an Oscar-tipped Reece Witherspoon) sets off on a solitary hike along more than 1000 miles (that’s over 1609.344 kms!) of the Pacific Crest Trail in an attempt to forget the pains of her past – divorce, death and drugs (the three Ds).
Based on Strayed’s autobiography, and adapted for screen by Nick Hornby (Fever Pitch), Wild is a Witherspoon’s second award-bait movie in as many months (The Good Life) and might just be the one to nab her another statuette – her second after 2005’s Best Actress win for Walk the Line. Witherspoon for the win!
(First published in GCN, January 15)