"Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance" tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) struggling to mount a serious play on Broadway while his superhero identity haunts him. (Fox Searchlight)

A quick look at this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Picture…

Synopsis: A fading action movie star attempts a comeback by writing, directing and starring in a Broadway play based on Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

Total nominations: 9 (picture, actor, supporting actor, supporting actress, director, cinematography, sound editing, sound mixing, original screenplay)

Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu (nominated for best director and best original screenplay; fifth nomination)

Starring: Michael Keaton (nominated for best actor; first nomination), Edward Norton (nominated for supporting actor; third nomination), Emma Stone (nominated for supporting actress; first nomination)

Michael Keaton in “Birdman.” (Atsushi Nishijima/Fox Searchlight/AP)

Why it deserves to win: Visually, narratively and conceptually, “Birdman” is the most daringly original thing to hit theaters in a long, long time. In a season of fact-based films and straight-ahead, linear dramas, Iñárritu’s slippery backstage investigation into the nature of truth and artifice — indeed, into the nature of storytelling itself — takes us on a pell-mell ride in which we’re never quite sure of the actuality of what we’re seeing. Only “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is similarly intoxicating, although Wes Anderson’s twee affectations lack the ballast of Iñárritu’s weighty subject matter.       

Why it won’t win: The film’s surreality can be off-putting, with some viewers likely to have jumped ship early on “Birdman’s” narrative journey. Even for those who stick with it, the ambiguity of the film’s ending is a far cry from the neat, feel-good — or even feel-bad — endings that many of us are used to, and in fact demand. The movie’s prickly and at times obnoxious nose-thumbing at at the slick and shallow proclivities of Hollywood blockbusters makes it an eccentric, perhaps even perverse, choice.   

Ann Hornaday’s review4 stars

“Narcissism, ambition, insecurity and the wages of celebrity are addressed in one fell swoop in ‘Birdman,’ which Iñárritu and his longtime cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, have filmed to resemble one long, unbroken take — a stunt that results in a film of delicate, even balletic, grace and one that poetically captures Thomson’s own state of mind.”

Box office as of Feb. 17: $36.6 million domestic, $72.2 million worldwide


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