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From start to finish, the Best Actor's race for the 87th Academy Awards was a hard fought slug fest. Between each its five nominees was a collective pool of talent, history, and general likability that puts most other years to shame. Yet, among the well-deserved nods for work in biopics like The Imitation Game or The Theory Of Everything, there was one candidate who had to create their performance from whole cloth, putting their own image out on the line for all to see. That person was Michael Keaton, and boy did he deserve to win the Best Actor trophy for his work in Birdman: Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance.
Out of the entire field of the Best Actor nominations, Michael Keaton was the only actor whose role was an original creation. The only basis he had to create the character of Riggan Thomson from was his own experiences, which coincidentally fit the life of Thomson himself, and it made his performance all the better for it. Yet at the same time, for as much as Riggan could have been based off of Michael Keaton himself, there's a balance of callousness and vulnerability that are on exhibit in his performance. While he could have simply "played himself" and turned Riggan into a character easy to identify with, Keaton instead goes on a full tilt ego trip that pushes the film deeper and deeper into Thomson's psychosis.
Still, throughout the fantastic and maddening journey that Birdman takes throughout its story, we still see Michael Keaton grounding his ever ballooning insanity with a gravitas that makes us believe that he can be both Riggan and Birdman in the same breath. For us, the audience, we believe that he can fly, or move things with his mind, or even put on a performance of a lifetime by blowing off his nose. In equal turn, Keaton's performance wows us and scares us with each passing moment, as he shows us the portrait of a man on the edge. It's the type of performance that Best Pictures are built off of, and lo and behold BIrdman banked on Keaton's performance and took the top prize this year.
Don't mistake the case made for Michael Keaton's Best Actor win as any sort of slight for any of the other nominees in the 2015 pool, particularly this year's true victor – Mr. Eddie Redmayne. Redmayne's performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything is a masterclass on how a perfectly healthy actor, with the right amount of coaching and empathy, can transform into a real life victim of a cruel disease. But despite the well deserved victory in Redmayne's court, I still can't help but feel like the Academy missed out on rewarding an actor whose time has truly come. It's not all bad though, as Michael Keaton got a moment in the sun at the end of the night, telling everyone how he was, "just happy to be there." If we're lucky, we'll not only get to see Keaton back on the stage of the Kodak Theater in the near future, but we'll get to see him accept a well deserved Oscar trophy of his own.