Lost in the Awards Rush: The Paper


"Lost in the Awards Rush" is a weekly series Slackerwood is running during the awards season, to suggest lesser-known but excellent alternatives to popular frontrunners for big movie awards.

Birdman (2014) has certainly been the most breakthrough of indies this past awards season. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's tale of a former action movie star (Michael Keaton) whose artistic comeback is marred by a variety of personal and professional crises (much of it courtesy of a pitch-perfect ensemble that includes Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts), has wowed virtually every major critic since its release. The praise has carried Birdman from offbeat indie to the most Oscar-nominated release of 2014 (Mike's review).

At the center of Birdman's acclaim is a magnificent and mesmerizing performance from its leading man. Having had a somewhat spotty filmography over the past decade or so, Keaton has landed a role most actors only dream of. His Riggan is a man struggling to overcome his movie past in an effort to amaze the theater world with his genuine talent. Truth be told, it's a role that Keaton could pull off, due to both his own past cinematic history and the seemingly effortless commitment he brings to every character.

After watching Birdman, I immediately thought of another Keaton-led film made 20 years earlier, The Paper (1994). Keaton re-teamed with his Gung Ho (1986) director Ron Howard for this look at the fast-paced world of tabloid journalism. Like Birdman, The Paper is set in New York, has a real-time feel, an unconventional brand of comedy and features Keaton leading a top-notch ensemble of Oscar winners and nominees including Glenn Close, Marisa Tomei, Randy Quaid and Robert Duvall.

In The Paper, Keaton plays Henry Hackett, the overworked deputy editor of a New York tabloid. In one day, Henry must deal with the paper's ruthless managing editor (Close), the tired editor-in-chief (Duvall), a paranoid reporter (Quaid), his pregnant wife (Tomei) and a murder case that has just become the city's biggest story.

Right off the bat, the audience is pulled into The Paper's delightfully frenetic pace, which extends from scenes in the office to ones in the home. Howard's take on the world of the tabloid newspaper, and those who inhabit it, is spot on with regards to the action concerning each individual's seemingly monumental crisis and how quickly decisions have to be made with regards to stories, careers and, consequently, even lives.

Adding a welcome balance to the life-and-death choices the characters face is the movie's sharp satire. This is truly an outrageously funny film with the majority of the laughs coming from Keaton and surprisingly, Close (in a tour-de-force performance). The showoff between the two as the late edition is literally going to press is comic gold and Close scores laugh after laugh throughout the film's final act, where all storylines come to a head.

At the center of the hurricane though is Keaton, who carries the heft of both the film and its cast on his shoulders. As Henry, Keaton goes through moments of hilarity, manipulation, retrospection and the kind of manic intensity that has become the actor's trademark. The character of Henry is clearly a composite of every newspaper man slaving away at his trade, forgoing the human moments he unknowingly gave away when he signed on to his job. Keaton understands this individual and is therefore willing to delve into all colors of his character. The actor carefully walks a delicate tightrope with Henry and what is ultimately more important to him -- his career or his young family.

It shows real cinematic bravery that by The Paper's end, the audience still isn't sure about Henry's fate. An open ending for any film is a gamble, let alone one from a major studio and a high-profile director. Yet marks for bravery must be given to Howard and Keaton for the guts to give Henry and The Paper and true "life goes on" ending.

The Paper earned solid reviews, decent box-office and a Best Original Song Oscar nomination for Randy Newman's "Make Up Your Mind." However, it soon fell into that oddest of film categories that is littered with countless titles movie lovers have simply forgotten about, despite being critical and/or commercial successes. In 2013, the Paramount held a rare screening of The Paper (the second half of a double feature that also included Ace in the Hole) as part of their summer series. As the credits rolled, I took joy in the enthusiastic applause the film received from is sizeable audience and, for me, it reaffirmed not only Keaton's magnetism, but also Howard's directorial grasp and the movie's crazed, yet undeniable, magic.

Where to watch: The Paper is currently available for online streaming via Amazon Instant Video and iTunes. It's also on DVD and you can rent it locally from Vulcan Video.