With these pieces tracking through the ten best films of the year, I prefer to focus entirely on the positive. The purpose is celebratory, after all. Why digress into minor flaws in individual films or more regrettable earlier efforts by filmmakers? In the case of Birdman, however, I think it will be helpful to elucidate my previous view on the work of director Alejandro González Iñárritu. To be blunt, I detest most of it. 21 Grams, Babel (which nabbed him an Oscar nomination in the Best Achievement in Directing category), and Biutiful are all manipulative exercises that revel in the easy drama to be stirred from human misery. Iñárritu hasn’t abandoned his scorched artistic worldview when it comes to Birdman. It just turns out that his proclivity for unrelenting bleakness is far better served when pressed into the service of comedy. By bending his storytelling instincts in the direction of generating laughter, Iñárritu strips away the self-importance that marred his other English-language films as assuredly as if he’d hit it with a potent bleach mixture blasted from the hose of a pressure washer. Then there’s the technical bravado of Birdman, which Iñárritu largely stages as if it were a single, long tracking shot. What could have easily come across as little more than a empty stunt instead splits Iñárritu’s open in wide and wonderful ways. The film moves to the heated rhythms of Antonio Sanchez’s spectacular percussion score, an agitation that is further the ideal mirror of the tumult felt by lead character Riggan Thomson (played with a cascade of layers by Michael Keaton), whose troubled stewardship of a stage play he hopes will revive his acting career, but with greater gravitas and respect than he had before, is perhaps the simplest of his challenges. Iñárritu expertly guided his cast of ringers (led by sharp, riveting performances by Emma Stone and Edward Norton) through a complex film that is never bogged down by its whirring mechanics. Instead, Birdman is deft and terrifically devious.