Alejandro G. Iñárritu is no stranger to the Oscars. His debut feature, 2000's "Amores Perros," was a nominee for best foreign-language film, as was his 2010 film, "Biutiful." With 2006's "Babel," he scored two nods, for director and best picture.
But he's never had an Oscar-nomination morning as fruitful as the one he woke up to on Thursday. His "Birdman," a gonzo dark comedy about a fading movie star (Michael Keaton) struggling to gain artistic credibility, tied with "The Grand Budapest Hotel" to lead the field with nine nominations, including for best picture, director, lead actor for Keaton, supporting actress for Emma Stone and supporting actor for Edward Norton.
Inarritu was in Calgary, Canada, where he was shooting a western revenge thriller called "The Revenant" with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, when he received the news from one of his Mexican filmmaking compatriots. "Alfonso Cuarón was the one who called me on my cellphone," he said Thursday morning. "It was a good wake-up call from my friend. Then the text messages and stuff goes crazy. You can't possibly answer them. It's like a job in itself."
Nominated for best director alongside Iñárritu were Wes Anderson ("The Grand Budapest Hotel"), Richard Linklater ("Boyhood"), Bennett Miller ("Foxcatcher") and Morten Tyldum ("The Imitation Game"). Notably, all five directors were recognized for smaller films, several of which took bold approaches to the form, whether it was the quirky storybook style of "Grand Budapest," the 12-year experimental gambit of "Boyhood" or the bravura long takes and seat-of-the-pants pacing of "Birdman."
Also notable: All five are men. "Selma" director Ava DuVernay failed to secure a nod, a snub that many saw as a reflection of the academy's lack of recognition for female and African American directors.
Iñárritu said he was gratified that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – along with audiences – had so warmly embraced "Birdman," a high-wire act of a movie that doesn't fit neatly into any category. "It was a film that took a lot of courage to make. I knew that I was challenging the conventions, and I knew that sometimes that can come with a high cost to many people – and that's why people were scared to make it. But I think if we don't challenge conventions and we are not brave in that sense, then we will be stuck in cinema."
But more broadly, Inarritu was cheered by the fact that the academy had recognized so many offbeat and personal movies this year. "In a world where basically the industry is going to corporate branding and products that have to satisfy everybody, cinema is losing the battle of being [about] human expression, an individual point of view. It's rewarding that these films are fighting for that possibility to still exist. I think it's good news for all of us who love cinema in that way."