Edward Norton’s first scene in Birdman is about his character, Mike Shiner, rehearsing a Raymond Carver play with Michael Keaton‘s Riggan Thomson. And within 90 seconds he “runs through a Crayola box of tones and emotions, jumping between Shiner and Shiner’s character in the play like he’s changing shirts,” says Grantland‘s Kevin Lincoln. “Throughout the rest of Birdman, flexibility defines Norton’s performance. He fistfights in a floral Speedo. He wields an erection like it’s his first. He throws himself into being a maniac. Norton empties the playbook, turning a flimsy role into Dada madness.

“Norton is so good in Birdman that it makes you imagine alternative histories. What if, instead of focusing on United Nations ambassadorships and Obama documentaries — you know, important things — Norton had acted more? The mind reels. Could you have seen him in the Matt Damon role in The Departed? As Mickey Haller in The Lincoln Lawyer? As a member of Ocean’s Eleven?”