I have to admit that the title almost put me off. Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a pretty pretentious name for what is a matt-black satire about fame and celebrity, so I went to the cinema unburdened by any great expectations. It's the only way to travel, really.

Turns out, Birdman is the best film I've seen in ages, and the finest Broadway-based slice of cinema since Mel Brooks' marvellous The Producers, made all the way back in 1968. That film famously parodied the then trend of hippie-infused pop musicals, while Birdman is very much in the here and now as it deals with Riggan Thomson, a fading superhero film star, played by Michael Keaton, who's trying to resurrect his career and gain some credence as a serious thespian.

As is the nature of these things, life is having a corrosive effect on Thomson, whose fame centres on a series of films where he played Birdman, a superhero who can fly. He's put everything of the little he has left into a play based on the writing of Raymond Carver and, from early on in the film, we see that his mental state is fragile as he battles with his inner Birdman.

I'm going to give absolutely nothing more away about the plot, just adding that the key elements for me are an outstanding cast in top form, led by Emma Stone and Edward Norton as Riggan’s daughter-turned-PA and a near-psychotic method actor, and Alejandro G Iñárritu's claustrophobic, almost suffocating direction.

Birdman is basically about the folly of fame and the frailty of the human condition. It's also great fun and a delightful way to start 2015. Michael Keaton isn't just back, he's redefined his career in an ironic manner not seen since Peter O'Toole ran amok in My Favorite Year.

John Byrne