As we come closer to the Academy Awards, we’ll be posting short profiles of each Best Picture nominee, attempting, in our own ways, to not only sum up what the movie is about, but why we believe it scored one of the eight coveted nominations, and why it could possibly take home the big prize come Oscar night. Enjoy!
Of all of this year’s eight nominees, Spotlight is your Best Picture. I don’t mean that it’s the best movie of the bunch, no (We’ll get to that one in a few columns from now). I don’t even think it’s a sure-lock for the award either (It’s something of a three-way tie with The Big Short and The Revenant right now). But of all eight of the films nominated, Spotlight is the one that most easily fits the Best Picture Oscar model. It’s an all-around great film, completely inoffensive in construction, and generally pleasing to the movie-going audience. In any other year, Spotlight would be a sure thing.
I don’t mean to harsh on the vibes of Spotlight, or anyone who has Spotlight as their favorite movie of the year, because it is a really great movie. For the uninitiated, the film chronicles the true story of the investigative journalist team “Spotlight” at the Boston Globe and their 2001-2002 investigation into the child sex abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests in Boston, leading to a larger national expose of a dangerous situation in America. As a celebration of the power of down-and-dirty journalism, Spotlight is a joyful wonder, a testament to how journalism was conducted in the days before social media and “think pieces.” As an acting showcase for the likes of Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy James, and so many others, it excels and then some. The writing is spot on, and again, it’s hard to find any sort of fault in the film’s structure. It is fantastically assured of what it sets out to do, and gets it done. Almost like the team of journalists in the center ring, you might say.
Some can see the film as something of a strange piece when viewed in the filmography of it’s director/co-writer Tom McCarthy, previously known for his independent films concerning lonely, sheltered individuals trying to break out of their shell (The Station Agent, The Visitor, Win Win, even…sigh….The Cobbler). And while Spotlight is certainly something of a stylistic departure from these previous films, there’s still that tether of people trying to discover that which is larger than themselves, to shine a light on an undiscovered truth in the world. McCarthy makes films about the little guy, the people that they don’t make movies about. Your cobblers, your economics professors, your…sigh…cobblers, and here, your journalists, a profession that is usually portrayed in a darker light. In film, journalists are usually the antagonists, the force that dares to take down our fair protagonist. Here, journalism is hailed as necessary to move our world forward. The “little guy” is shown as the only guy that can truly find the truth.
Yet Spotlight in my mind still remains a Good film with a dang capital “G.” There’s nothing that really elevates it above the rest of the pack other than that it’s just a solid piece of work. Spotlight nails everything so perfectly that, in fact, it’s reluctance to attain anything past “Good Work” ultimately makes it just that; good work. It neither shares the deluded ambition of The Revenant, nor the stylistic ambition of The Big Short. Because of this, betting on Spotlight this Sunday isn’t the worst bet in the world, it might be the safest bet of all, really. In its search for the truth, Spotlight shows that doing your homework and getting the facts straight really do make for good filmmaking. Nothing less, nothing more.