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Article – The Pros & Cons of ‘Spotlight’ Winning Best Picture


Posted March 10, 2016 by

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The Pros & Cons of ‘Spotlight’ Winning Best Picture

Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy, was my favorite film from last year. As soon as I saw the trailer in September, I earmarked it as a major Oscar contender, and the buzz around the film also singled it out. I saw the film in November, and loved it. I saw it again in January, and it was even better the second time. But then late in the game players The Revenant and The Big Short changed the narrative. Both are macho, flashy films that scream importance and relevance. Both films became heavy Oscar contenders, and my hopes for Spotlight were challenged. Last Sunday night, however, the journalism drama prevailed, and I was ecstatic. Like with every Oscar winner for the top prize, however, the victory comes with both pros and cons.

When faced with bombastic entries like The Revenant, The Big Short, and Mad Max: Fury Road, the subtle and quiet power of Spotlight can come across as non-cinematic or boring. But that was one of the things I liked best about the film. The magnitude of the film is not shouted from the rooftops, but it comes through little by little within every phone call, meeting, hushed conversation.

It’s nice to see the Academy reward subtlety, restraint, and empathy over a film like The Revenant, which had to rely on media narratives and cinematography to remain relevant. For Spotlight to take home Best Picture, it means that non-showy earnest filmmaking, without pretension or gimmicks, is still desired in the industry. I am not the biggest fan of The Revenant, because I found it a hollow shell of a movie desperate for attention. The movie just had nothing under the surface. And I was afraid the Academy would fall for its pervasive campaigning as “the hardest movie to make of all time.” There’s a reason why Bridge of Spies, Room, Brooklyn or The Martian had no serious chance of winning, or why Carol lost out on Picture/Director nominations. These films–all remarkable—are so subtle that they could not muster a narrative strong enough to take over. That’s why Spotlight, with its heart-rending story, had to represent nuance and underplaying.

Spotlight is the first journalism drama to take home the Oscar. Nope, not even stone cold classics All the President’s Men; Network; or Citizen freaking Kane prevailed over their competition. The movie takes journalism seriously, showing the glory of hard work, fact checking, diligence, and altruism in the industry. The real life Spotlight team was a template for all future journalists, and the film honors their legacy.

As much as I liked to see a movie like Spotlight rewarded, the victory does have its drawbacks. Every Oscar winner for Best Picture deals with an immediate backlash, but many have recovered from it. Of course, a lot of people wanted Mad Max: Fury Road to win. I would have been satisfied to see a perfect action movie win. But the cries of people declaring Spotlight bland or uninteresting will only get louder in the face of the other nominees. That McCarthy did not win Best Director, and that film did not pick up any of its other nominations could work against the film’s future. Spotlight was the first film to win only one other award aside from Best Picture since the 1950s. Even so, the Best Original Screenplay award is no minor category.

Spotlight may have to contend with an “Oscar bait” stamp, even though its toned-down drama and relative lack of histrionics suggest otherwise. The movie’s biggest strength is that it does not sensationalize its subject, nor drench the movie in over the top dramatics. Instead, it lets itself wash over you. For a film that does not call attention to itself to be honored with a prestigious prize is a key moment; hopefully ushering more films that with quiet power into the movie theater.


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Manish Mathur
Mathur & The Marquee
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    Haven’t seen but your article makes me want to.


    Isn’t it just the topic more than the acting that made this film great?

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