Imagine my surprise to wake up Monday morning and discover that Spotlight had won the Academy Award for best picture. All the pundits had indicated that The Revenant was the overwhelming favourite.
I haven’t seen the film. I’m conducting a mini-boycott; I’ll wait for it to show up on Netflix rather than pay to see it. (Yes, I know, I pay for Netflix too, but on a per-movie basis it is pennies, not dollars.) Petty of me I know -it’s not the filmmaker’s fault Leonardo di Caprio doesn’t know what a Chinook is.
I only saw three of the eight films nominated for Best Picture, and of those three The Martian impressed me most (and wound up not winning anything). The other two films I saw were Spotlight and Bridge of Spies.
As a journalist I preferred Spotlight to Bridge of Spies. For my wife, who visited Cold War Berlin in her teen years, the preferences were reversed.
I wouldn’t have given Spotlight the Best Picture nod, but only because I think movies based on true stories don’t provide the opportunity for real creativity. Those films more or less have to stay within the bounds of what did actually happen. Tough for an actor, director or writer to shine when you have those restrictions (though Mark Rylance was in my opinion deserving of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar he won for Bridge of Spies).
What impressed me most though was the even treatment of a very sensitive subject. Spotlight, if you don’t already know, is about the Boston Globe newspaper’s coverage of a sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. Given the liberal bent of Hollywood (or at least the perception thereof) I was expecting the film to be an attack on faith and religion in general.
Instead I found the film to be fair and even-handed in its treatment of the subject. Certain individuals in the Catholic hierarchy do not come across well, but given that they covered up abuse by priests for decades you wouldn’t expect a sympathetic portrayal. But the filmmakers resisted the temptation to go over the top, to condemn all Catholics or all Christians for the actions of a minority acting contrary to their professed faith. The story is about the journalists, or you could say about the saints not the sinners.
I would be interested to know if any surveys have been conducted of people who have seen the film, if their opinion of organized religion or people of faith was altered by viewing it. I don’t think that was the intent, but could have been a byproduct of the movie. The circumstances that spawned the Boston Globe investigation were horrific; people are probably going to have an opinion.
And that may be why it won the Oscar. It got people thinking and talking.