The Best Picture Winners: Spotlight (2015)

| March 2, 2018

Oscar’s 90th birthday is just 2 days away and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.

2015 - Spotlight

Almost as soon as the Academy Award nominations began drifting into the ether on the morning of January 14, 2016 many members of the Hollywood community and just about every media outlet were crying foul over the Academy’s noticeable lack of diversity.  For the second year in a row, no African-American actors were nominated despite fine work from Idris Elba from Beast of No Nation, Michael B. Jordan from Creed, Samuel L. Jackson from The Hateful Eight, Tamara Parrish from Chi-Raq, or from the entire cast of Straight Outta Compton, although the four writers of that film got a nomination for the script . . . and were white.

No one could be bothered to focus on content of the nominees but by the colors of their skins.  It was such a scandal that on the morning of March 1st,  – they after the ceremony – one might have been hard-pressed to recall the movie that won Best Picture.

Actually, it was an upset.  Many thought that winner would be Alejandro González Iñárritu’s ferocious wilderness adventure The Revenant, but instead the voters chose a hard-hitting biopic about the Spotlight Scandal which broke on the morning of January 6, 2002 when The Boston Globe began running a series of a stories about the permissiveness of The Catholic Church regarding several priests who were systematically molesting young boys. The Globe revealed that such a thing was hidden by The Church whose response was to quietly transfer the guilty to other parishes. There were deals with victims, legal statutes, and worst of all, local Catholics so fearful of taking on the church that they were willing to keep quiet about it.

What makes the movie work is its approach.  It stays mainly with the Spotlight Team and their investigation as they work their way through the walls of a seemingly impenetrable 2000 year old system bound by ancient tradition and schooled at keeping victims quiet by means of spiritual blackmail.  The priests stay largely off-screen and their terrible acts are mercifully not seen in flashback. We hear about their actions through the words of the victims, about how such abuse breaks not only self-esteem but also breaks one down spiritually. We hear very clearly that some of those who were abused found solace with the needle, or the bottle. They were lucky because the rest resorted to suicide. These stories bring urgency to the investigation.

Spotlight won the top award over extra-heavy contenders like Room and The Revenant, a serious lot that dealt with hard-hitting subject matter with nary a chuckle in the bunch.  Spotlight was a surprise winner but it wasn’t a stand-out.  It’s a unique picture in the manner of its approach, but it doesn’t wear the bells and whistles that most recent films to win the top prize.  For that, it runs the risk of being one of the most forgettable recent films to win the award.  Where will its place in Oscar history lay?  Only time will tell.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.