Depending on your time zone, you’ll have either woken or fallen asleep to the news that Tom McCarthy’s enveloping drama Spotlight claimed the Best Picture honour at the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday, February 28.
Beating the likes of The Revenant, The Big Short and Mad Max: Fury Road, the slinking, understated ensemble – unquestionably the least extravagant of the nominees – was crowned king of the Oscars in a year where pressing issues and controversies dominated. With this in mind, it seems wholly apt that the little film about a big subject matter could. A rare David and Goliath moment which sent a harsh ripple throughout the industry.
In terms of what “makes” a Best Picture, Spotlight has it all, and in spades. This fabulously composed work provides a deeply thought-provoking and profound paper trail; investigating a seething underbelly wallowing away in plain sight, ever-on the fringes of detection, and yet barely an eyelid was battered.
It finds the extraordinary in the ordinary, and does so with true conviction. Outside of David Fincher’s Zodiac, rarely has the art of journalism been so beautifully and believably showcased.
Built upon McCarthy’s and Josh Singer’s Oscar-winning screenplay, the film offers a staggering collection of matched performances from Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Liev Schreiber, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup; all of which deliver dialogue and character with the utmost intelligence and vision.
Each and every aspect of the creative process amounts to a picture of striking, stinging excellence. An archive of modern history which becomes rooted in the spectator after viewing. But despite being the perfect Best Picture winner on paper and in product, Spotlight‘s messages are what truly separated it from the varied competition it faced for the top prize.
The film tackles the skin-crawling horrors of child molestation within the Catholic Archdiocese, but the resounding aura which swells from scene to scene is that paying attention to surrounding problems results in more efficient answers. The journalists at The Boston Globes themselves who broke the shattering story did so some five years too late. The information was there; the signs and signals, but the back-burner is too happy to keep things warm.
This is entirely reflective of the build-up to the 88th Academy Awards. The ongoing issues of racial prejudice is deep-seeded in the Oscars history, and indeed Hollywood filmmaking. There simply are more universal roles available to caucasian performers; a sad but true fact. Following the unveiling of this year’s nominees which honoured not a single person of colour in any of the four acting categories, the boycotts and hashtags began.
#OscarsSoWhite was the world’s social media handle, and it was used by millions, including a number of those operating within the studio confinement. A series of high-profiles declared their absence from the awards including Will and Jada-Pinkett Smith, and Spike Lee, plus large-scale rumours emerged that returning host Chris Rock would too steer clear of the Dolby Theatre.
The stand-up comedian and celebrated actor did not decline his golden ticket to the ceremony and instead used his platform to voice the feelings of many fellow performers who have felt undervalued by the industry and its tremendously outdated mindset. And he was successful. Whilst occasionally a little too indulgent, the messages were portrayed with wit and whimsy, without deterring from the pressing importance.
Further social-political and global issues were tackled throughout the night too; finally an Best Leading Actor (The Revenant) winner Leonardo DiCaprio used his much-earned stage time to address his beloved environmental efforts, addressing the imposing threat of climate change. Best Original Song claimant Sam Smith (“Writing’s on the Wall” from SPECTRE) used his slot to vouch for the LGBT community, urging for more to embrace their sexuality and not repress.
But perhaps the moment which really set the tone for the evening was Grammy and Golden Globe winner Lady Gaga’s performance of her Best Original Song nominee “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground; a track which ultimately lost-out to Smith causing much frustration to be vented online.
The song’s messages and meanings are frighteningly similar to that of McCarthy’s Best Picture winner – both standing valiantly in the face of heinous sexual assault crimes and using them as a means to peel away the false surface layers which so frequently disguise the true victim.
Introduced by American Vice President Joe Biden, Gaga sang soulfully and poetically from a white piano before being joined by a legion of sufferers – both male and female – awash with words on their arms including “Not Your Fault” and “Survivor”. Three minutes later, the lights rise and many in the stands are tearful; most notably Rachel McAdams – herself Oscar-nominated for her outstanding work in Spotlight.
Weeks before the Academy Awards even began, there was an atmosphere surrounding. A brewing tension and sense of unease. This supposed celebration of fine filmmaking was being billed as more of an ethical tribunal. As the doors opened and the curtains rose, these feelings transformed into something more like an opportunity.
Whichever means and methods are used in order to showcase the severity of challenges which regular people face on a daily basis – discrimination, prejudice, belittlement, judgement, peer pressure and so forth – is quite frankly irrelevant, but it is comforting to know that those who are able to attract a sizeable audience, can do so for something purposeful.
President of the Academy Cheryl Boone-Isaacs herself delivered in impassioned speech about diversifying the voters panel for future ceremonies, quoting the great Martin Luther King Jr. in her advocation of change and growth. And this is further reflected by the Best Picture selection. It could have easily gone to particularly The Revenant, and everyone would have been entirely fine with such a decision, but in a year entirely rendered by doubt, it is good to bathe in the brightness.
Movies like Spotlight do more than just fascinate and transfix; they become a piece in the complex, multi-layered puzzle that is humanity.
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