Well, this one’s a little late. I’d previously promised I’d do this several months ago, but I decided to hold off on it until we were right around the corner from the Oscars, as it is my pick (out of the nominees) for Best Picture of the year.
The greatest trick a movie can pull is making you forget it’s a movie. Sometimes, when everything comes together, you forget you’re watching a production and for two hours or so you become transported to another place and time, pulled suddenly back into reality only when the screen goes black and the credits roll. That is exactly what Spotlight does.
It’s a daunting challenge- a biopic covering such extraordinarily heavy subject matter can either come off as being emotionally manipulative or not treating its material seriously enough, depending on how it’s executed. With a script that is seriously about 95% dialogue, it sinks or swims based almost entirely on the cast.
And man did they nail it.
Spotlight easily has the best ensemble of the year. Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams turn in the best performances of their careers, and were rightly nominated. But you can take your pick of anyone- Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, Michael Keaton, and they would have an Oscar case. You really do forget that you’re watching actors you’ve seen in other movies and they become their characters. This magic trick is mostly thanks to them, but director Tom McCarthy deserves credit with the assist.
The movie is shot in a very restrained style which probably made Alejandro Inarritu uncomfortable, as it dawned on him that the camera can in fact stay stationary! McCarthy doesn’t go for the flashy or the stylized. He’s very minimal with how he shoots his scenes, often using an ensemble staging that lets his cast play off each other organically. It’s almost as if he offered to take one for the team, as it’s a very thankless kind of direction. He’s not calling attention to his camera work (again, something I don’t think Inarritu understands is possible) and when a movie makes you forget you’re watching a movie, it means you completely forgot about the director. So here’s your thank you, Tom McCarthy. (Though he did get an Oscar nod for directing, so maybe he’s got plenty of thanks already.)
Currently wrapped up in a wild five-horse race for Best Picture (The Martian, Brooklyn, and Bridge of Spies don’t seem to have much of a shot) it exemplifies a traditional, immersive sort of filmmaking. Its competitors are much more high energy. They’re flashier, they’re stylized, some of them are practically begging for an Oscar. Spotlight isn’t. Just like the reporters it follows, Spotlight just wants to tell you a story. And they want to tell it right, without all the pomp and circumstance. Perhaps that’s going to be too traditional idea for the Academy, but I’ve got my fingers crossed.
Now after reading all this praise, that’s probably a slightly lower rating than you may expect. That’s because my ratings indicate favorite movies rather than best movies. I do this because if I tried to sort my ratings by my picks for the best made movies, it would be rather boring and rather unrepresentative of my taste in movies. So unfortunately for Spotlight, I tend to like Disney movies and hard sci-fi more than talk-heavy biopics, but of all the talk-heavy biopics I’ve seen, this may be my favorite.