Movie: Spotlight
What it’s up for: Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, Original Screenplay, Film Editing

Movies often allow us the perfect escape from everyday life. Sometimes they shine light on reality.

Spotlight tells the true story of the investigative journalists from the Boston Globe who reported on and exposed the systematic abuse from Catholic priests and the cover-ups around them. Through a series of events, the Spotlight team uncovers more and more information about what had been happening in the Boston archdiocese over several decades. Their efforts culminate in a series of articles released in 2002 that rattled Boston and the world.

The film focuses almost exclusively on the reporters and their process. It’s not a smear campaign against the Catholic church. In fact, there are several times in the film where characters explicitly specify the differences between their faith as Catholics and the flawed system that led to the widespread abuse by the Catholic priests. The story is as much about the importance of investigative journalism as it is on the abuse scandal itself.

Mark Ruffalo is a friggen genius. He’s a chameleon. He probably should have won supporting actor last year. He definitely deserves the nomination again this year. He plays Mike Rezendes, one of the journalists on the Spotlight team and the writer of the initial article published in the Globe. Ruffalo does such a fantastic job turning himself into Rezendes that I needed to watch interviews with Ruffalo to make sure he didn’t have the distinctive facial and speech characteristics of Rezendes in real life. When you watch interviews with the real Rezendes, you can see how completely Ruffalo transformed. Beyond just the physical transformation, Ruffalo’s intensity and vulnerability throughout the story make his character seem real. He seems as if he’s actually discovering these things in real time and reacts as such. It probably helps that Ruffalo has a Catholic background. This subject matter may have been quite personal for him.

Meanwhile, I have no idea why Rachel McAdams got nominated for supporting actress. She did great as Sacha Pfeiffer, another one of the Spotlight journalists. However, her performance was forgettable. It felt no different than most of her other roles. I kept waiting for that moment when she would earn the nomination – since sometimes the turning point comes in a single scene rather than the performance as a whole. That moment never came.

The direction by Tom McCarthy was solid. It helped that he also co-wrote the original screenplay. I love it when filmmakers play both those roles. The pace of the film was constant and urgent the entire time without feeling draining. Conversations between characters happened naturally and authentically. There was amazing intentional symbolism, foreshadowing, and repeating themes communicated through scene locations and framing. This also plays into the film editing which was smooth and kept the symbolism flowing from one scene to the next. It plays out almost like a mystery, even though everyone knows what happens. The audience makes discoveries along with the characters as they peel back layer after layer of information.

If this movie only accomplishes one thing, I hope it drives home the need for investigative journalists. I didn’t understand the need for them until I saw this. Often what we see on TV or in film regarding journalists is an intensely fictionalized caricature of people who don’t really do much…except maybe cause problems for Spider-man. Internet journalism is ruining the integrity of journalism as a whole and promoting poor research and poor quality stories. Journalists can do things others can’t. They should be appreciated.

Best Picture – Unlikely
Director – Unlikely
Supporting Actor – Possible
Supporting Actress – Highly doubtful
Film Editing – Doubtful
Original Screenplay – Probable…it makes the most logical sense to win