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Best Picture

February 12, 2016

Will Win: Spotlight

Could Win: The Revenant

Should Win: Spotlight

This year’s group of nominees for Best Picture has a little of it all. From the Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies to the Financial drama The Big Short, to the frontier epic (The Revenant) to both post apocalyptic and extra-terrestrial deserts in Mad Max and The Martian, respectively, in addition to lesser-known dark horse candidates (Room and Brooklyn), each of the nominees has something riding in its favor. However, no film on the list has more going for it than Spotlight.

Considering Spotlight’s subject matter, this could seem like a plug for journalism by journalists, but it isn’t. While it may lack the cinematic scope of The Revenant, the action of Mad Max, or the comedy of The Big Short, Spotlight finds its strength in its story, its characters, and its underlying conflict of an intentionally veiled system.

Based on a true story, and hewing much more closely to its source material than many of this year’s other contenders, Spotlight takes the viewer through the work of the Golden Globe’s investigative unit of the same name, four journalists who uncover a system of child molestation and cover-ups among the Catholic Diocese of Boston that stretched to include almost 90 priests. Both the portrayal of the victims of molestation, who are all based on real survivors, as well as of the reporters themselves, all of whom have roots in the city and the church, show the effect of the revelation when a backbone of society is exposed as broken.

Although it’s a more conservative pick than some, most observers, including the New York Times, agree that Spotlight is a presumptive favorite to win Best Picture. Its key strengths are its ensemble cast, featuring strong performances from Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton, among others, and its top-notch script, which dramatizes the Globe’s investigation without losing sight of accuracy.

In recent years, many films about journalism have earned the ire of working professionals, who see them as hackneyed and inaccurate in their stereotypical portrayal of reporters. In particular, many were outraged over 2014’s Kill the Messenger, which told the story of a 1997 Mercury News story about the CIA but, many say, glossed over the severe reporting mistakes the story’s writer made in the interests of telling a more interesting story.

Spotlight resists that temptation admirably. Instead of relying on overdramatic parking garage rendezvous and conspiracy antics, its strength rests in its confidence and masterful execution, telling a true story and trusting that its inherent drama will shine through. For audiences, critics and journalists alike, that is a winning combination.

However, if there’s another film that stands a chance of spoiling Spotlight’s title, it’s certainly Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s wilderness epic The Revenant, which dramatizes the story of Hugh Glass, left for dead in the Old West after being mauled by a bear.

Carried by its sweeping wilderness vistas and Leonardo DiCaprio’s show-stopping performance in the title role, The Revenant has garnered critical acclaim. If Iñárritu, whose film Birdman won the Oscar last year, takes home the trophy again, he will become only the second person in history to win back-to-back Best Picture awards, and the first since 1940.

Entering the awards season, Spotlight was viewed as the presumptive favorite. However, with its win at the Golden Globes, The Revenant is gaining momentum, and making a win at the Oscars not far out of reach.

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