Spotlight

For our 100th (!!) post, we will be concluding our look at the Best Picture winners with Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy. Starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams, it is rated R for some language including sexual references.

From IMDB: When the Boston Globe’s tenacious “Spotlight” team of reporters delves into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston’s religious, legal, and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelations around the world.

9.5 out of 10

Before we start, I just wanted to say a quick thank you to all… six of you who read this blog. It’s been a lot of fun for me and Zach, so thanks to everyone who has read and written.

spotlight 4Now to main course: Spotlight. By coincidence, we happened to leave, in my opinion, the best for last. This is my best film of the year, hands down. With an incredible cast and an outstanding script, Spotlight, emulating All The President’s Men 35 years later, is an eye-opening, life changing look into the impurity of religious institutions.

Michael Keaton, who might be in his second straight Best Picture winner, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams are all fantastic, playing journalists who begin to question everything they believe in after working on uncovering molestation of allegations in the Catholic church. Ruffalo is the best, transitioning from relentless investigator to manic journalist running after cabs and through courthouses. His desperation to expose the church’s wrong doings is especially evident, providing the most memorable moment of the film by delivering a scathing speech against the church about their wrongdoings. With solid performances all around, the most impressive part of the cast is that they perfectly blend together to create a skilled and interesting group of journalists that we are rooting for all the way.

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The journalistic aspect of the film provided the drama with its energy. The constant researching, interviewing, and digging is an exhaustive process, and when 9/11 comes along and hits the group like a train, that exhaustion is evident. The reality of the situation is clear. These are real people being destroyed by a real life scandal that the church is responsible for. Spotlight does an incredible job of sticking to the story and having the intensity increase with every scene. The events of the film keep managing to topple themselves.

This doesn’t have the shock value of The Revenant or the flair of The Big Short, but what makes Spotlight so special is its profundity. We see the psychological trauma of thousands of victims who suffered at the hands of one of the world’s most powerful institutions. Spotlight takes the discomfort of the situation and tackles it head on, sparing no detail and creating a story that forces you to question the everything you believe in, including the church– an institution with the implication of purity.

After the conclusion of the movie while the credits role, one can’t help but feeling despondent. The truth comes out, the church exposed, and victims finally come forward. But it’s almost impossible to keep faith– in God, in our judicial system, and in human beings– after taking it all in. If Spotlight does not make you feel uncomfortable, then it has not succeeded. Tom McCarthy takes the sensitivity of the subject of molestation and pedophilia and uses it to make the tone one of intense discomfort.

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Of all the films this year, Spotlight was the one that resonated with me the most. It had the most electric performances, best written screenplay, and ultimately is the movie that will have the most significant impact on society by bringing these issues to the public’s eye on a much larger scale than the original Boston Globe article in 2002. If that isn’t a Best Picture winner, then I don’t know what is.
~Vig

9.5 out of 10

In my opinion, the only thing better than grand fiction played right is a true story that need be told being done absolute justice. Sure, crafting a movie with intricacies and moving cogs all motioning in one direction is great but, to me, nothing can quite match a film that embraces uncertainty and reality, shuns pizzaz, resists the temptation to taint its real life subject with any fabrication and chugs forward. Sometimes that means sacrificing conventional pacing. Sometimes that means banishing big, cinematic, Oscar-baiting moments. Sometimes it means earning more admiration from a viewer than sheer enjoyment.

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Spotlight is one of the rawest movies I’ve seen in years and stands among the best because of it. It may not offer the most riveting pacing (The first fifteen minutes are actually mostly office reorganization and story shuffling) and it’s very, very rarely loud or big yet it derives so much strength from how untreated it is. It’s difficult to explain but there’s just this accumulation of tension and intrigue that comes from watching an infantry of hard-boiled reporters slowly and carefully unearth a still-searing story. As with any fantastically daunting investigation, each answer opens up more questions.

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And who to carry this slow dive into an article better than this star-studded cast? Ruffalo and Keaton (among several others whom I can’t do any justice in these 500 words) deliver some whopping performances as their characters reconcile with the fact that their 9 to 5s have become an all-out ethical quest. The actors aren’t given that many monologues but any thrilling material tossed to them is handled incredibly well (Without giving away too much, Ruffalo in particular tears into a heckuva tirade on the whole thing that leaves your blood boiling).

Director Tom McCarthy’s masterwork is also an unabashed celebration of the power of the press as the Globe picks up moral slack in a city where local lawyers, politicians and, yes, the Church itself fail to do so. Not since All the President’s Men (which I will shamelessly say this one’s surpassed) has the might of the pen (as well as the perils of pushing it) been so well flexed. After seeing a whole onslaught of people who’ve looked the other way throughout the film, you’ll be more thankful than ever for journalists – who act more as crusaders than mere reporters.

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Rage-inducing? Yes, a little, this is some good ol’ fashioned muckraking after all. That tension we talked about earlier builds up but never really lets up. The film itself (again, without giving away too much) seems to communicate the problem it deals with is ongoing and you’d be hard-pressed to step out of this one without at least questioning the hypocrisy of religious institution. Overall, this contributes well to helping the whole thing pack a bigger punch.

Will this take home the Oscar? It sure is my pick at the moment and, for now, let’s just say it’s certainly hard to handwave. If it doesn’t get it, however, at least you can be sure it will earn a place as the film some lazy Journalism teachers show to their students during the Ethics unit. To me, well, that’s one of the bigger honors there is.
~Zach

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Foxcatcher

Up next is five time Academy Award nominee, Bennett Miller’s biographical drama Foxcatcher, based on the real life story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz. Starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell, and Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher is rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence.

Foxcatcher follows the unique relationship of wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum) and millionaire coach John du Pont (Carrell) as they train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark attempts to step out of the shadow of his more famous brother, Dave (Ruffalo), but du Pont, obsessed with victory and pride, becomes increasingly paranoid, leading to tragedy that no one could expect.

7.0 out of 10

The big buzz around Foxcatcher after its initial film festival release was Steve Carell’s stellar performance in a dramatic role. And in case you don’t know, “stellar dramatic performance” and “Steve Carell” don’t really go together. He was apparently so good that people were saying he was a shoo-in for Best Actor and that the film had a great chance at Best Picture. Yes, I did hear this chatter way back when. As you know, the film didn’t quite get there, failing to garner a Best Picture nod. This is largely due to a story structure that is unable to maintain intensity. However, largely thanks to a trio of stellar acting performances, Foxcatcher did get nominated for five Academy Awards, including two for acting and a directing nod (in the process, becoming the first film in 7 years to be nominated for Best Director but not Best Picture). 

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As mentioned, Foxcatcher has a really strong cast, anchored by Channing Tatum and supported by Steve Carell (well, according to the Academy, led by) and Mark Ruffalo, the latter two garnering Academy Award nominations. Tatum, known for rather silly roles (21 Jump Street, Magic Mike) or cheesy romantic roles (Dear John, The Vow), really steps into his own as Mark Schultz. He has so much determination and his character’s transformation throughout the film is evident. Ruffalo, looking totally sporting a shaved head and full beard, is at the top of his game, portraying Mark’s caring brother David as genuinely as possible

FOXCATCHER

Then there’s Carell, who has completely transformed his image with this one film. I recently watched The 40 Year Old Virgin and re-watched a few episodes of “The Office” and my goodness, how different he is. Not only is his physical transformation incredible (shout-out to Makeup and Hairstyling!!!), but his mentality is incredible. To be frank, he is a complete psychopath (as the character requires). It is not hard to be seduced by John du Pont’s false persona, one that feigns support and kindness, only making Carell’s dive in absolute insanity even more dramatic and intense to watch. Probably his greatest acting performance ever, though I say with complete seriousness that it might be a step below his turn as Michael Scott

Now, despite those incredible performances, Foxcatcher was unable to remain interesting for the entire duration of the film. It is broken up into three parts, the first an exposition that is understandably slow, the second of which is the Olympics and fall of Schultz, and the third of which rushes into a frantic, emotionally dense ending.

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The shift between the three parts was a bit rushed, without any build up to slur them together. For example, du Pont’s shift to absolute insanity was entirely implied rather than illustrated. In real life, du Pont did some really bizarre things. He apparently burned a den of baby foxes alive and drove around in a tank on his estate, with allegations of sexual abuse flying around everywhere. But none of this was really used in Foxcatcher, even though it could have made du Pont even crazier, making the middle section of the film all the more engaging.

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Ultimately, Foxcatcher is hindered by its poor pacing, focusing too much of the film on establishing a dark, brooding tone. And this dense, admittedly interesting tone ultimately isn’t enough to make up for the lack of progress in the story. It’s rather stale for a long period of time and nothing exciting really happens till the very ending, which (without spoiling) is tragic, and an exciting conclusion to an otherwise dull movie. However, there’s no denying the strength of the strong acting trio of Tatum, Carell, and Ruffalo. Even Sienna Miller, my new favorite actress, is in it! Yet, with such inconsistent pacing, it’s hard to label Foxcatcher as anything but a disappointment, especially with all the potential it had.
~Vig

7.0 out of 10

I have to admit I was a little surprised when Oscar nominations came out and Foxcatcher was not among the tiles contending for Best Picture. It had certainly generated the requisite Oscar buzz with winning performances from Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo, and it scored a pair of high profile nominations with Carell for Best Actor and Benet Miller for Best Director (the issues in that category are for a whole other discussion). Personally I don’t think Foxcatcher deserved to be nominated, but it certainly has some merit as a dark and cautionary film.

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Thematically it is very similar to Whiplash, a Best Picture nominee and personal favorite, in that it tackles the merits and pitfalls of controlling and abusive student-mentor relationships. We see a controlling, strong personality in John Du Pont, played by the surprisingly capable Steve Carell, contrast with the weak and underdeveloped personality of Mark Schulz, played by the surprising Channing Tatum. Despite these differences at the core of each character we also see a need to impress others and to fulfill familial expectations, a quality which bonds them but then ultimately drives them apart as Du Pont ventures further and further into the deep end.

These two performances were really what drove the movie. It was a joy to see Carell excel at a dramatic role, and he certainly deserves his Oscar nomination (though he has virtually no chance of winning and personally I think he should have been placed in the Supporting Actor category). Normally Carell is pigeonholed as the ridiculous, awkward guy in comedy films and shows, a role that he is suited for but that limits his talents as an actor. I know a lot of people who aren’t big fans of his, but I think he was exceptional in “The Office” and hilarious in Anchorman, and I sincerely hope that directors will take notice of Carell’s work and continue to cast him in dramatic roles. He certainly exceled at his creepy, off-color role as John Du Pont.

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Channing Tatum was also quite exceptional. His performance was incredibly convincing as Mark Schulz, the manipulated wrestler living in the shadow of his brother’s Olympic glory; it was so convincing in fact that I almost forgot that this is the same man who walked out of a limo at prom with doves flying out behind him in 21 Jump Street. Credit the filmmakers for taking the risk to cast comedic actors in a dramatic film.

Where I lost interest in the film was its pacing. Yes, Du Pont’s manipulation and controlling of Mark required significant buildup, but the third act of the film, it’s climax, was far too short and too rushed. The first two acts were almost entirely dedicated to building the film’s tone, a brooding and dark atmosphere, but I think it was significantly enough established within the first third. I really wish Miller had shortened the middle and drawn out the end.

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Perhaps the most disappointing aspect about this movie is that it left me with wistful thoughts of what could have been. I went home after watching the film (at Garden Cinemas, which for those of you in the massive readership haven’t been there is by far the best theater in the area, though there is some occasional noise leakage from screen to screen) and searched up some information on the real story. I found that Du Pont was even more deranged and even crazier than then film depicted. Normally we criticize Hollywood for exaggerating history, but in this case Miller went the other way. In reality, Du Pont drove a tank equipped with a machine gun across his property. He attempted to sexually assault a few of his students. He blew of a den filled with baby foxes. He paid his wrestlers to check for ghosts in the attic. Where was this in the movie? Including these elements and eliminating that dragging middle could certainly have made Foxcatcher the final Best Picture nominee of the year.
~Will