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.

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.


SAG and Golden Globe Nominations

Hey all,

In case you didn’t know, the SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) and Golden Globe Nominations came out Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.

You can find the SAG Nominations here and the Golden Globe Nominations here.

Birdman leads SAG with four nominations, followed by Boyhood, The Theory of Everything, and The Imitation Game all of which garnered three nominations. Meanwhile, HBO leads all TV networks with fourteen of the TV-based SAG nominations.

Birdman also leads the Golden Globes with seven nominations, followed by Boyhood and The Imitation Game, which each earned five nominations. For TV, Fargo leads the field with five nominations, one greater than True Detective.

We don’t do predictions for either, but I see Birdman being a big winner, with Michael Keaton taking home awards in both, and the film winning “Outstanding Performance by a Cast” for the SAGs, while being named Best Motion Picture-Comedy/Musical at the Golden Globes. Otherwise, look for Julianne Moore for Still Alice and J.K. Simmons for Whiplash to be big winners at both.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Up next, Sam and Vig take a look at the Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu’s critically acclaimed black-comedy Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone, Birdman is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence.

Birdman follows washed up actor Riggan Thomas (Keaton), famously known for playing “Birdman”, as he attempts to re-invent himself as a director by putting on a classic Broadway drama. However, when opening night goes terribly, Riggan must scramble to find a replacement lead actor. Along with the actor, Riggan must juggle the set, his daughter, and a critic who threatens to shut down the show. Overwhelmed with the disaster, Riggan attempts to overcome his struggle to successfully put up aplay and shed his status as a washed up actor.

9.5 out of 10

Being a man of the theater and someone who hopes to go into the business later in life, I was enthralled by Birdman. Not only were the technical aspects spot on, but the themes were interesting and the overall execution was unique, yet perfect. 

Part of what makes Birdman so brilliant is the characters. Every character is original, spontaneous and highly entertaining, and each feature their own way of keeping us interested. Edward Norton was hilarious and even more so into it than his character (a method actor) was. It’s good to see him back at it after a stretch of meaningless performances. Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan were all great as well, and the way the movie gave every individual some sort of storyline raised the overall stakes and kept us interested. Keaton though, as Riggan Thomas, was the shining star. Essentially playing himself in some light (Batman was only three years before the fictional Birdman), Keaton’s struggle with finding a purpose, mixed with hearing the voice of fictional Birdman every corner he turned, acted as a perfect anchor for this film to move around. Riggan Thomas was funny, insane, and driven to revive his pitiful self, setting Keaton up to be one of the best actor candidates to watch this year.

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The camera work, in my opinion, was stunning. The cinematography was worked in a way that the entire film appeared to be one continuous shot. It all looked very fluid, one scene moving directly to another. I was never able to take my eye off the film simply because it never gave me a chance. While this is not always necessarily a good thing, in this case, the strong dialogue and lack of action allowed the non-stop camera to be extremely effective. As a result, the slips between reality and fantasy were all the more convincing.


The lighting was also manipulated very well to set the tone to however would fit what Riggan was thinking or feeling. For example, the first scene with Mike Shiner (Norton) uses lighting to make Shiner intimidating. The lighting is dim and eerie, and rarely illuminates Riggan. Instead it portrays Mike as a superior talent. Additionally, when Riggan is depressed, the lighting is dim. When he feels resurgent, like in the final scene, the lights are brighter and more hopeful. The lighting is subtle yet powerful in making the message so powerful.

And that message is what drives the film home. The film is a satire on the modern day blockbuster extravaganza and seriously questions the artistic integrity of the actors who star in these films. The decline of true art and the rise of mega action blockbusters is questioned throughout Birdman, specifically calling out Robert Downey Jr., Michael Fassbender, and Jeremy Renner. Don’t get me wrong, I love comic book movies, but the movie’s take on what true artistic talent is– passion-driven motivation– is a breath of fresh air.

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There is no doubt Birdman is a weirdass movie. It can, at times, appear to be a load of pretentious, loopy, bull-crap. But all of this loopiness, presented in the form of Michael Keaton speaking to an imaginary superhero and flying around New York City, gives Keaton his character and the film an awe-inspiring touch. Despite its tendency to seem overly surreal at many points, Birdman is smartly written, curiously crafted, and a straight up entertaining piece of film-making.

6.5 out of 10

There were a lot of identifiably “interesting” aspects of Birdman.

The lighting was interesting. The coloring of the film varied from intense, almost monochrome blues, greens, and reds in the theater to the sparkling neon and black of Broadway at night, all the while maintaining a surreal brightness that somehow reminded me of jell-o.

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The camera choices were interesting. Many of the shots moved. In a typical scene, the camera would go from a side view of two people, and then spin to have only one person in the frame and then gradually go very close to the single subject, all in one motion. This rare, fluid type of filming had a strange, almost dizzying effect. The cinematographer also added to this disorienting feeling by occasionally filming characters in an way that resembled a fish eye lens.

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The melting of reality and fiction was interesting. The film starts with the main character, Riggan (Michael Keaton), hovering, cross-legged, in his tighty whities, a couple feet off the floor. As the film progresses Riggan reveals his ability to perform more and more spectacular feats, be it getting a light to fall in a theater, or flying over New York City. The film makers leave it up to the audience members to decided what is real and what is fake, although towards the end it definitely appears as if most of these powers are figments of Riggan’s imagination.
A main theme of the film is that people have an unsatisfied desire to be valued and important, and Riggan’s imagined super powers were a childish way to make him feel special and above everyone else (literally). Although the idea of self worth is an pertinent one that many of us can relate to, Riggan’s battle for importance quite honestly bored me. From an intellectual standpoint I feel I should care, but a self absorbed man throwing chairs around his dressing room is simply bland. I found the interactions between Sam (Emma Stone) and Mike (Edward Norton) infinitely more interesting, because it was an exciting situation between two original characters, which kept your interest while making you mildly think, rather than simply forcing an idea about the human condition down your throat. And yet, Sam and Mike’s story was a side plot at best, and was forgotten about when it was time for Riggan’s explosive inner struggle to take the full stage.

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The exploration of the eternal struggle for truth in acting was another redeeming factor of the movie. The battles the actors of the play went through to make their performances real were poignant and interesting. However, ironically, the film itself overall didn’t feel particularly truthful. [Spoiler] There were many plot points where the audience thought Riggan was going to die and then he was miraculously saved, which just seemed like the screenwriters toying with my emotions. All of the “interesting” aspects of the movie, from the lighting to the camera movement to the blending of fiction and reality, didn’t feel as if they were a natural part of the movie. It was done in such a way that all I could think of was some camera man meticulously planning his shots out just to be different. It didn’t feel organic, but rather an added bonus to give more pazzaz. It’s difficult to branch into the more “artistic” side of movie making, and I’m glad Birdman tried, but somehow the jigsaw didn’t fall quite into place, and the film ended up feeling a bit like a middle schooler trying to be avant garde.

Like Birdman? Hate it? Let us know in the comment section below