Sunday, February 28, 2016

I Predict The Best Picture Oscar Goes To.......SPOTLIGHT (Minor Spoilers)

Spotlight (film) poster.jpg

"Spotlight" denotes the name of the investigative reporting unit at The Boston Globe. Newly arrived editor Marty Baron (from The Miami Herald) is briefed by Spotlight editor Walter
Robby' Robinson (Michael Keaton) on its warp and woof, in which a given investigation can take 6 months. The critical thing is it be done properly. Well, it's left to the new guy (played by Lev Schreiber), to use a past Globe column as a basis to push the team to look more deeply into the possible coverup of priest sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston.

The bulk of the film follows the Spotlight team of 4 as they dig into the assorted personae and document trail,  tracing back to a lawyer (Mitchell Garabedian) who claimed in an earlier Globe article that Cardinal Law (the Archbishop of Boston) knew that a priest John Geoghan was sexually abusing children and did nothing to stop him.

The suspense in the film is embodied in virtually every scene where roadblock after roadblock is thrown up -  both by Garabedian and Boston's powerful RC Church whose tentacles reach into almost every nook and cranny of the city. But ultimately, it is the victims themselves who are encouraged to finally come forward and lead to the public release of files that break the case open.

For anyone who recalls that investigation and the ones that followed, exposing priest pederasts in hundreds of locations in the U.S. and overseas, it should be a slam dunk that this is the stuff of 'Best Picture' mettle.  It is a serious film about a serious subject that still has left tectonic shifts in the Church itself and in particular undermined its moral authority, especially on sexual issues.

After all, it was only somewhat later that Marty Baron's objective paid off, i.e.  to show the abuse was part of a derelict,  cynical system that was also morally blind. The mandate to hide and shift pedophile priests  from parish to parish extended all the way to the Vatican and the Office of the supreme "inquisitor" (head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the modern name for the Inquisition) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - who in turn was following orders from John Paul II.  Most of us at the time perceived  the changes in rules for canonization were done to cast a more "saintly" light on John Paul II and take attention away from the still metastasizing Church sex scandal.

Anyway, one hopes Oscar attention to the movie will spur many more to see it, as I did last night. This is not to take anything away from the other contenders, including "The Revenant" and "The Big Short" but to me, Spotlight ought to be the clear Best Picture winner.  Still, "The Big Short" must be at least a powerful dark horse contender given its light shed on the financial crisis. (Though a number of reviews in the financial media, e.g. the WSJ, panned it for being "too cartoonish". Noting you shouldn't need or use a woman in a bubble bath to explain credit default swaps.)

Amazingly, the much better picture ("99 Homes" )  dealing with the credit meltdown in depth, never got an Oscar nod and did poorly at the box office, with barely a $1.8 m take.  I have to believe the main reason may have been the choice of title. It is incredible how a few words - say in a header or title - can make a huge difference on whether people train eyeballs on it or ignore it.

Lastly, if DiCaprio doesn't win Best Actor for Revenant than surely Brian Cranston will for his role as commie-blackballed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in 'Trumbo'.  (I was actually amazed the film wasn't also an Oscar Best Picture nominee given all its homage to courageous Hollywood actors that stood up to the 1940s-50s commie witch hunts.) But maybe after last year's win for 'Birdman' the Academy felt one such winner was enough in a two year span.

It's a shame that the "#Oscarssowhite" meme has crept in to challenge the level of diversity of this year's Academy Awards, but hey - what would you expect for a nominating bunch (Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences) that is more than 60 percent composed of old white men over 65?  At least the Academy has taken steps to improve the membership proportions but until all the old white actors, members croak don't look for much.

In the meantime, the host - Chris Rock - should provide some interesting and even suspenseful moments as he draws attention to any deficits.

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