I’ve made it a pseudo-tradition to start each new batch of 1001 films with the Best Picture winner, considering every winner of the award has made it onto the list for every revision so far, even if they haven’t lasted later revisions. I suspect that will likely be the case with Spotlight, which became the first film since the 1950s to win fewer than three Oscars while also winning Best Picture, snagging only the big one and Original Screenplay. Not that Spotlight is a poor film, because it’s actually very good, mostly thanks to being nearly perfectly made. But, and here’s the big kicker with Spotlight, just because it’s nearly perfectly made doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s wildly entertaining. For all that Spotlight does, and does right, it fails in one of the more important redeeming qualities that, to me, a film should have: rewatchability.
Spotlight is so concise and so finely hewn that for once I won’t have to spend a third of this paragraph for the plot summary: the film deals with the real life reporting work done by The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team on the child abuse scandals in the Catholic church system of the city; who knew what, who perpetrated what actions, and how far up the ladder the knowledge of everything really went to. A high concept film this most certainly is, and it’s helped along incredibly by an awesome script, deft and subtle direction and editing, a focus on its subject matter like a sniper scope, and probably the most solid cast of any of the Best Picture nominees that year. Let’s go over each of these; first off, the script, which is the bedrock for everything this film manages to get right, which is a hell of a lot, so kudos to the screenwriters right off the bat. One of the writers was director Tom McCarthy, whose direction is subtle and light-handed, often picking and setting up for shots that are only in the film for a single cut, and so finely cut together and edited that not a frame of the film is out of place. What I especially liked about Spotlight was that, despite the subject matter, nothing in this film is sensationalized for dramatic effect; it presents the film’s material to us as straight as it can, and lets that be all the film needs to do. This isn’t a film about the Catholic church’s cover-up of child abuse by a percentage of the priests of Boston, as compelling as that would be; this film is about journalism, and the film keeps its focus squarely on that as its defining principle, much to the film’s ultimate benefit. Of course, none of this would be much without a cast that knows what to do and how to do it for every second of the running time, and every single person in this cast impressed the hell out of me, so much so that I can’t name one person over any other for fear of diminishing the work of the cast as a whole.
So, with all the glowing praise I just gave for Spotlight and all the film does, why the rating I’m giving it? Why the somewhat tepid opening paragraph? One reason, and one reason only: as good as Spotlight is, it’s not really worthwhile; it’s not a necessary film. Sure, it’s a great viewing, but I honestly cannot say that you need to go out of your way to see this. Spotlight is a machine of a picture, tightly wound and well oiled, but that’s all that really can be said; it gets the job done, and it does it very well, but once the job is done and over with, you have no reason to ever use the machine a second time. That, more than anything, is why I think this Best Picture winner will likely go the route of Argo and get dropped from the 1001 list rather quickly for a winner of that award, maybe in the next two years, if not the next one. Great film, with all the elements of filmmaking at the peak of their craft, but it just wasn’t substantial enough to really make me stand up for it.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10