OSCAR SPECIAL: ‘Spotlight’ vs ‘The Big Short’

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Hari explores the Oscar contenders featuring the biggest Oscar bait.

Two films exploring issues that hurt people over a numbers of years, suffered cover-ups and fraudulent or corrupt systems. One tackles the events leading up to the Financial Crisis of 2007/08, and the other tackles child molestation by priests of the Catholic Church in the city of Boston. Both are excellent films, so let’s get into it.

‘Spotlight’

This movie is haunting and horrifying without ever having to show any graphic or explicitly gruesome scenes. It made me feel so cold-hearted inside that my walk home after, in the awful weather we’ve been having, felt like a pleasant stroll. However, the film doesn’t end on a low note, but the atmosphere and subject matter is so serious that it left a definite impression on me.

In the same way ‘Brooklyn’ was able to build incredible tension through a romantic story, ‘Spotlight’ expertly builds tension through the investigative process undertaken by the reporters and the challenges they face in researching the issue and publishing the story as accurately and effectively as possible. In the same way as ‘Room’, where one of the most horrifying scenes was the Q&A session between Brie Larson’s Joy and the news reporter or between Joy and her parents, this movie maintains the tension and horror of the sexual perversions without needing to depict it on-screen at all.

There are some great slow pull-back, one-shot sequences peppered in throughout the movie and the story embraces a number of different angles, other organisations’ involvement and a lot of detail exploring the various elements including the psychological implications of believers being ‘spiritually abused’. One of the most important aspects was the exploration of how vulnerable people, the most likely victims of abuse, were spurned and looked at suspiciously when they try to report the crimes against them (because they seem to lack credibility for the EXACT reasons that made them victims to becoming preyed upon).

It’s great to see a film that shows the positives and absolutely necessity for great investigative journalism, especially given that The Boston Globe was a local newspaper. The film manages to promote this whilst still retaining the impassive/neutral approach required by journalists to uphold, whilst showing their persistence when seeking out a story and their relentlessness. Alongside a positive portrayal of journalism, it also provides a positive example of a newspaper boss (Marty Baron portrayed by the excellent Live Schreiber), who spearheaded the focus on the child sex abuse cases.

Alongside Schreiber is another excellent performance by Michael Keaton and the vast majority of the entire supporting cast, including Billy Cruddup and Stanley Tucci. Sadly, there are two small exceptions. Mark Ruffalo gave a great performance as an odd, weird but vigilant reporter Michael Rezendes, who eventually is the one that writes up the article that is published. He does a great job throughout, however, there is one moment that lets it down.

Unlike Keaton’s excellent, subtle and understated performance, Ruffalo is seemingly given an ‘Oscar bait’ scene where he goes on a little rant. Its cringeworthy attempt screams ‘give me an Oscar’ and it isn’t even needed. No surprise, he was indeed nominated.

As a story, and a well-crafted film, this is challenging ‘Brooklyn’ for my choice to win Best Film at the Oscars. However, there is another film which is the running favourite

‘The Big Short’

In contrast to ‘Spotlight’, which I raved about internally once I had finished watching it but later felt it was a little flat at times, the more I think about ‘The Big Short’ the more I realised how much I enjoyed watching it.

Delving into the events that lead unto the financial crisis a few years ago, the movie managed to make me  feel so emotionally invested in the characters that I felt bad for them when the housing market didn’t crash and they didn’t prosper at the expense of the world’s misery. An outstanding ensemble performance from Steve Carrell (who continues his excellent performances in dramatic roles), a heavily-tanned and arrogant Ryan Gosling (whose scene towards the end of the film in the bathroom is exceptional), Brad Pitt (absolutely great in his limited screen time) and the array of supporting characters drives this film to success.

However, the show stealer was undoubtedly Christian Bale in a low-key, reserved but mesmerizing performance and he has clearly won me over as the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars. This was a fantastic performance and a great number of roles, but did not feature the same Oscar bait as ‘Spotlight’, so makes me appreciate it even more. Bale plays Michael Burry, the first man to notice the downward trend, who isolates himself in his office whilst blaring out heavy metal music. Bale said he wanted to make sure Burry came across as a good guy, even amongst everything he was doing.

I do question the apparent ‘noble incentives’ of the people who benefited from the crisis, many of whom appeared to be remorseful after the events unfolded. It seemed like an added Hollywood touch to what were probably men who were exceptionally happy with the millions to billions they made, even if they discovered the system was corrupt and fraudulent along the way.

Similar to ‘The Hateful Eight’, there is a small amount of excessive swearing in the film that feels like it is forced in to be funny, rather than needed for any purpose. You could argue it was a directorial touch to make us feel uncomfortable or patronised, alongside accusations that most of the people watching were stupid and needed simpler explanations,  but I’m sure there was a better way of approaching it. The use of celebrities to explain economic principles was also a bit strange, with the exception of Anthony Bourdain’s cameo, which won me over. It also took some time to adjust to the cameras zooming in through the scene, similar to ‘The Office’, but eventually I became accustomed to it and accepted it.

Another element which felt forced in its attempt to be funny, was breaking the fourth wall for self-referential humour: after a scene has taken place, explaining that this wasn’t actually how events unfolded in real life, but this was how it was being shown. Maybe they chose to do this in order to make the moments in the film when they do the opposite, break the fourth wall to tell us that what we just saw was exactly how it did happen, stand out more. But I think they do that already and don’t need the fake Hollywood spin on it whatsoever.

‘Creed’

In a last minute entrant, given the hype surrounding Sylvester Stallone’s nomination and likely favorite to win Best Supporting Actor at this year’s Oscars, I went out to watch ‘Creed’. My first thought was how in the hell did Michael B Jordan not get nominated for a Best Actor Award. Following the #OscarsSoWhite movement, it made me think of Idris Elba’s excellent performance in ‘Beasts of No Nation’ and how that too was neglected (there’s a whole load of Oscar bait in there too Academy). I don’t think either performance was exceptional enough to guarantee a victory in the category, but both were exceptional and worthy of being nominated, especially given Hollywood’s life-long fascination with and rewarding of boxing in cinematic history. Stallone does a great job here and is likely the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor alongside Mark Ruffalo, but I believe Christian Bale is most deserving of the award, but I’ll be happy if Sly stole one.

My hopefuls to win the following awards are:

BEST FILM: (1) Room, (2) Brooklyn, (3) Spotlight, (4) The Big Short
BEST DIRECTOR: (1) Lenny Abrahamson [Room], (2) Tom McCarthy [Spotlight], (3) Adam McKay [The Big Short]
BEST ACTOR: Still debating, don’t know if it’s worth watching The Danish Girl
BEST ACTRESS: (1) Saoirse Ronan [Brooklyn], (2) Brie Larson [Room]
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: (1) Christian Bale [The Big Short]
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: (1) Rooney Mara [Carol]

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