The cinemas this time of year are populated by Oscar candidate films. I am largely ambivalent about this, an Oscar winning film rarely makes it onto my shortlist at the end of the year, and I have come to the stage in my life where I really don’t care if people have won, or not won, awards, I’m comfortable enough with my own assessment of a film. But one useful function of the Oscars is that they facilitate films like Spotlight (a downside is that they also validate crap like The Help). My guess is the exchange at the film studio goes something like this:

A film about the child abuse scandal in the church?
Yeah, it’s something Hollywood _should_ address, but who’s going to want to see that?
If we get the right people on board, it’s got Oscar potential…
Ok, I’m in

And they’re right, this is the sort of topic Hollywood should address. You sense there is a list of “Topics we should make films about but which won’t get big audiences” pinned up in every studio. Alzheimers? We did Still Alice, tick it off. And the abuse, cover up and damage caused by the Catholic church comes under this category, as did the market crash of 2008. Whereas the Big Short could address that topic in a quirky, stylistic manner, the sensitivity of this topic demands a more respectful, straightforward account. Approaching it from the perspective of the investigative journalists is ideal for this. It provides a familiar cinematic trope, the outsider team battling to uncover a conspiracy, while allowing scope to convey just how the abusers used their power, and the damage it caused to the victims.

It’s a fine film, restrained, solid performances that don’t attempt to hijack the story, and the right degree of narrative arc to make it engaging. As others have commented, it’s really a tale about the role of of investigative journalism, and in some ways a plea to maintain this in the Buzzfeed world. But that implies that the subject of the investigation could almost be anything, but the subject is the story here, investigative journalism is just the proxy by which we can construct a film around it.

There are topics that Hollywood should make films about. The Oscars help these films get made. Usually they are self congratulatory or cliched, but Spotlight gets the balance right.

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