×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Spotlight’: A Win for ‘the Film Everyone Loved’ Caps an Unconventional Season

What's the key to surviving a race as close as this one was?

At the Open Road Films post-Oscars soiree Sunday night, everyone was asking the same question: “How did ‘Spotlight’ do it?” Given that the year’s big winner remained a mystery all the way up until Morgan Freeman’s casual pronouncement at the end of the 3½-hour ceremony — putting a bow on one of the tightest Oscar races in recent memory — it was a fair query following a season that never conformed to parameters.

The three major industry guilds split three different ways for top honors, a first in more than a decade. And with “Spotlight’s” only other victory on the night coming for original screenplay, the film became the first best picture winner since 1952’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” to win just one other Oscar. It was the first year since the preferential ballot was instituted by the Producers Guild and the Academy that their results didn’t match. It was the first year in 65 that a filmmaker won back-to-back director Oscars.

But to return to “Spotlight’s” blueprint for success — with reasons being floated around Palihouse in West Hollywood late into the night — vested interests naturally had the most positive of spins: “Anyone who’s ever been disenfranchised could relate to it,” one exec said. “It was the film everyone loved,” a publicist offered.

There are other interesting (possible) explanations, such as the way voting for films like “Ex Machina” and “Sicario” may have affected the PGA ballot, and how their absence in turn impacted the Oscar ballot; films eliminated in the first two or three rounds begin to influence the race significantly as No. 2 votes on those ballots are redispersed.

There is also the apparent need to start the Oscar journey early, leaving enough road to negotiate the twists and turns of the season. It was fitting that actress winner Brie Larson thanked the Telluride and Toronto film festivals in her speech, as the early fall festival circuit remains fertile ground for planting the seeds of a successful campaign. “Spotlight” — like “Birdman” and “Gravity” — began with a world premiere in Venice followed by a North American bow in Telluride. Best picture winners “12 Years a Slave,” “Argo,” “The Artist,” “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire” also played Telluride, four of them unspooling there for the first time.

Like “The Revenant,” “The Big Short” may have been hamstrung in part by its release date; no film since “Million Dollar Baby” opened in December and won best picture. But while this season’s late arrivals had their moments, “Spotlight” had time to correct its course.

Additionally, as a number of contenders made their best pitches for relevance during phase two, “Spotlight’s” bona fides felt baked into the film. Op-eds from abuse survivors, screenings at the Vatican — it all felt of a piece, organic.

Conversely, while “The Big Short’s” subject matter still resonates (in his adapted screenplay acceptance speech, writer-director Adam McKay called on voters to support leaders who aren’t in the pockets of Wall Street banks, underscoring the film’s immediacy), it may have been hampered by its own unique ethos: It was a scrappy tale of people who got rich on the housing crisis … but at least felt bad about it. And when Paramount’s campaign switched gears to sincerity, promoting a TV spot that called on voters to “make a difference,” it felt like an undercutting of the film’s irreverent satirical identity. It felt like a costume.

Ultimately, the publicist’s response at Palihouse — as simple and self-serving as it was — might be the purest truth. The goal of this balloting system is to achieve the most generally agreeable winner. You can find as many “Revenant” fans as haters, but who can really argue with “Spotlight?”

More Film

  • 'Midsommar' Film Review

    Film Review: 'Midsommar'

    Whatever you think of the end result, there’s always something thrilling about watching a young director who’s earned a long line of Hollywood credit decide to spend every last cent of it on a single film. And writer-director Ari Aster has certainly done that with his “Hereditary” follow-up, “Midsommar.” Following a group of American grad [...]

  • South Mountain

    Film Review: 'South Mountain'

    “South Mountain” joins the company of “Gloria Bell” and “Diane” as yet another 2019 drama intimately attuned to the literal and emotional plight of a middle-aged woman. In the case of Hilary Brougher’s incisive feature, the female in question is Lila (Talia Balsam), whose quiet life in upstate New York is destabilized by a continuing [...]

  • The Good Girls

    Shanghai Film Review: 'The Good Girls'

    The economy’s a mess but Sofía’s hair is perfect in Alejandra Márquez Abella’s “The Good Girls,” a film that is all surface in a way that is not, for once, a negative. The primped, powdered and shoulder-padded story of the fall from grace of a 1980s Mexican socialite is all about buffed and lustrous surfaces [...]

  • ‘Midsommar’ Traumatizes Early Audiences (Who Totally

    ‘Midsommar’ Traumatizes Early Audiences (But in a Good Way)

    Ari Aster can likely cross off “sophomore slump” from his list of many nightmares. Distributor A24 let loose the follow-up to the director’s widely praised, commercial hit debut “Hereditary” with two buzz screenings, which ran simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles on Tuesday night. Response was almost unanimously positive, if not significantly rattled. “Holy [...]

  • Toy Story 4 Forky

    ‘Toy Story 4’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Disney Pixar claims the top spot in spending with “Toy Story 4.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.53 million through Sunday for 1,073 national ad airings on 38 networks. [...]

  • Nicolas Cage

    Film News Roundup: Nicolas Cage's 'Jiu Jitsu' Obtains Cyprus Support

    In today’s film news roundup, Cyprus is backing Nicolas Cage’s “Jiu Jitsu”; “The Nanny” and “Amityville 1974” are moving forward; “Milk” is returning to theaters; and Garrett Hedlund’s “Burden” is getting distribution. CYPRUS REBATE Nicolas Cage’s “Jiu Jitsu” has become the first international film to use Cyprus’ new tax credit-rebate program by filming entirely in [...]

  • Zhao Tao

    Zhao Tao Gets Candid in Kering's Shanghai Women in Motion Showcase Interview

    Zhao Tao is one of the most recognizable faces in Chinese art cinema thanks to her longtime collaboration with acclaimed director Jia Zhangke, whom she married in 2012. From 2000’s “Platform” to last year’s “Ash Is Purest White,” her work has plumbed the moral depths of modern China and brought stories of the country’s drastic [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content