The Academy got it right with 'Spotlight'



On Sunday night the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences capped 2015 at the movies with the Oscars. Each year it’s one of the most anticipated and most scrutinized nights in entertainment.

This year was no different. It was a dry, overly long ceremony that felt like a long lecture on diversity, Global Warming and other political issues, at times. It was a night of pageantry but not much pop. The speeches were dry and the musical performances were uninspiring.

Then the night ended with “Spotlight,” a small indie film, taking home Best Picture, the night’s top prize. Some shrugged and some were confused. But for me, that made the night.

I love movies. Over the past two decades — since I was part of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University — I’ve gone to the theater at least once a week. I see more than 100 movies in theaters each year, and I’ve been reviewing films for publications since 2003. I’ve seen tens of thousands of movies at this point, so it takes a lot to really move me.

Each year there’s a handful of films that really speak to me, and which I really pull for. Usually that’s the kiss of death, as their star fades during awards season and the crowds fail to find them. This year, of all the films I saw, “Spotlight” was by far and away my favorite. More than that, I thought it was the most meaningful and important film. I’ve championed it for months, which was what made the announcement at the end of Sunday’s nearly four-hour telecast such a welcome surprise.

“Spotlight” wasn’t the most popular or successful film nominated for Best Picture. “Mad Max: Fury Road” was summer eye candy. “The Martian” was a commercial success. “The Revenant” sucked up all the press clippings and oxygen in late December, January and February. But “Spotlight” was simply the Best film.

I won’t bore you with all the reasons I thought it was a brilliantly written, acted and directed film, though it was. Instead, I’ll tell you why I think it’s so vital — because it showcases a group of doggedly determined reporters who weren’t afraid to challenge a powerful institution for the good of society.

Journalism is an important and powerful tool in a democratic society. While we’ve seen major newspapers fade to the background with the rise of 24-hour cable news and the Internet, few have stopped to consider what that really means for our society. Throughout our history, print journalists have served an important role.

Reporters at the Washington Post uncovered the Watergate Scandal, eventually bringing down a Presidential administration. That work was captured in the outstanding film “All The President’s Men.” And that’s the film I was most reminded of when watching “Spotlight.”

In 2001, a group of four reporters at the Boston Globe spent months uncovering the truth about the Catholic Church, and what it was doing to the innocent and vulnerable in their city. They weren’t afraid to challenge an institution whose reach was vast, challenging the church’s policies and shinning a light on those who’d been abused by the system. They eventually wrote 600 stories and found more than 1,000 victims. Their reporting led to discovering around the globe that had powerful, far-reaching effects.

I was greatly moved by the story in “Spotlight.” But more than that, I couldn’t help but wonder if we’re losing something as a society. As budgets have tightened, the first thing to go for newspapers is their resources allocated to investigative reporting. It’s something TV doesn’t do, and something bloggers don’t do well. It’s traditionally been a vital part of our society, and it’s disappearing.

“Spotlight” shines a light on the role of media in our society. It does so in a powerful, thought-provoking way. It’s an important film, and it was the right choice for Best Picture.

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