My Favorite Moments in the Best Picture Nominees: Spotlight

This has become an annual tradition the day before the Oscars. In order move away all the subjectivity and negativity that happens when figuring out what should win and what’s going to win, I get away from all of that stuff and celebrate the films that are nominated for Best Picture.

We take this day to look at them as masterworks of cinema and not as films competing for a trophy. All of that other stuff — the analysis, the opinions — that’s all done with. Today, we take a minute, we stop, and we appreciate the films themselves. I count down my five favorite moments (or elements) of each of them.

When you take away all the awards, all the competition, and all the arbitrary decisions about what film is better than the others, what we’re left with is great cinema. That’s what we’re celebrating.

Our final nominee is Spotlight:

Spotlight - Title Card

Spotlight - 39

5. The treatment center

This is the moment that took my breath away. It’s one thing to meet the survivors and to see all these people who were personally affected by the actions of the priests. But here, it really drives home just how small a community this is, and just how close it is to happening to anyone. It’s underscored later by Michael Keaton’s line about how he wonders what would have happened if he played hockey instead of running track in high school. Would it have happened to him?

Plus, the way this is shot is so brilliant. He looks up the address in the directory, says “holy shit,” and then leaves his house. And the camera just follows in a single take. And you start to put the pieces together as he walks, and by the time he gets to this house, it’s — right there. That’s like walking from Scout’s house to Boo Radley’s house. That’s how close this is to home.

Spotlight - 9

4. Stanley Tucci

Stanley Tucci is wonderful in everything and so rarely gets noticed for all the great work he does. Even here, everyone talked about how great Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo were, and even the ones who went deep praised Liev Schreiber and John Slattery — but how about Tucci? This guy was the best part of the movie for me.

First they introduce him as the volatile lawyer who’s got thousands of boxes of paperwork and is constantly yelling at his staff — you’ve seen this guy a thousand times. I didn’t even know it was gonna be Tucci. I actually squealed a bit when I saw him because I was so happy it was him.

And you watch as this guy goes from being seemingly unhelpful, to very helpful, to even the moral conscience of the movie. The thing about his character that nobody realizes — he’s the real hero of the film. They’re doing all this work to bring this thing to light, but Tucci’s been fighting this fight for years. He’s representing all the victims. His cases aren’t going to end. He’s gonna keep doing this.

Plus, you get the great moments of him softening up throughout the film. His last line where he finally says to Rezendes, “You keep doing what you do,” is the perfect ending note for him (well, the perfect ending note is the one right after, where he goes into the room and starts talking to the kids who have been abused, going right back to work as usual).

Oh, and how about the great scene where he reveals that the sealed documents are public? It’s a great moment in the film, but also underscores how GOOD a lawyer this guy is.

The real point here is that Stanley Tucci is the man, and I hope we can all recognize that just a bit more in our daily lives.

Spotlight - 56

3. Records room

It’s moments like this that make the movie feel authentic. Journalism isn’t sexy. Journalism is looking through records and pulling clips from the records room. Journalism is running to the courthouse to get documents that the lawyers don’t want you to get that you have to fight to have opened. And seeing him run up here only to be turned away because they’re closed, only to have to spend the night there, just to make sure no one else has realized these documents are here and are coming to see them, and then have to go to a judge to argue his constitutional right to see them — this felt entirely authentic to me, and really helped me be more excited about the film, even if it’s not the “sexy” version of what happened.

Spotlight - 46

2. This shot

This shot is the entire film in a nutshell, and I don’t think I need to explain it any more in depth than that. You see it all here. It’s perfect.

Spotlight - 77

1. REAL journalism


This is the macro version of the previous moment. I love his this film shows you what real journalism is like. And that’s the best thing it could have done. Because it makes you really invested in the characters and the outcome, and, in a way similar to The Martian, it kind of made me want to be a journalist. Which is great, since print journalism is completely dead, and the film sees that eventuality coming, so you get a nice love letter to journalism that almost becomes a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid version of the journalism movie. That moment where the end is coming, and the characters can see it coming, and this is the last hurrah.

But that all aside, I love watching real people work. I like watching the way things actually go down. I see enough films. I know what the film version of things looks like. This version is much more interesting to me. I’m watching these people spend hours and days and weeks doing monotonous work, building a story over the course of many months, in the hopes that maybe that story will affect change. We’ve lost that in this modern culture, and this film isn’t gonna bring that back, but it can remind us of how important true journalists are to the world.

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