If I Were an Academy Member: Kim Hollis

By Kim Hollis

February 27, 2016

Why is all this paperwork piled up in front of me?

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3) Brooklyn

This lovely, lyrical story about a young Irish woman who emigrates to America in the 1950s left my heart soaring. Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) leaves behind a place with no opportunity and no prospects, even though she’ll dearly miss her mother and especially her sister, Rose. When she arrives in Brooklyn, she indeed blossoms and grows, opening to new experiences, friends, job opportunities and love.

The thing about home, though, is that you miss it at unexpected and expected times, and tragedy leads Eilis to return to her hometown of Enniscorthy for a period of time. While there, she questions whether she was too harsh on her old life, and whether Brooklyn truly is everything she believed she wanted. It’s easy to fall back into familiar things, and Enniscorthy represents everything that is familiar and warm… or does it?

Ronan is remarkable in the film, providing a sympathetic character who struggles with both her new and old worlds, trying to reconcile which is home (or can both locations be home, perhaps?). The cinematography is gorgeous, both in its lush portrayal of the Irish landscape of Wexler County and the more simple beauty of the Brooklyn streets.

2) The Big Short

I never read Michael Lewis’s book about the housing bubble crisis of 2007-2008, mainly because I just found the subject matter far too painful. I know real people who suffered as a result of the complete irresponsibility of banks, mortgage providers and the companies that bought and packaged sub-prime loans almost as a kind of game.

The movie doesn’t necessarily make what happened any more palatable, quite the opposite. We watch in horror as hedge fund managers and investors take advantage of the impending housing market collapse as a way to make money. The story is presented in a humorous way, but even as we’re laughing, we still have a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs. Yes, we’re rooting for these guys to win. But even as we do so, we know that their “winning” comes at an extreme human cost. It’s a horrifying, challenging juxtaposition that the movie handles almost impossibly well. I’m reminded of rooting for Tony Soprano even as we know he’s an absolute monster.

Part of the reason the movie works so well is the presence of Steve Carell as Mark Baum (a character based on the real-life Steve Eisman). Although Baum stands to profit from the impending tragedy, he is appalled at what is happening every step of the way to getting there. When he speaks with a businessman in Las Vegas who has created “synthetic CDOs,” effectively a fraudulent bets on an increasingly large number of defaulting loans, Baum walks away, telling his team, “Short everything that man has touched.” He is filled with self-loathing as he says it. He reflects the mood of the audience throughout the film, which helps cushion the blow of knowing the real damage that was done here.

Ultimately, the film leaves us with a sense of futility. Something like this will happen again. But maybe, just maybe, if we’re lucky, the right people will learn from it. Eisman, the person Baum is based on, is currently shorting for-profit colleges. Take it for what it’s worth.


1) Spotlight

When I was 17-years-old, taking a journalism class and working as the Editor-in-Chief of The Inkspot, my high school newspaper, I knew what I wanted to do as a career. I wanted to work for a newspaper. I loved the camaraderie of writers working together, rushing to meet deadlines, and eventual pride in the finished product. All this time later, I’ve been in the newspaper industry for 18 years, although I wound up in advertising rather than editorial.

Spotlight makes me remember why I wanted to be a journalist, though. It’s one of the truest representations I’ve ever seen of the profession, right alongside All the President’s Men. Watching the members of the “Spotlight” team in action was energizing. As they put the facts of the story together, I was feeling the ups and downs right along with them. Most important, I wanted them to win, to get to the bottom of what they were looking for, and I was invested in their dedication to their craft.

What Spotlight does well is to highlight the conflict the reporters felt as they pursued this story. For Michael Rezendes (played by Mark Ruffalo), it’s the reconciliation of his own rejection of the Catholic church, while Sacha Pfeiffer struggles with her own faith (she stops attending church with her grandmother) as she interviews victims of child sexual abuse by priests in the local parishes. The most devastating, though, is Robby Robertson (Michael Keaton), who attended a venerable Catholic high school and is a supporter of the church. His admission of his own potential culpability in the situation for not following up on a story eight years earlier is shattering. But at least in his case, it wasn’t a purposeful cover up. Watching the actual players who were willing to sacrifice children for the sake of Catholic church as institution is infuriating.

Not only is Spotlight my favorite of the Oscar films, it’s my top pick for all films in 2015.

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