They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

It Was Spotlight All Along

By J. Don Birnam

February 29, 2016

So, we only won two, but one of them was the biggie?

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Spotlight triumphed over the Revenant at the Academy Awards, and despite its somewhat weak win (only two Oscars, total), it was the safest movie for the Academy. Spotlight peaked a bit early after Toronto and wasn’t strong enough to win all the precursor awards along the way. But in t he end, the win for The Revenant just did not feel right - the movie was disliked by many, and in a preferential ballot that is doomsday.

Yes, I picked The Revenant - the safe choice - in my Oscar ballot. But when you look back, the fact that it lost Best Picture should not be that surprising. No movie by the same director has ever won in back-to-back years. Ever. Still, Alejandro González Iñárritu became only the third person to win Best Director in back-to-back years, something that has not happened since the 1950s. Something that also hasn’t happened since the 1950s - a movie winning only two Oscars and winning Best Picture (The Greatest Show on Earth did it in 1950).

The obvious reason why Spotlight won was the preferential ballot. Spotlight was a movie that was well admired and well respected - no one that saw Spotlight disliked it. The Revenant could not claim that. The Revenant may have come in with more number one votes in the first round but when the second and third place votes were counted, it was obvious that Spotlight would come out on top.

The biggest mystery of the year will always be why Spotlight did not win the Producers Guild, which went to The Big Short, which also has a preferential ballot. My best explanation for that is the cycle of the season. As I said above, Spotlight peaked early and people had second thoughts - The Big Short caught fire just was the Producers were voting. But in the end, The Big Short confused some people and was perhaps even too political. Spotlight is a movie everyone can get behind - it was muted and not overstated, talks about an important issue and features heroes of a dying profession. It is the first movie about journalism to win Best Picture.


History was definitely made at the Oscars last night - and not only because Spotlight was the first film in 65 years to win with only two Oscars - but because for the first time ever when the three guilds split, the Screen Actors Guild was correct.

The Oscars were far more predictable in other categories. Ex Machina winning Best Visual Effects was the biggest stunner of the night. As most expected, Alicia Vikander, Brie Larson, and Leonardo DiCaprio walked away Oscar winners. Some may call the Rylance win an upset, but I have been saying Stallone could not win all year long. If you listened, you knew why. The Oscar comeback story does not work for non-respected actors. It did not work for Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray or Mickey Rourke, and it was not going to work for the biggest Razzie winner in history. Mark Rylance, the deserving and best performance, won.

Not to be forgotten, of course, was the biggest winner of the night. Mad Max took home a whopping six Oscars, a technical sweep almost across the board. Even The Revenant only won three, although the three it won were major. Its cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, became the first person to win that award three years in a row. Wow.

The biggest lesson to be learned from this Oscar year is that there is such a thing as pundit sheep-think. Pundits came up with this idea that Stallone would win, that Lady Gaga would win. From where? From what evidence? There was none other than their say so, and then everyone just fell into place. But Lady Gaga’s name is not on the ballot and no one has heard of that movie. The obvious pick was Spectre’s song because of the familiarity of the movie. I hate to boast, but I was right about that one as well.

Unlike last year, the speeches were not as political this year. DiCaprio did talk about the environment, and Ennio Morricone, winner for The Hateful Eight, gave a beautiful speech. Iñárritu also spoke nicely about racism, but the best speech of the night probably belongs to Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the President of the Academy, who addressed the diversity problem.

As usual, I will leave to others to judge the performance of the host. Chris Rock made the focus of his jokes the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. I found some of his bits very funny, although the overall theme got worn a bit. Still, I never watch the Oscars for the show itself, but for the awards that obsess my mind for six months.

In the end, the least divisive - and arguably the most important - movie triumphed. Spotlight will never be a timeless classic, the strongest Best Picture winner in history. Its weak tally total shows as much. But Spotlight is a fine movie, a very well made movie, and one that captures the anxiety in our time over the inability of people and institutions to actually make a difference. That message carried it through to victory, and I don’t think that anyone will ever be able to begrudge it - or the Academy - that victory.

It was, after all, Spotlight all along.

I’ll have a final analysis to put the season to bed later this week, and then we are on with our lives. Thanks for following us all year.



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