Not much to ponder here of significance beyond our increasing belief that it seems unfathomable that this year’s best picture winner can walk away with only one other Oscar, and in one of the two screenplay categories. Which is our way of saying that we see Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant, both nominated in every single technical category, as the films primarily gunning for the top prize, with The Big Short the possible beneficiary of a split. For our money, Spotlight has been sending off false signals for some time now of being a stronger best picture contender than it really is. No film so aesthetically (if purposefully) inert, so upright, so un-divisive has won best picture in what seems like decades, and we’re of the impression that this year isn’t one where Oscar wants to be perceived as being behind the times, even if it means making some very unfortunate decisions.
That’s certainly one reason to explain why Bridge of Spies, a more intriguingly “square” film than Spotlight, is probably looking at a complete shut-out. Any other year and the writerly cachet of the Steven Spielberg film—it was co-written by Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen—might have been enough to guarantee it a victory here. But it has stiff competition in Inside Out, now the ninth animated film to be nominated at the Oscars for its screenplay, and Straight Outta Compton. In this year of #OscarsSoWhite, guilt certainly benefits the latter, except it’d have to be so rampant to overcome the likely reality that the film’s sole Oscar nomination indicates that industry-wide support just isn’t there to begin with for the NWA biopic.
Ex Machina, at first glance, is very much in the wheelhouse of past winners in this category. But unlike Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Her, its weirdness is just a surface pleasure, dulled as it is by Alex Garland’s dubious gender politics and Restoration Hardware aesthetics. Spotlight is certainly far from weird, but it checks off even more familiar boxes. In a category designed to reward the toil of the writer, a film that celebrates the gumption and persistence of writers, journalists specifically, to expose the hidden truths of the world is already far ahead of any other film with far greater ambitions.
Will Win: Spotlight
Could Win: Inside Out
Should Win: Bridge of Spies