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Three Movies Vie for Best Picture 2016
by: David Eugene Andrews, Author and Storyteller
Three movies vie for Best Picture Oscar at the 88th Academy Awards to be held at Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. Competition among the leaders is exceptionally strong, but the three favorites are Spotlight, The Big Short, and The Revenant. Almost any other of the eight nominees could win the coveted award for Best Picture. Much has been said about the lack of racial diversity in the nominations, largely because the rap movie Straight Out of Compton did not get nominated. Emcee Chris Rock undoubtedly will have much to say. Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, Ridley Scott’s The Martian, and George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road are all in the running and might even squeak out a win, but three favorites standout in the closest Oscar race in years. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences telecasts Sunday evening, February 28, 2016.
Spotlight is the name of the small, investigating team at the Boston Globe, the largest newspaper in Boston, then owned by the New York Times. Spotlight the movie tells the story of the pedophile priests in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Originally, I must admit that I was not drawn to see a movie about pedophiles who prey on young boys and girls. There is enough bad news on TV and the radio, and I had read about the scandal in newspapers. After its nomination for best picture I decided to see what the buzz was all about.
For years and even decades, the Roman Catholic Church in Boston protected pedophile priests by moving them from one parish to other unsuspecting parishes. The extent of the problem, however, was not widely known before Spotlight uncovered it. Director Tom McCarthy, who was nominated for an Oscar, and Spotlight shine the light on the doggedness of a four reporters tasked with uncovering the truth. Spotlight has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
The Globe’s new Jewish editor Marty Baron arrives from Florida and assigns Spotlight to their new task. In an introductory meeting with Cardinal Law, editor Baron receives the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church. Baron, played by Liev Schreiber, wants a followup on a report that a priest molested boys in as many six parishes. The reporters talk to the lawyers, the victims, and the head of a victim’s rights group, but the process of finding out whether Cardinal Law knew about the abuse is slow. Records are sealed. Michael Keaton plays reporter Robby Robinson, while Mark Ruffalo and Brian d’Arcy James take the roles of reporters Mike Rezendes and Matt Carroll. They each follow the leads as best as they can. The lawyers, the judges, and the church hierarchy all know each other. This is Boston, the city is small, and rocking the boat is not in the cards.
Nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Rachel McAdams plays the fourth reporter Sacha Pfieffer, She attends mass with her Catholic grandmother and interviews several victims, sympathetically. Back at the Globe, everyone learns there are more priest—a total of four. The priests target boys in low income neighborhoods with absentee fathers. This number of priests molesting children grows to 13, but the battle to unseal court documents is at an impasse. The whole system is geared towards maintaining the status quo, but the number of priests involved the abuse scandal grow manyfold, potentially reaching ninety—the six percent predicted by a study out of Washington, D.C. In the Boston Archdiocese directories, priests are transferred, listed to be on sick leave.
Spotlight is about ready to release its report, but it is 2001 and Al Qaeda hijacks four planes, the World Trade Center is destroyed. The worst attack on American soil since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 takes precedence. The Spotlight report must wait. Finally, at the begging of the new year, the presses roll. The Boston Globe prints its report, the phones at Spotlight ring off the hook. Spotlight has a good chance of becoming Best Picture 2016.
The Big Short is an ambitious effort centered on the housing market and the financial collapse of 2008. Several astute investors identify the imminent collapse of the housing market, persuade the big banks to create the instruments, and bet against housing, a mainstay of the American economy. Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, a glass-eyed doctor who discovers mortgage-backed securities have too many “liar” loans in their portfolios. The housing bubble is about to burst. Banker Jared Vennet, played by Ryan Gosling, also sees the forthcoming crisis and wants to profit. Two small-time Colorado investors likewise learn about the impending crisis and want to get into the action. With the help of a former banker played by Brad Pitt, these two risk it all.
Oscar-nominated Director Adam McKay and The Big Short do an admirable job of explaining the basics, highlighting the fraud and greed of the banks and the collaboration of both private rating and public regulatory agencies. The Big Short, however, misses the mark by failing to mention some key fundamentals, such as: what caused banks to lend to less-than-stellar borrowers in the first place? The Big Short notes the securitization of mortgages, but what drove the market? The movie fails to tell about the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) signed by Jimmy Carter in 1977. Lawsuits, ostensibly to curtail “redlining” and “racism” by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and lawyers in Chicago against Citibank in the 1990s were likewise not referenced, even in passing. Citibank and other banks were not allowed to grow, unless they lowered their standards for granting home mortgages. Subprime mortgages grew manyfold between 1994 and 2008 and according to the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2012, “Adherence to the Community Reinvestment Act led to riskier lending by banks.” Despite its shortcoming, the movie is favored for Best Original Screenplay.
The Big Short earns its ‘R’ ratting from foul language often heard in some business circles, as well as its depictions of exotic dancers—one of whom owned five homes and a condo in Florida. The Big Short notes only one banker (and no politicians) went to jail, but it did not address other aspects of the bailout. Because of government mandates, many private investors in preferred bank stock lost everything. Still many banks, larger than ever, survived, meaning the risk is greater, not less. As The Big Short noted, Collateral Debt Obligations are still on the books of major banks. The underlying problems persist: large banks are still to big to fail.
So you think you have had a bad day? You might want to watch The Revenant, based on the novel by Michael Punke (the current Deputy United States Trade Representative) about the true story of hunter and trapper Hugh Glass in the early west. In 1823, a large hunting party (including some who would become legends later in the 19th century) heads out to trap skins in hostile Indian territory. Since Glass’s rifle is “most unerring”, he goes out ahead, to hunt the evening meal. Near a berry patch, e hears motion behind him. He turns and a grizzly bear attacks Glass has no time to “set his triggers”. The grizzly mauls Glass by the throat, the shoulder and his back. Because of his life-threatening injuries, Hugh Glass, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is unable to return with the hunting party. Major Henry, who hired the trapper, offers a bounty to anyone who will stay with Glass and John Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hayden, and a younger recruit volunteer. The commanding officer assigns two men to protect him him until he dies. John Fitzgerald is charged with protecting Glass and giving him a and a younger recruit should give Glass a proper burial when he dies.
In the movie, the antagonist Fitzgerald kills Glass’s mixed-race son before leaving the wounded man half-buried in his grave. Fitzgerald and his young cohort trek back to the fort and collect their reward. Glass, meanwhile, literally crawls out of his grave. He is severely injured and unarmed—Fitzgerald had taken his rifle and knife.
Because the grizzly had clawed his throat, it was difficult for Glass to eat or speak. Crawling, Glass begins the Revenant, the two-syllable French word means ‘return’ and DiCaprio, the consummate actor, will likely receive the Best Actor nod from the Academy for playing the role so well, despite saying fewer words than he did in any other movie. The problem for Glass is that the fort on the Missouri River is more than 300 miles away. Filmed in Canada and Argentina, the breathtaking cinematography and soaring music captures the natural expanse of the west. When warm winter winds blew, the trees swayed but the trunks stayed strong. Alejandro González Iñárritu who is favored to win the Oscar for Best Director for the second year straight, uses all of the tools of the trade to produce a movie worthy of the big screen.
The movie differs from historical accounts in several ways. Like Captain John Smith and the Algonquin Indians, Hugh Glass was reportedly made an honorary member of the Pawnees. Captain John Smith did not marry Pocahontas and there is no indication that Glass had an Indian wife. The movie did not depict how Glass mashed berries and water to give him needed nourishment to start his journey, or how he used maggots feeding on dead meat to eat away his own rotting flesh. Nevertheless, The Revenant captures the essence of the struggle. In the eyes of the frontiersmen, the crime Fitzgerald committed that was so despicable was not that he left Glass to die, but that he left Glass without his rifle and knife—the tools of his trade. Fitzgerald was worse than a horse thief and deserved to die. Read the original letters and Punke’s novel or better yet, see The Revenant to find out who won the mano-a-mano climatic fight.