Universal had a number of Oscar contenders this year, but their two big winners were Spotlight and The Danish Girl. The former won best picture and original screenplay, the latter won best supporting actress. But were they worthy?
Spotlight follows a team of reporters lead by Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) as they investigate the Catholic church, and how the church allows their priest to molest young children. Egged on by their new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schriber), Walter, along with Mike Rendezes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfieffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) dig deep into the case, finding a systemic problem that’s been going on for years. At first they think it’s a handful of priests, but as they keep digging they find the numbers growing exponentially, with evidences of years of cover up and with many people, including their own organization, having spent decades ignoring the evidence that was right in front of them.
Writer/director/Oscar winner Thomas McCarthy chooses a methodical pace, staying away from too many showy moments as it builds a solid case from the ground up and shows the legwork that went into exposing the global epidemic. It’s impossible to watch the film on not feel righteous anger. The film may be Oscar bait, but it’s the best kind.
Universal’s Blu-ray suggests that no one thought it might win best picture when they were making the supplements, as the film is light on extras. The film comes with a DVD and digital copy, and the film is presented in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. There are three featurettes, with two of those essentially extended trailers. “Uncovering the Truth: A Spotlight Team Roundtable” (7 min.) gets the real journalists together to talk about the case and the movie, while “Spotlight: A Look Inside” (3 min.) and “The State of Journalism” (3 min.) mostly show clips and Schrieber talking about the movie. That’s it. This should get a better special edition at some point.
The Danish Girl
The Danish Girl is the most egregious kind of prestige picture. It was directed by Tom Hooper and stars recent best actor winner Freddie Redmayne in a topical film about being transgender in a time when no one really knew what that was or meant. Redmayne plays Einar Wegener, who starts the film happily married to Gerda (Alicia Vikander, who won best supporting actress for the film even though she’s the lead). Both are painters, and when their friend Ulla (Amber Heard) can’t pose for Gerda, Einar models instead, and is asked to wear some women’s clothes. This starts an exploration as Einar starts to dress as a woman, and with his feminine features, one night the couple pretend that Einar is Lili Elbe. This attracts the attentions of Henrik (Ben Whishaw), and Einar doesn’t know if Henrik knows if Lili’s a woman or not. Everything gets more complicated as Lili becomes a more dominant force in their lives, and eventually Einar plots for a surgery that will make him a woman.
Tom Hooper, having emerged from television, has become an Oscar force over that last decade, but like Stephen Daldry before him, he seems engineered by the Weinsteins. He’s a showy filmmaker, but his decisions come across as more attention getting than good. With The Danish Girl he seems to be punching his own weight as he doesn’t make the camera do as many stupid showy things as he did in The King’s Speech or Les Miserables, and he lets the actors play.
That’s the good, the problem is the script is the worst sort of Oscar fodder. The film never becomes compelling, even if there’s a great story to be had about a woman emerging from a man’s body. Vikander is left the protagonist, and she does a good job at showing someone who wants to be supportive even though she still loves the husband that’s leaving her, while Redmayne goes on the journey but is left unsupported by the material. With Caitlin Jenner making the case for a more public discussion of being trans, and with the world more openly supporting the rights of the LGBT community, this could have been an important transformative film. In the end it plays like what it is: an awards show pony. You’re better off watching Tangerine, which is on Netflix instant.
The film comes with a DVD and digital copy and the film is presented in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. The presentation is amazing, and if nothing else the film is well shot. The only extra is a making of (11 min.) which gets all of the primary cast and crew to talk about how the film came together and how important it is. Zzz.