The 88th Academy Awards, which aired on Sunday, February 28th, had a number of pleasant surprises when it came to the winners. Mark Rylance won for best supporting actor. “Mad Max: Fury Road” took six awards. Leonardo DiCaprio finally got the award that many feel he was entitled to. The biggest surprise, to me, was that “Spotlight” beat “The Revenant” for best picture. Just for a recap, in the article I wrote about my Oscar wishes and predictions, I predicted “The Revenant” would win and wished that “Spotlight” would win.
I was not alone on this. A number of people thought “The Revenant” would win best picture, especially after DiCaprio and Iñárritu won for their outstanding work in the movie. Thankfully, “Spotlight” won because, frankly, it is the better movie of the two.
In all fairness, “The Revenant” had a lot of good elements to it. As I already said, the acting and directing was superbly done. Also worth noting is the flawless cinematography and sound editing. By all accounts, it’s a technically good movie.
“Spotlight” is also a good movie by the same standards. The directing and cinematography were not as distinguishing as they were in “The Revenant,” but those aspects were still handled competently in “Spotlight.” By the technical standards of the movie, “The Revenant” should have won, but “Spotlight” had something that “The Revenant” couldn’t compete with even with all of its other features.
A movie has a lot of things it needs to accomplish, the most important of which is to strike an emotional chord with the audience. Get them invested in the story. Get them to relate to the characters. Get them to feel a certain way about something. Leave them with some kind of impression. “Spotlight” does this while “The Revenant” does not.
My experience watching “Spotlight” was filled with different emotional reactions. I felt anger, sadness, shock, and relief among other things. My experience watching “The Revenant” was, at best ambivalent, at worst indifferent, with indifferent being the usual feeling.
“The Revenant” simply fails at getting the audience to care. Throughout the movie, the protagonist, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), wants revenge on John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy); a member of his fur trading party that killed his son and left him for dead. The problem is that, while you can understand Glass’s motivation, you also equally understand Fitzgerald’s motivation, so when it comes to the ultimate outcome of the revenge story, it doesn’t really matter what happens. Glass can get his revenge or Fitzgerald can escape unscathed.
In the end, it all comes down to one simple thing. Despite all the sights that “The Revenant” provides the audience to marvel at, it failed to captivate the audience on a deeper level. By failing to do that, it paved the way for “Spotlight” to swoop in and snag the award. If there’s no emotional connection, there’s no reason to care, and if there’s no reason to care, then everything else is just a pretty façade with no substance of interest.