By Devan Coggan
February 25, 2016 at 02:19 PM EST
Kerry Hayes/Courtesy Everett Collection

The Academy Awards are just days away — which means it’s time to buckle down and really get to know this year’s Best Picture contenders. Today’s deep-dive: Tom McCarthy’s take on the Boston Globe journalists who exposed decades of sex abuse allegations in the Catholic Church.

Name: Spotlight

Tweetable description: Boston Globe reporters start digging into clergy sex abuse, only to uncover a systematic cover-up spanning decades.

Movie math: All The President’s Men x (The Paper + Good Night, and Good Luck) + Doubt = Spotlight

Release date: Nov. 6, 2015

DVD release date: Feb. 23, 2016

Run time: 2 hrs., 8 mins.

Box office: $38.2 million (through Feb. 22)

Budget: $20 million, reportedly

Metacritic rating / Rotten Tomatoes score9396 percent

What Chris Nashawaty said: “Once in a while there’s a film like Spotlight, which isn’t just the best movie about journalism since All the President’s Men, it might also be the most important… Tautly directed by Tom McCarthy (The Visitor), the film hums as a tense shoe-leather procedural and a heartbreaking morality play that handles personal stories respectfully without losing sight of the bigger, more damning picture.” A

Best line: “We got two stories here: a story about degenerate clergy, and a story about a bunch of lawyers turning child abuse into a cottage industry. Which story do you want us to write? Because we’re writing one of them.” —Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) 

Number of Oscar nods: Six. The Academy singled out Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams in the supporting acting categories, and Tom McCarthy earned a nod for both directing and best original screenplay (with co-writer Josh Singer). Tom McArdle is also nominated for film editing.

Spotlight’s Oscar history: Rachel McAdams is an Oscar newbie, but this is Ruffalo’s third supporting actor nomination, after Foxcatcher and The Kids Are All Right. McCarthy was nominated once before, but not in the directing category: His nomination was for co-writing Up. And producer Steve Golin actually has two films in the Best Picture race this year, between Spotlight and The Revenant. (He also produced Babel, which earned a Best Picture nod in 2007).

What it’s won thus far: Most of Spotlight’s acting awards have honored the entire cast instead of individual actors, most notably at the SAG Awards, where it won best ensemble (a.k.a. the Screen Actors Guild’s equivalent of best picture). It also won at the Critics Choice Awards, the Gotham Awards, the Independent Spirit Awards, and the AFI Awards, as well as picking up dozens of accolades from critics associations. McCarthy and Singer have also earned a lot of love for their screenplay, winning at the BAFTA Awards, the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, the Gotham Awards, the LAFCA Awards, the National Society of Film Critics Awards, and more.

Why it should win: Spotlight is the rare film that’s both really good and really important. McCarthy, Singer, and the cast conducted hours of interviews with the real-life journalists in the film to make sure they got every detail right, and the result is a meticulous script that makes months of investigative research and poring over documents feel like a gripping thriller. There’s a reason everyone keeps comparing it to All The President’s Men. The journalists in Spotlight are not only great at their jobs, but are courageous, and it’s a testament to how local investigative journalism can actually effect change. Still, Spotlight’s heroes aren’t perfect, and while the film applauds them for exposing decades of child abuse, it isn’t afraid to question why they — and the entire city of Boston — didn’t catch on to the story sooner. Almost every actor in the ensemble gives a standout performance, and although Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Brian d’Arcy James, and the rest of the cast got shut out for acting nominations, a Best Picture win might be the right way to remedy that.

Why it won’t win: It isn’t flashy. It isn’t cinematic enough. Spotlight is an understated movie about unglamorous people (journalists) investigating an ugly subject (child sex abuse), which limits its appeal. The filmmakers and actors may have spent months working with the real-life journalists to ensure perfect accuracy, but nobody slept in an animal carcass or ate bison liver. Every actor listed in the end credits gives a subtle, nuanced performance, but they’re not the kind of emotional, over-the-top roles the Academy typically loves. Just look at who the Academy chose to nominate from Spotlight’s deep ensemble cast: Keaton arguably carries the film, but it was Ruffalo who gave the big passionate speech that looks good in an Oscar reel.

Vegas Odds: 5/2, according to betting website Paddy Power, putting it in second place behind The Revenant.

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