Telluride: Can 'Spotlight' Deliver Michael Keaton's First Oscar? (Analysis)

Spotlight Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Kerr Hayes/Venice Film Festival

Spotlight Still - H 2015

Spotlight, a film about the Boston Globe's investigation into its city's Catholic Church sex scandal, made its North American debut on Saturday at the Telluride Film Festival's Galaxy Theatre, where it wowed a packed house just as it had done two days earlier when during its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. The film, which indie darling Tom McCarthy co-wrote (with Josh Singer) and directed, will be released by Open Road on Nov. 6 — and could be a major presence on the awards season circuit.

The obvious, and most appropriate, film to which this one can be compared is 1976's All the President's Men: Both are based on — and essentially adhere to — true stories; both take place mostly in a newsroom; convey the highs and lows that enterprising journalists can experience over the course of a long investigation (including when large swaths of people they are trying to help are working against them); both keep their "bad guys" mostly or entirely out of sight (Richard Nixon and associates in the older film, Cardinal Bernard Law and associates in the newer one); and both, oddly enough, involve a Bradlee as an editor (Ben Sr. in the older film, Ben Jr., played by John Slattery, in the newer one).

One other similarity: Both are true ensemble pieces, Spotlight perhaps even more so. McCarthy, an actor himself (TV's The Wire, etc.) who has a long history of evoking great performances out of his casts (e.g., 2003's The Station Agent), gathered for this one an incredible group of thespians, all of whom are so well-cast and effective that none really ends up standing out above the others: Mark RuffaloRachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Brian d'Arcy James, Billy Crudup and Slattery.

From an awards perspective, that may make it difficult for any individual to receive an Oscar nom — for point of reference, neither of All the President's Men's leads, Dustin Hoffman nor Robert Redford, were nominated for that film, but Jason Robards Jr. won and Jane Alexander was nominated in their respective supporting categories. Keaton, a bridesmaid last year for Birdman, has the strongest chance of being Spotlight's Robards. But that also means that the actors branch of the Academy, the organization's largest, might really get behind the film and, along with the writers branch (which will love the film's snappy and authentic-sounding dialogue) and music branch (which will embrace the score by Howard Shore that keeps you on the edge of your seat), propel Spotlight into the best picture race.

I think that's likely.