Spoiler Alert. This blog post contains spoilers about the movies Room and Spotlight. If you don't want to know what happens, don't read this blog post, thanks.
Room is better than Spotlight. Room should have won best picture, at least out of the nominees I saw. Both are great films. Both go where no one really wants to go. Both are daring and moving. Both have excellent performances. But Room is more daring, has better performances, goes deeper and deals with an even less often talked about subject that the rape of children in the Catholic church by priests. It deals with what happens after "happily ever after."
Let me explain.
We're so used to watching abduction stories on the small and big screens. Typically, woman is kidnapped, abused, raped, the police - or usually some loner - goes to all lengths to find her. Finally, he puts together the clues and finds her and the last shot is of her, wrapped in a blanket, being held by her husband/mother/kid. Crane lifts the camera off street level as we see the brigade of fire engines, police, lights, the street, the neighborhood, the town...and credits. Ergo: Happily Ever After. Woman saved. All done.
Room says "NO!" to this ending. Room says, "Ok, sure, we all know the drill, she's been kidnapped. It's a little different, she's had a child from her rapist while in captivity. And you're going to think the story is about how she makes a life for her and her kid in this 10' x 10' shed. How she makes birthday cakes, and teaches Jack to read. All that amazing survivalist stuff. But no. That's not the story at all. Because not even 1/3rd of the way through the story, she gets rescued. THAT is when the story begins. What the fuck happens after "happily ever after?""
What happens is that Joy (the kidnapped mother) falls the fuck apart. She agrees to do an interview with some Barbara Walters type who eviscerates her for keeping Jack (her kid) and not begging her captor to give him away to a hospital or something when he was born. She can't speak to her mother whose so rife with guilt that she doesn't know how to comfort her. Joy's father abandons her because he can't handle what's happened to Joy. So, Joy attempts suicide and is hospitalized for a long period of time during which Jack gets angry because he doesn't know how to get along without his mother.
The REAL story is not the 7 years in captivity. The real story is how the fuck Joy and Jack are supposed to survive freedom for decades after such a traumatizing experience? This is a real story. This is an important story. We spend so much focus on the victims of violent, heinous crimes while they're dealing with them, and we leave these victims (sometimes called 'survivors') at the side of the road once they're "saved." Room teaches us that this is no longer acceptable.
On the flip side, Spotlight taught us that the Catholic Church's pedophilia scandal reaches broadly and deeply. That even Bishops knew about the abuse! Oh, my! Sarcasm aside, yes, the great journalists who broke this story are heroes. Definitely! But that doesn't make it a better movie. Everything about Room was better: the script, the acting (that nine year old Tremblay playing a five year old!), the camera work, the editing, the message, etc... It's all better than Spotlight. It's not that Spotlight was bad; it was great, but Room is greater.
Example: At the beginning of Room, the way the director/dp shows the room is brilliant. I could tell it was small, but it seemed livable. Kind of spacious for a shed, really. It seemed to have sections - bedroom, kitchen, tv area, bathtub... it was like a teensy tiny studio apartment. At the end of the film, Jack asks to go back to room and he and Joy are escorted there by policemen. Jack enters room. It's transformed. Now it looks like the inside of a small tool shed. Cramped, tiny, unlivable, even just as the two of them stand in it, there's no room. And then Jack says good bye to room and the viewer sees him create closure for himself and this incomprehensible experience.
That camera work, along with the camera work throughout the film, made Room not just a thriller, but a piece of art. Spotlight was way less subtle and maybe that's what gets people's attention when they vote for best film. But my vote would have gone to Room, definitely. And, yes, that's without seeing Mad Max.