5   +   1   =  

Writers love writing about people like them, which probably explains the preponderance of journalists popping up in films. While there is a limit, a good journalist movie is hard to beat. Alongside summer retreats, US foreign policy and the housing crash, we have just that this week.

The last, and the best, of this year’s Best Picture nominees finally arrives in the shape of Spotlight. Tom McCarthy’s intricate, complex drama follows the Boston Globe team who unearthed the complicity of the Catholic Church in cover-ups over the sexual abuse of children and teenagers by clergy. The real-life scandal that occurred around the turn of the millennium unfolds slowly as a team including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams gradually piece together the extent of Church involvement. Frequently described as the best journalism film since All the President’s Men, it’s both a completely deserved comparison and an insult to a brilliant film that stands on its own merits.

To keep the good times rolling (in quality if not in subject matter) comes The Great Beauty director Paolo Sorrentino’s second foray into the English language. Youth features Michael Caine as a retired composer holidaying for the summer at a luxury Swiss resort full of odd characters. A big operatic musing on aging and age, it features a strong cast (Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda and Paul Dano all join Caine), sweeping musical cues, stunning scenery and lots of bizarre behaviour. It’s a film to be swept away by. If you let it, you’ll have no regrets.

Finally we have 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Michael Bay’s latest attempt to make his first good film since The Rock in 1996. Delving into the recent military history that served Zero Dark Thirty so well, it follows the security team trying to defend the US embassy in Benghazi against waves of terrorist attacks in 2012. With that set-up, there will still be plenty of opportunity for action but maybe Bay will manage a grittier aesthetic this time round. Reviews have been mixed, some praising the action and most commenting on the lack of distinctive characters. Maybe by dropping down from blockbuster budgets he’s managed a decent film, though history would be against him. Pain & Gain in 2013 was also supposed to be a good, smaller Bay film and that was dreadful. Only one way to find out about this.

Out on DVD there’s a film that’s been slipping most people by wherever it gets released, apart from the Golden Globes which threw Michael Shannon a deserved acting nomination. 99 Homes also steps back into recent history to create an emotionally gripping drama out of the housing market crash. Andrew Garfield is a builder who loses his house and ends up working for Shannon’s shady real estate operator who took it from him in the first place. The film brilliantly examines the impact of unaffordable mortgages and repossession on the people it hits the hardest. Full of moral compromise as Garfield comes to straddle both worlds, it makes for excellent drama.

Well that’s the first month of 2016 down. See you next week for the return of the boys from Walmington-on-Sea.

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