Oscars Awards start time

Academy Awards 2016: Highlights and Analysis

Photo The cast of Spotlight celebrated on the ground.

The cast of Spotlight celebrated on the ground.Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

In a year that was so hard to predict, “Spotlight” surprised loads of us predictors with its best picture win.

This was despite the fact that the film — about The Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church’s cover-up of pedophile priests — was the early favorite out of the Telluride and Toronto film festivals last year. But as the season wore on, people speculated that “Spotlight” might not have the panache or filmmakerly heft to take best picture.

This sentiment solidified when the usual signs kept pointing away from the film, with “The Revenant” picking up the Golden Globe for best drama and also the Directors Guild Award, which is often a strong predictor of the ultimate winner at the Oscars. And then “The Big Short” won the Producers Guild’s top honor.

“Spotlight” did win the best ensemble award from the Screen Actors Guild, but that wasn’t seen, at least from the predictors’ standpoint, as enough to stave off those other two flashier films.

But the director Tom McCarthy, affable, charming and earnest, worked the awards circuit beautifully, and drove home the film’s message: Accountability is important. And he, along with the film’s stars — Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams — traveled the circuit with the original Boston Globe team in tow.

There were also strong currents against the two other leading films: the fizzy, swift-moving “The Big Short, ” from the director Adam McKay, did not quite feel like a best picture winner. Its fast-paced explanations of complex financial maneuverings also left many academy members scratching their heads.

And “The Revenant, ” while revered, was, at its heart, a simple revenge story, beautifully filmed, yes, but also slightly indulgent and long. One academy member, and Oscar winner, whispered in confidence that the film felt like an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, “except less interesting.”

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