John Lui Film Correspondent recommends

Film Picks: Spotlight, The Hateful Eight, The Big Short, Room

Michael Keaton (left), Mark Ruffalo (right), Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery (all playing journalists) and Stanley Tucci (as lawyer Mitch Garabedian) perform flawlessly, but the triumph of this work, nominated in the Best Picture catego
Michael Keaton (left), Mark Ruffalo (right), Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery (all playing journalists) and Stanley Tucci (as lawyer Mitch Garabedian) perform flawlessly, but the triumph of this work, nominated in the Best Picture category at the Oscars, lies in what it avoids.PHOTOS: SHAW ORGANISATION, UIP

SPOTLIGHT (NC16)

129 minutes/ 5/5 stars

Based on the Pulitzer Prize- winning Boston Globe articles uncovering the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, this thrillingly ambitious movie lays out how dozens of paedophile priests in Boston not only escaped arrest, but were also shuffled to parishes where they preyed on more children.

The Globe's reportage would show that how, at all levels, the city had failed its young.

Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery (all playing journalists) and Stanley Tucci (as lawyer Mitch Garabedian) perform flawlessly, but the triumph of this work, nominated in the Best Picture category at the Oscars, lies in what it avoids.

Nobody makes a speech about the nobility of news reporting or complains about the sacrifices journalists make. The movie avoids making villains of people, instead going after the city's power structure.


THE HATEFUL EIGHT (R21)

182 minutes/ 4/5 stars

A group of people are forced by a blizzard to take shelter inside a trading post. Among them are two bounty hunters, Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and John Ruth (Kurt Russell, above, left), and Ruth's prisoner, the brigand Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh, above, right). Each person has reason to despise another because of race and past Civil War atrocities. Writer-director Quentin Taranton's The Hateful Eight is his second go at a western (after Django Unchained, 2012), but done as a chamber piece.

This tale of carnage in a cabin might not have the ambition of Inglorious Basterds (2009) or the scale of Django Unchained, but it remains a compact delight, packing in plenty of suspense and surprises.


THE BIG SHORT (NC16)

131 minutes/ 4/5 stars

The movie's audacious idea is that to grasp the horror of the 2008 financial crisis and how it ruined working-class America, the audience has to understand concepts such as collateralised debt obligations, credit default swops and subprime mortgages. So director and co-writer Adam McKay incorporates a touch of the comic grotesque into each of his traders.

Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) despises anyone less shark-like than he is. Michael Burry (Christian Bale, above) is an Asperger's numbers savant with a glass eye.

Mark Baum (Steve Carell) flourishes because he trusts no one. Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) is a bearded mystic of money. All believe the banks are doomed becauseof risky bets on the housing market.

McKay, in adapting the book of the same title by "maths for common folk" popularist Michael Lewis (writer of Moneyball, also made into a movie), makes sure the infotainment segments pack the same chutzpah. That self-aware silliness in the service of telling a story laden with technical jargon works because McKay's curiosity is infectious; he is like that goofy science teacher who is willing to don a ridiculous hat to demonstrate photosynthesis.


ROOM (PG13)

118 minutes/ 4/5 stars

The story of a woman imprisoned as a sex slave should, by normal reckoning, be nothing more than exploitation. Room makes it work as a serious, thought- provoking drama with the bonus of pitch-perfect performances from its leads, playing mother and son.

Imprisoned in a tiny four-walled structure, Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) cares for her son, five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay, both above), the result of visits by her captor,Old Nick (Sean Bridgers).

Jack calls the only world he has ever known "Room". To him, the space is not a prison but a cocoon. Why should he care about leaving? This is Stockholm Syndrome, from birth. The film is distressing to watch, but it is never explicit. The cruelty fills each frame like an invisible gas.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2016, with the headline 'Film Picks'. Print Edition | Subscribe