Although most pundits (except me, Mike Burry, M.D.) were predicting either Spotlight, Mad Max or The Revenant to win, The Big Short came up the big surprise at the Producers Guild Awards tonight, along with the expected wins for Amy and Inside Out. What was it that gave some of us hope and cautious confidence? The Big Short is the only film that has SAG Awards Ensemble/ACE Eddie/DGA/PGA and BAFTA nominations. It is well liked across the board, which on paper gives it the advantage. But we didn’t know until tonight if this would be the year these reliable stats would fail. So far anyway, it looks like our Oscar model is a solid success. Next up, the SAG Awards on January 30th, and after that the ACE, WGA and DGA.
The Big Short is such a good movie that it may take several viewings to realize just how good it is. Every character is carefully considered and written with a rich blend of flaws and honorable traits. Most films made these days don’t take time to construct layered characters the way Adam McKay has done, working with screenwriter Charles Randolph from Michael Lewis’s book. Characters so specific that you barely notice it the first time through. There’s more than that, of course, driving it through to a win.
This is an election year and Wall Street is front and center. Market manipulations should matter to you whether you’re a Bernie supporter, a Hillary supporter, or a supporter of any GOP candidate. People of all political persuasions remain rightfully angry that no one was prosecuted and most of us resent the fact that Wall Street execs, bankers and brokers gambled with our money, lost big time, and still walked away rich with the American taxpayers bailing them out. We should all be angry about that, no matter which party we want to run the country. The Big Short exposes the rigged con-game better than any other movie ever made about Wall Street and, thanks to Michael Lewis’s scathing approach, it satirizes the people involved while painting a crystal clear picture of the crazy, conflicted world where we find ourselves ensnared.
The Wolf of Wall Street, in contrast, was about a more ruthless kind of financial thievery — crooks who walk away rich with no conscience and no regrets. The Big Short isn’t about those people. It’s about a few smart investors who saw the banks were committing fraud and bet against the game on the eve of the housing market crisis. When it became clear that the banks themselves were betting against millions of homeowners, a handful of money managers tried to sound the alarm about the extent of the damage about to rain down. But the rotten foundation inevitably gave way and the Jenga towers began to collapse all around them. The catastrophe left many cocky deal-makers hollowed out and forever changed. There is no forgiveness granted here, nor any real redemption, but there are three-dimensional humans worth caring about. The story works for audiences because people all across the country are angry, but it also works on its own as a brilliantly written, carefully acted and energetically directed American film of the first order.