Hollywood Contenders – “The Big Short” is trying to crash the Oscar party

Christian Bale The BIG Short
Almost every year, we get a late breaking contender into the Oscar race that hopes to upend things and carve out a spot for itself across the board. Last year, that hopeful was American Sniper, and we all know how well that did (no sarcasm there, for once). This year, Paramount is hoping to copy the successful play of Warner Brothers and drop The Big Short into late Academy Award contention. Having seen the film last night, I can vouch for it potentially being able to make a dent in the Oscar lineup. It’s an angry, entertaining, and unique look at the financial collapse, with an A-list cast all doing strong work.

Steve Carell The Big Short

The film is an adaptation of the best selling Michael Lewis book of the same name. It’s about the housing crisis and the chaos brought on by the banks. Essentially, some tried to take advantage of the looming calamity, while some fought against it, seeing what was coming before anyone else did. We watch as those few with foresight like the characters played by Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling make their moves, all as the collapse gets closer and closer. Adam McKay directs and co-writes the adaptation of Lewis’ book with Charles Randolph, while the giant A-list cast includes, besides the aforementioned Bale, Carell, and Gosling, the likes of Melissa Leo, Hamish Linklater, John Magaro, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, Marisa Tomei, Finn Wittrock, and quite a few more in addition to those already mentioned. Cinematography is by the great Barry Ackroyd as well. Lewis penned the non fiction books that became The Blind Side and Moneyball, so The Big Short already has a pedigree to it, that’s for sure.

What really works here is how McKay not only gets such great work from his cast (Carell and Gosling are best in show, if you ask me, though everyone pulls their weight), but how he’s able to take so many complicated concepts and whittle them down to something we can all understand. It’s a complex film, but he does so many experimental things (like having characters break the fourth wall to tell us which scenes were real and which were fabricated, along with some other surprises I won’t spoil), leading to a flow that really works. It might be too focused and smart for others, but it’s also very funny at times, though you’ll possibly be moved to tears by the end, much like I was.

Audiences at AFI Fest seemed to mostly like The Big Short last week, though some found it a bit tough to sit through. I can understand those thoughts, though I’m definitely with those who find it to be one of the better films of the fall/winter. It’s not as funny as The Wolf of Wall Street, but it similarly takes an often humorous view of very dark material. The narration by Gosling’s character really hammers that point home, particularly in one sequence during the third act. It’s a tightrope that McKay and company has to walk, but by and large, it really does succeed.

Brad Pitt eye glasses The Big Short

In terms of awards potential, The Big Short could certainly wind up all over the place if it catches on with voters and does well with the precursors. Nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (for McKay), Best Actor (for Carell, if he doesn’t go Supporting), Best Supporting Actor (some combination of Bale, Carell, or Gosling, depending on category placement/if Carell goes Lead), Best Supporting Actress (for Leo or Tomei), Best Adapted Screenplay (for McKay and Randolph), Best Cinematography (for Ackroyd), Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score. I’m not 100% certain what will ultimately happen here, but I can definitely see Picture and Adapted Screenplay (for McKay and Randolph) being in play, with Carell a major threat if he goes Supporting Actor instead of Actor. Time will tell what happens here, but sleep on this one at your own peril.

Overall, The Big Short is one of the more unique Oscar hopefuls in play for consideration this year. It comes out next month and will hope to appeal to voters across the board. I’ll be very curious how it winds up doing with audiences, since the material isn’t inherently something the general public would flock to, but the A-list cast might get them in the door. It’ll need strong reviews, solid box office, and some love during the precursor season to really make a dent with the Academy, but all of that could certainly happen. Sit tight, we’ll find out the ultimate awards fate of The Big Short in due time…

Stay tuned for much more on The Big Short between now and its December release date!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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