"The Big Short" is having a great week. On Wednesday, it picked up two bids for the Screen Actors Guild Awards (Best Ensemble and a supporting nod for Christian Bale). On Thursday, it reaped four Golden Globe nominations (Best Comedy/Musical, lead bids for Bale and Steve Carell, and screenplay). And on Friday it opened to some of the best reviews of the awards season.
The seriocomic film takes place during the build-up to the housing-market crash that ignited the Great Recession in 2008. A handful of bankers see the writing on the wall — companies were getting rich on risky mortgage loans and the bottom was about to fall out — so they bet against the market in the hopes of big payouts.
Joe Morgenstern (Wall Street Journal): "Only in America, though, could filmmakers illuminate such a dire subject, and the financial debacle that ensued, with the sort of scathing wit, joyous irreverence and brilliant boisterousness that make 'The Big Short' an improbable triumph."
A.O. Scott (New York Times): "A true crime story and a madcap comedy, a heist movie and a scalding polemic, 'The Big Short' will affirm your deepest cynicism about Wall Street while simultaneously restoring your faith in Hollywood."
Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times): The film packs in so much information and comedy, it would be fun to see it twice: not just to take in what it has to tell us, but also to laugh all over again.
Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly): "I suppose you could call 'The Big Short' a comedy. It’s very, very funny. But it’s also a tragedy. Behind every easy drive-by laugh is a sincere holler of outrage."
The big question about "The Big Short" is can it cash in at the Oscars?
After all, there's plenty of precedent for Wall Street-themed movies to break through with academy voters. "Inside Job" won Best Documentary Feature in 2010 for covering much of the same ground as "The Big Short." In 2011 the fictional "Margin Call" approached the crisis on a smaller scale, telling the story of one investment bank over one day at the dawn of the collapse; its writer J.C. Chandor earned an Oscar bid for Best Original Screenplay.
And in 2013 Martin Scorsese addressed this world peopled with unscrupulous financiers with "The Wolf of Wall Street," starring Leonardo DiCaprio as real-life crooked stockbroker Jordan Belfort. While that film took place years before the 2008 crash, it tapped into our culture's renewed distrust of financial institutions. "Wolf" reaped five Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor (DiCaprio), Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill) and Adapted Screenplay.
"The Big Short" plays like a cross between the biting satire of "Wolf," the whip-smart dialogue of "Margin Call" and the comprehensive analysis of "Inside Job." It's based on a book by Michael Lewis, who also penned the source material for previous Oscar-contenders "The Blind Side" and "Moneyball." The script by director Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, which makes these complex financial transactions accessible to a mainstream audience, could be a contender for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The film juggles multiple characters and cutaways, cleverly explaining financial esoterica like bundled mortgages and CDOs with celebs including Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez playing themselves, so the complex editing work by Hank Corwin becomes almost another character in the film, itself worthy of Oscar consideration.
Then there's the cast, which is stacked with academy favorites: Oscar-champs Bale ("The Fighter") and Brad Pitt ('12 Years a Slave") and Oscar-nominees Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling, in addition to notable supporting roles played by Finn Wittrock, Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei, Rafe Spall and Hamish Linklater. It is not surprising that a film with such a deep bench appealed to SAG voters for Best Ensemble.
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