The Big Short has quickly become one of the favorites for a Best Picture nomination. With an excellent ensemble cast, it boasts a few Best Supporting Actor faves, as well. The script will also likely earn a Best Adapted Screenplay nom. However, the biggest surprise has been Adam McKay’s late breaking run at a Best Director nomination. Though his background has been in Will Ferrell comedies, he should definitely be one of the frontrunners.
That The Big Short manages to be such a flat-out entertaining movie is one of the most amazing accomplishments of the 2015 cinematic year. Telling a story that details the bursting of the housing bubble (if I am even using those terms correctly) and centers on Wall Street types buying mortgage bonds and must define jargon like “CDOs” and many others, it has no right to be such an enthralling and hilarious movie. I went into the movie with a mix of trepidation and anticipation because I was, honestly, scared that I would not be able to follow the story. I do not follow the news and the world as much as I know I should, so my knowledge is often woefully low about fairly important national events like the housing crisis.
I was blown away by how well done the movie is. The most amazing aspect is the way that director Adam McKay and his team balance such a potentially volatile tone. The movie has laugh-out-loud moments where characters break the fourth wall and real-life celebrities play themselves and explain important concepts to the audience. The entire movie sometimes seems to teeter on the edge of silliness but it never tips over. McKay also splices in images of general people and places and things throughout the movie, trying to remind the audience of those that were being affected by the stupid decisions being made by the bankers and Wall Street brokers. It is a strategy that could have backfired, perhaps seeming too cheesy or tonally inconsistent. However, it works. Somehow, the actors, the script, and McKay’s very capable direction hold it all together in a beautiful way. I can’t recall a movie that has managed to be so informative, so hysterical, and so resonant at the same time. Remembering that it was the man that directed Anchorman at the helm just added to my astonishment and admiration. Like many, I thought Anchorman (and The Other Guys and Step Brothers and Talladega Nights) were very funny movies, but they belied the deeper talent that was hiding within Adam McKay.
Yet, most interesting thought I had after watching the movie was that Adam McKay was actually uniquely prepared to make The Big Short. Having honed his comedy chops with Will Ferrell (in the aforementioned movies and as co-founder of Funny or Die), McKay has a great sense of what is funny within a certain scene and has an increased patience for allowing his actors and actresses ample freedom. The Big Short definitely took some reining in of his usual style, but McKay recognized that he could let his actors walk the line between realism and bombast as a way of engaging the audience in a movie they would be fully prepared to disengage from. (It helps that those actors are Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, and Ryan Gosling.) The result is a fast, frisky, fictionalized, easily digestible but not too-oversimplified version of the housing crisis. It’s a tribute to McKay (and his co-writer Charles Randolph) that the movie works. And though I have usually loved the McKay-Ferrell team-ups, I can honestly say, for the first time in my life, I am incredibly excited to see what Adam McKay does next.