Betting Big

By Steven Briggs

With less than a week to go before this year’s Oscar ceremony, the race has come down to three hopefuls: Spotlight, The Revenant, and The Big Short. Last month the industry’s most influential guilds split three ways with the Screen Actor’s Guild giving its top prize to Spotlight, the Director’s Guild swooning for The Revenant, and the Producer’s Guild rooting for The Big Short. As tedious and as inconsequential as film awards can be, this year’s roster includes one title that transcends the limitations of circle-jerk politics and white male chauvinism that usually dominates the best-of-the-year conversation. The Big Short isn’t just the best movie of the year; it’s the most important.

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Four Wall Street insiders managed to make a profit off of the Great Recession in 2008, betting millions of dollars on the fact that the housing market would fail. Rather than a story that caters to sympathetic heroes or good’s triumph over evil, it sucker punches you in the gut, forcing you to make sense of all the capitalist greed that runs rampant in our country, a system that produces too few winners and millions upon millions of losers. The lesson here being stay informed, don’t trust the system, and get pissed, really pissed.

The film deserves awards for its razor sharp editing, inventive storytelling, and those over-the-top performances from Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell. But giving a film a trophy is beside the point. The Oscars put winning films in the global spotlight, reserving a line for their achievements in history. This year’s ceremony presents the film industry with an opportunity to pay respect to a cause that so many of us neglect. It’s not the public’s fault. As the film so sharply reminds us, Wall Street operates by its own set of rules or a lack thereof. The audience can only grasp at some of the financial proceedings at play. No one expects you to master the art of CDOs, sub-prime mortgages and triple A ratings in just two hours. But the fact that you tried counts for something. The film opens the door for audiences to at least peak inside a world of fraud and illegal dealings that will cost the average American citizen hundreds of thousands of dollars over their lifetime.

The 2016 election makes for a rousing double feature with many of the film’s themes springing up on the debate stage. No doubt Bernie Sanders and the film’s director Adam McKay share many of the same concerns. Preventing another global economic disaster is chief among them. It’s Bernie’s urgency that’s put financial reform at the top of this year’s political circus. Whether or not he can win the nomination, his presence is deeply felt across the country with millions of Americans “feeling the Bern.” This new wave of anti-establishment, anti-Wall Street sentiment has to go somewhere. There’s power in numbers and the more people that tune in to the atrocities of 2008 the bigger that number grows.

The Big Short isn’t just a recap of the events of the past; it’s a warning sign of the dreadful events to come. Rocket Mortgage, a new app from Quicken Loans, promises consumers that they can own their own home in just a few minutes. Their slogan, “Push Button Get Mortgage,” says it all. This kind of wishful thinking is exactly what the film wants you to be cognizant of. It is in the banks’ financial interest to give mortgages to people that can’t afford them. They make money, people can’t pay their bills, the housing market tanks, and yet again, the taxpayers have no choice but to bail out the banks that got us into this mess to begin with. Despite a growing economy stateside, the writing is on the wall. History is bound to repeat itself unless we can do something about it.

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Does an Oscar for Best Picture really matter? Probably not, but the film’s central issue needs all the glamor and attention it can get. Regardless of who wins on Sunday night, go see The Big Short.

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