10 Days of Oscar #1 – The Big Short (2015)

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Welcome everyone to the 10 Days of Oscar, 2016 edition! In these posts, that will lead onto the big Oscar night, I shall take the films that have been nominated for Best Picture, all eight of them, and two bonus movies, which are the two movies with most nominations that didn’t get nominated for Best Picture. Those who want to run the numbers will already know what the movies are, but I won’t announce them until its their turn. This feature, as always, goes down the list of films in alphabetical order, so we start with this film ‘The Big Short’, nominated to five Oscars, including Best Picture.

by Jaime Grijalba.

I have two main problems with ‘The Big Short’ and I think that makes me unable to really fairly review it, and while I don’t think these two problems signify them as bad movies, I do think that it prevents me from enjoying the film in the way that it’s supposed to. I get that the film tries to explain the United States housing bubble that and what happened in the 2008 crash that it provoked, and it does that through the motions of entertainment, jokes, light sequences, all of this combined with the technicalities, the acronyms, the travels, the examples, talking to us using people from the entertainment industry as well as experts to make us finally understand what happened. But, does it matter? I get that Adam McKay is looking for the simplest way for us to be able to get what happened, how the Americans were fucked over by the people that didn’t know what they were doing. But, again, does it matter? The things that happened then are still happening now, and no matter how well the film tries to explain it (or water it down, as I saw it, using all these strategies to make it simpler, accessible), they’ll continue happening, not because we aren’t able to protest, but because our protest won’t change the way people do things as long as they’re allowed to continue doing them. It’s much more larger than that, and I think that is a problem about North American Culture, more than about politics. But, I digress… what are the specific problems that I have with this Adam McKay film?

My first problem is the fact that there’s a movie called ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2013, Scorsese) and it exists, and thus, any existence of a film about the same world, the same era, the same people, even though it’s told from the other side, the side of those who “won” with the failure of everyone else, those who managed to bet on the fact that the economy would crash, those who the film, as it opens up, decide to label as “smart”, just because they looked at the situation and recognized what was going to happen, but instead of warning anyone about it, as much as they say they do, we must now see how these are the good guys because they saw the situation, how shitty it was, and they did nothing about it but win millions and millions of dollars on the demise of the American economy, something that not only affected the people and their houses, it also made the entire world fall into a crisis that some are still recovering from.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the characters in the Scorsese film weren’t excretable, and I’m not going to say that the director managed to make them likable and thus I found myself more gratified while watching it, quite the contrary, but at least the Wall Street baddies are just what they are: they are bad and they embrace the greed and the awful things that they are doing, and they revel in their bad behavior, sprinkled with the fairy dust of drugs, parties, alcohol and family destruction. In this film, we see them as the heroes only because they take the time to learn (and to teach to us) the mechanics behind the whole economical scandal that made them all insanely rich, and thus we are suckered into liking these types, when they really aren’t that much worse than those that ruined themselves through the excesses inherent in the system. What I’m trying to say here behind all these metaphors and veiled things is that ‘The Big Short’ uses the sympathy to make us forget the fact that these characters are actually benefiting from the whole crash of the economy, while in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ that sympathy only is one step to make us closer to the disappointment that they truly are, as well as their pathetic endeavors and how bad they work in retrospective. The problem is that one approach is honest, the other one isn’t, you be the judge which is which.

The second problem I have is with the Oscar-nominated editing. I also add here that these two problems I have are completely and absolutely “me” problems, and I think I’ve said it before, that if these problems didn’t exist within me, I’d probably love this film, because I absolutely adore everyone in it. And I think that what avoided me from absolutely loving every performance is the god-damned editing. It’s jarring, distracting, corny, unfunny and absolutely unnecessary almost 90% of the time that it cuts off a scene that could’ve worked better with a more quiet and long analysis of what was happening in the screen, but no, here we have a powerful scene cut up with some “funny” Youtube videos that give us no sense of the time where this is happening, the stock pictures just become somewhat amateurish and the whole thing just seems like an experiment that doesn’t quite work. As if the audience wasn’t smart enough to understand.

And the movie would’ve worked out better if it had some moments to slow down, take a second, and try to show us more clearly what people are saying, their faces as they try to understand, but the movie needs to constantly cut away from the action and the dialogue to show something else, sometimes another face (that doesn’t stay very long), the action of the hands (that doesn’t stay long either), a “funny” picture, an “ironic” picture, accelerated footage of a city, stock footage, a “funny” internet video, a piece of news that does nothing but bring exposition to the mix… I don’t think this is a good edited movie, at least for my standards, and this is because I’ve been working editing a movie for a long time, so I think this is just my brain telling me that I’m starting to not be able to shut it off when I watch a movie, and that’s entirely stressful to me. That’s the main takeaway from this movie, is that editing is so disgusting to my eyes, that I think it isn’t a movie for movie editors, or at least not to those that don’t see this kind of flashy exercise as something original, clever or even funny.

But in some way the film kinda works for me, specially as a non-American, I don’t particularly find it offensive that I am being talked-down to, mainly because I had no idea about how the whole thing went down, and while it doesn’t really matter that I now know how it all went down, it doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate it, if those elements were delivered in a better edited manner, I wouldn’t be so down on this film, because I think it does a great job at explaining stuff that I didn’t know, mainly because I don’t give a fuck about economy. What it did give me is the impression that we’re above a bunch of ‘glass’, above a glass floor, and that in any time it will crash and under it, what will we have? Maybe more glass, and I’d love it if it didn’t hurt that much, because I’d hate it if it hurt. The ensemble of the film is great, but the editing avoids any sort of compromise regarding the width of the acting, as it cuts away, or jump cuts to different expressions and I feel that I’m witnessing a ‘best of’ reel of the weirdest and funniest faces that Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling or Steve Carell, and thus not something that could tell us about the depth in them, as if we’re seeing a pantomime, and there are some great great pantomimes in this film, but no real breathing characters that could make me care, specially due to the fact that they get so rich on the disgrace of others. Sorry if I repeat myself.

What I do give thanks this movie is that it didn’t forget to show some people that weren’t these. We get a glimpse to the circumstances of the moment and the aftermath, and while I give thanks to that, at the same time I’d say that it lacked a more human touch, and that what it did isn’t enough for all the bad that these people did when not being more energic in their messages or telling about what was truly happening and what they saw before anyone else. This is an ok movie, that could’ve been great, but there’s the editing and then, there’s Scorsese.

7/10

3 responses to “10 Days of Oscar #1 – The Big Short (2015)

  1. This is one of the few Oscar nominees I’ve made definite plans NOT to watch (as opposed to not having made any plans to watch), and I think you’ve admirably summed up most of my reasons and added a few. Many thanks!

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