Two real-life inspired Best Picture Oscar nominated films highlight some ugly truths
The Big Short ****1/2
Dir: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale. Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Marisa Tomei, Karen Gillan
The Big Short, shows us how the capitalist game that we are all part of and eagerly want to participate in is an almost completely rigged one. The rules are made up for and by the people with the big money so that the rich get richer by ripping off the poor and there are zero consequences for any criminal actions the sole motivation of which was greed. And the people who are supposed to look out for the common one - the lawmakers and the law enforcers - are equally culpable, bought out, paid for, and hoping to become part of the big leagues of the mega-rich.
Sometimes the bubbles created by this rigged system burst as was the case in the 2008 global meltdown brought on (in part) by the subprime mortgage crisis. Director/Co-Writer Adam McKay, working off the book by Michael Lewis, peels away the layers from the techno-jargon created to blind the public from the ugly truth, to show us how the house of cards was built and how it came crashing down (as it was always inevitably going to do) and does it entertainingly. McKay follows four people who saw through the shaky foundations of the house of cards and bet against the system but he also uses cameos by stars such as Selena Gomez and near-naked, bubble-bath ensconced Margot Robbie explaining CDSs and CDOs (Credit Default Swaps and Collateralised Debt Obligations) to us. These cameos might prove distracting to some but it is also a meta-textual commentary on how a glamorous exterior often conceals a noxious and dangerous reality. McKay also shows us how despite all the hand-wringing and so-called searching that followed the crash, no real lessons were learnt, nobody went to jail, the rich keep on getting richer and lawmakers keep on making obeisance to the financiers. Even the four who bet against the system did so to take advantage of its flaw and when the crash came it ended up making thousands homeless and wiping away the life-savings of millions of ordinary investors. There were no real heroes to be found here.
Nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale though Steve Carell was equally deserving), and Best Editing.
Cut to chase: Deservedly nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.
Dir: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Liv Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Billy CrudupDirector/Co-writer Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight is essentially a journalism procedural that reveals how The Boston Globe newspaper’s investigative Spotlight team, led by Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton), exposed the massive cover up by the Roman Catholic Church over many number of years of the paedophile priests in its midst. McCarthy intelligently downplays the "thriller" elements and focuses more on the journalism aspects of the story (Spotlight often reminds us of All The President’s Men) in showing us how it wasn’t just the Church but the rest of its enablers in the city of Boston (and elsewhere), including the police, the legal system, and, indeed, journalists too.
This is an important story with much wider implications than just the subject it covers - after all there are many truths and scandals out there from which we deliberately avert our gazes while imperiously pontificating on other, easier targets while religion, consciously or subconsciously, often blinds us and ties our tongues.
The one false note in the movie is a speech that journalist Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) makes at one point expressing his anger and frustration at the situation. It feels like a scene written to grab Oscar attention and in that it certainly succeeded as Ruffalo’s been rewarded with an Oscar Best Supporting Actor nomination. However, that inauthentic moment aside, Ruffalo is terrific as is the rest of the ensemble cast. Nominated for six Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Mark Ruffalo), Best Supporting Actress (Rachel McAdams), Best Editing.
Cut to chase: Powerful film on a huge tragedy and its cover-up.