Oscars: With PGA Win, ‘The Big Short’ Is Your New Best Picture Frontrunner

Brad Pitt The Big Short premiere
Andrew H. Walker/Variety/Rex Shutterstock

We may have over a month to go but a significant piece of this year's Oscar puzzle just clicked into place.

The Big Short.”

Michael B. Jordan said the words so matter-of-factly, so quickly on the heels of recounting the list of Producers Guild of America nominees for theatrical motion pictures, that no one in the Hyatt Century Plaza ballroom quite knew how to react. The spotlight was floating around the room, looking for the winners.

“Wait, did ‘The Big Short’ just win?” That seemed to be what everyone was asking themselves and their table mates. Almost as if he sensed the question wafting throughout the crowd, Jordan stepped back up to the microphone. “Uh, yes, you won.”

Before I bolted for the door to beat the valet line, the last thing I saw was producer Jeremy Kleiner shooting out of his seat with hands raised high, two years after tying for the very same prize as a producer of “12 Years a Slave.”

History — recent history, anyway — tells us that might well be game, set and match for Adam McKay’s film in the race for this year’s best picture Oscar. (The director was unfortunately stranded on the east coast thanks to the blizzard that rolled through this weekend.) The reason is simple: the preferential ballot.

Not to put too much on it, but it’s notable that the PGA is the only other organization to use the ballot, and that it has predicted the winner every year since the Academy and the guild simultaneously instituted it seven years ago (including that aforementioned tie). It’s the only evidence awards watchers really get during the season of how the various contenders will perform under the process, which aims to achieve a consensus with a stack of ballots ranking the various nominees. Films that hover near the top of the ballot, landing in the number-two and number-three slots — i.e., generally agreeable players few can really argue with — tend to see success in this system. Movies that are more divisive, love it/hate it, tend to fall away.

It is for that reason, going into tonight, that I assumed the PGA race was down to one of four films: “The Big Short,” “The Martian” (yes, even with its curious stumble in Oscar nominations), “Spotlight” and, to a lesser extent, “The Revenant.” The movie about the ramifications of an economic crisis that we’re still feeling today claimed victory in the end.

And that is what “The Big Short” has going for it that none of the other films have, at least with such potency: immediacy. As I’ve written, each of those four movies taps into the zeitgeist in its own way, but we’re facing an election that will no doubt focus on oligarchy, the 1%, the distribution of wealth and avoiding the sins of the past. “The Big Short” has its finger on the pulse of all of that, and that kind of thing can be very, very attractive in an Oscar race.

Still, in a year in which much of what is “expected” hasn’t exactly panned out that way, it would be silly to assume we’re all done here. Inevitability could certainly set in if the film’s cast wins the ensemble prize at the Screen Actors Guild Awards next weekend, if McKay manages to shock and claim the directors guild prize a week later (perhaps the tallest order here), and if Hank Corwin claims the American Cinema Editors prize in the comedy category at the ACE Eddie Awards next week (which feels like a foregone conclusion).

But what if “Spotlight’s” ensemble wins? What if Alejandro G. Iñárritu wins the DGA Award for the second year in a row or, perhaps more likely, George Miller?

No, it’s by no means over, but you can see the pieces beginning to click into place. And what sweet joy that would be for Paramount Pictures, a studio that has been right in the thick of it year in and year out with films like “Selma,” “Nebraska,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Hugo,” “The Fighter,” “True Grit,” “Up in the Air” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

We’re 36 days away from finding out. In the mean time, here is the full list of PGA winners.

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  1. Jacob says:

    Actually, Brooklyn is by far the whitest BP Oscar nominee.The Big Short & Mad Max: Fury Road are the ONLY 2 BEST PICTURE NOMINEES WITH BLACK WOMEN IN SPEAKING ROLES. So you should be rooting for The Big Short to win BP, if you really give a shit about diversity. ;)

  2. brobbins5287 says:

    It would be hilarious for the white maley-ist film of the year to win #OscarsSoWhite.

  3. CC says:

    Hollywood IS THE 1%.

  4. Kint says:

    I’m sure if THE BIG SHORT wins it will be remembered fondly as CRASH and THE KING’S SPEECH are. ;-)

  5. guest says:

    The big short really what a joke

  6. Davey says:

    Almost all of the films that Paramount had in the race in recent years are better than The Big Short.

  7. JC says:

    THE BIG SHORT is just another “7 out of 10” film like most of the recent Oscar nominees. SPOTLIGHT was not anything groundbreaking either, but it did a better job of dealing with important subject matter. Adam McKay is better off making “stoopid” comedies. Lol.

  8. i enjoyed “the big short”–and the film certainly made me more likely (at least temporarily) to vote for bernie sanders. i salute the film’s win. but, and this is quite a large “but”, despite the fact that “the big short” was enjoyable, in a vague sense, i thought it lacked two things i value: adequate character development, and an understandably presented, reasonable plot. to put it another way, the film was spread so thin i got a good idea of “tone”, “feel”, several laughs, etc., but not enough of an actual old-fashioned story being told. having said that, while thinking that there are quite a few “better films” from 2015, some nominated and some not, i wouldn’t be especially bothered: this would be another triumph of the studio system–and maybe why the academy is wise to vastly increase membership (while it ought to also re-consider its nomination process).

  9. Jonathan says:

    Don’t think it’s going to happen. This awards year is a complete anomaly, the strangest one in recent memory, and three different movies have now won the Golden Globe, the Critics’ Choice, and the PGA, which was not the case in other ostensibly “anomalous” years such as 2012 and 2013. Unless “The Big Short” takes SAG *and* DGA, it’s still all about “Spotlight.”

  10. EJ says:

    I’ll always remind you, Mr. Tapley, that you refused to include The Big Short as a Contender for the better part of December. Don’t make me have to drag out columns as evidence to back this up. You really got it wrong, buddy.

    • Hey EJ, I’m going to repost the comment you conveniently never responded to in the previous thread where you were aimlessly going on and on about this thing you were wrong about:

      Sure, let’s go to the tape. Here it is on Dec. 7, clearly on our contenders chart at #11:

      https://web.archive.org/web/20151207225917/http://variety.com/2015/film/in-contention/oscars-predictions-best-picture-1201601053/

      That’s as far back as the Web Archive will take me on that page, alas, but the film climbed to that position in the weeks prior from further down the chart, and within two days, it was predicted for best picture (after the SAG ensemble nomination).

      I feel silly having to defend something as foolish as this because it’s not like I’m denying I held off predicting it longer than others. But what I didn’t do, as you suggest, is keep it off the chart entirely. So you’re either confused or conflating.

      Come what may, how fortunate we are to live lives where we can be distracted by such meaningless information.

    • And you’ll always be wrong as I’ve shown you the data to prove it. Show me the columns. I honestly think you’re thinking about David Poland, actually, which is hilarious. But anyway…

    • Jonathan says:

      And you need to persistently remind someone of something that utterly inconsequential for what pathological reason, exactly?

  11. stu freeman says:

    This certainly does shake things up. I don’t see Big Short winning in the end (comedies NEVER do- and, remember, the PGA went for Little Miss Sunshine over The Departed) but it makes the race a whole lot tighter.

    • EJ says:

      The Big Short isn’t a comedy like Little Miss Sunshine. It’s a film about a very serious issue and contains both comedy and drama. Huge difference. It’s a “comedy” in the way that Dr. Strangelove was, I guess.

    • Seo says:

      Birdman was a black comedy, but same here, I don’t see The Big Short winning in the end.

  12. Tim says:

    #TheBigShortSoWhite, #TheBigShortSoWhite!!!! Let the outrage begin…

  13. Goodbyenoway says:

    This is a joke. I never made it past the first 30 minutes of Big Short. The jerky camera work and editing gave me a headache. I turned it off. Spotlight was well done but nothing special. Neither film is remotely “cinematic.”

    Both are poor choices. It shows how out of touch the Academy is that they continue to go down paths with films the movie going public is completely uninterested in.

  14. John G. says:

    I’ve been thinking this for a couple weeks now. This seems the most logical winner, all things considered.

    It has the movie star factor. The zeitgeist component. And perhaps most importantly, its win tally makes some sense.

    Directing, acting, screenplay, and editing as we know are the most pivotal nominations for a best picture winner. Only two films have all four: The Big Short and Spotlight.

    Best picture and best screenplay look like the only Oscars Spotlight can win. Directing is a big reach for McCarthy, editing was a surprise nom, and converting either of the acting nominations to a win would be extremely difficult – both acting nominees feel like 5th place in their respective categories.

    Since World War 2 there’s never been a best picture winner with only one other win.

    The Big Short, on the other hand, is a prime contender for 3 statues.

    Best picture, best screenplay, best editing. That’s the same total Argo received three years ago and is a respectable purse for a best picture winner. Feels much more feasible than Spotlight taking merely two or Revenent, Martian et all winning without that all-important quartet of nominations.

  15. Tom says:

    I think you put way too much basis on the preferential ballot– movies still win based in the number one votes

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