'The Big Short': Director Adam McKay makes a move to serious fare

McKay is best known for collaborating with Will Ferrell on films like 'Anchorman' and 'The Other Guys,' but the director's upcoming film 'The Big Short' is getting Oscar buzz.

Jaap Buitendijk/Paramount Pictures/AP
'The Big Short' stars Steve Carell (third from r.) and Ryan Gosling (r.).

The story of “The Big Short,” a movie that tells the true story of people who predicted the 2008 financial crisis, no doubt appeals to audiences and critics, but the director’s name on the movie has caught the eye of many as well.

“Short,” which will enter limited release on Dec. 11 and get a wide release on Dec. 23, is directed by Adam McKay, previously best known for his collaborations with Will Ferrell, having co-written and directed such films as “Anchorman,” “Step Brothers,” and “The Other Guys.” It's received some attention as a possible awards season contender.

Reviewers are noting that “Short” has its humorous moments, but the story in the film is more sobering than the antics of Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy. (“Short” is based on a book by Michael Lewis.) 

“Short” has gotten mixed early reviews, but its release date positions it as a possibility for the Oscars, with other hopefuls like “Carol,” “Spotlight,” and “Room,” to name a few, all having come out within the last few months.

Can McKay go the distance for Oscar season? An intriguing narrative often attracts the interest of awards season voters. McKay switching from big-budget comedies to a star-studded film about the financial crisis has already attracted attention.

Getting a best director nomination is tough, as the Best Picture field has been widened to between five and 10 but the best director list remains capped at five. This year, possible contenders already include Steven Spielberg ("Bridge of Spies"), Tom McCarthy ("Spotlight"), and Alejandro González Iñárritu ("The Revenant"), among several others. It could be difficult for the director to break through in the category, especially if McKay’s “Short” doesn’t make the cut for Best Picture.

But directors who would be first-time nominees, as McKay would be, making the cut is far from impossible. Last year, three out of the five nominees were first-time nominees for best directing. In 2014, two out of the five were nominated for their directing for the first time.

In addition, those who have won the prize in the last several years have almost all been first-time nominees. Recent winners Alfonso Cuarón (“Gravity”), Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”), Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”), Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”), and Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) were all first-time nominees. That’s five out of the last seven winners. 

While the field of movies is so different every year, that’s a change from a stretch of time when Hollywood heavyweights took the prize. Beginning around 2002, directors who had been nominated and/or won before like Roman Polanski, Clint Eastwood, and Martin Scorsese dominated the winners’ circle as opposed to newcomers.

As for the chances of “Short” in general, the Academy recently showed it can be won over by a movie about financial misdeeds (though that one came with the added prestige of having been directed by Martin Scorsese). 2013’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” was nominated for Best Picture and Scorsese was nominated for best director, among other nominations. 

Perhaps the subject matter and the fact that it’s an unusual film for McKay will attract voters to “Short” as Oscars season continues.

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