In 2010, my Dad asked if I was interested in buying a house or apartment. Interest rates were very low, and there were a lot of houses on the market due to the recent downturn. I said no at the time because I didn’t have any savings which I could devote to a down payment, and the the collapse of the housing market had scared me off, like it had so many people. Like others at the time I was learning the definitions of terms like “credit-default swap”, “mortgage-backed securities” and “subprime loans” to name just a few. Little did I or anyone know that in less than half a decade, all those lessons (not necessarily learned) were going to be made into a book, and eventually a movie, which is what I’m writing about today.
So, I bet you thought I was done with Oscar-nominated movies, right? Well, yes. And as much as I’d like to say that I’ll just keep watching them until I’ve seen them all, this is one that I watched at the last minute – the evening of Saturday, February 27, less than 24 hours before the Oscars happened. The Boy (who works in a financial field) and I had both wanted to see it for ages but never gotten around to it, and we were able to get buy it on-demand for a decent price. So we pulled the trigger and I got to add one more movie to my “seen” list before the Oscars happened.
So – while I may have watched some videos that explained things pretty well for financial noobs, but it never hurts to have things that seem simple to those in the know broken down to their most basic parts. And what this movie did well with a very abstract topic (“the housing market”) was to stop occasionally and explain what it was that everyone was talking about. We got great cut scenes with Margot Robbie (pictured above – yes, in a bathtub), Selena Gomez (with economist Richard Thaler), and Anthony Bourdain, all explaining complicated financial concepts in ways that make them more easily understood. It can feel a little silly, but since the movie is narrated, it’s easy to see it all in a more abstract way as a BIG explanation of what went down in the late 2000s in the housing and financial market.
The cast in this movie is outstanding. Christian Bale who was nominated for an Academy Award is this total financial-bro who used to be a doctor, but used his smarts to make a lot of money investing. The whole movie ends up being him against the world, and he’s so very narrowly focused in his work that it’s heartbreaking to think about how alone he must have felt when he was making these big and risky moves that were terrible to start but ended up being enormously profitable. Also outstanding is Steve Carell, who is so incredulous at the financial craziness happening in the housing market throughout the entire movie, and has such deep-seated pain that drives every move he makes.
And that’s one of the hard parts of this movie to watch – it’s all about people who saw bad things coming, and because one person shouting into the void “SELL SELL SELL!!!” when everyone else is going “BUY BUY BUY!!!” means that there wasn’t really anything they could do. So instead, they profited on it. They bet against the market in a move called a “Short” (hence the name of the movie – it’s a “Big” short since they were betting against one of the biggest and (at the time) strongest markets in America). It’s awful to think that they were profiting off of anyone’s pain and loss…but there’s nothing more they could have done where anyone would have listened.
It’s a great movie. If you still find yourself wondering at what happened during the housing crisis, and want good explanations in a narrative form, this is the movie for you. It works in the way that the “Moneyball” did (coincidentally – based on another book by author Michael Lewis) by telling a story, and explaining the concepts and driving forces behind it that may not make it as much of a narrative as other feature films. But what I liked so much about this movie is that I felt smarter coming out of it. And really – with a concept like finances – that’s never a bad thing.
More Information: “The Big Short”, written by (based on the book by), directed by . Available on DVD/Blu-Ray, On Demand and VOD (Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, etc.)..
Wins/Nominations: Won Best Adapted Screenplay. Nominated Best Picture, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Christian Bale), Best Director, Best Film Editing.