Oscars 2016: Why ‘The Big Short’ May Upset ‘The Revenant’ for Best Picture

In anticipation of the 88th Academy Awards, airing the night of Feb. 28th, The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon and Marlow Stern break down the night’s biggest awards.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Kevin: I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t talking about the Oscars. Which is to say that this has been the happiest time of my life. We’ve relived the ceremony in all of its Beyoncé, swan-dress glory, and its Witherspoon-loving, whitewashed failure. We’ve debated the tightest races and the surest things—it’s Leo’s time—and now we’ve come to the climax of it all, Best Picture, an award that has become increasingly ridiculous over the years. But before I summon my inner bear and start attacking The Revenant, let’s talk some of the other big awards. Do you think George Miller can win the Best Director trophy he so richly deserves for Mad Max: Fury Road, or will Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu beat him? And should we brace ourselves for the phrase “Oscar-winner Lady Gaga?” Because I think she could really win Best Original Song for “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground.

Marlow: I’ve always been fascinated by the phenomenon that is the crowd of twenty-and-thirty-something Titanic fans who’ve harbored a near 20-year grudge against the Academy Awards for a) not nominating Leo for dying for that selfish, raft-hogging brat, and b) not giving Leo an award, period. I don’t even think most of these people have seen What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? or The Basketball Diaries, either. But alas, I digress.

Kevin: My favorite Leo performance is Catch Me If You Can. Am I alone on a floating door here?

Marlow: He’s very charismatic in that. Is that the last time he’s really smiled and seemed happy in a movie? Or had a proper love interest instead of being tortured by dead and/or unavailable women? Maybe. Mine is his Angeleno Romeo in Romeo + Juliet. That film just hit me at precisely the right time. As far as Best Director goes, I’d really love to see George Miller take it home for Mad Max: Fury Road. It was the best (and most jaw-dropping) movie of 2015, brimming with directorial flair and creativity. This man invented modern dystopian cinema with The Road Warrior, and to return over thirty years later with a film that arguably surpasses it is a staggering achievement. The man is 70, for chrissake! You’re not supposed to be able to make a movie this explosive and testosterone-heavy at 70. He’s a miracle. And one of the gentlest, loveliest men you’ll ever meet to boot.

Kevin: The Year of Leo will sadly have its ripple effect, I think, and Inarritu will win. Which is fine. The Revenant is a gorgeous movie. The battle scenes in the beginning were thrilling, and the bear attack was a triumph of filmmaking. But was any of it more thrilling or triumphant than what Miller did with Mad Max? I’d say no. And wouldn’t the world be a much better place if what I’d say goes?

Marlow: That would be a truly splendid, Beyoncé-infused place. The Revenant is indeed gorgeous—the entire film, due to its natural light, resembles Instagram’s “Mayfair” tint—but I think most of the credit for that goes to its cinematographer, the great Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, who will win his third straight Oscar (following Gravity and Birdman). Inarritu is a director whose vision tends to come off as ostentatious and maudlin (see: Babel) when he’s not reeled in.

Kevin: It would also mean that we wouldn’t be looking at a situation in which The Revenant very likely could defeat Spotlight, The Big Short, and Mad Max for Best Picture. Can you believe it?

Marlow: Sadly, I can—but that doesn’t mean I agree with it. The Revenant is a big, sprawling, grand picture led by an A-list movie star that’ll make $400 million worldwide, and has all the momentum. For a while I thought it would be The Martian, since it’s a crowd-pleaser with a legendary director at the helm and a massive ensemble of fine actors, but it just lost momentum due to its October release—as well as that pretty big foot-in-mouth moment by star Matt Damon on Project Greenlight. But hey, The Revenant isn’t a bad picture; it belongs in the Top 20 films of the year. I don’t really get the slandering of it by certain members of the media, painting it as this generation’s Dances with Wolves (which upset Goodfellas). It’s not a racially problematic ego trip, it’s a beautiful-looking picture, but I think a lot of Spotlight and Mad Max fans are upset about the prospect of it winning the big one.

Kevin: I agree that The Revenant is a good film, but I understand the rage from supporters of Spotlight or Mad Max. Not only do they know that those movies are superior in quality, they also likely know that they are the two films that, years from now, will actually be remembered. So many recent winners—The Artist, Argo, Birdman—are hindsight embarrassments, movies that, in just this short period since they’ve won, have already failed to stand the test of time, let alone live up to the distinction as “Best.” I wish Spotlight would win. Its achievement in filmmaking is underrated, I think, because it isn’t showy, and it’s certainly the most important of the nominees.

Marlow: Spotlight is a very important film. At a time when the leading GOP presidential candidate, an orange man by the name of Donald J. Trump, has declared war on the media, it’s important for the people of this country to realize just how vital the Fourth Estate is to democracy—checking systems of power and exposing corruption. Even though I’m a bit tired of the seemingly endless spate of Baaahstin movies that have cropped up since Mystic River, this one is definitely worthy of praise. If it were my choice, I’d give the award to Mad Max: Fury Road, which all but melted my face off. What a fun ride. There are two films I’ve seen 3x in theaters during its initial theatrical run over the past decade: Mad Max: Fury Road and The Dark Knight. The movie I think will win is The Big Short. It tackled an important subject with wit and pizzazz, and features a lot of A-list actors with serious Academy connections.

Kevin: The Big Short is the best bet to pull a bear attack on The Revenant’s Oscar momentum. It won the most important Best Picture predictor, the PGA Award—every Best Picture Oscar winner since 2009 won the PGA first—and it’s certainly zeitgeisty. Plus, Margot Robbie in a bathtub explaining sub-prime loans might just be the most important 45 seconds in cinema history.