FILM: THE BIG SHORT
CAST: Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Finn Wittrock
Director: Adam McKay
Based on the true story and best-selling book by Michael Lewis, ‘The Big Short’ tells the story of four outsiders in the world of high-finance who predicted the collapse of the economy. Their bold investment leads them into the dark underbelly of modern banking where they must question everyone and everything.
Writer and director Adam McKay is best known as the comedy mastermind behind Will Ferrell blockbusters including ‘Step Brothers’ and ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’, as well as the Tony Award-nominated Broadway Show ‘You’re Welcome America’. But five years ago when he read ‘The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine’ he became fascinated with a farce of a different kind. Intrigued by the mixture of comedy, drama, and outright tragedy in Lewis’ brilliant behind-the-scenes look at the lead-up to the global economic meltdown, McKay yearned to take a break from absurdist comedies and bring ‘The Big Short’ to the big screen.
“I started reading the book at around 10.30 at night and thought, ‘I’ll just read 40 pages,’” McKay recalls. “I couldn’t put it down. I ended up reading the whole thing that night and finished at six in the morning. The next day I told my wife about the characters and how the book weaves together all these different storylines and how it’s like a ‘get rich’ story that’s ultimately about the fall of the banking system, corruption and complacency, and how it’s funny and it’s heartbreaking at the same time. And she’s like, ‘You should do it.’ And I said, ‘I’m the guy who did Step Brothers.’ I didn’t even look into it, because I just assumed (someone else had) bought the rights to this book.”
The book that got McKay so excited about making a film about the events leading to the banking crisis comes from the mind of master non-fiction storyteller. After working at a big Wall Street bank himself in the 1980s, Lewis wrote the bestseller ‘Liar’s Poker’, a humorous and revealing look at the lucrative and deceptive world of bond trading. The author had no plans for a follow-up until the 2008 financial collapse. “I started reading about how big banks like the one I had worked for lost hundreds of billions of dollars trading in the subprime mortgage-bond market,” Lewis recalls. “The banks had become the dumb money at the table and were losing huge amounts…so I wondered, ‘How does that happen?’”
In search of answers, Lewis met with former investment bankers who’d lost their jobs after the meltdown. “We’d go out for a beer and they’d tell me off the record, ‘The only reason I’m explaining to you why I lost 10 billion dollars on a single trade is that you’re the reason I’m in the business. I read ‘Liar’s Poker’ and that got me excited to be a Wall Street trader.’ After a few conversations I realized, ‘Jesus Christ, I created this crisis!’ I had a personal stake in these dummies responsible for losing all this money who had been led into the profession by this book I wrote. So then I tried to sort out how these institutions at the heart of capitalism became stupid and did such suicidal things. Banks like Goldman Sachs are filled with extremely bright, well-educated, best-and-brightest types from Harvard, Yale and Princeton.”
But it wasn’t these Ivy League former Masters of the Universe who ended up being the protagonists in Lewis’ book. Instead, he turned his attention to the misfits who defied the prevailing wisdom of banks, government regulators and media pundits and bet everything they had on an unprecedented failure of the American housing market. “I found out about these outsider oddball types on the periphery who figured out just how corrupt the system had become,” he says. “These are the guys that made ‘The Big Short’ a book and not just a magazine piece. The guys who bet against the banks and made fortunes – those were the characters who interested me.”
CAST: Anne Marie DUFF, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonhan, Meryl Streep
Director: Sarah Gavron
The time is 1912. The U.K. is seeing an increased public presence of the Suffragettes, whose rallying cry is “Votes for Women!” Their efforts at resistance over the years have been passive, but as the women face increasingly aggressive police action, they engage in public acts of civil disobedience endangering property – but never human life. The epicentre of their national Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) is in London, where Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) is a working-class wife and mother; she and husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw) toil at a laundry. Startled one day by a protest, Maud recognizes a co-worker, Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff), among the agitators. Initially unwilling to get involved in the Suffragette cause, Maud comes to realize that she must claim her dignity both at home and in her workplace…
…and that she is not alone, as brave women from all walks of life have joined the fight for equality. Pharmacist Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) and upper-class Alice Haughton (Romola Garai) coordinate WSPU grassroots efforts. Maud’s commitment to the movement is tested by giving testimony before Parliament, a brutal street skirmish – and a jail stint that, while brief, alarms her husband. But her resolve is strengthened by observing Emily Wilding Davison’s (Natalie Press) ability to endure prison stints – and by meeting WSPU founder Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), who emerges from hiding with an electrifying public speech that galvanizes the Suffragettes to activism.
Maud’s dedication leads her to hard choices that will change her own life forever, as she strives to effect real change for generations to come. The police step up their surveillance and harsh treatment, with Inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson) shadowing Maud’s journey at every step; ultimately, she and her fellow Suffragettes will risk their very lives to ensure that women’s rights be recognized and respected.
For years, director Sarah Gavron had nurtured an ambition: to make a movie about the Suffragette movement. She explains, “The term ‘Suffragette’ was coined as a term of derision by the British press to describe activists in the movement for Women’s Suffrage, those who were striving for equal voting rights for women. But the term was then appropriated – and forever owned – by the movement itself. Suffragettes disrupted communications by cutting telegraph wires and blowing up post boxes. They violated property. They went to prison for what they believed, and went on hunger strikes to draw attention to their fight for equality against an increasingly brutal state.
“All of this happened 100 years ago. I was amazed that this extraordinary and powerful true story of ordinary women willing to sacrifice everything for the right to vote had never been told. There was a miniseries back in the 1970s titled ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’ which made a generation of women more aware of this history – but, no feature film.”
When the BAFTA Award winner made her much-admired feature film directorial debut, 2007’s ‘Brick Lane’, she found kindred spirits in the project’s producers, Academy Award nominee Alison Owen and Faye Ward, and screenwriter Abi Morgan. Not long after, Owen remembers, “I was speaking with a friend, and I wondered why no one had ever made a movie about the Suffragettes. The Suffragette movement in the U.K. didn’t have the associations that the U.S movement did, closely allied – or perceived as being – with the Temperance movement. I realized that the subject to tackle was its being kick-ass, more like a guerrilla movement.”
CAST: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K.
DIRECTED: Jay Roach
In the 1940s, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is one of the highest paid screenwriters in the world, penning movie classics including the Oscar-nominated ‘Kitty Foyle’ and ‘Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo’. A fixture on the Hollywood social scene, and a political activist supporting labour unions, equal pay and civil rights, Trumbo and his colleagues are subpoenaed to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as part of its sweeping probe into communist activity in the U.S. Trumbo’s refusal to answer the congressmen’s questions lands him in a federal prison and earns him the eternal enmity of powerful anti-communist gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren).
For the next 13 years, all of the major Hollywood studios refuse to hire Trumbo for fear of being associated with his perceived radical political views. Forced to sell his home and ostracized by friends, colleagues and neighbors, Trumbo struggles to feed his family by writing mostly low-budget movies under assumed names. But he never gives up fighting for what he believes in. Ultimately,
Trumbo prevails when star Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger each put the screenwriter’s real name on screen in their respective 1960 blockbusters, ‘Spartacus’ and ‘Exodus’, effectively bringing the blacklist era to an end.