Paramount throws ‘The Big Short’ with Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt into the Oscar game

Adam McKay's new drama focuses on the men who saw the global economic meltdown on the horizon

And just like that Paramount is back in the awards season mix.

The venerable studio probably had too many wannabe players on their dance card last year with “Interstellar,” “The Gambler” and “Top Five,” but found success when “Selma” landed a Best Picture nomination (even if was snubbed in some other key categories).  Ava DuVernay’s modern classic made it five out of six years that the studio has landed a Best Picture nod.  Will “The Big Short” make it six out of seven?

AFI and Paramount announced today “The Big Short” will close AFI Film Fest 2015 with a gala premiere set for Nov. 12.  The Adam McKay directed drama will then open in limited release on Dec. 11 and expand nationwide on Dec. 23.  The studio also released a trailer for the movie today that is big on starpower, but quizzically finds it hard to explain what the movie is actually about.

Based on Michael Lewis’ best selling non-fiction novel “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” McKay’s drama appears to focus on a number of key players who bet against the big banks who were living the high life on the back of faulty mortgages before the 2007-2008 financial crisis. A number of these people, including Ben Hockett (Brad Pitt, whose Plan B also produced the flick), Steve Eisman (Steve Carell), Greg Lippman (Ryan Gosling) and Michael Curry (Christian Bale), actually profited as the banks crashed during the crisis.  McKay and Paramount are selling the picture as almost a flip on “Wolf of Wall Street,” but with less clarity as to whom the audience is actually supposed to root for.

There are also a number of intriguing factors that immediately come into play when you throw “Short” into the awards season fray.

*McKay has never written or directed anything this decidedly serious. Can he make the jump even if “Short” turns out to be more dramedy than drama?

*Is the December release window just too crowded to make an impact at the box office?   Just last year Paramount had very disappointing results with the aforementioned “Gambler” and “Top Five” attempting to do the limited to wide plan in a packed frame.  If Paramount is going to have to place the burden of most of the marketing and publicity campaign on Carell’s shoulders they’re already marketing this movie with an arm tied behind their back.  Carell is a trooper, but he can’t open a picture like this on his own (not anymore).  If Pitt, Gosling and Bale are out front?  They’ve got a chance…assuming moviegoers are open to seeing something other than “Star Wars” over the holidays.

*Last year Paramount sneaked “Selma” and Warner Bros. debuted “American Sniper” at AFI back to back when there were both huge question marks about the quality of each film beforehand.  It turned out to be a historic night for the festival as both pictures became cultural talking points.  Can lightening strike twice for both Paramount and AFI this year?

*Is there an actual lead performance here and is it Carell?  And, if not, does that mean we have another “Spotlight” and “Hateful Eight” on our hands?  If the latter is true the Best Supporting category field is looking insanely competitive this year.  If Paramount is hoping one of these gents will land a nod to help fuel the box office they could really be playing with fire.

Check out the trailer for “The Big Short” embedded at the bottom of this post.  Does it look like a real awards season player to you?

Update: Your eyes do not deceive you.  Paramount lists Brad Pitt in the trailer as an Oscar “nominee” instead of winner.  He produced 2014 Best Picture winner “12 Years A Slave.”

“The Big Short” opens in limited release on Dec. 11 and expands nationwide on Dec. 23.

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With over a decade of experience in the movie industry, Ellwood survived working for two major studios, has written for Variety, MSN and the LA Times and co-founded HitFix, Inc. serving as its first Editor-in-Chief and President. Ellwood spends his time relaxing hitting 3’s on the basketball court and following his beloved Clippers.

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