Turns out that the must-see movie of 2015 wasn’t Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but The Big Short!

The movie focuses on four finance professionals and 2 amateurs who predict the housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s, and use arcane rules and special deals to punish the big banks for their greed while making a hefty profit for themselves.

I must admit, I was skeptical about how much I was going to enjoy the movie when my husband suggested seeing it this weekend. I detest preachy films that bash capitalism and deride businessmen as greedy.

Actually, I was highly entertained. The lead actors were outstanding, especially Christian Bale as Dr. Michael Burry (a savvy investor with Asperger’s Syndrome and a case of chronic honesty) and Steve Carell in the role of Mark Baum (a money manager for a unit of Morgan Stanley). Both men have earned well-deserved nominations for Golden Globe awards, as has both the movie and screenplay.

Beyond the acting, the presentation of complex financial concepts using comedy was innovative and highly entertaining. I don’t think that people are going to forget “synthetic collateralized debt obligations” after seeing the demonstration involving singer Selena Gomez, a black jack table, and $10 million in chips.

You could hear a pin drop in the theater, because the audience was so engrossed in the world of high stakes finance, subprime mortgages, and bank fraud.

My one concern in making this recommendation was that the story was simply another Hollywood fantasy, bearing no reality to what actually happened. Happily, I conferred with my financial experts and they agreed that the movie did capture the housing bubble collapse and the banking crisis fairly accurately.

San Diego colleague and investment expert W.C. Varones gave The Big Short a big thumbs-up, too! He notes the one point where the account was more fiction than fact:

I watched The Big Short recently. Having read the Michael Lewis book, and having lived through the rise and fall of the housing bubble, I can attest that the movie does justice both to the book and to history. And the filmmakers manage to make the discussion of complicated financial instruments understandable in an entertaining way, without dumbing it down.

The main takeaway from the movie is that Wall Street is rigged. The big guys will always get bailed out, and the rest of us will always get stuck footing the bill. Wall Street controls the levers of power in Congress, the Administration, and the Federal Reserve. This should not be a controversial proposition to anyone who has been paying attention the last 6 1/2 years.

But the movie (like the book perhaps, it’s been a while since I read it) departs from reality when it depicts its handful of protagonists as the only ones who saw the housing crash coming. Many people saw the housing crash coming. Even I shorted Countrywide and Impac Mortgage. I got my tip reading the now-defunct I am Facing Foreclosure blog by Casey Serin, an unemployed 24-year-old who had obtained financing from banks to buy at least seven houses. When I saw the promissory note that Countrywide took from this broke deadbeat in lieu of foreclosure, I knew we were on to something.

In the interest of full disclosure, John Tamny of Forbes delves into more of the era’s fiscal background and where the movie took a few liberties. Despite the comedy treatment, the sad fact is that many Americans are still hurting from the housing crash and remain underwater on their mortgages and there are some concerns that there may be a second housing bubble burst.

And, yes…Wall Street firms were the target of snarky Hollywood commentary, and Goldman Sachs one of its biggest. But, in the end, that audience was cheering the people who made huge profits legitimately.

In the immortal words of businesswoman Martha Stewart, “And that’s a good thing.”


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