Today’s eyebrow raiser is Paramount’s decision to run Steve Carell as Best Actor for his for his performance as Steve Eisman, a real-life investment specialist, in Adam McKay‘s The Big Short (Paramount, 12.11.)

I wasn’t allowed to catch that special DGA screening two nights ago (i.e., Thursday, 10.15), but I’ve spoken to three guys who did attend, and two regard the Carell-as-Best-Actor thing as a “yeah, maybe, I guess” or “you could make a case that he’s a lead.” A third feels that calling him a lead stretches the definition as Short, he contends, is an ensemble piece made up of three or four parallel storylines, and Carell is basically playing a strong supporting role.

Steve Carell as Steve Eisman in Adam McKay‘s The Big Short.

The main characters besides Carell/Eisman are Christian Bale as Michael Burry, Ryan Gosling as Greg Lippmann and, the least prominent of the bunch, Brad Pitt as Ben Hockett.

The three guys I’ve spoken to all agree that Carell’s performance stands out more than that of his costars, but only one of them (call him Observer #1) half-agrees that it deserves to be called a lead performance. Then again he’s analogizing it to Michael Douglas‘s performance in Traffic, which was kind of a lead but not entirely. His role was somewhat larger than Benicio del Toro‘s Mexican narcotics officer but not tremendously so. It was Benicio, remember, who wound up winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar while Douglas wasn’t nominated for anything.

Perhaps Paramount has decided to “run” Carell as a lead so they can push Bale as a Best Supporting Actor contender without having them compete with each other? Something like that?

Observer #1: “Like Traffic, The Big Short is a multi-narrative and there are four stories. Well, three and a half. Of the four main characters Steve Carell‘s is the most prominent and carries the most emotional weight. He has the most screen time, his struggle delivers the most emotional conflict, and he has the strongest arc…the most front-and-center. He’s kind of like Michael Douglas in Traffic.”

Observer #2: “It is very surprising to me that Carrell would be run for Best Actor. This is a pure and, to me, obvious ensemble film. I feel it would be a mistake to go into the lead category. As good as he is, the role just doesn’t feel like a lead and that could hurt him. Poor strategy in my mind.”

Observer #3: “There’s no real lead here. The movie is a bunch of parallel stories going on, and the point of the movie is to show how different stories contribute to the third-act [critical mass]. That said Carell’s character is probably the most prominent of them all. He’s the one the movie spends the most time on so you could make a case that he’s a lead.”

There was a lot of praise for Carell out of Thursday’s screening. Obviously the smart play would be to push him in supporting and concurrently forget Bale or anyone else in that category. That way Carell would presumably have a good shot at winning. The Paramount guys are probably thinking that the glory of Carell being nominated for Best Actor and the three-month campaign is what counts. They’re probably figuring Leonardo DiCaprio will take it for The Revenant, and so what?