As we come closer to the Academy Awards on March 2nd, we’ll be posting short profiles of each Best Picture nominee, attempting, in our own ways, to not only sum up what the movie is about, but why we believe it scored one of the nine coveted nominations, and why it could possibly take home the big prize come Oscar night. Enjoy!
The Wolf of Wall Street, the semi-true story of Wall Street hustler Jordan Belfort, made immediate waves upon release, and the majority of those waves were related to the depiction of Belfort himself (played, obviously, by Leonardo DiCaprio). Is Belfort portrayed too sympathetically? Does the film glorify his drug-fueled, money-filled lifestyle? Or does it show us the realities of what really happens when you fly too close to the sun (and break a whole bunch of laws along the way?)
The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorcese’s latest film, tells the true story of Jordan Belfort, once an innocent young man who came to Wall Street to find a job in the stock market, who manipulates cheap, worthless stocks to fill his own pockets (plus those of everyone in his company) to the brim, with the help of his closest associate, the slimy Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill and his giant fake teeth). A self-made millionaire by 26, Belfort lives to pure excess: he leaves his first, earnest wife (How I Met Your Mother‘s Cristin Milioti) for a long-limbed blonde goddess (newcomer Margot Robbie, making a name for herself as the beautiful yet unhappy Naomi Belfort); he can only function with the help of at least ten different (and expensive) drugs, which he combines daily in a potentially lethal combination; he owns a yacht, mansion, jet, a Lamborghini, and a few limos to boot; and he treats his office to the occasional spectacle, like midget darts or an entire company’s worth of prostitutes. The higher you rise, though, the harder you fall, and Belfort finds himself pursued by Agent Patrick Denham, of the FBI (Kyle Chandler, testing out his comedic chops to great effect), and even after a few trips to Switzerland (Jean Dujardin, star of The Artist, has an excellent cameo as his conniving Swiss banker slash accomplice), he still finds himself divorced, in jail, and ordered to make things right. He still manages to land on his feet, naturally, starting a series of sales seminars, using his natural talents for good rather than evil.
The movie itself is an interesting combination of Scorcese’s greatest strengths and weaknesses- the man is certainly innovative, but perhaps lets himself indulge a little too much. Running at 2 hours and 59 minutes, the film often feels like a director’s cut rather than a theatrical release, deflating the fun balloon just a little bit. (Did we really need that many drugged out montages? Could we have done with 5 or 6, rather than what felt like 25?) Despite such a long run time, the quick pace of the movie serves it well, and Scorcese employs clever tricks like the constant breaking of the fourth wall by Belfort, as well as hysterical jump cuts and freeze frames. The script, by Boardwalk Empire‘s Terence Winter, does have a few too many Belfort-as-Jesus moments, but generally presents Belfort as a pretty disgusting guy. The performances are solid, with Margot Robbie and Jonah Hill standing out from the incredibly large cast (and Jonah Hill did score an Oscar nod for himself, for the second time). That all aside, this is DiCaprio’s movie, and no one else’s. His Jordan Belfort is a coke-fueled, hooker-fucking, howling monster, and if the script occasionally veered towards making Belfort look slightly sympathetic, DiCaprio quickly steered it in the other direction. His performance is completely unhinged and utterly deranged; as an actor, he has completely given himself over to a character who isn’t too far away from a supervillain. It’s too bad that he made this film right at this time – any other year, he would be walking away with an Oscar. It’s the performance of his career so far, bar none.
With Scorcese and DiCaprio’s combined pedigrees, The Wolf of Wall Street should have been a stronger contender for Best Picture, but it was ultimately held back over a few middling reviews and arguments over morals. It certainly belongs in the race, though – in a year made up mostly of “true stories,” Wolf is by far the most rip-roaring, but also one of the saddest. DiCaprio will also likely miss out on a statue, going up against competitors like Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey, but his performance will not be forgotten. Like Gordon Gekko before him, Jordan Belfort was consumed by greed, and it eventually was his downfall – but at least we got to see what happened along the way.