Every day, from now until the weekend of the 2014 Academy Awards, HeyUGuys will be publishing an article championing one of the nine films in contention for the coveted Best Picture Oscar. Yesterday we began our series with this article on Philomena from Viv Mah.
Today The Wolf of Wall Street arrives at our door, and Ollie England champions Martin Scorsese’s rampant karaoke tribute to the financial hedonism of yesteryear blisters with energy, disrespect and moral turpitude. Audiences ate it up. Perhaps the Academy did too…
It is undeniable that 2013 was a fantastic year for the Hollywood blockbuster and that there were serious issues represented across this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture. From slavery and terrorism to alcoholism and Catholic guilt, from AIDS to astro-existentialism and even technophilia…
But one film, more than any other, managed to uniquely entertain and educate its audience about the state of the world (in the way that a Best Picture movie should) and that was Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street: the outrageous true-story of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker who founded the amoral brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont. Five years into the biggest global recession in nearly a century, economies are beginning to recover and it is likely that audiences were beginning to forget what caused the crisis in the first place. For that reason alone the film serves as an important political reminder to stay focused on Wall Street and the politics of the rich.
The film was criticized for not presenting enough of the victims of Stratton Oakmont’s fraudulent sales tactics, yet that was never the intention of the movie. It never pretends to be an ethical and consequential drama; it is an unashamed black comedy that knowingly represents the practices of the firm as carnivalesque. By filling Stratton Oakmont with lions, chimpanzees and ludicrous circus games like ‘dwarf tossing’ Scorsese is highlighting the absurdity of the whole system – a significant message that a more balanced picture would struggle to make.
Another explicit thematic association is the connection between defrauding customers and workplace carnality – the stockbrokers are literally and metaphorically screwing everyone.
The film sits neatly into a new wave of films coming out of Hollywood that are using drugs (mainly cocaine) as a punchline instead of a morality warning. To mention a few others: The Hangover 3 has a scene where a character parachutes towards the screen screaming “I Love Cocaine!”; Denzel Washington in Flight has to be awoken from a drunken stupor with huge lines of cocaine in order to give evidence at a negligence hearing; and in The Wolf Of Wall Street Belfort reels of a list of drugs that would make Hunter S. Thompson proud and later pours a vial of cocaine into his nose to wake him up.
This film getting an honour at a time of increasing liberalism towards the ‘war on drugs’ in America would send a message to the conservatives, that audiences are comfortable with drug use and can recognise on their own what constitutes drug ‘abuse’.
Politics aside, the film is also incredibly funny. The scene that is getting the most attention is the scene where Jordan takes some über-strength Quaaludes and struggles down some steps to get into his Lamborghini – never before has DiCaprio done such great physical comedy. But the comedy honour has to go to Jonah Hill for his portrayal of Donnie, the crack-smoking, stereotypical Jewish extrovert who married his cousin and becomes Jordan’s sidekick at the firm: If Belfort is the brains of the operation, then he is the mascot.
My favourite Donnie line comes after Jordan wakes up tied to his seat in the first class section of a passenger flight to Europe. As Jordan asks why he is reprimanded, Donnie replies, “You called the captain the N-word. He was very upset. Luckily, we’re in first class…”
As important as is it is to recognise Martin Scorsese’s direction of the film – as well as Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill’s acting talent – the Best Picture award is awarded primarily to the production team and the work they put in to organize the whole process. This was a monster production compared to the other films up for the award. IMDb lists the film as having over 250 actors (credited and uncredited) and is 42 minutes longer than it’s nearest rival American Hustle. Length doesn’t connote quality, but the number of long-takes which fill the film are beautiful to watch and never feel gratuitous.
The arc of the narrative follows the traditional three-act rise, peak and fall of a flawed hero perfectly. In the beginning as Jordan is a hungry new penny-stock broker, the audience is gunning for him to fulfill his desires and break into the glamorous and enigmatic world of finance. We stick with him through all of the interference from fraud officers and competitors as we bask in his collective glory.
Then in the final act as he begins to selfishly renege on his principles to betray his colleagues and threaten the safety of his children, the audience collectively agree that it is time for the party to end and he must succumb to a fall from grace. No other blockbuster took its audience on such a comprehensive narrative expedition.
So for these reasons and more, The Wolf Of Wall Street should win Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. It’s always gratifying when a brash black comedy wins a reputable accolade, something that has not happened since American Beauty in 1999. It also might be the only chance for DiCaprio to win an Oscar, seeing as the whole Internet (read: Tumblr) seems to think that he has some kind of awards curse…