The Wolf of Hollywood and Highland

During the lead up to this year’s Oscar’s on March 2nd I will be covering a lot of the nominees for the upcoming Academy Awards. This will not be your usual Oscar primer, but in fact more of a “catching up to speed” series. I will be dissecting a major film (a best picture nominee) and one or two smaller films in each installment. I will be going over what the nominees are, and what chances it stands to win. In the last installment HERE I covered “Philomena”, “The Grandmaster” and “Despicable Me 2”. This time I will be talking about “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “August: Osage County” and “20 Feet from Stardom”.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” was directed by Martin Scorsese, was produced by Red Granite Pictures and was released on December 25th. The film has five nominations.

–        Best Picture-  Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Emma Tillinger Koskoff and Joey McFarland

–        Best Director- Martin Scorsese

–        Best Adapted Screenplay- Terence Winter

–        Best Actor- Leonardo DiCaprio

–        Best Supporting Actor- Jonah Hill

This mostly true story of investment banker Jordan Belfort, charts his rise through Wall Street and how money and power corrupted every fiber of his being. Every person he works with and cares about is a cancer to society. This is a case where every time you laugh at the screen it’s out of disgust and loathing. Watching Belfort and his compatriots all strung out was enjoyable and uncomfortable at the same time. A schadenfreude feeling that makes you happy you aren’t them. The film was long (over three hours long) and some scenes were unnecessarily long like the various montages, drug fuelled orgies and the like. What was most impressive on Scorsese’s end was how he filmed the movie. During scenes where characters were intoxicated, anamorphic lenses were used to stretch the frame and distort reality. Continuity didn’t line up and everything felt askew. When the characters were sober the film was shot with traditional methods, and in scenes where the FBI was pursuing Belfort the camera lenses were longer making it seem like the camera was spying on him. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is another technical masterpiece by the fames director but once again this is a film that will probably fall short of the big prize, unless “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” split their votes. The same goes for the Best Director category.

What made this film truly work were the performances by the actors. DiCaprio and Hill along with Matthew McConaughey, Jon Favreau, Margot Robbie, and Kyle Chandler among others all brought their A-game and left everything on the screen. Hill who is now a two time Oscar nominee, which is still shocking to say, hit new highs with his mostly comedic performance. You wonder if he would be able to tackle a purely dramatic role as he was mostly the comedic relief here. The Best Supporting Actor is Jared Leto’s to lose, but he will face strong competition from Michael Fassbender and Hill too. I just doubt a comedic performance will win an Oscar as history has shown otherwise.

DiCaprio is really detrimined to get that Oscar and Scorsese has vowed to keep working with him until he gets him one. People will claim it is an injustice that he has yet to win, but looking at his filmography there is no real world beater among them. Are there great performances in his credits? Absolutely, they just are not always Oscar caliber ones. Every drug binge makes his character look more and more ugly, which gives Leo a chance to show off his talent. The scene where he is on Quaaludes at the country club and has to will himself across the ground inch by inch in order to get to his car will be a scene remembered for a long time. Unfortunately there isn’t much that changes within the character except that he gets worse and worse. The one moment of supposed humility comes near the end when Belfort talks about helping a female co-worker put her son through school, except the act in itself has ulterior motives and only serves to make him seem like a likeable person for a brief second. Leo is in a tough spot, if the Academy decides they ‘owe’ him one like they used to owe Marty, he could be a huge dark horse to win unfortunately there are two to three actors ahead of him. Perhaps next year will be Leo’s time.

The script is a bit hard to breakdown since Scorsese claims a lot of the scenes were improvised and some of the best moments come from reactions not lines spoken. The film was adapted from Jordon Belfort’s autobiography, which I have to assume he is much nicer to himself than the film is. The film was turned into a biting satire about how greed and addiction consume this man who once just had aspirations to make his first wife happy and not worry about money. I feel the film would have been more powerful if it focused more on the ways that Belfort and his firm was crippling the economy with their Ponzi schemes since this is something as real today as it was in the 1980’s. Since the Academy loves edgier films to give the screenplay Oscar’s too Winter might stand a chance, but there are three other Best Picture nominated films in the same category so it is too close to call right now. Ask me again after I have seen “12 Years a Slave”

“August: Osage County” was directed by John Wells, was produced by Jean Doumanian Productions and was released on January 10th. The film has two nominations.

–        Best Actress- Meryl Streep

–        Best Supporting Actress- Julia Roberts

This is a film about a family reuniting after the patriarch of them kills himself. Scene after scene the families ugliest warts all come out and each of them are infected with the pain and hurt caused by their mother, Violet Weston played with full fangs out by Meryl Streep. I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded that Streep is the preeminent actress, not only working today, but possibly ever. Her eighteen nominations (side note: holy crap!) and three wins for “Kramer vs. Kramer”, “Sophie’s Choice” and “The Iron Lady” all prove she is the best. Every line of delicious dialogue written by Tracy Letts comes out of Violet like rabid hound. A lot of her insults and putdowns directed at her daughters and dead husband can be quite humourous, but if any of them were said to you by a family member you could not help but burst into tears. Streep plays a drug addict dying of cancer with sympathy until  the second she opens her mouth. If the story wasn’t a bit weak Streep’s venom filled performance would be a shoe-in to win for her second time in only two years. People assume since she is nominated every other year she can win at another point and she shouldn’t hog the awards. It is one of my qualms with the Academy since they should just award the best, regardless of politics but it will never be that way. Not to take anything away from Cate Blanchette or Sandra Bullock, but if Streep won, I would be happy.

This cast is all-star from top to bottom that includes Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch and the cold opening with Sam Shepard reciting T.S. Eliot. Julia Roberts is someone whose films I will happily avoid, but she went toe to toe matching Streep with an equal amount of venom, that is once she grew her backbone. She doesn’t understand why her husband left her for a younger woman, until she looks into a mirror and she’s the person she has hated her whole life, her mother. When I saw this film before the Oscar Nominations came out, I would have been shocked if she wasn’t nominated. Out of the three Best Supporting Actress films I have seen she stands head and shoulders above the others, unfortunately with the weak script and the strong performances by Nyong’o and Lawrence, Roberts will be left behind.

“20 Feet from Stardom” was directed by Morgan Neville, was produced by Gil Friesen Productions and was released on July 5th. The film has one nomination.

–        Best Documentary Feature- Nominees to be determined

Ever wonder who the female shouting ‘It’s just a shot away/It’s just a shot away’ during the chorus of Gimmie Shelter by The Rolling Stones? “20 Feet from Stardom” tells the stories of the back up singers who gave music its soul. With interviews from Bruce Springsteen, Sting, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Sheryl Crow and more, they tell what those other people with microphones on stage and in the studio meant to them. You hear stories about how Darlene Love who worked with Ray Charles, was screwed out of fame and a solo career by Phil Spector who used her vocals and released it under another already established band’s name. Hearing isolated tracks of just the vocals make you appreciate these people so much more.

The film charts the evolution of back up singing from simple call and response singing in early rock music, to the Motown explosion and finally when the British Invasion occurred, the bands wanted the same soulful voices to shine as bright as their own to match the power of RnB and gospel that they adored. This film follows the trend of popular music documentaries about the underdog like “Searching for Sugar Man” which won its category last year. If the Academy decides it doesn’t want a super heavy film like “The Square” or “Dirty Wars” to win this is a sexy pick to make. This film does nothing new to move the documentary film making genre forward, but who cares when you are having this much fun and learning about some of the greatest songs ever made by the people who were involved in making them. Best Documentary Feature is such a wild card I would be foolish to suggest who will win. This is one of the few categories (along with the shorts and foreign films) that the voter must prove they have seen all the nominees in order to vote on a winner. This actually is makes the process work a lot better and there is rarely a dud winner. “20 Feet from Stardom” is fantastic and I would be fine with it winning.  Now go watch this film immediately.

About author

Music Editor at Live in Limbo and Host of Contra Zoom podcast. Dakota is a graduate of Humber College's Acting for Film and Television. He now specializes in knowing all random trivia. He writes about music, sports and film. Dakota's life goal is visit all baseball stadiums, he's at 7.