Some major tussles are coming to The Flip Side in the coming weeks. Was Jennifer Lawrence’s bipolar(ish) big-con wild card in “American Hustle” better than Lupita Nyong’o’s gentle, tragic, beyond-abused “queen” of the cotton field in “12 Years a Slave”? Should a documentary about death be more journalistic or artistic? Is anything better than Evil Meryl Streep? Which emotion is more powerful when stirred—sympathy (Jared Leto), or fear (Michael Fassbender)? And how the unholy f*ck does “The Lone Ranger” have better special effects than “Pacific Rim”?
The Oscars are never really about a corporate-glossy award show. They are about comparing great movies. (Incidentally, did you know if you walk out of a movie before it’s over, at Regal theaters at least, you can get your money back? The wife and I found that out at “Pain and Gain.” Apt title.)
Before answering the unanswerable, we must delve for a moment back into “The Wolf of Wall Street,” because it will rightly be second or third runner-up in Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor.
There are occasions when the critical response to a movie makes that movie even more fascinating. (On TV, the ultimate example of this is “Mad Men,” which reviewers almost exclusively criticize, even though they all think it’s the best show on television.) “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a long and stunning Martin Scorsese movie, with the best performance of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career. It is also insane.
(Click here for The Flip Side’s full, slobbering review of “Wolf.”)
Scorsese does very cinematic stuff in “Wolf of Wall Street.” His camera swoops around huge rooms full of greedy traders either lying to clients en masse to take their money (while miming sex acts), or partying like Romans the night before the fall (while committing sex acts). When Jordan is busted, and told he needs to rat on his friends to avoid prison, Scorsese’s camera tracks forward through a crowd of young traders. There’s a bright light behind them, but we don’t see what’s causing it. They all have to get out of the way first. For Jordan to see the light, he has to sell out his army of clones.
Other Scorsese tricks include telepathy between Jordan and the Swiss banker who can hide money from American authorities, and a huge special-effects scene when Jordan’s ridiculous yacht is destroyed in a storm.
And then there’s the comedy. This is where the criticism comes in. “The Wolf of Wall Street,” from its opening scene, is funny. Our first glimpse of Jordan comes when he’s throwing a midget at a dart board. Then the camera freezes on him, and in voice-over he says something like, “Oh, lemme introduce myself.” Then we get our second glimpse of him . . . snorting coke out of a hooker’s ass.
Critics who don’t like “The Wolf of Wall Street,” (they’re all over Slate and NPR, at least), say it’s too much, and that the sex and drugs and ridiculousness are repetitive and relentless.
You sad, silly feebs. Why do you even go to the movies? Just because they pay you? (The Flip Side is jealous.) This is like complaining about “The Godfather” because it’s just so full of mobsters. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is about maniacs misbehaving—that’s why they’re misbehaving.
Everyone who dislikes “The Wolf of Wall Street” seems to agree about the scene where Belfort is so high on super quaaluds that he can’t talk or walk. There’s this broad physically comedic scene where he rolls down some brick steps, barely manages to get behind the wheel of his Ferrari, and drives home, where his sidekick (also too high to function) starts choking on a slice of meat. He’s going to die unless Belfort can come to and save him. Inspired by the Popeye cartoon his daughter is watching in the living room, Belfort finds a stash of cocaine in his kitchen, inhales a bunch of it, and saves the day.
Cocaine is to Belfort as spinach is to Popeye. He’s a cartoon character personifying the corruption at the heart of our country’s biggest problem. And DiCaprio has a blast in the role. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is brilliant.
But it’s not as good as “12 Years a Slave.”
To Be Continued. . . .