Oscar Watch: The Wolf of Wall Street

In this series, I look at the major Oscar nominated films and their chances of taking home gold. It is more an analysis of the Awards than it is the film’s quality, though some commentary on that is also included. Enjoy!

And now for something completely different. The Wolf of Wall Street is essentially director Martin Scorsese’s version of a frat-boy comedy. That should tell you whether you’d enjoy the film, or whether it should win Oscars.

It’s a solid accomplishment, but easily the most polarizing movie among the bunch. I think audiences (and critics) are only willing to go so far with a patently unlikable protagonist. And, clocking in at three hours, Wolf tests the limits of good taste and patience.

I’ve heard multiple tales of walk-outs after about the first hour or so, not necessarily due to the movie’s excessive vulgarity (though that is likely a factor) but because of the fact that paying audience thought they had seen all the movie had to offer.

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Wolf’s comedic elements likely make it a breath of fresh air for Academy voters, but that alone does not deem it worthy of taking home gold.

That assertion is mostly correct. Which is why it’s strange to see the movie nominated in prestigious categories such as Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Terrence Winter’s script is certainly one of the most vulgar, over-the-top pieces to ever be nominated in a writing category. It’s so lowbrow, it’s actually shocking to see it competing against screenplays such as Before Midnight and 12 Years a Slave.

And yet, maybe that’s the point. After all, maybe Oscar voters can only take so much dour, earnest drama. Wolf’s nominations are like an adrenaline shot to the competition. And the film can be quite funny. Or maybe it’s Scorsese’s name that brought the film higher in the minds of voters, which made it seem much more important than it actually is.

Not that a movie has to be “important” to win Oscars, but I can’t help but feel the Academy is slumming it. There is an obvious exception, and that is Leonardo DiCaprio’s nomination for Best Actor. It’s the very definition of a stacked category, one where multiple “favorites” will be vying for the prize. But I’m throwing my chips in for the long-suffering DiCaprio, who has never won despite multiple nominations. I don’t think he’ll ever do better than his livewire, completely off-the-wall performance as Jordan Belfort in Wolf, so why not just give it to him now?

Jonah Hill’s Supporting Actor nomination seems a bit of a joke compared to the competition, but, given the film’s length, he probably gets more screen time than the other nominees (and is thus more “supporting,” technically speaking). Still, shouldn’t the fact that we get to see his (prosthetic) penis earn some sort of disqualification?

My intention is not to simply complain about the film, which I did not hate, but to simply wonder at the Academy’s standards. When considering Best Picture nominees, I’d have a hard time believing that The Wolf of Wall Street is better than the magnificent Before Midnight, or even an overlooked gem like Mud. Yet, grossing more than $100 million, Wolf is one of the more popular Oscar contenders. Sadly, “popularity contest” is a term we hear combined with “Oscar” much too often.

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