It's a good hour into The Wolf of Wall Street, following a deep dive into Jordan Belfort's early days in the stock market game — that being the most appropriate word for it — and festive indulgence in the most carnal manifestations of human desire, that we're hit with the title card, "18 months later..." Here, it is solidified that the years we have spent inside Martin Scorsese's world of toxic capitalism have all been, up to this point, set-up. Fuel. This brief flash of text, the longest instance of silence in the cacophonous sewer system that is Belfort's story, is the first real sign that a fire is coming.
By this time, Scorsese's willful defiance of the "show, don't tell" method has introduced us to every one of the doe-eyed crook's countless vices. He has no qualms stealing from those who can't afford it, lying to those who trust him, cheating on his wife, cramming every substance known to modern science into his bloodstream, and wholeheartedly endorsing (to his adoring audience) all of the above. All the while, we bound between delight and disgust. The delight comes not so much in the material victories of Belfort and his cronies — that has the latter effect, in fact, as every antic is so vividly laced with Sodom-level depravity — but in watching them like zoo animals. In fact, The Wolf of Wall Street's principal undoing might be that it is simply too much fun.
For that, we have to thank Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio had managed terrific performances all his career, but this is one of the first in years to actually surprise us. Opening his tale as an ambitious and firm-shouldered young buck, the likes of which you'd find in any Horatio Algers novel, and devolving into the Financial District's answer to Beetlejuice, the actor exhibits corners of his performing ability that we have always dreamed we'd see. In the months leading up to DiCaprio's turn as the dastardly dandy Calvin Candie in last year's Quentin Tarantino picture Django Unchained, fans anticipated an unprecedented kookiness that never seemed to show. Turns out, DiCaprio was saving that mania for Wolf of Wall Street, in which he lambasts justice and judgment in the form of an elastic child at his most tempered and a rabid kangaroo on those nights of the especially hard partying.
And of course, there's that scene with the Quaaludes. Without giving too much away — although the experience is so visceral that all the contextual spoilers wouldn't rob the scene of its emphatic humor — DiCaprio manages a feat of physical comedy so extensive, demanding, and gutterally f**king hilarious that you'll wonder tearfully what might have been had the rising star shirked Titanic for a career in slapstick. But the surplus joys derived from this scene might, in fact, be Wolf's undoing. In a story that is meant to lather on the horrors inherent in the human's propensity for self-serving greed and gluttony, it can soften the blow when we're allowed to take a break from our disgust to spend a few moments in vivid, unabashed delight. Yes, the scene in question involves drug abuse, intoxicated driving, criminal activity, and a near-death experience. But it's so damn funny that we're kept from toppling down into what might have been the darkest crevasse of the film's story and enduring the pathos that might come with it.
The dilution of Wolf's message comes at the hand of its comedy (with no affair a bigger culprit than the one described above) and its tendency to meander. Although Scorsese works to shove the very idea of "excess" down our throats with seemingly endless scenes of Belfort and his pals harassing flight attendants and dehumanizing little people, the ad nauseum effect doesn't always hit home as powerfully as imagined, instead allowing the viewer to fizzle out from time to time through Wolf's three-hour tour. We're drowned, slowly and steadily, in Belfort's tragic pleasures while, as the "18 months later" interstitial suggests, we keep expecting to combust with them.
It's always a risky endeavor for a film or television show to indict crooked characters not through narrative penalties but through a tacit communication of their behavior or psychology as bad news. The risk comes in the form of audiences challenging artists for letting their villains get off scot-free, or even for glorifying undesirable lifestyles. Ultimately, while Belfort does get some semblance of his comeuppance, he wins in his nefarious game. The Belfort we leave at the end of our journey adheres to the tenets he spouts from the beginning, reveling in a legion of former colleagues beaming at him in collective awe and new students of his self-centric theology zealously eating up his every word in hopes of becoming the very same kind of demigod. To Scorsese, and to any an audience member willing to estrange him or herself from the bounties of wicked humor, this is just the fire we were promised. Belfort's image is ignited by the instances of theft, deceit, betrayal, substance abuse, sexual crime, and a spiralling descent into sub-human madness. But there are a few too many laughs along the way to keep the flames from reaching their full, hottest potential.
But hey, when you're complaining about a movie for being too much fun, you've got a pretty good movie on your hands.
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With boatloads of awards-worthy movies making their way into theaters over the next three months, Hollywood.com wants to ensure that come time that you're fully prepared for your 2013 Oscar pool. Our motto: "Leave no potential Academy Award winner behind." Here's how we think this week's Argo will fare in this year's award gauntlet.
Best Picture: Never mind the fact that Argo — Ben Affleck's wildly entertaining thriller about the unbelievable true-life rescue mission of six U.S. diplomats during the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran — has all the makings of a Best Picture winner, particularly one made over the past five years. Because it does. The surprisingly funny drama is a bona fide crowd pleaser (Slumdog Millionaire), that delves into the oft harrowing side of the Middle East (The Hurt Locker), with a respected director at the helm (or, in the case of No Country For Old Men, directors), about an amazing true story (The King's Speech) that also shows Hollywood some major love (The Artist).
Never mind all that, because even though the ensemble-heavy Argo (which may as well just start preparing its SAG Award acceptance speech now) may look like its following the 'How to Win a Best Picture' blue print, its a timeless film (with a killer catch phrase to boot) that touches on a surprisingly untapped nerve. We live in a time where being a "real American" is called into question and Argo — a story of bravery, taking care of your fellow man, and, yes, patriotism — may just answer that. Also: Canadians are pretty cool, too.
More over, it's just damn entertaining. It's smart without being pretentious and political without being preachy. It's a great comeback story — not only of the six United States diplomats which the film centers around, but that of Hollywood's ultimate comeback kid, director Ben Affleck, who also stars in the film— and a fascinating piece of history. Any movie that you already know the ending to but it still keeps you on the edge of your seat with anticipation is, much like Argo itself, the ultimate ode to the power of Hollywood.
Best Actor: As mentioned, Argo's ensemble is bubbling over with talent, every part cast with an eye on who best fits the bill rather than name actors. But that leaves the film's chances at taking home actor wins or even nominations murky. The group is greater than its parts in this case, with Affleck's character feeling more a facilitator of action than a meaty on-screen presence. It's to the movie's benefit; Argo is such a thrilling experience because it's a series of moving parts. One strong lead would take the focus away from the incredible story.
Best Actress: Unfortunately, no one in Argo would qualify for this award in the eyes of Academy voters. Turns out the CIA of the 1970s didn't have very many female analysts.
Best Supporting Actor: The movie's male-dominated ensemble makes this category a little more fierce and, possibly, at risk of cannibalizing itself. If anyone stands out amongst the crowd, it's Alan Arkin, who has been nominated three times (1967's The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming, 1969's The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and his first win, 2007's Little Miss Sunshine). Arkin injects a sense of humor into Argo with his foul-mouthed, fast-talkin' producer character Lester Siegel. Comedic performances aren't generally highlighted by the Academy, but they tend to squeeze through in the Supporting category. If the voters are looking to heap as much praise they can on Argo, nominating Arkin would be another logical way.
Best Supporting Actress: Again, the men out number the women in Argo, but if anyone in particular pops enough to catch the eye of voters, it would be Sheila Vand, as the Canadian embassy housekeeper, Sahar. With only a few short scenes, Vand turns Sahar into one of Argo's beating hearts. The focus of the movie getting the U.S. citizens out of the burning city of Tehran. But through the desperate eyes of Sahar, we realize not everyone has a rescuer coming to their aid. Judi Dench won a Supporting Actress Oscar after appearing in only eight minutes of Shakespeare in Love. Vand's performance could be heartbreaking enough to capture that same attention.
Best Director: What Affleck lacks in his work as the film's lead he makes up for in expert direction. Argo is impressive because it nails the inherent humor of faking a sci-fi B-movie for a CIA operation that fills the first half of the film, then seamlessly transitions to the thrills of the espionage mission. Affleck does it all with striking visuals and an eye for action. If Argo is eyed as a Best Picture contender, Affleck's nomination (and possibly win) should go hand and hand with it.
Other Possibilities: Rodrigo Prieto (previously nominated for Brokeback Mountain) could win for his work bringing both the bright, flashy look of Hollywood and bleak pallate of war-torn Iran to life. Composer Alexandre Desplat's 2012 is stuffed, having done music for Moonrise Kingdom, Rust and Bone, Rise of the Guardians, and Zero Dark Thirty, but his work on Argo uses an innovative vocal track that should make it a contender. Writer Chris Terrio could also find himself nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay award, as the movie is heavy on the dialogue and precisely paced. Argo could even take home the makeup Oscar this year — have you seen that hair?!
Once you have seen Argo weigh in: which Oscars could it pick up at year's end?
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures (2)]
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With each outing in his evolving filmmaking career actor-turned-director Ben Affleck has amped up the scope. Gone Baby Gone was a character drama woven into a hard-boiled mystery. The Town saw Affleck dabble in action pulling off bank heists many compared to the expertise of Heat. In Argo the director pulls off his most daring effort melding one part caper comedy and two parts edge-of-your-seat political thriller into an exhilarating theatrical experience.
At the height of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 anti-Shah militants stormed the U.S. embassy and captured 52 American hostages. Six managed to escape the raid finding refuge in the Canadian ambassador's home. Within hours the militants began a search for the missing Americans sifting through shredded paperwork for even the smallest bit of evidence. Under pressure by the ticking clock the CIA worked quickly to formulate a plan to covertly rescue the six embassy workers. Despite a lengthy list of possibilities only Tony Mendez (Affleck) had a plan just enticing enough to unsuspecting Iranian officials to work: the CIA would fake a Hollywood movie shoot.
There's nothing in Argo or Affleck's portrayal of Mendez that would tell you the technical operations officer has the imagination to conjure his master plan — Affleck perhaps to differentiate himself from the past plays his character with so much restraint he looks dead in the eyes — but when the Hollywood hijinks swing into full motion so does Argo. Mendez hooks up with Planet of the Apes makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to convince all of Hollywood that their sci-fi blockbuster "Argo " is readying for production. With enough promotional material concept art and press coverage Mendez and his team can convince the Iranian government they're a legit operation. A location scout in Tehran will be their method of extracting the bunkered down escapees.
Without an interesting lead to draw us in Affleck lets his eclectic ensemble do the heavy lifting. For the most part it works. Argo is basically two movies — Goodman and Arkin lead the Ocean's 11-esque half and Affleck takes the reigns when its time to get the six — another who's who of character actors including Tate Donovan Clea Duvall Scoot McNairy and Rory Cochrane — through the terrifying security of the Iranian airport. Arkin steals the show as a fast talking Hollywood type complete with year-winning catchphrase ("ArGo f**k yourself!) while McNairy adds a little more humanity to the spy mission when his character butts heads with Mendez. The split lessens the impact of each section but the tension in the escape is so high so taut that there's never a moment to check out.
Reality is on Affleck's side his camera floating through crowds of protestors and the streets of Tehran — a warscape where anything can happen. Each angle he chooses heightens the terror which starts to close in on the covert escape as they drift further and further from their homebase. Argo is a complete package with the '70s production design knowing when to play goofy (the fake movie's wild sci-fi designs) and when to remind us that problems took eight more steps to fix then they do today. Alexandre Desplat's score finds balance in haunting melodies and energetic pulses.
Part of Argo's charm is just how unreal the entire operation really was. To see the men and women involved go through with a plan they know could result in death. It's a suspenseful adventure and while there's not much in the way of character to cling to the visceral experience tends to be enough.
Director Todd Haynes' quirky, all-star Bob Dylan-inspired movie I'm Not There is set to be the toast of the IFC Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California, in February, after landing the event's first Robert Altman Award.
Announced at the Spirit Awards last year, the honor is given to the director, casting agent and cast of an outstanding indie movie.
In I'm Not There, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere and Cate Blanchett are among the actors who conjure up the spirit of Dylan at different stages of his life for the offbeat 'biopic.'
The movie was also nominated for the Spirits' Best Film prize, where it will compete with Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Juno, A Mighty Heart and Paranoid Park.
Blanchett and Marcus Carl Franklin earned Best Supporting Actress and Actor nods, respectively, for their portrayals of Dylan, and Todd Haynes is a Best Director nominee.
Other four-film nominees are acclaimed coming-of-age film Juno, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and The Savages.
Meanwhile, Ang Lee's controversial Lust, Caution is also a multi-nominee; the film's stars Tony Leung and Tang Wei are up for Best Actor and Actress honors, while Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography is also under consideration.
French actress Julie Delpy's 2 Days in Paris earned her a First Feature nomination; she'll be up against Jeffrey Blitz's Rocket Science, which garnered three nominations.
In the lead-acting categories, Angelina Jolie is an immediate favorite for her role as grieving Marianne Pearl in A Mighty Heart. Jolie will compete against Sienna Miller (Interview), Parker Posey (Broken English), Ellen Page (Juno) and Tang Wei.
Leung will be up against Pedro Castaneda (August Evening), Don Cheadle (Talk to Me), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Savages) and Frank Langella (Starting Out in the Evening) in the Best Actor category.
The nominations were announced on Tuesday morning by Lisa Kudrow and Zach Braff.
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If time permitted Babel would’ve had seven stories come together--one for each continent. As it stands the film is set in three continents which is more than enough to convey the world’s vast discord and ultimately harmony. The first--and integral--story is set in the Moroccan desert where a powerful rifle changes ownership a number of times until winding up in the hands of two young brothers whose father instructs them use it on jackals. The curious boys fire at a tour bus in the distance to see if the bullets can really go as far as they’re supposed to. The bullet not only penetrates the bus window but also the woman leaning on it an American woman named Susan (Cate Blanchett) on vacation with her husband Richard (Brad Pitt). In San Diego the couple’s housekeeper (Adriana Barraza) is watching their two kids but she along with her nephew (Gael Garcia Bernal) is forced to bring them to Mexico for her son’s marriage when she’s unable to find a sitter for the night. Finally in Tokyo a young deaf-mute girl (Rinko Kikuchi) struggles to come to grips with her mother’s recent suicide and the lack of attention she is paid by people namely the opposite sex. The stories intertwine but the precise ties that bind them are much better seen than read. Some people might take issue with the world’s biggest movie star headlining a movie otherwise bereft of commercial appeal. The flipside of the argument is that Pitt’s attachment gets such a movie greenlit with the snap of a finger and let’s face it--he’s not doing Babel for the money so why even star-hate? Especially since he gives one of his best if briefer performances. He looks sleep-deprived disheveled and somewhat alien to tabloid junkies and his emotions are likewise running on empty throughout. Without giving too much away Oscar buzz for Blanchett’s performance seems unfeasible but not for lack of quality. Nonetheless she dons a convincing American accent and shares great spousal interplay with Pitt when she’s not writhing in pain. Barraza’s (Amores Perros) roller coaster of emotions is matched and somewhat abetted by Bernal in a limited role. But the film’s relative unknowns are responsible for the most arresting performances. Kikuchi aided by some brilliant work from the director is especially tough to swallow at times as her incarnation of the “tortured adolescent” is it’s safe to say foreign to most who’ll see the movie. Babel’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo Arriaga are a rare breed in Hollywood: They try to affect audiences before entertaining them. In Babel you can see how writer Arriaga fell victim to his (or more likely financiers’) desire to entertain moviegoers but you must overlook the few minor flaws--in the form of adulterated coincidences and perhaps exploitative scenes--for the end reward. Out of Arriaga’s otherwise incredible and ambitious script director Inarritu pieces together the puzzle in a way that is wholly powerful and gut-wrenching--and also non-sequential as per his signature style. Abrupt cuts between the narratives are effective in interweaving the stories and the director handles with special care the Japanese story line taking us deep inside the young girl’s vivid yet incomplete world. Inarritu and Arriaga who previously worked together on Amores Perros and 21 Grams complement each other in such a way that makes a more formidable team in today’s movies impossible to think of. The film would not be the same without breathtaking visuals and a score that subtly haunts from Brokeback Mountain’s Rodrigo Prieto and Gustavo Santaolalla respectively.
Acclaimed western Brokeback Mountain has topped Florida's annual movie critics poll, after walking away with four awards including Best Film.
The controversial movie also won Best Director (Ang Lee), Best Screenplay (Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana), and Best Cinematography (Rodrigo Prieto) in the Florida Film Critics Circle vote.
Elsewhere, Philip Seymour Hoffman was named Best Actor for his performance in biopic Capote, while Reese Witherspoon was named Best Actress for her performance as June Carter in Walk the Line.
Paul Giamatti won Best Supporting Actor for his role in Cinderella Man and Amy Adams' part in Junebug netted her the Best Supporting Actress nod.
Kung Fu Hustle won Best Foreign Language Film and Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was named Best Animated Movie.
Veteran German filmmaker Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man was awarded Best Documentary.
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