Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Wolf of Wall Street (dir by Martin Scorsese)


Suck it, The Big Short The Wolf of Wall Street is the best film to be made about Wall Street this century.

Martin Scorsese’s 2013 financial epic tells the true story of a group of rather sleazy people who got rich and who basically, to quote Robert De Niro from an earlier Scorsese film, “fucked it all up.”  Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio, giving what I still consider to be the best performance of his career) is the son of an accountant named Max (Rob Reiner).  Fresh out of college, Jordan gets a job on Wall Street.  Under the mentorship of the eccentric (but rich) Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), Jordan discovers that the job of a stock broker is to dupe people into buying stock that they might not need while, at the same time, making a ton of money for himself.  With the money comes the cocaine and the prostitutes and everything else that fuels the absurdly aggressive and hyper-masculine world of Wall Street.  Jordan is intrigued but, after the stock market crashes in 1987, he’s also out of a job.

Fortunately, Jordan is never one to give up.  He may no longer be employed on Wall Street but that doesn’t mean that he can’t sell stocks.  He gets a job pushing “penny stocks,” which are low-priced stocks for very small companies.  Because the price of the stock is so low, the brokers get a 50% commission on everything they sell.  Because Jordan is such an aggressive salesman, he manages to make a fortune by convincing people to buy stock in otherwise worthless companies.  As Jordan’s boss (played, in an amusing cameo, by Spike Jonze) explains it, what they’re doing isn’t exactly regulated by the government, which just means more money for everyone!  Yay!

Working with his neighbor, Donny Azoff (Jonah Hill, at his most eccentric), Jordan starts his own brokerage company.  Recruiting all of his friends (the majority of whom are weed dealers who never graduated from high school), Jordan starts Stratton Oakmont.  Using high-pressure sales tactics and a whole lot of other unethical and occasionally illegal techniques, Jordan soon makes a fortune.  When Forbes Magazine publishes an expose that portrays Jordan as being little more than a greedy con man, Stratton Oakmont is flooded by aspiring stock brokers who all want to work for “the wolf of Wall Street.”

And, for a while, Jordan has everything that he wants.  While the Stratton Oakmont offices become a den of nonstop drugs and sex, Jordan buys a huge mansion, a nice car, and marries a model named Naomi (Margot Robbie).  His employees literally worship Jordan as he begins and ends every working day with inspirational (and often hilariously profane) sermons, encouraging his people to get out there and sell no matter what.  Of course, making that much money, Jordan has to find a way to hide it from the IRS.  Soon, with the help of Naomi’s aunt (Joanna Lumley), he is smuggling millions of dollars into Switzerland where a banker (Jean Dujardin, who is both hilariously suave and hilariously sleazy a the time) helps him hide it all.

When Jordan learns that the FBI and SEC are looking into his dealings, Jordan invites Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) to come visit him on his yacht and, in a scene that launched a thousand memes, the two of them have a friendly conversation that’s largely made up of passive aggressive insults.  Jordan taunts Denham over the fact that Denham washed out when he tried to get a job on Wall Street.  Denham laughingly asks Jordan to repeat something that sounded like it may have been a bribe.  When Denham leaves the boat, Jordan taunts him by tossing a wad of hundred dollars bills into the wind….

And here’s the thing.  Yes, the media and our political class tells us that we’re supposed to hate that Jordan Belforts of the world.  One can imagine Bernie Sanders having a fit while watching Jordan brag about how he cheated the IRS.  If Adam McKay or Jay Roach had directed this film, one can imagine that they would have used the yacht scene to portray Jordan Belfort as pure evil.  (McKay probably would have tossed in Alfred Molina as a waiter, asking Belfort if he wants to feast on the lost future of the children of America.)  But the truth of the matter is that most viewers, even if they aren’t willing to admit it, will secretly be cheering for Jordan when he throws away that money.  DiCaprio is so flamboyantly charismatic and Scorsese, as director, so perfectly captures the adrenaline high of Jordan’s lifestyle that you can’t help but be sucked in.  He may be greedy and unethical but he just seems to be having so much fun!  Just as how Goodfellas and Casino portrayed life in the mafia as being an intoxicating high (as well as being more than a little bit dangerous), The Wolf of Wall Street refrains from passing easy judgment and it steadfastly refuses to climb onto a moral high horse.  Jordan narrates his own story, often talking directly to the camera and almost always defending his actions.  As a director, Scorsese is smart enough to let us make up own minds about how we feel about Jordan and his story.

Of course, when Jordan falls, it’s a dramatic fall.  That said, it’s not quite as dramatic of a fall as what happened to Ray Liotta in Goodfellas or Robert De Niro in Casino.  No one gets blown up, for instance.  But Jordan does lose everything that gave his life meaning.  By the end of the film, he’s been reduced to giving seminars and challenging attendees to sell him a pen.  (“Well,” one hapless gentleman begins, “it’s a very nice pen…..”)  During the film’s final scenes, it’s not so much a question of whether Jordan has learned anything from his fall.  Instead, the movie leaves you wondering if he’s even capable of learning.  At heart, he’s the wolf of Wall Street.  That’s his nature and it’s really the only thing that he knows how to do.  He’s a bit like Ray Liotta living in the suburbs at the end of Goodfellas.  He’s alive.  He has his freedom and a future.  But he’s still doesn’t quite fit in.  Much like Moses being denied the opportunity to physically enter the Promised Land, Jordan’s punishment for his hubris is to spend his life in exile from where he truly belongs.  And yet, you know that Jordan — much like Henry Hill — probably wouldn’t change a thing if he had the chance to live it all over again.  He’d just hope that he could somehow get a better ending while making the same decisions.

Unlike something like The Big Short, which got bogged down in Adam McKay’s vapid Marxism, The Wolf of Wall Street works precisely because it refuses to pass judgment.  It refuses to tell us what to think.  I imagine that a lot of people watched The Wolf of Wall Street and were outraged by the way Jordan Belfort made his money.  I imagine that an equal number of people watched the film and started thinking about how much they would love to be Jordan Belfort.  The Wolf of Wall Street is a big, long, and sometimes excessive film that dares the audience to think of themselves.  That’s one reason why it’ll be remembered after so many other Wall Street films are forgotten.

The Wolf of Wall Street was nominated for best picture of the year.  It lost to 12 Years A Slave.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Raging Bull (dir by Martin Scorsese)


This is not my favorite Martin Scorsese film.

I feel like I have to make that clear from the start because, for many people, this is their favorite Scorsese film.  Though it may have gotten mixed reviews when it was first released, it is now regularly described as being the high point of Scorsese’s fabled collaboration with Robert De Niro.  This was also the first film that Scorsese made with not only Joe Pesci but at also Frank Vincent as well.  (In fact, the whole scene in Goodfellas where Pesci and De Niro nearly stomp Vincent to death is a bit of an homage to a scene in Raging Bull.  Of course, Vincent got his revenge on Pesci in Casino.)  This film earned Martin Scorsese his first Oscar nomination for best director and it’s regularly cited as being one of the greatest film ever made.

Even more importantly, 1980’s Raging Bull has been described — by none other than the director himself — as the film that saved Martin Scorsese’s life.  Like a lot of his contemporaries, Scorsese got hooked on cocaine during the 70s.  He even nearly died of an overdose.  De Niro, who has been on Scorsese to direct Raging Bull for years, visited him in the hospital, brought him the script, told him to clean up his act, and make the film.  When Scorsese started to work on the film, he assumed it would be his last.  Whether Scorsese thought he would be dead or if he just thought he’d retire, I’m not sure.  Still, if Raging Bull had not rejuvenated Scorsese’s love of cinema, he wouldn’t have subsequently directed some of the greatest films ever made.  So, regardless of anything else, we have to be thankful that De Niro kept pushing Scorsese to direct Raging Bull.

The film itself is a biopic of Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), a brutal boxer who destroys opponents in the ring while destroying everyone who loves him outside of the ring.  He’s the type of guy who takes joy in destroying one opponent’s face just because his wife, Vicki (Cathy Moriarty), said that the guy was handsome.  When he’s forced to take a dive in order to win a title shot, he sobs in the locker room and it’s as close to being sympathetic as Jake gets.  The rest of the movie, he spends his time terrorizing his wife and taking out his frustrations on his loyal brother, Joey (Joe Pesci).

Most boxing films tend to present boxers as being lovable lugs, guys who might not be too smart but who have found the one thing that they’re good at.  (Think of the pre-Creed Rocky films.)  In Raging Bull, there’s nothing lovable about Jake.  He’s an animal, an angry man who fights because that’ the only way that he knows how to relate to the world.  He’s the type of guy who spends all of his time looking for an excuse to get mad and throw a punch.  The most dangerous thing you can do is make a joke in the presence of Jake LaMotta because, as portrayed in this film, he’s such an idiot that his reaction will always be to see it as a provocation.  From beginning to end, he’s a loathsome figure but the young De Niro was such a charismatic actor that you keep watching because — much like Vicki — you keep hoping that you’ll see some glimmer of humanity and some chance of redemption.

Reportedly, Scorsese and De Niro feel that the end of Raging Bull does provide Jake with some redemption.  Having lost everyone that ever loved him, an overweight Jake runs a sleazy nightclub and makes a fool of himself reciting dramatic monologues.  The production actually shut down so that De Niro could overeat and gain all the extra weight and it is shocking to see him go from being a handsome, athletic man to a fat slob whose shirt can’t even cover his belly.  No longer a boxer, Jake is now a faded D-list celebrity.  Now that he can’t fight and he can’t make money for the mob and the gamblers, no one cares about him.  That’s unfortunate for Jake but I have to say that I’ve never seen much redemption in Jake’s fate.  If anything, I was just happy that Vicki finally got away from him.

Raging Bull is a film that’s easier to admire than to actually like.  It’s impossible not to appreciate the black-and-white cinematography or the performances of De Niro, Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty.  As directed by Scorsese, the boxing scenes are horrifying brutal, to the extent that you find yourself wondering how anyone could enjoy the sport.  (When a spray of Jake’s blood hits the people in the first row, you can’t help but think that they’re all getting what they deserved.)  That said, the film’s never been a favorite of mine because, as well done as it is, Jake LaMotta never seems like he’s worth spending two hours with.

Obviously, a lot of people disagree with me on that.  Raging Bull received 8 Oscar nominations.  Robert De Niro won Best Actor.  Raging Bull, itself, lost Best Picture to Robert Redford’s Ordinary People.

Here Are The DGA Nominations!


Todd Phillips did not pick up a DGA nomination but fear not Joker fans.  The film did pick a nomination from the PGA.

Uncut Gems has now been snubbed by the SAG, the DGA, and the PGA so I’m going to assume that it’s Oscar chances are pretty much dead.  It was one of my favorite films of the year but, at the same time, I can also understand why some people might not share my feelings.

JoJo Rabbit, on the other hand, has been nominated by the DGA, PGA, and the SAG so it’s definitely a stronger contender than some have been giving it credit for being.

Anyway, here are the 2019 Director’s Guild nominations!

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film

Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Sam Mendes, 1917
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Feature Film Director

Mati Diop, Atlantics
Alma Har’el, Honey Boy
Melina Matsoukas, Queen & Slim
Joe Talbot, The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, The Peanut Butter Falcon

Lisa Marie’s Oscar Predictions For December


Well, here we go!

This is my last set of Oscar predictions for the year.  With the critics groups and some of the guilds having now announced their picks for the best of 2019, the Oscar picture is now a lot more clear.  Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Parasite, The Irishman, 1917, and Marriage Story all seem to be guaranteed to pick up a nomination.    

I am going to go out on a limb and predict that, despite being ignored at SAG and by the Golden Globes, Uncut Gems will get some nominations as well.  Right now, the film just seems to have momentum on its side.  Realistically, I’m not a 100% convinced that it’ll be nominated, not the way I am with some other films.  It’s divisive film and I’m sure that some people think that rewarding Adam Sandler will just lead to him using his newfound respect to get a theatrical release for the next Grown Ups sequel.  But I’m going to take a chance and go with it.

(Of course, Nightcrawler and Jake Gyllenhaal also had a lot of momentum a few years ago and ended up getting totally shut out of the Oscars.)

Below are my predictions for December.  If you want to see how my thinking has evolved, be sure to check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, and November!

Best Picture

1917

Bombshell

The Irishman

JoJo Rabbit

Little Women

Marriage Story

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Parasite

Uncut Gems

Best Director

Bong Joon-ho for Parasite

Sam Mendes for 1917

The Safdie Brothers for Uncut Gems

Martin Scorsese for The Irishman

Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Best Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Adam Driver for Marriage Story

Taron Egerton for Rocketman

Joaquin Phoenix for Joker

Adam Sandler for Uncut Gems

Best Actress

Scarlett Johansson for Marriage Story

Luptia Nyong’o for Us

Saoirse Ronan for Little Women

Charlize Theron for Bombshell

Renee Zellweger for Judy

Best Supporting Actor

Willem DaFoe in The Lighthouse

Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Al Pacino for The Irishman

Joe Pesci for The Irishman

Brad Pitt for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress

Laura Dern in Marriage Story

Scarlett Johansson in JoJo Rabbit

Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers

Florence Pugh in Little Women

Margot Robbie in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

 

The Oscar nominations will be announced on January 13th!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Oscar, in happier times

The Black Film Critic Circle Select Dolemite Is My Name As The Best of 2019!


On Sunday, the Black Film Critics Circle announced their picks for the best of 2019!

And here they are:

Best Film: Dolemite Is My Name
Best Director: Martin Scorsese (The Irishman) and Kasi Lemmons (Harriet)
Best Actor: Eddie Murphy (Dolemite Is My Name)
Best Actress: Lupita Nyong’o (Us)
Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time In Hollywood)
Best Supporting Actress: Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Dolemite Is My Name)
Best Original Screenplay: Lena Waithe (Queen & Slim)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Steven Zaillian (The Irishman)
Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins (1917)
Best Foreign Film: Parasite
Best Documentary: Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
Best Animated Film: I Lost My Body
Best Ensemble: Dolemite Is My Name
Pioneer Award: Ruth E Carter
Rising Star: Kelvin J. Harrison
Special Mention: Lloyd ‘Kam’ Williams

The Dallas-Ft. Worth Film Critics Association Names 1917 As The Best of 2019!


Reunion Tower (picture by Erin Nicole)

Here are the winners in Dallas!

BEST PICTURE

Winner: 1917

Runners-up: MARRIAGE STORY (2); PARASITE (3); THE IRISHMAN (4); ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (5); JOJO RABBIT (6); LITTLE WOMEN (7); THE FAREWELL (8); THE TWO POPES (9); KNIVES OUT (10)

BEST ACTOR

Winner: Adam Driver, MARRIAGE STORY

Runners-up: Joaquin Phoenix, JOKER (2); Antonio Banderas, PAIN AND GLORY (3); Leonardo DiCaprio, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (4); Robert De Niro, THE IRISHMAN (5)

BEST ACTRESS

Winner: Scarlett Johansson, MARRIAGE STORY

Runners-up: Renée Zellweger, JUDY (2); Charlize Theron, BOMBSHELL (3); Saoirse Ronan, LITTLE WOMEN (4); Awkwafina, THE FAREWELL (5, tie); Lupita Nyong’o, US (5, tie)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Winner: Brad Pitt, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Runners-up: Willem Dafoe, THE LIGHTHOUSE (2); Joe Pesci, THE IRISHMAN (3); Al Pacino, THE IRISHMAN (4); Shia LaBeouf, HONEY BOY (5)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Winner: Laura Dern, MARRIAGE STORY

Runners-up: Margot Robbie, BOMBSHELL (2); Florence Pugh, LITTLE WOMEN (3); Jennifer Lopez, HUSTLERS (4); Annette Bening, THE REPORT (5)

BEST DIRECTOR

Winner: Sam Mendes, 1917

Runners-up: Bong Joon-ho, PARASITE (2); Martin Scorsese, THE IRISHMAN (3); Quentin Tarantino, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (4); Noah Baumbach, MARRIAGE STORY (5)

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Winner: PARASITE

Runners-up: PAIN AND GLORY (2); THE FAREWELL (3); LES MISÉRABLES (4); PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (5)

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Winner: APOLLO 11

Runners-up: ONE CHILD NATION (2); AMERICAN FACTORY (3); HONEYLAND (4); FOR SAMA (5)

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Winner: TOY STORY 4

Runner-up: I LOST MY BODY

BEST SCREENPLAY

Winner: Noah Baumbach, MARRIAGE STORY

Runner-up: Steven Zaillian, THE IRISHMAN

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Winner: Roger Deakins, 1917

Runner-up: Hong Kyung-pyo, PARASITE

BEST MUSICAL SCORE

Winner: Thomas Newman, 1917

Runner-up: Alexandre Desplat, LITTLE WOMEN

RUSSELL SMITH AWARD (best low-budget or cutting-edge independent film)

Winner: THE LIGHTHOUSE

The North Texas Film Critics Association Selects The Irishman As The Best of 2019!


The North Texas Film Critics Association announced their picks for the best of 2019 earlier today.  Speaking as a North Texas film critic, I’m a bit annoyed that I wasn’t consulted but oh well!  (To quote King of the Hill, “North Texas?  More like South Oklahoma!”)  Here are their winners:

BEST FILM

Winner: THE IRISHMAN

Runners-up: 1917; PARASITE; THE FAREWELL; MARRIAGE STORY; JOJO RABBIT; THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON; A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD; ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD; FORD V FERRARI; JOKER

BEST ACTOR

Winner: Joaquin Phoenix, JOKER

Runners-up: Robert De Niro, THE IRISHMAN; Adam Driver, MARRIAGE STORY; Adam Sandler, UNCUT GEMS and Leonardo DiCaprio, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

BEST ACTRESS

Winner: Charlize Theron, BOMBSHELL

Runners-up: Scarlett Johansson, MARRIAGE STORY; Renée Zellweger, JUDY; Awkwafina, THE FAREWELL and Lupita Nyong’o, US

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Winner: Tom Hanks, A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Runners-up: Joe Pesci, THE IRISHMAN; Brad Pitt, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD; Al Pacino, THE IRISHMAN and Song Kang-Ho, PARASITE

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Winner: Zhao Shuzhen, THE FAREWELL

Runners-up: Laura Dern, MARRIAGE STORY; Scarlett Johansson, JOJO RABBIT; Kathy Bates, RICHARD JEWELL and Annette Bening, THE REPORT

BEST DIRECTOR

Winner: Sam Mendes, 1917

Runners-up: Martin Scorsese, THE IRISHMAN; Quentin Tarantino, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD; Noah Baumbach, MARRIAGE STORY and Lulu Wang, THE FAREWELL

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Winner: PARASITE (South Korea)

Runners-up: PAIN AND GLORY (Spain) and LES MISÉRABLES (France)

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Winner: APOLLO 11

Runners-up: AMERICAN FACTORY; ONE CHILD NATION; DAVID CROSBY: REMEMBER MY NAME and ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Winner: TOY STORY 4

Runners-up: ABOMINABLE and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Winner: Roger Deakins, 1917,

Runner-ups: Jarin Blaschke, THE LIGHTHOUSE; Rodrigo Prieto, THE IRISHMAN; Hoyte Van Hoytema, AD ASTRA; Robert Richardson, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD and Phedon Papamichael, FORD V FERRARI

BEST NEWCOMER

Winner: Roman Griffin Davis was awarded Best Newcomer for JOJO RABBIT

GARY MURRAY AWARD (Best Ensemble)

Winner: KNIVES OUT