A Trio of Oscar Contenders

1.  Wolf of Wall Street

In a word… overrated.  Nominated for a slew of awards but thankfully, Martin Scorsese’s influence apparently only extends so far and the film failed to win in any category.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve grown to appreciate Leonardo DiCaprio’s abilities after seeing “Catch Me if You Can.”  He has a unique talent for playing characters who are basically pond scum and somehow making them appear sympathetic.  However, where this movie could have been a cautionary tale of Wall Street excess, instead it sensationalizes in the most irresponsible manner the subject’s lifestyle of  rampant drug use, fraud, hookers, and workplace orgies. I can’t imagine what Scorsese could possibly have ruled out to get this film an R rating.  NC17 would have made more sense (but might have not resulted in the aforementioned Oscar nominations).  Oddly,  the constant excess of this sensationalism didn’t even make the film interesting, as I dozed off twice without missing anything.  There was some mild interest in the beginning with DiCaprio’s transition from fresh faced kid off the Wall Street bus (literally… a city bus that says “Wall Street”), to unethical, debauched stockbroker, but this was aided by the early limited and typically mesmerizing, appearance of Matthew McConaghey as his first employer.  After that there really isn’t any redeeming value and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone.  Three hours of this, Scorsese? Negative five million stars.

 

2. Nebraska

Bruce Dern’s nomination for Best Actor here is hands down well deserved.  Playing the aging alcoholic who thinks he won a million dollars in a familiar, garden-variety magazine sweepstakes, Dern’s character Woody drags his caring son along on a road trip to claim the prize.  Dern worked consistently within the confines of a character who spoke in measured, limited cadences. Reminded me of Peter Seller’s accomplishment as the lead in “Being There.” Without an actor’s natural tendency to aid the lines with inflections and other tools of their trade, Dern’s character draws in the audience who must then focus on the words and the portryal.  One example of this occurred in the scene where they are passing through Dern’s hometown and visiting his old childhood home.  In the empty run down house, Dern says three sentences:  “This was my parent’s room. (slight pause) They used to yell at me if I came in here. (slight pause) No one to yell at me now.”  Just incredible.   Shooting entirely in black and white also not only underscores the tone of the film, it allows for welcome and fresh creativity in cinematography and direction.   Montana landscape, at least in areas, is bleak and uninteresting, which lends itself perfectly to artful black and white representation.  It’s a well written, acted and directed film that inspires a viewer to look both inward and outward.  I couldn’t understand why “Wolf of Wall Street” was rated R instead of NC17, and i don’t understand the R instead of PG13 here, because I do recommend for all audiences.

 

3. Saving Mr. Banks

This excellent movie did not win any Oscars and it most certainly SHOULD HAVE.  There was one nomination, for Best Original Score, and of course a boatload of other nominations and awards.  I can’t fathom the Academy snub of Emma Thompson for Best Actress.  She had rather a difficult part to play and succeeded in imbuing a certain sympathy to the character of Mrs. Travers, author of the classic Mary Poppins,  who was dignified yet hostile and clearly unhappy.  The negotiations between Mrs, Travers and Walt Disney that led to the development of a Disney masterpiece create the basic conflict in Saving Mr. Banks.   Mrs. Travers was so difficult for Disney to work with, it is temptingly easy for the audience to conclude that she was just irate and unpleasant.  However, the sheer acting presence of Emma Thompson along with the movie’s overuse of flashbacks to her unhappy childhood, contrive to make darn sure the audience knows this is someone who simply never learned how to enjoy life or be happy.

In the flashback scenes, Colin Farrell plays her father, who alternates between his love of his family and his love of alcohol.  When there are joyous moments in the story, both in the past and present scenes, the joy is correspondingly all the more powerful. Some might conclude the film is blatantly manipulative.  I’m not sure that I can quite see it that way, and even if it is, it’s not the worst manipulation in the world.  For people who find the basic concepts to have value, it isn’t manipulation but more of an affirmation.  It also makes it possible for the viewer to live the experience of Mrs. Travers through her eyes: arriving by transatlantic flight in the early 1960s, to her suite at the Beverly Hills hotel.  The viewer won’t immediately understand why she takes the fruit bowl and flings the pears out of the window, just like the movie’s title doesn’t make sense until much later on.    Less detailed flashbacks would have been preferable in favor of more focus on the movie’s present, where she spends time at the Disney studios working with Walt and his employees.  The flashbacks might conceivably why some viewers might feel manipulated, and with actors like these, a director should let them do the heavy lifting they are capable of.   The scenes with Mrs. Travers and the creative team are golden; the talented songwriting Sherman brothers get a great tribute here and the supporting performances are all spot on.  The guarded friendship that develops between Mrs. Travers and the limo driver played by Paul Giamatti has an impact on the viewer that builds along with the relationship.

I also loved Tom Hanks’ interpretations of Walt Disney and a Best Actor nomination would not have been out of place either.  See this movie if you believe that sacrifice brings about rewards, that joy is greater in contrast with unhappiness, and please know that after you do see it, you’ll be singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” out loud for days.

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4 thoughts on “A Trio of Oscar Contenders

  1. After being left disappointed by American Hustle I haven’t watched any of the other Academy Award nominated films this year, and after reading your review of The Wolf of Wall Street I’m very glad I gave that particular film a wide berth. It sounds appalling and I’m very sure I couldn’t sit through more than a few minutes of the excesses of DiCaprio and his cronies.
    I’m intrigued by your description of Nebraska though and Saving Mr. Banks is a film that completely slipped under my radar.
    Very enjoyable reading your thoughts again RB. I know life gets in the way but you really should post more often.

    • Thanks as always for the honor of your visit to my site Paul. I do recommend “Saving Mr. Banks” and there is so much detail omitted from my brief review which doesn’t do the film justice. Emma Thompson’s portrayal of Mrs. Travers is full of delicious nuances such as when she instructs Walt Disney on the proper way to serve tea. Or when she returns home to her apartment in London and says simply, “Hello home.” If you do see it let me know what you think!

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