Oscar Fodder Mini Reviews: Wolf of Wall Street, August: Osage County and Philomena

augustSo Oscar season is upon us, with the first of the big awards shows happening tomorrow NZ time – the always entertaining Golden Globes. It promises to be an interesting show this year, not the least due to returning hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, who will without a doubt bring the funny. But, the Oscars is the really big deal, so I have made it my mission again this year to review as many Oscar films as I possibly can*. So here goes with the first batch…

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

This ‘inspired by true events’ tale of a morally bankrupt stockbroker who makes billions ripping off small time investors, is apparently Martin Scorcese’s first comedy. Indeed, that is the category for which it is entered at the Golden Globes. I would agree that this is Scorcese’s funniest film by some stretch, but a comedy? Now that is a stretch indeed (that said though – none of the entries under ‘Musical or Comedy’ at the Globes is actually a comedy or musical, so maybe they need to revisit their categories…’Slightly less dramatic Drama maybe?’)

That said, there is a lot to enjoy about this film. Leonardo DiCaprio is in fine form as the titular wolf – enjoying the chance to let go of any kind of restraint and go full tilt bat shit crazy on screen. He has solid company too – with Jonah Hill (and some weird false teeth) and Kyle Chandler both stand outs. One gets the impression in many scenes they were just told to roll with it and see what happens…and some crazy stuff happens.

But, when most of that crazy stuff involves copious (and I do mean copious) amounts of sex and drugs and then more sex and more drugs, it does get a little bit much after a while. Needless to say this film well and truly fails the Bechdel Test (I don’t think two women even HAD a conversation in this film). It is kind of pitched as a cautionary tale, but isn’t really. However, not wanting to be hypocritical – as I was fine with Zero Dark Thirty telling things like they are and not taking a side – I can’t fault Scorcese here. He is telling a story, and an entertaining one at that. The fact that I found it slightly unpalatable is personal taste. Though – as my friend uttered as we walked out of the theatre – that man REALLY needs to get an editor. 3 hours of that was FAR too much. 3 and a half M&Ms from me.

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

Well, from one movie where no women have any conversations to another where all that happens is women having conversations – and loud, raucous and insulting ones at that. This play adaptation tells the tale of three sisters brought back to their childhood home by the disappearance of their father. This has them dealing with matriarch (and pill addict) Violet – Meryl Streep in particularly hideous yet amazing form. What follows is a few hours of family dysfunction (if you thought yours was bad these guys will make you feel better), huge and at times hilarious arguments, and shocking revelations.

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this – despite it not being even close to a feel good film. But the script is absolutely top notch (a particular highlight being a lunch scene where Julia Roberts REALLY just wants people to eat their fish…) and the actors involved all absolutely bring their A Game. The cast is a who’s who of Hollywood – Roberts, Streep, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor…oh and some guy called Benedict Cumberbatch. The highlight for me though was Julianne Nicholson as Ivy – she was probably the calmest of all of them but delivered an assured and impressive performance. Not awards baiting, but more’s the pity.

This won’t be for everyone, but if you can handle a little bit of family conflict with your popcorn then there is no better place for it then Osage County. Highly recommend and 4 and a half M&Ms from me.

PHILOMENA

Well, I don’t envy the person who has to decide, at some future point in time, who was the best actor of their generation – Meryl Streep or Judi Dench. Just based on these two films alone it is an almost impossible call. Here Dench plays elderly Irish woman Philomena, who reveals to her daughter that she had a son as a teenager and he was taken away from her by the Catholic nuns and adopted out. She decides to try and track him down, and they recruit down on his luck journo Martin (Steve Coogan) to help them, and write an article about it.

It is the relationship between Philomena and Martin which is the basis of the film – and a solid and amusing basis it is. They come from very different backgrounds and have completely different world-views – it is kind of like a buddy cop comedy where by the end they have come to appreciate each other’s differences. Except here, as well as that relationship – we have the more serious matter of what happened to Philomena’s son, and what evil the Catholic Church perpetrated in the process (not just on her but on hundreds of women and children in similar situations in Ireland).

I couldn’t help thinking afterwards that this was a film that only the British could do well – if the Americans had done it they would have milked the emotion and plot twists for all they were worth. Whereas here the story is just told – no muss no fuss – and with actors as accomplished as Dench and Coogan, no fuss was needed. Dench is always worth the ticket price, but it was relevation to see usually funny guy Coogan in a straight guy role (which he also co-wrote). Highly recommended to take your mum (or your auntie! Thanks Auntie!) and some tissues. 4 M&Ms from me.

*one Oscar film I probably won’t get a chance to review is Blue Jasmine, which I missed during it’s cinematic release…

And in case anyone is interested, here are my picks for the big categories at tomorrow’s Golden Globes:

FILM AWARDS

DRAMA: 12 Years A Slave

MUSICAL OR COMEDY: American Hustle

ACTOR, DRAMA: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

ACTRESS, DRAMA: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

ACTOR, COMEDY: Bruce Dern, Nebraska

ACTRESS, COMEDY: Amy Adams, American Hustle

TV AWARDS

DRAMA: Breaking Bad

COMEDY: Parks and Recreation

ACTOR, DRAMA: Kevin Spacey, House of Cards

ACTRESS, DRAMA: Robin Wright, House of Cards

ACTOR, COMEDY: Jason Bateman, Arrested Development

ACTRESS, COMEDY: Lena Dunham, Girls

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