It’s a real travesty that over 20 years into his career, Mr. Leonardo Michaelangelo DiCaprio hasn’t yet won Best Actor at whichever Academy Awards ceremony we’re begrudgingly sitting through, again. He’s been nominated a handful (?) of times and has (so far) walked away with zero. He’s incredibly gifted and unlucky. He’s the face of the generation but the gold one still eludes him. His presence on the screen almost guarantees tons of cash for the studio – how much does an Academy Award weigh anyway?
The real travesty is that Jonah Hill doesn’t yet own an Oscar.
Mr. Hill knows his role within every film he steals to a tee. His breakout film, Superbad, is canon and a torchbearer for 2000s comedy pastiche. The first film for which the Academy graced him with a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Moneyball, had Hill shed the goofy routine for a more dramatic role and he proved that his range extended beyond dick jokes and fat humor; in fact so much so that legendary film auteur and same-amount-of-Oscars-as-3-6-Mafia director, Martin Scorcese, chose him for a pivotal role in his adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s tiresome and self-aggrandizing laugh fest that was The Wolf of Wall Street.
Note that this is NOT a bad or even mediocre film: Jonah Hill’s acting and Margot Robbie’s “acting” were the high points; Leo’s physical acting grabbed him the nod. It was The Wolf of Wall Street‘s 3 hour run time and a heaping load of better films that landed it just under 1 Oscar total. This outcome begs the question, “would this film have been nominated had this been 2008, when only five films got the nod? Does it have the same canonical presence as The Dark Knight? It’s hard to see The Wolf of Wall Street from behind the obvious star power of its production team, but the answer is no.
Everyone (to the tune of $400 million) loves a story about a bad guy getting what he deserves. They love to know that the main character has a dubious plan to “win” and they love to know that, because of time limitations, this feckless thug will get what he deserves. He’ll lose his family and his money and his freedom and the audience will be rewarded with an “Aw Yeah!” moment because that’s what pseudo-biopics do these days. For The Wolf of Wall Street, Leo is this “miscreant” as Jordan Belfort, the salesman from ’80s Gecko hell. He’s depicted as dehumanized and profiteering. His partner, Hill’s Donnie Azoff, is a typical b-man: deferent, emotionless, physically off-putting. But if Belfort is with whom we’re supposed to sympathize, it’s only because Azoff’s foil is so strong that our $400 million audience has to hate Leo. Everyone hates Leo.
The Wolf of Wall Street in no way earned 2013’s top spot. Even after 2009 bloated the competition and devalued the Best Picture nod, The Academy continues to do top films a disservice by including films that don’t capture the essence of that year. Instead of Nebraska, American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, 12 Years’ A Slave (the eventual winner), Her, which all demonstrate zeitgeist-leaning themes, ethos and filmmaking, we get Wall Street III: Too Little, Too Late. The Wolf of Wall Street comes off as cheap, profiteering and resting on its morals, curiously mocking its internal pathos, while extolling no real connection with its readers – us, the omnipotent audience.