2013 was a great year in film. It was a “dart year”, meaning that if you threw a dart, you would hit a movie deserving of recognition and praise. It’s the kind of year where there are no real snubs, simply because there was an abundance of good work, not only from actors and directors, but writers, cinematographers, editors, composers, stylists, and engineers—everyone was firing on all cylinders last year. That said, there will definitely be regrets about the 2014 Oscars within five years. Not all of these movies are going to hold up—in fact, I can already pick four on the Best Picture list that won’t hold up at all: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club and The Wolf of Wall Street.
In the case of Captain Phillips and Dallas Buyers Club, though the performances will likely hold up for a while, the movies themselves will lose luster because as we gain greater distance from the events depicted, Somali piracy and the AIDS epidemic, respectively, we’ll come to realize the real story was not the protagonist’s. In Captain Phillips’ case, the real story is not about the American captain kidnapped off a freighter and rescued by Navy SEALs, but the Somali pirates, driven to such desperate action by crushing poverty. The stuff that has stuck with me the longest from that movie is all related to the pirates, not the captain. Ditto for Dallas Buyers Club, which was really about the gay AIDS patients, marginalized and shuffled aside, not the redneck straight guy who rescued them because ’Murica.
American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street on the other hand, are just straight up messes, and once the glow of Good Acting diminishes, that will become more apparent. The acting is very good in both movies, and both are entertaining, but Hustle isn’t about anything at all and Wolf is only kinda-sorta about how gross finance bros are, in the vaguest of terms. Hustle definitely gets the worst of it, having a barely-there narrative that exists only to allow actors to act, not to actually demonstrate a point of view or illuminate any real moral or point.
And while Wolf is, theoretically, meant to show what a scumbag Wall Street financier and professional jagoff Jordan Belfort is, I’m still not convinced that’s really what Martin Scorsese was saying. The problem is that Wolf is based on Belfort’s memoir, and a lot what Scorsese is trying to pass off as late-80’s excess is actually Belfort’s self-aggrandizing memory of his own life. I don’t need Jordan Belfort to be represented as a mustache-twirling villain, but I did need Scorsese to have a little bit more clearly articulated point.
Either show me that Belfort is a self-deluding asshole, or show me your condemnation of a political system that lets this financial nightmare be re-enacted every twenty years, or show me that the blame rests on the populace who doesn’t get angry enough when this keeps happening. I don’t care—just pick a perspective and stick to it. As is, Wolf is all over the place and so, while it is enjoyable in the moment, it quickly begins falling apart as you start to think about it. What did we just see? Why did all of that happen? The best I’ve come up with so far is “because Leonardo DiCaprio”, and that’s…not really good enough. And yes, the movie is too long. I would have gotten the exact same point about excess and over-indulgence if it was thirty minutes shorter. As is, “over-indulgence” becomes “self-indulgence”.
I’m not saying I didn’t like these movies. I enjoyed them all, in the moment (although, to be honest, I liked Wolf least of all). But that’s the key—they’re movies of the moment. Technically proficient, ambitious and admirable even, in some respects, but movies that won’t age well once the glow of, “Wow, so-and-so was really good in that!” begins to wear off. It’s an inevitable part of the Oscar process that the Academy gets caught up in a handful of movies at the expense of other, perhaps more meaningful fare.
View the complete list of nominees here.