Catching up on Oscar Bait

My filmgoing in 2014 continues to be a catch-up on films released at the end of 2013.

I wasn’t rushing out to see the adaptation of August: Osage County, and am disappointed that I still haven’t seen a version of the original play, but a recent afternoon found me near the Michigan Theater at the time of its first matinee of the day, and so I thought, oh, why not?

As I expected, the film was mostly a case of Actors Trying Too Hard To Give A Good Performance, which might have been affected by a director unaccustomed to stage-to-film material. The director, John Wells, brought a similar bland tone to the story that he displayed in a previous film, The Company Men, which I saw in the theatre because I was living in California at the time and eager to see my home state of Massachusetts on the big screen.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the “lesser – known” actors delivered the more notable performances, although at this point Meryl Streep will make anything watchable and memorable. (Massachusetts native) Julianne Nicholson stood out as the middle of the three sisters in the family, evoking a sense of desperation and wanting to make something of her life. Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch delivered more sensitive turns than some of their recent work, although I wondered why British actors Cumberbatch and Ewan McGregor were recruited for this very American piece, with McGregor offering an unconvincing American accent. Julia Roberts deliberately went less glam than her image, and did well, mostly, but it must be challenging for someone like her to get people to look beyond her well – known work. However it seems like she’s been successful with this effort, as seen in her ensuing Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.

The film offered two examples of the “previous couples re-appearing on screen” phenomenon that I discussed in a recent post, with Adaptation co-stars Streep and Cooper re-teaming alongside My Best Friend’s Wedding co-stars Roberts and Dermot Mulroney. (Pretty weird to realize those films are now 11 and almost 17 years old, respectively.)

And that was about it, really. I still want to see the stage play.

Last night I was in the mood for a conventional “Friday night at the movies” experience, which I enjoyed several times last summer, and infrequently since then, and so I found my way back to the Quality 16 for The Wolf of Wall Street. Easily one of the most bloated movies I have ever seen (in several ways), but… oddly compelling.

Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of his best performances as real-life financier Jordan Belfort, who took Wall Street by storm in the 1990’s before falling from grace and later achieving a form of redemption. He’s supported by Jonah Hill, who continues his surprisingly rapid transition away from low-brow comedy as Belfort’s self-anoited but later endearing business partner. And the cast sprawls out from there, with a couple of veteran performers offering standout supporting roles, most notably Rob Reiner (returning to acting after a decade’s absence!) as DiCaprio’s loudmouth but supportive father, and one of my favorite British actresses Joanna Lumley, who I once had the honor of briefly meeting in person, shining brightly in a few scenes crucial to the story. (A minor spoiler, but the press is having fun discussing Lumley & DiCaprio’s scene together, as seen here and here.)

If the film had been tighter in its editing and story (two hours instead of three, perhaps?) I might have appreciated it more. But I did find it to be a well-made look at an often corruptive industry, told with zeal and excess appropriate for the story and setting.


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