For those who might’ve missed it, I wrote an article for Cara’s joyous Blogiversary Bash: It’s my top five Leonardo DiCaprio films! He’s only one year short of the big four-oh, yet the Californian-born star already has a mightily impressive portfolio under his belt. His consistency in front of the camera is unwavering, which is quite a feat when you take into consideration the variety of roles DiCaprio has played; everything from a vile plantation owner, to an ill-fated artist, to aviation genius Howard Hughes.
Have a read if you’re interested, and be sure to check out the other excellent contributions too.
Aaaaand we’re back with more Blogiversary Bash epicness! Today’s too-cool-for-school guest blogger? None other than Adam from Consumed by Film! Have you guys been to Adam’s site? If not, go there! Adam reviews films like a pro, and he’s got lots of great stuff to look through, so definitely check things out. Any ol’ who, Adam is here to talk about his favorite roles from a very talented actor.
Release Date: December 25th, 2013 (US); January 17th 2014 (UK)
Genre: Biography; Comedy; Crime
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
It’s their fifth director/actor collaboration and The Wolf of Wall Street may well be Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio at their most exuberant. This maniacal tale of excess drowns in a flood of alcohol, showers in a plethora of drugs and embezzles in enough debauchery, sex and controversy to last a lifetime, although probably not a Jordan Belfort lifetime. Yet, in spite of the countless unsavouries on display, there’s a hint of caution lingering. A moment of thought, of silent consideration. It’s only a whisper though, nothing more — caution is perhaps the only trait lacking throughout the film.
Is The Wolf of Wall Street, then, glorifying a repulsive glut-based culture? Perhaps for over two and a half hours, yes. You laugh, guffaw even, when a damning head shake should suffice. That is until a line of blood trickles down one character’s forehead, when perspective and sense reign supreme. Maybe not from Jordan Belfort or any other money-gorging lackey at his disposal. Rather, from Scorsese himself, who subtly denounces the previously lauded mounds of greed and subsequently, masterfully, ties this disastrous party in a bow of warning.
Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the kind of guy who would strut into a room full of more experienced heads and immediately present himself as bigger and as better. In fact, shortly after a Black Monday layoff, Belfort does exactly that as he aggressively and successfully makes an impressive sale in his new job as part of a small brokerage firm. This sale, or in layman’s terms customer manipulation, is the catalyst for Belfort’s booming career, one that sees himself and partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) set up their own financial consultancy business that, funded by immorality, skyrockets the pair to monetary heaven.
From the outset, The Wolf of Wall Street positions itself as relentless and indulgent, maintaining those tonal traits throughout, effectively, its entirety. Excess is the mantra, limits are ostracised. Belfort narrates in a gloating manner not too far removed from, “Hey, look at all this crazy, hilarious shit we got up to!” Animals are paraded, devoured. Women are either reduced to objects solely to aid the male desire, or are rendered forever in debt to their gender opposites. At one point Belfort bellows, “I want you to deal with your problems by becoming rich!” absolutely believing his own deplorable motto. Yet, in all its apparent glorification of the obscene — a glorification that has attracted waves of controversy in some parts — the film never dawns a disguise. Scorsese, and perhaps he has earned to right to do so, goes that bit further. Of course there’s distaste galore, how could there not be given we are seeing the world through Belfort’s eyes? The film is not a bait-and-switch — this isn’t a narrative presently neutrally, one which then props up one or two flailing dubious remarks. Far from it. The cards are on the table from the off, boisterous cards without question, but the only cards possible.
What then, of the unadulterated humour that often floods the screen? If these obscenities playing out before us are so hideous, uncaring and self-centred, why are they presented comically — or better yet, why are we laughing along? Primarily, you laugh because it’s difficult not to get caught up in it all; in the madness, the chaos, the highs… and that’s the point. Belfort’s story is a journey of ever increasing lavishness (if his sewage ran dollar-full, nobody would bat an eyelid) and there is so much surplus residue that realistic comprehension becomes ridiculous — “It was a madhouse,” says the ringleader, and it most certainly was. Quaalude binges at work. Customer misguidance at work. Chimpanzees at work. Less-romantic-than-animalistic group interactions at work. We meet FBI agent Patrick Denham investigating the dodgy dealings on Wall Street, and sure enough our disbelieving minds are served another shocking reminder, one that puts beyond doubt the main reason why we are recession-hit. These insanities are just that, yet they’re quickly glossed either with a witty one-liner that you chuckle at, or an utterly hilarious hum ritual simultaneously employed by everyone in a crowded room. Terrence Winter’s screenplay is at times uncompromisingly funny, often because it adheres to Belfort’s drastic lifestyle and blends vibrantly with Scorsese’s scoping direction.
Significantly though, the film does not condone its characters’ actions. Without giving too much away, Belfort’s status during the final twenty minutes ensures that his previous shenanigans are not to be heralded triumphantly, perhaps not even by the man himself. After loudly depicting his life of riches and numerous abnormal behaviours, the screen displays Belfort’s resultantly crippled existence. Yet it’s worth noting that the film refrains from divulging an absolute stance in its final scene; after two and a half hours incessantly shoving overabundance down your throat, Scorsese rightly lets the audience take for themselves that which they so desire — incidentally, the film is an 18 certificate, and surely any sensible adult would regard the on screen depictions as probably funny in the moment, but then even more wrong in reflection.
Matthew McConaughey looks set to pick up the Best Actor gong at this year’s Academy Awards for an incredible performance in Dallas Buyers Club, and he has a cameo here where the Texan gives an eccentric diatribe so oddly humorous that its seven and a half minute length races by. The speech sets the scene for what is to come, crudely summed up in three words: “Fuck the clients.” On the other end of said speech is the man McConaughey is likely to trump at the Oscars, Jordan Belfort himself, Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio’s portrayal is awards-worthy, without doubt. From that first rampant manipulative sell he has the audience in the palm of his hands, unwittingly eating and then repentantly spitting out his soup of excess. Belfort is a dick; nuances such as talking down to the phone and beaming at the camera confirm exactly that. Somewhat surprisingly then, DiCaprio manages to keep you engaged in his aura just enough. It’s not that you ever like him, or that you feel sorry for him at any point. Yet DiCaprio ensures that there would be never any doubting a pleading second helping from the audience, even if Belfort sold you an initial injustice.
Jonah Hill’s acting stock ascends further up the ladder (no pun intended) as he once again proves his dramatic and comedic worth. The opposite of Belfort’s slick demeanour, Donnie is brash and instantly uncontrollable. If it weren’t for his gleaming teeth, you’d be certain that he’d kissed a few asses in his day. Hill is even better here than in Moneyball, where his underplayed wit is substituted for full on abrasion. Margot Robbie is Naomi, Belfort’s mistress and later wife, and she holds her own in a display of smutty elegance. As Swiss banking extraordinaire Jean-Jacques Saurel, Jean Dujardin combats Belfort’s booming ego with an even more pompously narcissistic mindset. Kyle Chandler solidly plays aforementioned FBI agent Patrick Denham and the narrative flirts with this idea that, on another day, Denham could’ve been a Jordan Belfort. However, this intriguing notion is regrettably gobbled up by the monstrous endeavours on show when, on another day, it might’ve played a bigger role.
Denham’s undervaluation is slightly disappointing, although like many other potential complications, his infrequent presence in a way adds to the overbearing message of excess. For example, problems such as the finance-driven plot becoming too difficult to consume and to follow, along with the superfluous length of the film, both drive home the exuberant attitude on display. Even the series of infomercials (Jordan Belfort’s Straight Line) all add to this inherently consumerist ideology. Another nit-picky annoyance that occasionally rears centres on editing. In particular, one glaringly obvious mishap occurs during the now notoriously funny Quaalude-incapacitating scene, where a set of stairs intermittently grows and shrinks in size. Maybe noticing that kind of sparing mistake is an indication that the action on screen has lost you which, for once, is accurate. The joke isn’t all that funny and this is a shame considering how well DiCaprio frustratingly manoeuvres.
The controversy surrounding this latest Martin Scorsese romp is unjust, or at least unnecessary. While the film does, to a degree, glorify the antics of its morally hideous protagonist played exceptionally well by Leonardo DiCaprio, the final few scenes denounce rather than herald all that has come before. Funny, rapturous, and although hampered by one or two problems of over excessiveness, the film delivers with punch. If The Wolf of Wall Street was a pen ready for sale, Scorsese would have me buying paper. Lots of it.
Guess what the next genre is? It is a mystery, isn’t it? No, it really is a mystery. Okay, enough of the shockingly bad jokes.
Not one of the more prominent genres, mystery tends to flirt around the edges of just about every other genre, without actually sticking out. However, there are a number of films which are defined by their mystery element. Personally, I am drawn towards films containing a mysterious element over most other types of films — mainly in the hope that such a film will keep me guessing all the way until the end.
Mystery films tend to be hit or miss — either the outcome of whatever mystery is going on is surprising or shocking or entertaining, or it is not. It will be to nobody’s surprise, then, that the five films on my list I consider to be five hits.
I have decided to change the format slightly from my previous Genre Toppers posts. The reasoning behind this is that I think reading large paragraphs over and over again can sometimes get a bit tedious, so hopefully this change will keep things more interesting. This newer format seems to work well with the mystery genre in particular, but who knows — I may use it again in the future.
From the acclaimed director David Fincher, Zodiac tells the story of one of San Francisco’s most notorious serial killers, known only as the Zodiac. Boasting a strong cast containing Robert Downey Jr, Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo, the film depicts the events surrounding the police investigation into the murders carried out during the 1960s and 1970s, and why the murders were occurring.
Where The Mystery Lies
Who is the serial killer known as the Zodiac, and what do the cryptic clues being sent to the police mean?
Three Top Five Clinching Reasons
Fincher’s target audience: Interestingly, Zodiac is David Fincher’s second-highest rated film on Rotten Tomatoes with 90% of critics enjoying it (second only to The Social Network at 96%), whereas it is Fincher’s lowest revenue-taking film, grabbing only (yeah, only) around $85 million worldwide. Why? Primarily because Fincher aimed the film towards a typically older audience, rather than playing up its slasher element and in turn appeasing only “16-year-old boys,” as Fincher put it.
Style and the 70s: Obviously I was not around in the late 1960s/early 1970s in order fully understand what those years were like, but Fincher certainly goes a long way to making sure Zodiac captures the tone and style of them. Everything from smoky newsrooms to wacky attires are in full display here, and although the film lasts over two and half hours, it is worth watching at that length just to enjoy the cinematography.
Delightful dialogue: The performances from the three leads in Zodiac are very convincing, and this is helped in no small part by the deliberate and encapsulating script the actors exchange between each other. Fincher has a knack for using excellent, well-crafted scripts (take Se7en and The Social Network as two prime examples) and Zodiac is no different. Gyllenhaal, Downey Jr and Ruffalo do the film and its words justice — in fact, the positive audience reaction combined with the lack of a well-rounded ending proves just how well the actors and writers have done to make the film so enjoyable.
A slick, stylish and slow burning mystery drama, Zodiac keeps audiences interested through its exceptionally well-strung dialogue and interesting performances.
Released in 2009 and directed, written and produced by Stuart Hazeldine, Exam takes place in an alternative history and is set almost entirely in one room where a group of eight very different people must use their initiative to gain the employment they each desperately desire.
Where The Mystery Lies
The eight candidates are given one piece of paper and are told that the exam only consists of one question… but what is that question, and what is the correct answer?
Three Top Five Clinching Reasons
Unknown cast: A problem a film can sometimes face when it boasts a worldwide star is that the audience do not believe that such a level of star can actually be the character they are portraying (particularly if the character is a normal, everyday person). Exam benefits from a relatively unknown cast — apart from Colin Salmon, although he does not appear very often throughout the film, making his character seem even more important and separate from the candidates. The candidates themselves each bring their own nuances to the table, coming across as genuine employment seekers and making the film much more believable and engrossing.
Simplicity is key: As you can probably gather from the synopsis above, the plot of Exam is very simple: eight candidates, one job, one question. That is it. Not only does this make the film easy to follow, it places more emphasis on the situation the characters find themselves in and adds focus to the characters themselves (in essence, this film is a character profile). The mystery is also heightened because it is not confusing — rather, it is intriguing.
Perfect pacing: Hazeldine ensures the film does not dwell on particular plot points, moving things along before they become stagnant, and coming back to events if need be. Again, this keeps the flow of the film just about right and ensures the audience’s attention is grasped and maintained. Also, the progression of the plot and the characters are both very well handled, generating more and more tension until the atmosphere becomes just about unbearable.
Exam is the perfect example of how to make a small, low budget film with a simple plot and still be able to keep it intriguing, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats.
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Guy Ritchie helms this reboot of the Sherlock Holmes franchise, starring Robert Downey Jr as Holmes, Jude Law as Watson and Rachel McAdams as former adversary Irene Adler. The story follows Holmes and Watson as they attempt to uncover the perpetrator of a series of violent murders and prevent this perpetrator from taking over the British Empire.
Where The Mystery Lies
Holmes and Watson must decipher how their familiar foe plans to control the British Empire — but how has the murderer returned from his apparent execution?
Three Top Five Clinching Reasons
At home with Holmes: Robert Downey Jr plays an enormous part in how enjoyable this film is — his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes is one of wit, intelligence, controlled chaos and downright hilarity. We are all used to seeing Downey Jr in charismatic roles (as Iron Man, for example) and here he seems completely in his comfort zone, which shows by way of his mesmerising depiction of Holmes — rivalled only by Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal in the hit television series, Sherlock. But not all the praise must be solely heaped on Downey Jr, as Jude Law is very effective in working as a buffer for Holmes to play off of. Mark Strong is as menacing as always playing the villain of the piece and Rachel McAdams is delightful as Irene Adler.
Visually unique: The cinematographers and set designers deserve a vast amount of compliments for their old-fashioned-yet-energetic set pieces. It is a tremendous achievement in making London appear as it did back in the 19th century, but at the same time upholding a sense of freshness. Craftsmanship at its finest, if you ask me. Also, the slow motion fight sequences look effortlessly assembled and add an extra dimension to the film.
Action-packed: Guy Ritchie certainly does not hold back in terms of fight scenes (there are plenty) and explosions (they are in there too). At its simplest, Sherlock Holmes is an entertaining action film with plenty of well-choreographed physical encounters and a fast-moving plot which keeps the action going and prevents the film from losing its momentum. The action takes place everywhere too — from underground to occult chambers to the top of massive cranes.
Quick-witted, funny, sometimes silly, but always entertaining — Sherlock Holmes is just about everything you expect from a Robert Downey Jr-led film.
Shutter Island (2010)
Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island sees Martin Scorsese team up with Leonardo DiCaprio for the first time since The Departed in 2006, and the fourth time overall (soon to be a fifth, with The Wolf Of Wall Street hitting cinemas in late 2013). DiCaprio stars alongside Mark Ruffalo as two U.S. Marshals — Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule respectively — who attempt to uncover the mysterious happenings on Shutter Island.
Where The Mystery Lies
Daniels and Aule must find out the whereabouts of a missing patient, but what is the real reason they have been summoned to the island? (That is all you are getting, sorry!)
Three Top Five Clinching Reasons
Creating a separation: The chemistry between DiCaprio and Ruffalo is very underrated here, in my opinion. It is obvious that the two are outstanding actors, which is once again apparent in this film, but they also work exceedingly well together, in turn creating a sense of disconnect between themselves and the rest of the residents of Shutter Island. This is essential to the story, and thus the performances from both DiCaprio and Ruffalo (and also Ben Kingsley to be fair, who plays Dr. John Cawley) are a key part to the success of Shutter Island.
Shudder Island: There is an eerie and unnerving atmosphere generated throughout this film, and the creep factor increases as the film delves further and further into the mysterious happenings on the island. The film switches for brief moments to an almost comedic tone, but that tone is swept away by dread almost as soon as it begins. The unnerving atmosphere is aided, of course, by the sense that the two U.S. Marshals, although called to island by those on it, are alone and not wanted.
Musical mayhem: Another major player in the eerie atmosphere, the musical involvement in Shutter Island is as close to perfect as possible. From the foghorn sounding booming interludes throughout, to the seemingly out-of-place uplifting belts of opera (which completely add to the intentional confusion and lack of transparency during the film), the score is outrageous-yet-brilliant.
I am a big fan of when DiCaprio and Scorsese work together because they always deliver, and Shutter Island is no different — in fact, it is my personal favourite output produced by the combination of the two.
The Prestige (2006)
From the man who brought us The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, comes The Prestige, starring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Scarlett Johansson. Jackman and Bale play two previously partnering magicians who have turned fierce rivals after an accident split the pair up. It is the ultimate battle of wit and nerve as each magician aims to better the other by creating and performing the greatest illusion of all time.
Where The Mystery Lies
It is a film about magic, right? Well, not entirely. Although a mystery element does exists and runs throughout — just how did he do it? (Again, that is all you are getting — I really cannot give too much away here!)
Three Top Five Clinching Reasons
Coming full circle: It would be a crime for me to sit here and write about what happens during the climax, because it is masterfully accomplished on-screen in my eyes. Everything from the beginning through to the main act (pun sort of intended), to the dialogue during the film build up to a quite extraordinary revelation, and one which I got nowhere near figuring out. I do not want to overhype the ending so much so that it will be an inevitable let down no matter what, but trust me, it is very good and it perfectly polishes off the non-linear plot the film possesses.
Caring about characters: Nolan allows each character to breathe (much like he does in the majority of his other films) and this allows each actor — even those whose characters only play a minor role — to fully develop their role and ensure the audience can become emotionally invested in them. The dynamic between the two duelling magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) is electric at times, and the lengths they go in order to get one up on each other become believable due to the hatred Jackman and Bale successfully generate. Less prominent characters such as Michael Caine’s stage engineer, John Cutter, and Rebecca Hall’s Sarah Borden, Alfred’s wife, add further layers to the main duo, whilst Scarlett Johnasson’s Olivia Wenscombe acts as a spanner in the works.
More than just magic: As I mentioned above, although The Prestige contains a lot of magic, that is not the primary focus of the film. For me, the primary focus is the tumultuous relationship between two men and all that their relationship embodies, in terms of trust (or lack thereof), deceit and jealousy. Using magic as a background their relationship and these characteristics bolsters the overall plot, but it is the three aforementioned factors which give The Prestige substance.
When talking about mystery the first destination is always magic, and The Prestige is Christopher Nolan’s way of pulling a rabbit out of the hat — just when you think he is being slightly over-ambitious, he absolutely nails it.
So there you have it, five excellent mystery films. Here are some honourable mentions:
Final Destination (2000) — Okay, this one is a bit of a cheat (pun intended). But in all seriousness, although Final Destination is technically a gross-out horror, it does have that mystery element to it ensuring that it does not just become a gore-fest. Which is basically does anyway. I tried.
Phone Booth (2002) — Similar to Exam in the sense that it is primarily set in one location, Phone Booth is intense and pacey, with a decent lead performance from Colin Farrell and an extra creepy voice-only performance from Kiefer Sutherland.
The Da Vinci Code (2006) — At approaching three hours long, The Da Vinci Code had a fair amount of people almost sleeping, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. Tom Hanks is a guy I could watch acting all day long.
A Perfect Getaway (2009) — This is about an hour of really disconcerting build-up surrounding three couples, one of which has a murderous streak. Then it goes a bit too action-like and loses some momentum. Regardless, a solid whodunit outing.
Devil (2010) — The mystery genre does tend to attract those single-location films, and we have another here, in Devil. Five people, one elevator and one devil… but who? A rare M. Night Shyamalan appearance in my blog.