It’s the most wonderful time of the year

That is, if you consider the most wonderful time of the year as one of excessive eating and drinking and the consequence of those things, i.e. a full-on sensory experience related to the passing of gas through various orifices of the human body. The party can get sour quickly and literally, next to the inevitable point where people get on each other’s nerves and shut the door with “God I can’t stand that boyfriend of hers/pissing rat dog/horrible lasagna etc.”

A good way to spend time together without the drinking and small-talking is to head to the movies. And it’s the most wonderful time of the year because this is the time when the Oscar contenders are released; you are unlikely to waste the next three hours of your life. Of the films I’ve caught: American Hustle, and the Wolf of Wall Street. Talk about excesses in America – these are just two of the many that have been flooding the theaters for an American audience clamoring for more stories that reflect the uneasy times they live in.

Who wouldn't want to watch Christian Bale and his gut?

Who wouldn’t want to watch Christian Bale and his gut?

American Hustle: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner rock the 70s in some outrageous hair, killer polyester dresses, corduroy and crushed velour. Christian Bale is Irving Rosenfeld, a Bronx-born man with a tremendous and unwieldy hairpiece, dealing in fake loans,  forged art, and a dry-cleaning business to launder his dirty money. He meets Sydney (Amy Adams), a kindred spirit in ambition and drive, and together they scam people out of their money, until another manifest of ambition, Ritchie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) busts their game and gets them to help ensnare some corrupt politicians to get off their own charges. It is an incredible ensemble, with enough nervous energy, deception, and somehow, surprisingly, some heart in the game (between Irving and Sydney, and Irving’s sympathy for the New Jersey politician he had to con) to keep you wondering how it is going to unfold. Jennifer Lawrence steals the show for me – she has a knack for playing characters that are just enough unhinged to give off a crazy vitality bordering between sensual and insane, a “vulgar beauty with a bedroom voice”, much like the perfumey, rotten nail polish her character loves in the movie – a motif that sums up both American Hustle and The Wolf on Wall Street.

A most vulgar beauty

A most vulgar beauty

 

The Wolf of Wall Street is, like American Hustle, based on a true story driven by ambition and greed – the grease for the machinery that is American capitalism. The movie tells the rags-to-riches story of a Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who goes on to spend those riches from penny stocks and insider trading on extreme frat boy bad behavior, including prostitutes and strippers, dwarf throwing tournaments (and a funny discussion on the intricacies involved), and the consumption of an obscene amount of drugs and alcohol that turned out to be more funny than off-putting.

wows2

Surprisingly, I enjoyed The Wolf of Wall Street much more than American Hustle. It didn’t feel much longer than the latter, and the outrageous excess feels more calibrated than I had expected. (I had imagined the movie to be about Leo screaming at me for three hours about the pleasures of wealth; he did scream several times and just about gave himself a stroke in each instance, but surely he has got to win an Oscar for this performance.) More importantly, there isn’t pretension at a redeeming heart in this movie, and it is the removal of sentimentality that makes this movie quite marvelous – there are bad people who do bad things, end of story. I hesitate to even use the word “bad”; people do things that are bad. People do things that turn out bad? Bad people do things? Is Jordan Belfort a bad man? We know him to be a bad person for his cheating and swindling, but there is little sympathy not because of his crimes; there is little sympathy for this character because the life of this man is fantastical and hard to believe, and the victims of his success far removed from his world, as they were in the real world. At the end of it you feel like you’ve gone on a surreal ride, and you can see how money and power can be so intoxicating, and there are no apologies for it, in the movie or in  life. It is horrible, and it is something you cannot turn your eyes away from, and at the end of it we know this is what drives us – the ending shot, one of shiny hopefuls, training their eyes on a dream.

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