There are many good movies I saw this year that would normally be deserving of Best Picture, fine films like Her and Nebraska. But the clear choice for Best Picture is Wolf of Wall Street. I have not seen the movie, but that’s not important. I’ll lay out my case below.
180 Minutes of Gold
The most compelling reason Wolf of Wall Street should win is that it is a very long movie. This was a major reason why I was never able to see it. Every time I was supposed to go watch Wolf of Wall Street, I could not justify blocking out so much time after work for this presumably great film.
This is not a knock on Wolf of Wall Street’s length; if anything, it’s a ringing endorsement. Good movies – that is, movies that win Best Picture – tend to be just way, way longer than what is widely understood to be the optimum length of a film.
What do Dances with Wolves, Titanic, Schindler’s List, Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, and Godfather Part II have in common? If you said “they all won Best Picture, and they’re all over three hours long,” well, you must be with the smart money!
And how long is Wolf of Wall Street? Exactly three hours! Smart move, Martin Scorsese. The next longest nominee this year, American Hustle, is 42 minutes shorter than Wolf of Wall Street, clocking in at a paltry 2 hours and 18 minutes.
From there, the competition gets pretty thin. A lot of critics loved Gravity. However, the BBC noted that the film is far, far too short to win Best Picture. I have not seen Gravity but I don't need to in order to find out that it is only 91 minutes long so I believe this is entirely correct.
More Important Stuff = Better Than
Long movies often are long because they have a bunch of important stuff to get across. Conversely, good movies I have seen recently that had an intriguing message or two but were very short, like Francis Ha and Blue Jasmine, will not win. They never really had a chance, to be honest.
Long movies are so good, and so much more likely to win Best Picture, that before 2010 only a handful of movies ever has been both a) under two hours in length, and b) winner of Best Picture. Annie Hall, Driving Miss Daisy, and notably, 1991’s Silence of the Lambs.
That last one was a real outlier for a number of reasons: it was released in February that year (normally a box office graveyard); it was the only horror picture to ever win Best Picture; and it’s a really entertaining movie.
If You’re Gonna Build a Big Set, You Might as Well Linger on It
It’s a common belief that Best Picture movies should not just be long, but also boring, with lots of long tracking shots of nice period sets. But really, you don’t want the lingering shots to detract from the boring. Boring, and long, are key.
This argument makes a lot more sense when you keep in mind that Goodfellas, a very entertaining movie, lost the 1990 Best Picture contest to Dances With Wolves, which, as mentioned before, had the clear advantage of being much longer. At a robust 236 minutes, Dances With Wolves is one of the greatest Best Pictures ever made.
Not to say Best Picture movies are necessarily not entertaining. Just most of them are not. I presume Wolf of Wall Street is quite entertaining because people are partying a bunch in the poster, the poster I would see when I drove by my neighborhood movie theater while remembering I didn’t have time to see this great, long movie.
This would seem to indicate that Wolf of Wall Street deserves to lose to a less long, but more boring period movie like American Hustle. As it turns out, the has one final card up its fine tailored sleeve.
Wolf of Wall Street looks entertaining, and that is troubling for its chances. But it is still the clear pick because it has an anti-hero at the lead. And anti-heroes are very in.
This has not always been the case. Take for example 1994, when Pulp Fiction lost to Forrest Gump. This is one of the rare cases where I have seen both of the movies I am talking about, and I can say it was travesty. For one, Pulp Fiction is a longer movie, a full ten minutes longer to be precise. And two, it was ahead of its time, and had flawed, anti-hero leads.
That was 20 years ago. Now we’re in the age of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and House of Cards. Male protagonists with crappy morals who break the law to serve their own interests are totally the new black.
This is where Wolf of Wall Street succeeds, and Gravity falters. George Clooney's character is a freaking astronaut. Plus, Clooney is far too charming. He couldn’t be an anti-hero if he blew up a petting zoo.
Wolf of Wall Street has the effortlessly slimy (when he wants to be) Leonardo DiCaprio, star of two previous Best Picture winners in Titanic and The Departed. And he’s playing Jordan Belfort, a good old fashioned sleazy, unlikable, pump-and-dump scam artist. Or so I’ve heard.
So there you have it. Wolf of Wall Street has an anti-hero lead, Leonardo DiCaprio, intricate period set pieces, elaborate tracking shots, and most importantly, Wolf of Wall Street is super, super long. These are all things I've heard about the movie, so I'm saying it's a lock. Bag it up, Scorsese!
(image courtesy of YouTube trailer. The author of this piece has not seen Wolf of Wall Street but really intends sometime after it wins Best Picture.)
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