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The Wolf Of Wall Street (#110 of 32)

Review: Glenn Kenny’s Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor

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Review: Glenn Kenny’s Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor
Review: Glenn Kenny’s Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor

Art-making is too often discussed in terms that implicitly liken it to magic, thusly neglecting the truth that it involves work that resembles the day-by-day toils of many other ostensibly plainer occupations. With Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor, film critic Glenn Kenny quietly pushes against that mythology. A compassionate, pragmatic anti-sentimentality, or an attempt at one, serves as the through line for his examination of one the most mythologized of all screen actors. In his introduction, Kenny writes of “De Niro’s reluctance to do interviews, and his seeming stumbling while doing them, his famous taciturnity in contrast to his preternaturally vivid presence on screen, created a mythology that itself spawned a counter-mythology. It made De Niro as famous for being an enigma, a code that a journalist or critic with just the right amount of persistence and perspicacity could crack. But what if the answer is right in front of our faces, and always has been?” The author follows that with a quote in which director Elia Kazan (who worked with De Niro on The Last Tycoon) claims that the actor is among the hardest working that he’s collaborated with, and the only one who asked to rehearse on Sundays.

In other words, Kenny brings De Niro down to earth as a working artist, which serves to somewhat ironically reawaken your awe for the actor and the profound emotional nakedness that he once achieved reliably in one performance after another. Reading this, one wonders, not why De Niro drifted toward less immersive a-job’s-a-job roles, but how he plumbed himself as deeply as long as he did. The author emphasizes detail, connecting physical gestures from one role, sometimes mercilessly, to their repetition in another film (such as the reappearance of a “shoo” motion from Goodfellas in Awakenings.) He paints De Niro unsurprisingly as a master craftsman who’s intensely devoted to analysis and rehearsal, which he, somewhat, ineffably fuses with his personality and his soul. (I’m indulging my own mythology.) Following the familiar Cahiers du Cinéma “Anatomy of an Actor” template, Kenny discusses 10 “iconic roles” in De Niro’s canon that serve to shape the actor’s career as he evolved from galvanic acting titan to controversial “sell-out” to an inevitably mellower character actor who’s still capable, nevertheless, of imbuing a questionable project or under-respected performer with a bit of prestige by association.

True/False Film Fest 2014: The Notorious Mr. Bout and Actress

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True/False Film Fest 2014: <em>The Notorious Mr. Bout</em> and <em>Actress</em>
True/False Film Fest 2014: <em>The Notorious Mr. Bout</em> and <em>Actress</em>

Maxim Pozdorovkin and Tony Gerber’s The Notorious Mr. Bout teems with a masculine bravado evinced by both the documentary’s numerous male talking heads and its own chaotic, almost exhausting pace, which cuts between home-video recordings, news footage, CCTV cams, animated maps and explanations, and five continents to more comprehensively explain the tribulations (and eventual trial) of Viktor Bout, the convicted Russian arms dealer more colloquially known as “The Merchant of Death,” whose mythological status served as the basis for 2005’s Lord of War.

As Gerber explained in the Q&A following the film, he and Pozdorovkin set out to reveal that Bout isn’t simply a “shadowy Keyser Söze character,” but a complicated man who also liked to spend time with his family and shoot countless hours of home video. The danger in such an approach—and it’s a danger The Notorious Mr. Bout ultimately succumbs to—is that the subject becomes fairly romanticized rather than humanized, since the attempt to reverse one mythological status results in the valorization of another: insistence of Bout’s actual figure as part diabolical, part naïve, part victim. Unfortunately, Pozdorovkin and Gerber’s representation here appears as forced and questionable as much of the media portrayals denigrated throughout the film.

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Picture

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Picture

Like anyone who’s been covering what’s become, as the party line goes, “the closest Best Picture race in recent memory,” I’ve gone through many mental rewrites of this top-prize breakdown. The one I clung to the longest involved the word “bullshit.” It took shape, of course, after American Hustle, formerly known as American Bullshit, strutted through steam clouds of victory on nomination morning, collecting 10 nods before also claiming the SAG award for Best Ensemble (not to be confused with any costume-design kudos the film enjoyed throughout the season). Was this awfully great, unrepentantly tacky crime caper really the new frontrunner? If so, then the filmic narrative peddled by pop-culture journos since early 2013—that the year’s wealth of black-centric cinema was bound for unprecedented Oscar glory, capped off with a crown for 12 Years a Slave, the most confronting and “important” flick of the bunch—would have to be thrown out. What’s more, Steve McQueen’s insta-contender, a historical indictment many perceive as being as deep as young Patsey’s (Lupita Nyong’o) abyss of despair, would be overtaken by an epic of unadulterated shallowness. American Hustle’s win would insist, with all the fuck-it-all thump of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” that the notion of Oscar wins signifying some sort of sociopolitical responsibility is, indeed, bullshit.

Ranking Oscar’s 2014 Nominees

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Ranking Oscar’s 2014 Nominees
Ranking Oscar’s 2014 Nominees

This week, the polar vortex will make an encore performance in the United States, but this upcoming Sunday, when Ellen DeGeneres signs off as host of the 86th annual Academy Awards, the collective nightmare known as awards season will be effectively over. This year, 57 56 films received nominations across 24 categories, and with the exception of The Invisible Woman, I’ve seen them all. Below is a ranked list, from most euphoric to most pungent, of those 56 films.

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Director

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Director
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Director

It’s a good thing the Best Director category didn’t go the way of Best Picture to accommodate more nominees, because this year’s campaign has only ever been a three-man race even in its most competitive stages. The two non-contenders are Alexander Payne (Nebraska) and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street), who’ve each enjoyed a nearly spotless recent track record for landing in the category. Payne has received nods for his last three films, while five of Scorsese’s last six non-documentary films have earned the legendary director an aisle seat at the ceremony. But with only one win between the two filmmakers (Scorsese’s The Departed) in that stretch, their nominations likely speak more to the compulsory voting habits and pre-digested tastes of Academy voters than to the merits of either Nebraska or The Wolf of Wall Street. And though David O. Russell has been on a nomination hot streak of late, with American Hustle capping a trio of Best Director nominations over the last four years for the filmmaker, his chances, which seemed much higher back when his crime caper stormed onto the scene last December, have since fizzled along with the film.

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Actor

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Actor
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Actor

If this year’s Best Actor race is all about which nominee brandishes the most compelling story, then Christian Bale faces some mighty long odds. Not only is the actor only two years removed from his Oscar win for The Fighter, but the consensus is that he gained enough of a victory by being nominated this year. Not faring much better is Leonardo DiCaprio, whose “always the nominee, never the winner” stasis—admittedly a sexier narrative—still needs about 10 more years of ripening before voters begin to sympathize. And as if those reasons weren’t enough, the cheating, swindling characters Bale and DiCaprio play, in American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street respectively, are the two that Academy voters will surely find most unlikable, which effectively guarantees their losses.

Bruce Dern’s case is admittedly more complicated. While his confused character from Nebraska elicits more pity than outright contempt, the actor’s emergence from nearly two decades of relative obscurity for “one last shot” at Oscar gold almost certainly played a part in awards prognosticators deeming him the early favorite after the Cannes Film Festival last May. But as the Best Actor campaign took shape through the fall and into the winter, it has whittled down to a two-way race between Chiwitel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey, a development no doubt aided by the charged racial and gender politics of their respective films.

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Foreign Language

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Foreign Language
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Foreign Language

There’s a great line in Jules and Jim about fictions that “revel in vice to preach virtue.” It’s a mantra that practically explains why Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street enters this year’s Oscar race with five nominations, why another Italian, Federico Fellini, won the most awards in this category’s history, and why a third, Paolo Sorrentino, will win his first trophy here for The Great Beauty. As for a possible spoiler, don’t look to The Missing Picture (too form-pushing), Omar (too pro-Palestinian), or even The Hunt, whose Lifetime-grade simplicity becomes increasingly transparent with each new letter the members of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s tribes send to The New York Times, but to The Broken Circle Breakdown, a clumsily constructed musical weepie that suggests Inside Llewyn Davis as directed by Susanne Bier. Made in homage to the myth-making works of Fellini, namely La Dolce Vita, The Great Beauty’s study of a social class’s dissolution is so esoteric by comparison that it’s tempting to question its frontrunner status. But in reveling in the crumbling glitz of its Roman locales with the same ravenousness that Jordan Belfort shows for coke, fame, and snatch, it’s easy to imagine many of Hollywood’s reigning elite confusing it as a rise-and-fall chronicle of their own lives.

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Adapted Screenplay

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

Tomorrow, the Writers Guild of America will announce its 2014 award winners, and whichever scribe(s) waltz off with the Original Screenplay prize may do the same on Oscar night, as all five nominees in the category were replicated by the Academy’s writers branch. The result of the WGA’s Adapted Screenplay race, however, won’t prove as keen a barometer of what might go down at the Dolby on March 2. Only three of the guild’s Adapted Screenplay contenders—Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, and The Wolf of Wall Street—made it onto Oscar’s shortlist, and even if one of them triumphs, breezing past Tracy Letts’s opus about familial dysfunction, August: Osage County, and Peter Berg’s bizarrely recognized soldiers-as-mincemeat shit show Lone Survivor, there’s still the seemingly impassable hurdle of John Ridley’s script for 12 Years a Slave, which, though ineligible for WGA honors (you can get those exclusion deets here), looks like Oscar’s indisputable frontrunner. Steve McQueen’s chilly directorial shortcomings may underscore what’s weak in Ridley’s take on Solomon Northup’s memoir (namely an undernourished depiction of the precious family from which our hero is stripped), but it feels nuts to bet against the one script in this field tied to a plausible Best Picture winner.