The Wolf of Wall Street went home from Oscar night Sunday empty-handed, winning awards in exactly none of the five categories for which it received nominations. Perhaps most notably, the film’s star Leonardo DiCaprio went home now a career 0-4 in Oscar bids, despite what appeared to be an aggressive campaign to win the Best Actor award by the 39-year-old star.
While 44-year-old Mathew McConaughey, whose weekly role on the HBO series True Detective leading straight into Oscar season probably did not hurt his cause, took home the acting award, The Wolf of Wall Street — a three-hour biopic about 1990s financial swindler Jordan Belfort — was also nominated for Best Picture of 2013. But as everyone who cares about these things now knows, that award went to the grueling historical epic 12 Years A Slave, another “true story.”
The Wolf of Wall Street was also up for three other awards, and lost them all. Jonah Hill came in behind Jared Leto in the Best Supporting Actor category, veteran director Martin Scorsese could not top Alfonso Cuaron who won for the sci-fi flick Gravity, and finally screenwriter Terence Winter — best known as the creator of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire — came up short in the Best Adapted Screenplay category to John Ridley, who penned the adaptation of 12 Years A Slave.
So why the Oscar shutout for a film that received widespread critical acclaim — with 77 percent positive reviews according to Rotten Tomatoes, and an 84 percent audience approval rating?
One easy and very likely answer is simply that the movie left Academy voters feeling like they needed a shower after wallowing for two hours and 59 minutes in Belfort’s world of drugs, sexual debauchery, crime and dwarf-tossing.
“Could the character’s breezy lack of contrition have turned off voters who would have liked to see this corrupted American dreamer get his come-uppance? Maybe so,” wrote Daily Telegraph film correspondent Robbie Collins. “DiCaprio might have just been too convincing as the gangster-ish stockbroker Jordan Belfort to have a realistic chance of winning an Oscar for it.”
The Wolf of Wall Street not only features what is believed to be a record 544 instances of the word “f***,” or some variation on that term, it immediately generated outrage at its portrayal of Belfort’s antics in a way that made them seem attractive — even though his crimes sent many innocent, ordinary people to financial ruin.
Belfort’s “pump and dump” schemes targeted not wealthy investors, but middle-class people whose aspirations to get rich lives led them to sucker for Belfort’s mostly worthless “penny stocks.”
Beyond that, The Wolf of Wall Street contains scenes of repeated, heavy use of cocaine and Quaaludes, a sexual orgy on an airplane, Jonah Hill masturbating in public complete with a clear shot of his semi-erect (although prosthetic) penis, Leonardo DiCaprio punching his wife (played by Margot Robbie) in the stomach, a dwarf-tossing game, and a scene in which DiCaprio pretended to be in the throes of a drug overdose to such an extent that he needed chiropractic work afterward.
Did the Academy members simply find the film too repellent to send even one of its coveted Oscar statues home with anyone involved in its production? Even if so, the real “Wolf of Wall Street,” Belfort himself, said recently that the movie plays it safe with the details of his earlier exploits.
“The drug use and the stuff with the hookers and the sales assistants and the sex in the office… that stuff is really, really accurate,” said Belfort, who spent “hundreds of hours” with DiCaprio helping the actor prepare for his star turn in The Wolf of Wall Street. “In some respects, my life was even worse than that. Although I’d say I did more Quaaludes than cocaine.”