Tag Archives: The Great Gatsby

OSCAR REACTIONS 2013

Well, that was anti-climactic.

For those of you who live under a rock and don’t know who I’m talking about when I mention the word “oscar”, the 86th Academy Awards took place yesterday on ABC, hosted by comedian Ellen Degeneres. Needless to say, Degeneres was brilliant, taking selfies, buying pizza, crashing twitter, bringing the stage down for Jennifer Lawrence, and calling Liza Minelli a man all in one night. And yet, despite all of her efforts, the oscars seemed so… boring.

How did this happen? The nominees, dear reader. Out of the 24 categories in the ceremony I got twenty right, beating most of my Shorthorn peers and family members for the potluck we held that night. The most I’ve gotten previously was sixteen. I’m inclined to believe that the academy made the winners of these awards too obvious by building up too much hype of them during the buzz of the past few months.  Case in point: was there any argument that Frozen was going to take home best animated feature?

It doesn’t matter now, anyway. It happened, and I got 20 right out of 24 categories. Yes!!! Just because I predicted them correctly, however, doesn’t mean I need to be happy for their win. Let’s go through each of the categories and see whether or not they really deserved it or not…

BEST PICTURE (CORRECT!) The best picture of the year rightfully won best picture at the Academy Awards: Steve McQueen’s phenomenal, gripping, heart-wrenching, spellbinding and immensely powerful 12 Years A Slave won best picture. While I’m ecstatic for its win and could not agree more with the Academy’s consensus, I find it very strange that it won the Academy’s highest honor despite it only winning two other awards. But we’ll talk more about that later.

BEST DIRECTOR (CORRECT!) Also correctly predicted is Alfonso Cuaron for his nerve-wracking and tensely-directed sci-fi thriller Gravity. I already mentioned this in my predictions, but the best director award needs to be reserved for the best picture of the year. I loved Gravity with every fiber of my being, but it simply does not match the cinematic caliber to that of McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave. It would be like comparing The Dark Knight to that of Slumdog MillionaireThe Fugitive to that of Schindler’s List, or Jaws to that of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest. They are all ingenious, brilliant and incredibly memorable pictures, but the best picture of the year is awarded that because of the direction and treatment that it was given.

That’s not intended as an insult towards Cuaron, and I definitely believe he deserves it based on the physics and tension of the movie alone. If I’m thinking about which movie had the bigger impact, however, it’s no contest on which one it deserves to go to: McQueen for 12 Years A Slave. Nevertheless, I congratulate Cuaron on his many accomplishments regarding Gravity. Lord knows my heart stopped at least a few times while watching that picture.

BEST ACTOR (CORRECT!) Matthew McConaughey took home the award for best actor as a rowdy texas cowboy dying of AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club. While the award could have gone to either him or Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years A Slave, there’s no denying the power, the energy, and the raw gravitas that he brought to a man’s desperate journey to survive. Plus, I love his acceptance speech and how he dedicated the award to God and to “himself in ten years”. That’s a wise goal that any man should strive for.

BEST ACTRESS (CORRECT!) Cate Blanchett won best actress for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. While I have regretfully not seen the movie yet, I will say that the few scenes I have seen her in impressed me very much, and that she did a solid job portraying a deeply bothered woman who is in deep depression and alcohol addiction. Congratulations to her. I look forward to watching the film, as well as Blanchett’s performance in it.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (CORRECT!) Did Michael Fassbender win best supporting actor like I wanted him to? No, he did not. Instead, Jared Leto took home the award portraying the transgender AIDS victim Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club

The more I think about it, the more ridiculous I think it is that the best picture winner of the year did not get recognized in so many categories. Why the snubbing from Fassbender? Half of the movie’s turmoil and conflict came from this despicable character, a man so inhumane and abominable that Calvin Candy from Django Unchained would have broke down in tears after seeing what this man forced people through. Fassbender was pivotal, aggressive, violent, and hateful as Edwin Epps, and incurred more emotions from audiences than that of a transgender AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club. I know 30 Seconds To Mars fans will hate me for saying this, but the more vital role needs to go to the more vital performance. I said it once, I’ll say it again: Leto is not as deserving in the award as Fassbender is.

Again, no disrespect, and I acknowledge that Leto gave a great performance in the picture. But like Cuaron with best direction, the more compelling presence needs to go to the more compelling artist. Sorry, Rayon.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (CORRECT!) Lupita Nyongo won (and deserved) the academy award for best supporting actress for her heartbreaking role as a desperate and depraved cotton picking slave in 12 Years A Slave. No qualms here.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY (CORRECT!) I also correctly predicted that Spike Jonze would win the best original screenplay award for his sci-fi romance story Her. Comparing Her to the genius of David O’Russell’s American Hustle, I mentioned in my original predictions list that “just because its a smarter story doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a better one.” I do not retract my statement.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY (CORRECT!) John Ridley won best adapted screenplay for his incredibly well-documented 12 Years A Slave. He equally deserved it, as Solomon Northrup’s story, or legacy, could not have translated any better to the screen if the filmmakers tried. Great job, Ridley. You gave us an unforgettable and incredible story, the likes of which no one has seen since Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. 

And this is the only other award 12 Years won for the night. No cinematography. No editing. No costume or production design. No supporting actor. No other award that would further substantiate and support its win for best picture.

Am I the only one that finds this completely ludicrous? To date, there are only three best picture winners to win only three academy awards. Those movies are The Godfather, Crash and Argo, and two of them didn’t even win in major categories. Seriously, what is going on? Why are we being so insubstantial towards movies that have been deemed the best of the year? Do academy voters not realize that by naming this the BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR that they’re saying that its better than everything else? And according to this ceremony, not only are they saying that it is the equivalent of Dallas Buyers Club (they both won three academy awards), but that Gravity is superior to it with seven wins and no awarding of best picture.

Seriously. Make up your mind. I’m fine with you saying one picture is better than another, but substantiate that by what awards you give it. I seriously doubt that 12 Years is best picture because of its screenplay and its supporting actress alone. Likewise, I doubt that Gravity isn’t the best picture of the year because it has the best direction, camerawork, editing, sound mixing, and visual effects out of any other picture.

That’s all I ask, folks. Not preference. Fairness.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM (CORRECT!) The Great Beauty won for best foreign-language film. That’s the one that everyone saw, right? It obviously deserved to win.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM (INCORRECT!) I incorrectly predicted that Act Of Killing would win the award, but no, 20 Feet From Stardom took the award home, with featured artists on the film including music legends Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder. I haven’t seen the film, so I have no place on commenting on it, but it seems odd that the Academy would reward a movie about background singers over that of a tragic confrontation of death and social issues. I’ve yet to see either of them though, so like I said, my opinion is invalid in this category.

BEST ANIMATED FILM (CORRECT!) Disney won best animated feature for Frozen. While I didn’t care much for it, I know it made a wide impact on its audience and that it will go on to be fondly remembered by many animated movie lovers for years to come. So congratulations for its win, even though I’m no fan of the cold weather this time around.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG (CORRECT!) Frozen won best original song for its memorable song “Let It Go”. It certainly didn’t win for Idina Menzel’s performance, that’s for sure. What the heck happened with her? Her pitch was all over the place, her control was wonky, and her whiny voice was the contrast of the powerful, beautifully controlled voice she exhibited in the movie itself. Seriously. What happened?

One song I’ve really been getting into recently (and I think you’ll agree with me) is Pharell Williams’ “Happy”. The performance proved why. Not only was it energetic, upbeat, and undeniably catchy, but Williams gave a great performance, he exhibited great control and showed very few differences from the studio version of his song. Menzel’s performance, in comparison, was completely and utterly horrendous.

But hey, I guess that’s why the award is called “best original song” and not “best performance”. Otherwise, I think we both what the turnout would be.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (CORRECT!) Steve Price took home the award for best original score with Gravity. He completely deserved it. Not only did it match the tension, edginess and unease of the movie, but it also gave a dignified sense of hope and accomplishment after a long journey of heart-pounding danger and peril. Listening to the soundtrack alone gave you the feeling of identity and survival, and Price was definitely the most deserving out of any nominee. Congrats to him for his win.

In the meantime, I’m still wondering where is Hans Zimmer’s nomination for Rush. Remind me again why this movie wasn’t nominated for anything?

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY (CORRECT!) In 2011, Emanuel Lubewski was mercilessly snubbed for his masterful, Stanley Kubrick-esque camerawork in The Tree Of Life. If he didn’t win it this year, I was literally planning on flipping out.

Luckily, he did.

BEST FILM EDITING (CORRECT!) Another category that I felt 12 Years was superior to Gravity, yet it still lost to it. Must I keep beating a dead horse? Gravity was a more visually stellar and energetic picture. 12 Years was the more engaging and involved one. Part of that was because of how the film was put together in a traditionalist style that was reminiscent of Dylan Tichenor’s work from movies including There Will Be Blood and Brokeback Mountain, where he focused most of the runtime on the film’s subjects rather than worrying about flashy cuts or transitions. Film editing is one of the most important part of storytelling, and what have I been saying is the best story of the year? 12 Years A Slave.

I’m not going to drag this out though. Gravity was a great picture, and editors Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger definitely reached outside the box to accomplish things visually no other film did this year. It did a good job. Moving on.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN (CORRECT!) The Great Gatsby won for best production design. Considering the sets were the most colorful and visually appealing out of the year, that isn’t very surprising.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN (INCORRECT!) Unfortunately, I predicted this category wrong, thinking that 12 Years was going to get this one. The only reason I went with that instead of winner The Great Gatsby was because I knew Catherine Martin was already going to win for best production design, and any more than that would have been greedy. I forgot that “spreading the wealth” isn’t a phrase the academy is most well known for.

BEST MAKEUP (CORRECT!) Thankfully, Dallas Buyers Club won for best makeup and hairstyling. As long as Jackass: Bad Grandpa didn’t walk home with the award, I’m satisfied.

BEST SOUND EDITING (CORRECT!) Gravity won.

BEST SOUND MIXING (CORRECT!) Gravity won. Again.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS (CORRECT!) If you even thought this award was going to anything other than Gravity, you’re either insane, or blind.

And at last, the long-dreaded short film categories.

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM (CORRECT!) Surprisingly, I got this category correct with predicting Helium. I haven’t seen the film though, so it was only by sheer luck that I got this right.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM (INCORRECT!) Mr. Hublot took home this award. That’s surprising, considering how clever and fun Get A Horse! was, but nevermind. I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t comment on it.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT (INCORRECT!) The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life. Again, just like any other films in these categories, I haven’t seen it, so how would you expect me to get it right? You might as well blindfold me and ask me to just write on the flipping ballot.

Overall, this has been a fun ceremony, and I’m grateful to Ellen Degeneres for making it a happy-go-lucky and loveably quirky time. Just please, make the ceremony less predictable next time, okay? I’d rather not have a film come in and just know that its going to dominate in all of the categories. You would have been better calling it “The First Annual Gravity Awards”.

-David Dunn

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OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2013

Ah yes, its that time of the year again, ladies and gentlemen. It’s Oscar time, where forgettable movies to get gold statues, while great movies get ignored.

Calm down, calm down, I’m just kidding. Except not really. People know that I’m openly critical about the Oscars for a number of reasons, mostly because the movies that were nominated were given those nominations by bloviating pundits and not genuine movie lovers. Don’t agree with me? Look at the following movies that weren’t even nominated for best picture: Rush. Harry Potter. The Dark Knight. Pan’s Labyrinth. Black Hawk Down. Fight Club. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rear Window. Psycho. The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. 

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy the majority of the motion pictures that are nominated at the Oscars, and I usually agree with their picks of who wins best picture. I absolutely love The Lord of The Rings trilogy, I love Rocky, The Godfather, Slumdog Millionaire, Titanic, and I uphold that Schindler’s List is the best academy-award winner for best picture of all time. Just because those movies deserved it, however, doesn’t mean those other movies don’t deserve mention, and I find it absolutely despicable that the academy snubs pictures that have made a large impact on society. I mean, everyone’s heard of Oliver! before, right? RIGHT?!

Okay, rant over.  This year is a very interesting awards race, with Gravity, American Hustle, and 12 Years A Slave the frontrunners for the best picture race, not to mention all of the other awards in the ceremony. I’ve already written my top ten list of the year, so I won’t bother you with the details of which I think is better. Let’s begin the predictions.

BEST PICTURE: Since Sundance of last year, 12 Years A Slave has been recieving the most steadfast buzz that lasted all throughout the year into this ceremony. While I agree that Gravity is a great frontrunner, I don’t think that consensus is going to change. Plus, look at the academy’s track record. Based off of previous data, the academy loves to give the best picture Oscar to movies based on real events and that statistically grossed less than 100 million. Not only is 12 Years based on the true story of Solomon Northrup, but it also grossed 96 million dollars. I’m sticking to my gut here. 12 Years A Slave is winning best picture. 

BEST DIRECTOR: Everyone seems convinced that Alfonso Cuaron will win the academy award for best direction with Gravity, and that especially seems the case since he won the DGA award as well. I’m not convinced, however, that he’s the most fit for this award. Gravity, of course, was science-fiction perfection, accurately capturing the physics and dangers of space so perfectly that it could have been filmed in space for all we know. Equally as difficult, however, is capturing the cruelty of the slave era in a relentless, gritty, unhinging fashion, and director Steve McQueen did that masterfully all while maintaing his decorum. I won’t be mad if Cuaron wins and McQueen loses, and to be honest, both are very deserving in this award. All I’m saying is that if Cuaron wins, it will be the equivalent of Steven Spielberg losing for Schindler’s List to Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive.

BEST ACTOR: The battle has been in between actors Matthew McConaughey and Chiwetel Ejiofor, both nominated for their roles in Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years A Slave.I’m going with McConaughey for three reasons. 1) Since his win at the Golden Globes, he’s had a steady winning streak in many award ceremonies, including the SAG Awards. 2) His performance was stunning, sinking into this role of an aggressive party-hard cowboy turned health advocate, and 3) He’s Matthew freakin’ McConaughey. Do I really need to give a further argument?

BEST ACTRESS: Again, this battle is between Sandra Bullock for Gravity and Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine. There are two reasons why Bullock won’t win this year: 1) She won the academy award for best actress a few years ago for her performance in The Blind Side, and 2) I’ve never seen a best actress win for a science-fiction film in any year. So Cate Blanchett is the assumed winner. 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: I want every single molecule and fiber of my being to give the award to Michael Fassbender as a hateful slave driver in 12 Years A Slave. His performance was cruel, relentless and teeth-grinding all at once, and was so despicable as a villain that he surpassed Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in Django Unchained. He won’t win it. The dominant opinion has been swayed towards Jared Leto in his transformative performance as a transgender AIDS victim in Dallas Buyers Club. While I commend his bravery and his ability to slip so effectively into this role, it doesn’t change the fact that his performance didn’t shake me as much as Fassbender’s did. Fassbender played the more striking character: he’s the one that’s more deserving in the award.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: This is the only acting category where a consensus is generally already made. Besides Ejiofor, Lupita Nyongo stood out both as a character, as an actress, and as a spiritually broken slave who lost all hope at life and at happiness in 12 Years A Slave. Her performance truly broke my heart, and she deserves no less than the academy award for best supporting actress. 

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: This battle is between writer-director David O’Russell and Spike Jonze, both responsible for their respective films American Hustle and HerBecause it takes a lot more ambition to write about a middle-aged man falling in love with a computer than it does to write a historically based crime-comedy-drama, my best is on Spike Jonze’s Her. Just because its a smarter story, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a better one.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: If 12 Years A Slave is going to have any chance in the best picture race, it needs more of a push than best supporting actress. It’s going to get that extra push in this category. Not only is it among the year’s best, but it is one of the most spellbinding stories of the year, only barely straying from the original text that Solomon Northup wrote all those years ago. Not only will John Ridley win for 12 Years A Slave: he deserves it. 

BEST ANIMATED FILM: I’m one of the relative few that did not enjoy Disney’s newest feature Frozen, a story based on the “Snow Queen” fairy tale about two sisters trying to save each other in a crumbling kingdom. While the characters were fun and energetic, they were equally annoying and ditzy, especially whenever the stupid trolls were on the screen. While I’m less enthusiastic about it, however, it obviously hasn’t disappointed its mainstream audience, garnering a 90% on rotten tomatoes and a rare A+ on cinema score. There’s no question on who’s winning this: Frozen will win the best animated feature award.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: I’ll give Frozen this: it had wonderful music. It deserves no less, then, to win the academy award for best song for their brilliant track titled “Let it go.”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: A few years ago, The Social Network won best original score for its energetic beats and its fluid synthesized sounds. For these reasons will Steven Price not only win the Oscar for Gravity, but deserve it because his music added tension, edginess and paranoia to Gravity’s already heart-pounding premise. 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubewski lost years ago with The Tree Of Life against Robert Richardson for Hugo. The Academy will make that up to him this year for giving him the academy award for best cinematography for Gravity, although I’m still sad that Roger Deakins is getting left behind for Prisoners. 

BEST FILM EDITING: Let me say something here: great visual effects doesn’t make for great editing. Likewise, a masterful editor knows not only when to cut away from a shot, but also on how long to stay on one as well. Although Joe Walker is more that deserving to win for capturing the tragic essence of 12 Years A Slave, I believe it will go to Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger for Gravity due to its technical achievements. 

BEST SOUND EDITING: “In space, no one can hear you scream?” Yeah right. I heard a mother in mourning screaming in space for 120 minutes and I was absolutely petrified.There’s no question on which movie this award deserves to go to: Gravity. 

BEST SOUND MIXING: Gravity for the same reasons as above. 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Gravity. End of discussion.

BEST MAKEUP: Dallas Buyers Club is going to win. If the academy dares to give the award to either Jackass: Bad Grandpa or The Lone Ranger, I’m going to invite them inside my personal port-a-potty and wait for them to realize that its the poo cocktail from Jackass 3.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: I’ve flipped sides on this one a few times now. First I thought The Great Gatsby’s flashy and colorful costumes were going to take home the award. Then I considered American Hustle for its stylish, contemporary costumes. Now, after giving it a second look, my mind is made up: 12 Years A Slave is going to win for best costume design.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: I was hesitant to name this at first, because honestly anyone can take this one home. The set pieces and designs for all of the film were spectacular in the least, ranging from the financially corrupt society that American Hustle portrayed, to the bleak, barren landscapes of 12 Years A Slave, all the way to the surreal, futuristic Stanley Kubrick-style buildings in Her. I’m ultimately going to guess that The Great Gatsby wins best production design only because it is excellent at displaying the roaring twenties as well as being the most diverse out of any other nominee. 

BEST DOCUMENTARY: This category started off controversial, leaving off one of the most critically-acclaimed documentaries Blackfish off of its list of nominees. Disregarding that, however, look at the other nominees. Out of any of the other selections, which one was talked about the most? Which one is the most controversial? Which one gave a clear, unbiased perspective of a serious issue and let the film show reality as it is?

Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer was praised all around for his film The Act Of Killing, a story about a former soldier revisiting his dark past and facing the truth about the lives he took long ago. It ended up taking many number one spots on many top ten lists, including Sight and Sound’s poll for best of the year. It’s no contest for me. The Act Of Killing is taking this Oscar home. 

BEST FOREIGN LANGAUGE FILM: The more I look into this category, the more I notice that The Hunt has been getting more and more buzz with moviegoers about the Oscars, and is the only nominee to be on IMDB’s top 250 films of all time (although, oddly enough, its listed for 2012 instead of 2013). Despite how praising the word of mouth has is, however, I’m convinced that it won’t win. The Great Beauty has been getting the most buzz out of any other nominee, and that buzz usually isn’t wrong. Plus, my ex-film professor loves it. That’s when you know two things: that it’s a bad movie, and that it’s going to be an Oscar-winner.

And here it is, at last, my three (least) favorite awards categories: the short films. Why do I say that? With the exception of one, I haven’t seen any of them. Nobody has seen them. Point me to one normal moviegoer who has seen any of these shorts, and I will pay him $100 to smuggle in DVD-ripped copies of them to my home theater.

Blehhhhhhh. Let’s finish this.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM: The only one I’ve seen out of any of the films in any of these categories is Disney’s Get A Horse, a buoyant and clever combination of classic 1930’s Disney animation with that of today’s three-dimensional standard. I got this category right last year, but that doesn’t mean I will do it again this year.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM: Cavedigger, because it has the coolest title. 

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM: Helium, because I can’t breathe. 

What are your predictions? Do you think Gravity is going to take the big picture home, or am I shortchanging 12 Years too much? Comment below, let me know.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write the president of AMPAS an angry letter about why Rush wasn’t nominated for anything.

-David Dunn

Correction 2/25: On the “best production design” category, ‘American Hustle’ was inaccurately identified as being “the roaring twenties that American Hustle portrayed”. The description was intended to go towards ‘The Great Gatsby’ and has since been corrected. 

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“THE GREAT GATSBY” Review (✫✫✫)

Nice to see you again, old sport.  

When you sit and think about the character of Jay Gatsby, there is never a simple answer to define him and his purpose in The Great Gatsby.  Some people have cited him as a post-modern interpretation of Romeo And Juliet, in the aspect that the character is going through a romantic struggle that always ends in nothing but tragedy.  Others have viewed him as a representation of the roaring twenties, as a pioneer who emboldens and defines the industrial image of the 1920’s and their status as they faded away into the 1930’s.  Others see him more like an enigma, an image of the upper class and the bleak loneliness that comes with it.  Whatever you believe to see, Jay Gatsby is no simple character.  For all we know, he could be one or none of these things.  Or all of them.

The fact that this film knows, respects, and acknowledges that makes me appreciate this movie, and hope that others can appreciate it too through DiCaprio’s performance and the mythology being revisited here.  Those who read the book should already know the story: a 1920’s bond salesman and struggling writer named Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves into New York city, where he learns of his rich next door “neighbor” named Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).

I put “neighbor” in quotations because Nick never actually sees Jay Gatsby in the beginning of the film.  All he ever sees of his estranged, self-secluded neighbor is a man looking behind some curtains and holding lavish parties in his mansion in the cool of midnight.  All he ever hears of him is scandalous rumors and war stories about a man many people haven’t met either.  The more Nick lives in his lonely little house, the more he questions if Mr. Gatsby even exists.

Eventually, Mr. Gatsby of course does introduce himself, but not as the host of the party, but rather, as a humble servant who offers Nick a drink on a plate of beverages.  As Nick becomes more familiar with Mr. Gatsby and his lifestyle, he soon learns the truth of Mr. Gatsby’s past and the reasons he really came to New York.

When I first heard of another Great Gatsby picture being made, my first reaction was excitement and anticipation.  How could it not be?  From the creative mind of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the many politics and emotions he makes you feel in his novel, it sounded like this movie was going to be a home run for both fans and non-fans of the book.

Then I learned that Baz Lurhmann was writing and directing.  And then bowed my head and uttered a long, dubious groaaannnn.  Lurhmann, who is most known for directing 1996’s Romeo + Juliet and 2008’s Australia, is commonly remembered as a director who abuses style over substance.  With the previous films I just mentioned, not only are they silly, soupy, and sappy menial dramas: they fail to even attain interest, and are extremely forgettable in a line of much better romantic dramas, including Titanic and the 1968 Romeo And Juliet by Franco Zeffirelli.

Note: Okay, I’ll admit I haven’t seen his 2001 film Moulin Rouge!.  Does it matter though, when out of his entire filmography, that’s the only film he can really brag about?  

The beginning of The Great Gatsby, much like Luhrmann’s other pictures, also suffers from this case of style over substance, with its overly boisterous parties and distracting art sequences making no coherent sense or adding anything to the picture overall.  What I found interesting, however, is that the first act barely matters.  When Jay Gatsby is finally introduced, the film takes a sharp turn of interest and invigorates the audience with new energy, almost like the character changes the entire tone of the film simply by him just being there.

I imagine this is the kind of Jay Gatsby that Fitzgerald would have wanted cast: the type that dresses in nice suits, stands straight with his chin up, and one who enters a room with such stillness that you could hear a penny drop.  The casting directors knew that their casting decision would be crucial to the film, and I think Fitzgerald would be pleased with the end result.  DiCaprio hits every single note dead-on this fascinating character, and just by sheer appearance, demeanor and dialect does he inhabit the character of Jay Gatsby and allow audiences to slip into his conscience and feel what he is feeling.

Oh, I won’t deny everyone else is good in this movie.  Joel Edgerton is effective as the antagonist, and even though he’s an industrial pioneer much like Gatsby is, he has such a hateful energy about him that makes you just want to run him over with a yellow beetle.  Carey Mulligan is good as Gatsby’s love interest, and perfectly shows all the innocence and indecisiveness of her character in the midst of all the ruckus.  Maguire, as well, is perfect as Nick Carraway, not as a character in himself, but as a silent observer, a passive voice who quietly watches over the scene, acting as the audience’s eyes and ears in this third-person narrative.  But its DiCaprio who sucks us in, DiCaprio who winds us up and plays us like a record as he asks us to sit through this tender, emotionally captivating journey that serves as a metaphor for the wealthy and for the industrial era.

And don’t worry, I’ll give Luhrmann credit too.  This film would not have survived without his writing or directing, as he has such reverence for the book and a great fear from deviating from it that the movie functions more as a love letter to Fitzgerald than it does as a strict book-to-movie adaptation.

Regardless, there’s only one person who shines the most here.  DiCaprio made this movie, and through his performance we were able to identify with a character that struggles with his past, his wealth, his love, and the deepening sadness that he hides behinds his warm, welcoming smile.

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