It’s time once again to apply Howard Hawks’ definition of a quality-level film to this year’s Best Picture contenders. A good movie, said Hawks, is one that has “three great scenes and no bad ones.” It shouldn’t be too much to ask that a Best Picture Oscar winner should live up to this, right?
John Wayne and Angie Dickinson conferring with Mr. Hawks on the 1959 set of Rio Bravo.
In my first Hawks criteria piece, I wrote that “great scenes are ones that you can’t forget because they’ve sunk in or hit a solid crack note of some kind. They deliver some kind of bedrock, put-it-in-the-bank observation about life or human behavior or just the way things usually are, and when they’re over you always say to yourself, ‘Wow, that worked.'” So let’s review a few Best Picture contenders and see if they cut the mustard.
Best Picture contender: The Wolf of Wall Street. Three great scenes?: Yes, but more in the realm of over-the-top bravura scenes as Wolf is a dark fantasia of corruption and venality, and not, you know, a straight-from-the-shoulder “drama” in the business of conveying fundamental human truths. The Leonardo DiCaprio-Matthew McConaughey chest-thump lunch scene. The Leo gives a pep talk to the Stratton-Oakmont troops scene (“Pick up the phone”). The Leo chats with the FBI guy (Kyle Chandler) on the yacht scene. The quaalude meltdown scene. The yacht-nearly-sinks-at-sea scene. How many is that? Wolf is one engine-rev scene after another.