Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Inside Llewyn Davis vs. The Wolf of Wall Street, two movies about pursuing the American Dream in New York.
PremiseThe Wolf of Wall Street and Inside Llewyn Davis could not look more different. The former is a fast-paced, action-packed Hollywood heavy-hitter about a team of Wall Street brokers who are as materially wealthy as they are morally bankrupt. Inside Llewyn Davis is an odyssey of the human condition; a bleak drama that follows an inept musician as he meanders from one failure to the next. Whilst Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is grappling to find his way, The Wolf himself, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), seems to have totally lost his. The songs that overlay the trailers perfectly encapsulate the differences in tone between the two films. In The Wolf trailer, Kanye West raps about “300 bitches,” the Trojans, and living in the moment, whilst in the Inside Llewyn Davis trailer, Bob Dylan moans about the weather being against him, hard winds, and not having any luck.
That said, Scorsese and the Coen brothers’ latest offerings have surprising similarities. They are both black comedies with leading men that are less than likable pursuing the American Dream. The Hollywood Reporter’s description of Davis as “parasitic, unreliable, and untrustworthy” could as easily be applied to broker Jordan Belfort. Both films ask uncomfortable questions about the true value of money, the moral sacrifice needed for success, the unfair distribution of power, and the line between what we do and who we are. The Wolf of Wall Street promises to be one of the year’s biggest and brightest, and Inside Llewyn Davis already won over critics during its debut at Cannes last month. It’s a tough one to call.Advantage: Inside Llewyn Davis
Memories and FictionBoth films are based on memoirs. The Wolf of Wall Street is an adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s book by the same name that recounts his time as a notorious investment broker in the ’90s. Inside Llewyn Davis is loosely based on Dave Van Ronk’s memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street. Wolf is a closer telling of Belfort’s story whilst Van Ronk’s was more of an initial inspiration for the Coen brothers than a strict template. Llewyn Davis is only similar to the book in that it also follows a meandering folk singer through the underworld of ’60s Greenwich Village.Advantage: The Wolf of Wall Street
New York, New YorkOne city, two worlds. New York’s place in history is as the global capital of two things: finance and music. Scorsese and the Coen brothers offer starkly different portraits of Manhattan, depicting both the city’s powerful economic hegemony and its oh-so-cool artistic counterculture. Only a few short subway stops separate Greenwich Village from the Financial District, but the gray streets and dingy bars of Llewyn Davis’s New York feel like a different universe than Belfort’s glimmering office and fancy restaurants. The landscapes the characters inhabit reflect the state of their spirit. Whilst Belfort and his banker cronies sit atop a skyscraper, looking down on the world like kings on a throne, Davis is repeatedly shown staring blankly out of his subway window onto a nonexistent view, buried underground. Between them, they capture the tension that makes New York great (and a little bit crazy): that a 13-mile island can be home to both the most influential artists of the modern age, from Dylan to Warhol, and the most notorious dons of capitalism, from the Rockefellers to Donald Trump.
What sets Wolf‘s New York apart, however, is Scorsese. Wolf will be the director’s latest ode to his hometown, adding to a series of masterpieces that includes Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Goodfellas. The man is clearly at his best in his natural habitat, and if it compares to his previous “New York pictures” (as Marty would say), then it is sure to be an instant classic—one of those films that tortured teens stuck in two-bit towns stay up past bed-time watching in hopeful reverence whilst promising that “one day, I’ll get out of here and I’ll make it there.” We know Marty can do New York, we have been waiting for him to shoot here again ever since Bringing Out the Dead. We only have one thing to say: Welcome home, Maestro.Advantage: The Wolf of Wall Street
If You Can’t Be Famous, Be InfamousIronically, Jordan Belfort’s life seems more like that of a musician than Llewyn Davis’. Belfort lives like a rock star stereotype—endless drugs, parties, and half-naked women. Inside Llewyn Davis is about a guy who never gets there. Davis’ life is small and feeble. Constantly strapped for cash and crashing on the couches of friends, he exists on the periphery of a peripheral underworld, not even showing up on the radar of the musical subculture he longs to inhabit and influence. Fame and money—or even just enough money to buy dinner—evade and taunt him; forever faintly in sight but always impossibly out of reach. For Belfort, money is clearly not an issue; he has so much of it he literally throws it away—repeatedly. As he says in that epic first line of the trailer: “My name is Jordan Belfort. The year I turned 26 I made $49 million, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.” Of course, it all comes crashing down for Belfort. It seems he didn’t make all that money the old-fashioned way, and he loses everything after a security fraud case finds him guilty of corruption. Damned bankers never learn.Advantage: The Wolf of Wall Street
DirectorsIf you’re a film geek, you probably fall into one of two categories: the type that worships Scorsese, or the Coen Brothers fanboy. When asked the question, “What movies do you like,” you may answer in one of two ways, either “The classics: Fellini, Coppola, Leone, Scorsese—the Italian stallions and that lot,” or “I’m big into those off-beat, like totally cutting-edge, quirky, but intellectual guys, Paul Thomas Anderson (or maybe just ‘PTA’ to you), Wes Anderson, David Lynch, Charlie Kaufman, the Coen brothers…” No matter which way your inclinations lie, this holiday season you are going to be getting a Christmas present. As we happen to favor the former group, we’re going to give the advantage to Wolf on this one.Advantage: The Wolf of Wall Street
Award BaitThere are very few truths in this world on which we can rely: the sun will rise in the East and set in the West, the Kardashians will do anything for attention, the NRA will prevent any reasonable gun control laws from being passed, and when Leo and Marty get together to give the world one of their films, Oscars will happen. We are all desperately hoping this time will be the one. Surely this year they will give it to him. Fourth time’s the charm. Come on Academy, you know it’s well overdue. Give Leo his Goddamn golden statue! Wolf will be DiCaprio’s second high profile performance of the year, and his last before he disappears from the silver screen, at least for a while. Here’s hoping he can enjoy his hiatus from acting whilst basking in some much deserved Oscar glory. After all, it is only fitting that Leo win his first for a Scorsese film. Luckily for our nerves, we don’t have to wait to see if the Coen brothers’ latest will be a big winner with critics. It already went down swimmingly at Cannes, winning the Grand Prix. We figure the film may be more suited to success on the festival circuit than at the Hollywood awards. It is unlikely to be as big a winner for the brothers as No Country for Old Men; the world of finance always bludgeons the little guy with a guitar in the big leagues. Although the power of the real thing may be waning, at the cinema Wall Street will still reign supreme.Advantage: The Wolf of Wall Street
The VerdictBoth of these films look like they are going to be amazing. Although the trailer is a bit weaker for Inside Llewyn Davis, we suspect that it is the kind of feature that can’t be effectively packed into a two-minute teaser. The humor doesn’t really translate, making it come off as somewhat monotone and dull. It is clearly the kind of movie that must be experienced in full. The Wolf of Wall Street, on the other hand, looks, in the parlance of the bro-y finance guys who populate it, AWE-SOME.
We are already casually quoting Jonah Hill and pounding our chests in time with Matthew McConaughey. Here’s to the next Gordon Gekko.Winner: The Wolf of Wall Street
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