You'll get my full review of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street as it gets closer to a wide release, but given it's (rather literally) the end of the year and all the accolades are getting tossed around already I can at least tell you it's probably the best film of the year - certainly the best one that will end up having played in wide-release movie theaters. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, and is based on the life of Jordan Belfort, the "wolf" of the title who built up and ran a crooked stock market outfit (but I repeat myself) which allowed he and his posse to live lives of opulent drug-fueled hedonism until they got caught... after which, they had to settle for merely being "regular rich."

Scorsese is known as a dramatist. His best (or, at least, best known) films tend to be stories of crime and violence, with a focus that divides evenly between fascination with the human potential for darkness and a foreboding sense that punishment is in the offing - a perspective that the director himself attributes to the lingering effects of his own devoutly Catholic upbringing (stuff never really washes off, I can attest to that much.) And though absurdity, irony and dark comedy are never far from the frame, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Departed, etc. aren't what anyone would think of when they think of their favorite funny movies.

But while he has attempted comedy as a genre before, to varying degrees of success, Wolf is probably the first truly great work of comic filmmaking he's managed - regardess of whether or not comedy was his aim in the first place. The film runs almost three solid hours but breezes by in what feels like a flash, mainly because the audience is either laughing out loud or gearing up to do so for almost the entire time. There's hardly a scene that doesn't contain a laugh, whether at the expense of someone landing in an absurdly difficult situation or in acknowledgement that something genuinely funny or at least audacious is occurring. To say that the film is hilarious would to put it mildly - it's hysterical.

Some of this more humorous tone - maybe all of it - is a natural outgrowth of subject matter: Scorsese's "eye" here isn't substantially different from the one that zeroed in on Goodfellas or Casino. But the debauched protagonists here have neither the implicit life or death stakes nor the mythology of renegade nobility afforded to gangsters or even just street hustlers - they're money men, moving numbers around on sheets to con other money men into bad investments. A few characters die, yes, but it's not a condition of the life; for the most part the worst thing that can happen is that they might see some (white collar) jail time, or tumble down all the way to upper middle-class if their divorces go particularly bad.

Stakes and drama are closely related, there's more levity here than omnipresent doom; which allows the film to essentially exist as a record of gleeful excess. 179 minutes of amoral punks in expensive clothes throwing around cash, buying obscenely expensive cars, surfing through waves of absurdly beautiful women, getting bombed on vintage qualuudes and doing MOUNTAINS of cocaine. And because Scorsese trusts his audience to not need "This is bad behavior!" spelled out for them - and because it's a true story and in real life bad guys (these sorts of bad guys especially) get to win; well... suffice it to say things don't exactly wrap up like Hamlet.

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