‘Wolf of Wall Street’ pounces as a ferocious Oscar threat

Now that I’ve seen “The Wolf of Wall Street,” it’s clear that it is one of the few contenders that can actually win the Oscar for Best Picture.

It’s epic in scope, length (three hours!) and in the size of its ideas about modern times – just like voters like their winners – and the audience loved it. Of course, the crowd I saw it with this afternoon at the Landmark Theater in Los Angeles was comprised of film journalists – mostly snobbish, cynical dudes, not sappy geezers like you find in the academy – but that’s the crowd that generates initial Oscar buzz. In fact, it’s our crowd. About half of Gold Derby’s Experts saw it with me.

I quizzed 5 or 6 of them afterward and they all agree: “Wolf” is a threat. However, none of them said outright – yes, this will be the winner. Nearly all of them begged for more time to ponder its place in the derby. Only one pundit said firmly, no, “The Wolf of Wall Street” cannot win. His reasoning: It’s too hip, young-skewing, too “The Social Network” in a race that usually goes to fuddy-duddy fare like “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist.” But let’s not forget that sometimes hip, gritty fare prevails like “The Hurt Locker” and “No Country for Old Men.”

One thing everybody agrees upon: Leonardo DiCaprio may devour, wolf-like, his competition for Best Actor thanks to a grandstanding, cocaine-fueled performance that is the biggest of his giant career. However, it’s strange that Leo recently lost Best Actor to Robert Redford (“All is Lost“) at the New York Film Critics Circle last Monday. Leo seems more critics-friendly by nature, but Redford lives part time in Manhattan, so maybe the Gotham critics have a burning desire to finally meet the reclusive superstar in the flesh when they have their awards dinner next month. We’ll learn a lot more this weekend when the L.A. critics vote on Sunday. Leo lives part-time in Los Angeles. That may help, but both stars face a serious threat from Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers’ Club”), who dwells in L.A., too.

When sizing up the Golden Globes race, lucky for Leo he’s not competing against Redford, McConaughey, Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave“) or Tom Hanks (“Captain Phillips“) for Best Drama Actor. He’s over in the comedy/musical category thanks to the fratboyish frivolity of “Wolf.” There he faces Bruce Dern (“Nebraska“), who gives a quiet screen turn that seems destined to lose to DiCaprio, who is a Globes fave (he won for “The Aviator” back in 2004). If Leo gives a knock-out performance at the podium compared to whoever wins Best Drama Actor, that could help to propel him Oscar-bound at long last. He’s lost three times so far.

Martin Scorsese will need to win DGA if he’s to bag the Oscar next, but he faces tough competition from Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”) and Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”). Nonetheless, it’s clear that the guild could go for Scorsese.

The big Oscar mystery surrounding “Wolf” is if Jonah Hill makes the supporting-actor list. Right now he’s ranked fourth on our prediction charts, so he’s looking good. But he portrays a goofball, drug-addled sychophant, not exactly the most huggable boy in the contender batch. Hmmm … I’m still pondering this issue for now and none of the Gold Derby Experts I polled after today’s screening seemed confident about his fate. He seems likely to get in (he got nommed for “Moneyball”), but he’s no shoo-in. And he can’t win.

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