In the wee hours of the morning of Tuesday, November 15th, early reactions started rolling in for Damien Chazelle’s latest feature film: “Babylon,” which is releasing in theaters on December 23rd. Without giving too much away, the internet was full of takes as many hot as the film threatens to be. There are those who love it, those who hate it, and seemingly no one in between. Neutrality, it appears, has left the building. The word “mess” was perhaps the most common descriptor thrown around, both positively and pejoratively. In an attempt to nail down the film into an easily digestible format, many reviewers compared the film to past classics. Twitter user @alisonlabelle described it as “the coke-snorting love child of Singin’ in the Rain and The Wolf of Wall Street,” while IndieWire contributor Jim Hemphill similarly made allusions to “DAY OF THE LOCUST crossed with WOLF OF WALL STREET and SINGIN IN THE RAIN with BOOGIE NIGHTS as its structural template.” These were not the only juxtapositions to Martin Scorsese’s 2013 symphony of excess.
Stylistically, the comparisons between “Babylon” and “The Wolf Of Wall Street” are apparent. Both films are set in a time and place of excess and consumption, with a cacophony of drugs, sex, and bodily fluids followed by an epic downfall. Both films also star Margot Robbie in a showcase role as a young woman climbing her way to the top of the proverbial ladder. The use of Robbie, however, in fact, establishes a great deal of differences between the two films. Robbie was a relative newcomer in America who shot to stardom after her appearance in “The Wolf Of Wall Street” and is now one of her generation’s most in-demand and reliable stars. At thirty-two years old, an Oscar nod for playing “Babylon’s” Nellie LeRoy would be Robbie’s third nomination in four years after her performances in “I, Tonya” and “Bombshell.” At the center of Martin Scorsese’s three-hour-long drama was super-mega-star, and frequent collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio, who was arguably second-in-line to winning the Oscar for Best Actor behind Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyer’s Club” that year. Like Robbie was in 2013, “Babylon” star Diego Calva is relatively unknown among American audiences. While this could serve as his star-making role and lead to many more exciting projects, his award’s prospects are significantly less assured in the Best Actor category. However, that buzz may fully translate over to Robbie instead, as her role appears to be filled with energetic physicality (nearly every shot in the trailer features her exuberantly dancing) and the chance to play a silent film star on the rise during the tumultuous and wild early days of Hollywood during the silent film era.
Then, of course, is the matter of each film’s director. Scorsese’s Best Director nomination for “The Wolf Of Wall Street” was his seventh, having won for “The Departed” seven years earlier. While “The Wolf Of Wall Street” showed that he still had the same kinetic spirit in his filmmaking he once displayed over two decades earlier with “Goodfellas,” he was no longer “due” for a win in 2013. Damien Chazelle, on the other hand, modern Hollywood’s wunderkind, has already been warmly received by the Academy, being the youngest person to win the Best Director award at thirty-two years of age for 2016’s “La La Land.” Although official reviews haven’t poured in yet, compared to his previous films “Whiplash,” “La La Land,” and “First Man,” the early divineness of “Babylon” may scare Academy voters from nominating Chazelle a second time this awards season. However, his ambitious, technically dazzling, epic story and history of lovingly directing movies so evidently influenced by other classic movies may be enough to convince them to save him a spot on the ballot.
While there have been comparisons between “Babylon” and “The Wolf Of Wall Street” for their epic runtimes, shared leading actress, and vibrant energy, much of the chatter is due to how Paramount Pictures have marketed them. “The Wolf Of Wall Street” was also released near the end of its Oscar season in December and was one of the last contenders to drop for the year. Paramount seems to be taking the same path with “Babylon,” hoping for a similar box office return (“The Wolf Of Wall Street” grossed $406.9 million in 2013) and awards run. Given the polarizing early reviews “Babylon” has received so far, it appears no Oscar nomination is one hundred percent guaranteed. One should never underestimate how much the Academy loves a period piece, so nominations for Best Costume and Production Design almost feel assured. The film may also manage to gain recognition for its score by Justin Hurwitz, who already has two Oscars due to his work on “La La Land.” The two previously released tracks for “Babylon” titled “Voodoo Mama” and “Call Me Manny” have already received acclaim. Other possibilities include cinematography, editing, makeup and hairstyling, and sound. “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” for its part, received five nominations, including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing but won zero.
While “Babylon” will most likely be regarded as a worthy, if overly ambitious, effort by a promising young artist with decades of work ahead of him, Chazelle may not be well-established enough to get away with the same amount of overindulgence and debauchery as Scorsese leading to a less than stellar nomination haul when all is said and done. Or maybe, much like that 2013 film, the late December release, adrenaline-pumping filmmaking, memorable set pieces and larger than life performances will be enough to convince voters to, once again, turn a blind eye towards the more questionable morals of the film and just allow themselves to sit back and have a wild, good time for three hours.
Are you a fan of “The Wolf Of Wall Street?” Have you seen “Babylon” yet? If so, what did you think and what do you think of the comparisons between the two? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and check out the Next Best Picture team’s latest Oscar predictions here.