Is greed still good? Does greed still, for want of a better word, work?
Twenty-three years later, Gordon Gekko is back, still played by Oscar-winner Michael Douglas and now running short on money and even shorter on what he realizes is an even more valuable commodity: time. We see him being released from prison, his personal effects including a gold money clip (empty) and his old cellular phone (the size of a shoebox). He walks out into the sunlight toward a sleek black limo only to see that it is there for someone else, the also-departing rap star.
Balzac famously said that behind every great fortune is a crime. That is literally true in Gekko’s case; he traded on inside information. But it is also true in a larger sense because the real reason for Gekko’s wealth is a fierce and unquenchable passion not for money but for winning. He has had a long time in prison to watch and think and plan his comeback. And so he leverages his notoriety into television and in-person appearances to promote his book.
The sequel is so close to the same framework as the original that at times it feels like a remake. Again there is a bright, ambitious and essentially honest young man with a lower-income parent exemplifying the current financial upheavals who gets drawn by Gekko’s gravitational pull. It’s Jake (Shia LaBeouf), who has the added complication of being engaged to Gekko’s estranged daughter (“An Education’s” Carey Mulligan, LeBeouf’s real-life love). And there is another big-time financier like the one played by Terence Stamp in the first film, Bretton James, played by Josh Brolin. Once again, there is an old guy who is the movie’s repository of wisdom and integrity (a fine Eli Wallach). Once again, the young man thinks he can hold on to his values and once again he will find Wall Street is more treacherous than he thought.
In his brilliant book on the financial meltdown, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, Michael Lewis muses that his first expose of the wild world of Wall Street excess, Liar’s Poker was instead viewed “as a how-to manual.” The same is true for the first “Wall Street.” As the costume designer noted, the wardrobe from the first movie was selected for dramatic impact, not authenticity. But it was adopted by the real Wall Streeters, who were as thrilled with Gekko’s look as they were with his bravado, and his wealth.
While Douglas continues to be enough to make the entire movie worth watching, there is little chemistry with LeBoeuf or between LeBoeuf and Mulligan. The first film was an intriguing look at a hidden world. But today, with business news on the front pages and the editorial pages, on 24/7 news channels and thousands of websites, Wall Streeters are less often seen as dashing buccaneers than as the people most responsible for bringing the United States to the brink of economic destruction. The movie itself seems as though it cannot make up its mind what it wants from Gekko.
BEST PICTURE: DRAMA
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
Comment: Where is “True Grit?” And “Toy Story 3” should be in this category.
BEST PICTURE: COMEDY OR MUSICAL
Alice in Wonderland
The Kids Are Alright
Comment: “The Tourist?” Wait, it was supposed to be funny? And where are “Get Him to the Greek” and “The Other Guys?”
Darren Aronosfsky, Black Swan
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David O. Russell, The Fighter
BEST ACTOR: DRAMA
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter
BEST ACTRESS: DRAMA
Halle Berry, Frankie and Alice
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
BEST ACTRESS: COMEDY OR MUSICAL
Anette Bening, The Kids Are Alright
Anne Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs
Angelina Jolie, The Tourist
Julianne Moore, The Kids Are Alright
Emma Stone, Easy A
Comment: Hurray for Emma Stone! Look for her next year as a best actress nominee for “The Help.”
BEST ACTOR: COMEDY OR MUSICAL
Johnny Depp, Alice in Wonderland
Johnny Depp, The Tourist
Paul Giamatti, Barney’s Version
Jake Gyllenhaal, Love and Other Drugs
Kevin Spacey, Casino Jack
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
Mila Kunis, Black Swan
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Jackie Weaver, Animal Kingdom
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christian Bale, The Fighter
Michael Douglas, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps
Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
I Am Love
In a Better World
Comment: Nice to see a nomination for “The Concert.”
Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours
Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right
Christopher Nolan, Inception
David Seidler, The King’s Speech
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alexandre Desplat, The King’s Speech
Danny Elfman, Alice in Wonderland
A.R. Rahman, 127 Hours
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network
Hans Zimmer, Inception
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
How to Train Your Dragon
Toy Story 3
Comment: This is the toughest category. Every one of them deserves the prize.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Bound To You” (Burlesque)
“Coming Home” (Country Strong)
“I See The Light” (Tangled)
“There’s a Place For Us” (The Chronicles of Narnia)
“You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me” (Burlesque)
Emma Stone finally gets the breakthrough role her fans have been waiting for in “Easy A.” This is the moment that takes her into the front rank of movie stars, sub-category: America’s sweetheart.
Stone has an immediately appealing presence on screen, unpretentious but utterly charming. Here she plays Olive, a girl who doesn’t yet realize that all of the things that make her feel invisible in high school are going to make her wildly beloved for decades after. She is impatient to be “interesting” and so after a thrill-less weekend highlighted by singing along to a greeting card she impulsively tells her best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) that she had sex with her college student boyfriend. Problem #1: the sex and the boyfriend are both imaginary. This is the kind of mistake a teenager would make. Problem #2: this confession occurs in the ladies’ room at the high school, with no checking the stalls. This is not the kind of mistake anyone would make after 7th grade, but we have to kick that plot into gear, now, don’t we?
And so the whole school immediately knows and believes this scandalous news. Which is why Olive’s closeted gay friend tired of getting picked on comes to her with a proposition. Not that kind. He wants her to have noisy public pretend sex with him so that he can be definitively proven manly. And since her reputation is already shot, what can it hurt? And why not do the same favor for some other needy souls? And then, when it seems the whole school is judging her (conveniently, her class is reading The Scarlet Letter), she decides to sew a big red A on a bustier and see what it feels like to go from invisible to un-missable.
Stone is such an effortless charmer that she keeps the story aloft, even when Olive inexplicably turns her little adventure into a for-pay enterprise, insisting on gift cards(!) in exchange for making the reputation of the guys involved at the cost of her own. A side story involving Olive’s favorite teacher (Thomas Hayden Church) and his wife, the school guidance counselor (Lisa Kudrow) is also unnecessarily tawdry. Far better are the encounters with the always delectable (and just about always underused) Amanda Bynes as the school holier-than-thou abstinence proponent and the always ultra-watchable Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive’s deliciously off-kilter parents. Their scenes are warm, witty, and surprising, and livelier than Olive’s romantic ups and downs. In every way, it is Stone who is the heart of this movie, and she wins our hearts as well.
My very favorite DVD series for families has a wonderful holiday treat: The Night Before Christmas…and More Classic Holiday Tales. Twelve beloved family classics come to life, including the Christmas stories “The Night Before Christmas,” “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” “The Clown of God,” and “Great Joy.” The collection also features the Hannukah story, “In the Month of Kislev,” and a saga of the African American holiday, “Seven Candles for Kwanzaa.” As always with Scholastic, every story is beautifully animated and narrated. This is a true treasure. And I have one to give away to the first person who emails me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Scholastic” in the subject line and tell me your favorite holiday song. Don’t forget your address!