Both movies have been released in Irish cinemas, and if you're a movie fan worth you're salt, then you've seen them both, and will have come down on one side or the other of the biggest dispute in entertainment since Oasis VS Blur, or Mario VS Sonic. Which was the better movie: American Hustle VS The Wolf Of Wall Street.
The critics would have you believe that David O. Russell's con-caper is the winner, with aggregate sites Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic both favouring American Hustle to The Wolf Of Wall Street - 93% to 76%, and 90 to 75, respectively. The Golden Globes would also name Hustle the better movie, having beaten out WoWS for Best Picture in the Comedy/Musical genre, and the Academy Awards follow suit, giving 10 nominations to Hustle and 5 to WoWS.
The general public however, seem to be leaning the other way, with WoWS IMDb score of 8.7, putting it at No.46 in the Top 250 Movies of All Time, compared to American Hustle's 7.8, which doesn't feature at all on that same list. The box office for both movies are pretty much neck and neck at the moment, with Hustle making $131 million on a $40 million budget (in 5 weeks) compared to WoWS $120 million on a $100 million budget (in 3 weeks).
So that's all the technical, number-y stuff that you can use to back up your argument, or swat away as pointless trivia. The first thing that needs to be said about both movies is this: Neither of them are all that great. They're both very good, and they're both very entertaining, but when it comes to the grand scale of both director's careers, in a few decades time, they'll both be considered 'lesser' films.
Now that that's out of the way, here's the second thing that needs to be said: American Hustle is the better movie. And here's why...
Both comedies, both involving con-men (and con-women), both involving the FBI. Anyone who had been paying attention will have noticed a lot of similarities between American Hustle and The Wolf Of Wall Street. The differences are in the telling. American Hustle is some very precise plotting told by a director channelling an improvising jazz musician. The Wolf Of Wall Street is absolute bedlam told by a director channelling a brain surgeon.
The 'fun' of WoWS is all on show, all go all the time, and after three hours, is kind of exhausting. It is very much like watching someone else have a great time, and while initially you might experience that secondary high, once it's over, you'll realise just how hollow it all was. Hustle, on the other hand, gets inside you. There are constant mind-games going, the eternal threat of the double cross, the never-quite-knowing who or what you're dealing with, the giddy thrill of barely getting away with it all, and the all-encompassing sexual chemistry.
That's one of the major differences between the two movies, and probably the deciding factor between which side of the argument you land on. Given the sexy option, which would you prefer to watch: full-on ass-slapping porn, or an intelligently teasing strip-tease? If you said porn, you're probably a fan of instant gratification, and The Wolf Of Wall street is for you, as the opening scene involves DiCaprio snorting cocaine from a ladies behind, and it gets progressively more depraved over the next 180 minutes. If you said the strip-tease, then you're looking for something to play on your mind afterwards, and American Hustle is your film. There's very little actual bonking, but there's A LOT of longing glances, and people standing millimetres apart from each other, and pretty much everyone wants to bang everyone else, in one way or another. Yes, WoWS has DiCaprio looking his most handsome and Margot Robbie is super-hot (and doesn't take her time flashing her hoo-haa to the world), but again, it's all skin deep. Amy Adams description of Christian Bale - even under all of that nasty wigs and combovers, and behind that big belly - tells a natural sexual charisma that cannot be denied, and it spreads out to Adams, Cooper, Renner and especially Lawrence, too.
A little back, I mentioned 'intelligently teasing', which is another thing of note in Scorsese's movie, and perhaps indeed ALL of Scorsese's movies: the absence of intelligence. That's not to say that Scorsese isn't one of the most intelligent film-makers around (he is), or that Jordan Belfort wasn't initially smart to make all that money in the first place (he was). No, the issue is that these people just don't seem to have IQ points to spare outside of their comfort zones, with no lateral thinking and only all forward momentum with their planning. The same fault can be laid at the feet of most of Marty's movies' leading men: The Departed, Shutter Island, Gangs Of New York, Casino, Cape Fear, Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver... they all just keep moving forward, probably violently, with no real contingency plan (or identifying one, and then ignoring it), until they've backed themselves into some kind of corner, and they usually have to either give up or die.
The headline of this piece may have irked some, belittling David O Russell's movie to nothing more than 'fake scorsese', but for a shorthand, it is a fair comparison: the camerawork, soundtrack, editing, setting, dialogue... they're all reminiscent of Scorsese's work in the 90s. In fact, at times, it's a great little fantasy to wonder what might have been if these directors had swapped projects, and would the final products really be all that much different from what they are now? O Russell's filmography is patchy to say the least, and he certainly does seem like a director who has yet to find his own voice. There's a vast difference in the left-field action-pic Three Kings, to the meta, too-smart-for-its-own-good indie comedy I Heart Huckabees, to his recent trilogy of The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle (which, again, seem totally unrelated bar their crossover casting). He had toyed with the adaptation of hit video-game Uncharted, but up next has a film called Nailed about a waitress who suffers unpredictable mood swings when a nail becomes lodged in her head (it's a rom-com, btw), which sounds just as oddball as anything else on his CV.
Maybe that is Russell's modus operandi, to constantly surprise us with what he's going to do next. Scorsese - like his current muse DiCaprio - has, is, and always will be solid and brilliant, but both are unlikely to ever surprise us again with their craft. As disappointing as it sounds, the truth is that a constant level of quality tends to get overlooked, and with Russell, we were surprised that someone else can not only 'do a Scorsese', but do it well. Maybe Marty would do well to do a Russell and completely surprise us. We hear that hit video-game adaptation Uncharted is currently without a director...