As Martin Scorsese's Wolf of Wall Street opens in cinemas, we chart the top ten films that scoff at moderation
Based on the memoir of stockbroker Jordan Belfort, Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street is an epic-length irreverent onslaught that doesn't hold back from depicting the debauched corruption of the disgraced fraudster in all its lurid forms. It's sparked controversy for supposedly glorifying such behaviour as entertaining spectacle, though Leonardo DiCaprio's sleazily dishonest, Quaalude-popping Belfort (a performance that bagged him a Golden Globe) is always grotesque, never glamorous, and Scorsese's condemnation of corporate greed culture unmistakable. To mark the film's release this week, here's our pick of films on indulgence and excess.
A film that really is as much glorification as it is denunciation, Brian de Palma's baroque and bloody classic traces the rise and fall of Tony Montana (Al Pacino) from Cuban immigrant to powerful drug cartel kingpin during the ‘80s coke boom, finally destroying himself with blow-fuelled megalomania. Awash with OTT rococo, palm-tree murals and mahogany, even the production design screams more is more.
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (2012)
The queen of this insightful, often hilarious documentary is Jackie Siegel, the epitome of a trophy wife. A surgically enhanced former beauty crown-holder wedded to a billionaire business patriarch, her flagrant spending knows no bounds. They're building what's to be America's biggest house - a Florida palace for their garish taste - until their fortune is lost in the financial meltdown and an unexpectedly resilient side of hyper-cheery Jackie comes out.
MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE (2013)
Another great documentary casting a critical eye on a modern culture of unchecked excess, director Marc Bauder's elegantly shot, frightening festival hit gets inside the head and motivations of one of Germany's former top investment bankers, a candid cynic who was making a million a day as a cog in an alarmingly out-of-control machine.
"White elephants - the God of Hollywood wanted white elephants, and white elephants he got - eight of 'em, plaster mammoths perched on mega-mushroom pedestals, lording it over the colossal court." This description of DW Griffith's beyond extravagant film set of Babylon for his silent epic Intolerance - the most expensive ever constructed at that time - is how avant-garde legend Kenneth Anger begins his book Hollywood Babylon, a saucy compilation of the celeb scandals and gossip of a decadent past era.
No-one personifies the outer limits and beyond of debauchery like Raoul Duke, the alter-ego of Hunter S. Thompson in his lurid, darkly comic work of gonzo journalism. Played by Johnny Depp in Terry Gilliam's screen adaptation, the anti-hero descends on Vegas in hallucinogenic-induced perceptual chaos with his equally addled attorney (Benicio del Toro).
LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995)
Pretty much the depressive flipside of Gilliam's riotous jaunt, this drama has Nic Cage doing what he does best - playing a man past the brink, all social decorum abandoned. Ben is an alcoholic Hollywood scriptwriter who has gone to Vegas to drink himself to death, an action almost total in its nihilism, even as he forms a kindred bond with a prostitute (Elisabeth Shue).
THE GREAT GATSBY (2013)
King of lurid flamboyance Baz Luhrman went all out on adapting F. Scott Fitzgerald's cynical classic about the moral bankruptcy of decadent New Yorkers in the Roaring Twenties. His frenzy of OTT-ness mixes the glam get-ups and art-deco stylings of the era with woozy 3D and a rave-up hyper-pop assault of glitter and inflatable zebras for scenes of the extravagant parties of mysterious millionaire and bootlegger Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). For a film about impermanence and flashy facades, that suits just fine.
Like all his films, Steve McQueen's second feature depicts a body put to extremes - in this case, sex addiction, with Michael Fassbender as a New York ad exec with a dysfunctional bond with his sister (Carey Mulligan) whose life is ruled by his obsessive urges. While filled with excess and indulgence on the surface, the bold, psychologically intense film is really about emptiness - the terror of intimacy and cyclical clutch of compensatory compulsion.
WALL STREET (1987)
Of course we couldn't leave out this era-defining '80s classic about unrestrained appetites, Oliver Stone's drama about a young stockbroker (Charlie Sheen) keen to emulate ruthless corporate raider Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). Those nervous about Scorsese's latest won't have forgotten that while presented as a villain Gekko and his much-quoted lines ("Greed is good") became revered as a role model by many young wannabes in finance.