The Oscars. The epitome of the years’ filmmaking exploits, culminating in an extravagant ceremony which all other awards shows idolize. Actors and filmmakers alike strive to add the coveted golden statue to their mantel, yet there is one actor whose lack of a statue has elicited a strong response from fans, year after year.
Leonardo DiCaprio has been nominated for five Oscars, three for Best Actor, one for Best Supporting Actor, and one, as a producer, for Best Picture. In contrast, he’s been nominated for nine Golden Globes for acting, with two wins. Many people believe it’s past time for him to take home an Oscar.
This year, DiCaprio was nominated for Best Actor for The Wolf of Wall Street, and the internet exploded with support. When it came down to the award, however, DiCaprio lost to Matthew McConaughey for his riveting performance in Dallas Buyers Club.
The Academy’s decision was the right one. McConaughey lost 47 pounds for his role as the HIV-afflicted Texas electrician, and transported himself into the role. Along with Jared Leto, who beat out Wolf’s Jonah Hill for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a transgender HIV victim, the acting in Dallas Buyers Club far surpassed that of The Wolf of Wall Street.
The Best Acting awards are ones that are usually given to actors who lost themselves so greatly into their role that they become almost unrecognizable. Last year’s Best Actor winner was Daniel Day Lewis for his iconic portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. The year before was silent film The Artist’s Jean Dujardin; and who can forget 2008’s Best Supporting Actor winner Heath Ledger, who poured himself so deeply into his role as the Joker he eventually suffered his life.
When looking back on DiCaprio’s performances and roles, few of them stand out enough to deserve the legacy of being named Best Actor, especially when compared with the competition. 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, his first nomination, was perhaps his best chance at winning, as he took a risk in the role of Arnie Grape, a mentally handicapped teenager, but when pitted with Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive (which won), or Ralph Fiennes for Schindler’s List, his performance was not strong enough.
It has been seven years since DiCaprio’s last nomination, despite having starred in noteworthy films almost every year, so the hype built up around DiCaprio is irrelevant. Why should this performance be the one to garner him the win, when he hasn’t even been nominated in recent years? His loss was not like Peter O’Toole’s, who lost eight times and starred in some of the greatest films of all time.
DiCaprio is not the only popular actor who has never received an Oscar, despite a huge fan base. Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, Ian McKellen, Gary Oldman, and John Travolta are just a few of the legions of others who have never won an Oscar.
Simply put, DiCaprio’s performances, while high quality, are simply too cool. In Wolf of Wall Street, he dressed up in nice suits, yelled into a microphone while beating his chest, and threw money at people. In Blood Diamond, he smuggled diamonds with a Zimbabwean accent. In Django Unchained, he portrayed a cruel plantation owner with a southern accent. Not in any of these performances, however, did he let the audience feel what it would be like to be that character; there’s always a mask blocking the emotion from ever truly reaching the audience.
The films Leo has chosen to make post-Titanic have been hyper-masculine roles used to draw attention away from his teen romantic lead past. The last film he took a risk on was What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Many of his characters run together; there’s even a theory about how all of his characters exist in the same universe. Take the same character and put them in a different situation and setting, and there’s virtually no difference. Part of the problem is his choice of director/mentor Martin Scorsese, who fails to bring out the best in DiCaprio and instead just fuels his ego.
DiCaprio may win an Oscar in his career eventually, if he pulls the mask away and invites the viewer in. Another option may be what happened to Scorsese; after years and years of not winning, the Academy will finally break down and give DiCaprio the Oscar, even if the film isn’t his most deserving.
Sorry Leo. Maybe next year.
*originally published in the March 3, 2014 edition of The Southerner*