22nd February 2016

Feature: Should this really be DiCaprio’s year?

Almost every Oscar prognosticator is saying that Leonardo DiCaprio winning an Oscar this year is a near-sure thing—but, the question is, does he deserve it?

Does DiCaprio deserve his near-inevitable Oscar win?

Leonardo DiCaprio should already be an Oscar winner—a notion universally accepted amongst casual moviegoers and rabid fans on the internet. Some would passionately go on to argue that not endowing him with the coveted statuette would be committing a heinous crime. When it comes to this discussion, I believe I take a different stance. Examining DiCaprio’s relationship with the Oscars in detail, it’s clear that on every occasion he has received a nomination, a superior performance by another nominee has simply beaten the actor out of winning an award.

His most recent nomination for The Wolf of Wall Street saw DiCaprio rightly lose to Matthew McConaughey’s transformative role in Dallas Buyers Club, and back in 2007, Forest Whitaker’s powerful depiction of dictator Idi Amin was a much more deserving winner. The strongest argument for DiCaprio being robbed was for The Aviator in 2005, where he lost out to Jamie Foxx as Ray—but DiCaprio not winning then was a blessing in disguise. The decade of acting work that followed showcased a man dedicating everything to his craft—culminating to the unprecedented level of commitment demonstrated in The Revenant. He suffered and endured sub-zero temperatures, ate raw bison liver and kept himself warm inside a horse’s carcass. Yet, it is DiCaprio’s humanisation of Hugh Glass that allowed the viewer to emotionally invest in such a bleak and sorrowful tale of vengeance.

The Academy Awards have infamously waited too long to reward iconic actors in the past. Paul Newman, a cinematic behemoth, eventually won in his seventh nomination. Newman was 62 years old and the award was seen mainly as a recognition for his career as a whole. And at the age of 41, DiCaprio, on the other hand, would triumph with his fourth nomination for Best Actor. Furthermore DiCaprio does not face the same degree of fierce competition as before. Bryan Cranston’s nomination is an acknowledgment of his work in Breaking Bad, Eddie Redmayne’s performance is textbook Oscar bait and Matt Damon plays Matt Damon as an astronaut. All of these factors collude and collide to the same verdict: that The Revenant is the right film, and more importantly, it is the right time for DiCaprio to finally make that acceptance speech.

– Imran Bukhari


Or is his competition more deserving?

Leonardo DiCaprio is fantastic in The Revenant. I have no intention of denying that. His performance is a masterclass in physically demanding roles and that will be remembered as one of his finest moments onscreen. Does he deserve an Oscar for it? Yes. But is he really the most deserving of the nominees?

Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Steve Jobs is an infinitely more fascinating performance than what DiCaprio delivered. In The Revenant, the key character was the dark and merciless abyss of the wilderness in which DiCaprio found himself struggling to stay alive. Hugh Glass’s clear-cut motivations of survival and revenge have nothing on the complex and intense character of Steve Jobs. Fassbender’s eyes could range from playful to furious in the space of seconds, and the volatile nature of his character kept us guessing about his true intentions throughout the film’s duration. Many have been citing the film’s poor box office returns as the reason why Fassbender might not be a contender for the win—but the history of the Academy Awards would suggest that there’s more to it than that.

To see this, we only need to look at DiCaprio’s performance in The Wolf of Wall Street—his last nomination. This is the film in which DiCaprio crafted Jordan Belfort—a sickeningly depraved yet charismatic character—and employed his prowess as a physical actor. Yet, much like Fassbender’s performance in Steve Jobs, it is a far less overt ‘performance’ than the eventual Best Actor winner. Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club represented an incredible transformation for the actor, but the character himself was little more than a self-caricature. His weight-loss was the main talking point—it kept everyone interested in the role and saw him with an Oscar win. Similarly, when people talk about DiCaprio’s performance, they do not talk about the emotional depth in it, but rather about the physical limits to which he had pushed himself. What we witnessed, and what we will most likely witness again this year, is a victory for showmanship over skill.

Everyone wants to see DiCaprio win an Oscar. He’s one of the finest actors today who has delivered a consistently strong body of work. But to say that he absolutely should win this award for either the showy nature of his performance or for the fact that he is ‘due’ for a win is to buy into the devaluing of the Academy Awards—what every cinephile detests.

– James Moules

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