Well, he’s done it, Leo has finally got his hands on the golden baldie. After four unsuccessful attempts to the summit, the fifth time proved to be the charm for The Revenant’s leading man. While his ludicrously large and vocal fan base will have you believe that this was a deserved victory that was long ‘overdue’ and has put right the wrongs of previous ‘snubs,' the truth is far from it. DiCaprio’s win this year was hardly based on merit, it was the successful culmination of a narrative that has been built around him by his fans and certain sections of the media, a narrative stretching over twenty-two years that began with his first nomination for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape way back in 1993.
Since then, the actor has managed to amass a further four acting nominations, including his win for Alejandro Inarritu’s survival epic. Listed below are all his nominations and the eventual winners:
• Best Supporting Actor (1993) – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
Winner: Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive)
• Best Actor (2004) – The Aviator
Winner: Jamie Foxx (Ray)
• Best Actor (2006) – Blood Diamond
Winner: Forest Whitaker (The Last King Of Scotland)
• Best Actor (2013) – The Wolf Of Wall Street
Winner: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
• Best Actor (2015) – The Revenant
Now, his record of six Academy Award nominations (five for Acting and one for producing) is nothing to be scoffed at; it's undoubtedly an impressive haul. However, the fact remains that prior to his win, he was never genuinely in consideration for any of his previous nominations. And except for his first nomination, he wasn't even considered to be the second favorite. So the notion that he was ‘overdue’ an Oscar because of being regularly snubbed is a complete fabrication. He was simply not good enough and was beaten by actors of higher caliber who gave better performances. Another factor regularly bandied about is his impressive tally of nominations. The Academy Award is not a pension fund, and nominations are not premium deposits that eventually lead to a win. Plenty of talented actors have plundered a plethora of nominations without getting their name called out on the big day. Here are some of those illustrious names:
• Peter O’Toole – 8 Nominations
• Glenn Close – 6 Nominations
• Amy Adams – 5 Nominations
• Johnny Depp – 3 Nominations
• Brad Pitt – 3 Nominations
• Matt Damon – 3 Nominations
• Edward Norton – 3 Nominations
• Joaquin Phoenix – 3 Nominations
Why is it that DiCaprio is more deserving of his Oscar than any of these fine actors? In fact, according to this thoroughly well-researched piece by Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight, there are at least twenty-two actors more deserving of winning the Oscar than DiCaprio.
None of this would matter if Leo’s performance in The Revenant was worthy of winning the award. It wasn't. Far from it. In fact, his performance isn't even the best one in the movie. That accolade belongs to Tom Hardy, a true phenom who is well on his way to becoming a genuine acting legend. He completely immerses himself into his role and makes for a captivating villain, but more importantly, he creates an engaging character. Whereas Leo’s work screams of “Look at me doing all this acting”, there is little depth behind all the grunts and crawls. It doesn't help that he has barely any lines of spoken dialogue and while heaps of dialogue is not a prerequisite for crafting a worthy performance, DiCaprio just isn't a good enough actor to successfully carry out a role of this nature. He seems more at home in his scenery chewing turns in the likes of Django Unchained (Which was no doubt a great performance). The larger problem here is that whenever he’s in a movie, Leonardo the star always overshadows Leonardo the actor, all the talk always revolves around him and very rarely around the character he’s portraying. Leo is a fine actor, certainly capable of the occasionally great performance given the right material but he is miles behind his generations’ leading lights, the likes of Christian Bale and Tom Hardy. DiCaprio’s greatest asset as an actor is his ability to pick the right project. This, combined with his association with some of the finest directors of our times has sky-rocketed his reputation to a place where his acting ability just can’t reach.
Then there’s the bison liver. A great deal has been made about the fact that he made a conscious decision to eat raw bison liver for a particular scene in the movie. He really wanted this Oscar, didn't he! It's hard for this to not come across as a stunt, just another sound-byte to bring up during Oscar campaigning. Really, would it have made any difference to the character or the audiences’ understanding of the character if he had consumed a synthetic liver? Can’t imagine how or why it would have. But this story, along with the dead carcass sleeping bag story was regarded as one of the reasons why Leo should finally get that elusive win. Sure, what he did is remarkable, but it did nothing to enhance the character or his performance. Indeed, if stunts like the ones mentioned above were worthy of contributing to an actor’s Oscar chances, the cast of the Jackass movies would be swimming in a pool of Academy Awards.
The entire Oscar campaign for this movie and Leo’s performance in it has been based on the fact that it was SO HARD TO MAKE. We get it. It was a difficult shoot. Making movies is hard, this was just harder. DiCaprio and company have milked this story to an unbelievable extent. This quote from an Oscar voter courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter puts things in perspective:
I rule out Leonardo immediately because it's a ridiculous performance. They are running his campaign based on how hard it was to make the movie, right? I'm tired of hearing about it — that's what he gets paid for! I mean, this was not Nanook of the North, for Christ's sake. Give me a break. He got millions of dollars, and I would assume they had heaters. The fact that he's never won before? He's a young man, he still has time.
In an ideal world, Michael Fassbender’s nuanced and beautifully crafted performance in and as Steve Jobs should have taken home the award. He was fascinating to watch and painted an enchanting portrait of a morally gray character. On a night the Academy got so much right: Alicia Vikander and Mark Rylance, deservingly winning over favorites Kate Winslet and Sylvester Stallone, it was disappointing to see them call one of the big ones wrong.
His fans (and the internet in general) rejoiced as ‘their’ Leo triumphed and delivered a perfectly written speech, but in all their reverence, they failed to see that this was a win born out of timing, not talent. A reward for all the goodwill he has gathered within the industry and ultimately, an undeserving one. Leonardo DiCaprio definitely has it in him to conjure up a performance worthy of being considered as the best one of the year, but this certainly wasn't it.