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The Oscars: Is this the end of ‘Unlucky Leo’?

Each year from the announcement of the nominees (including this year’s claims of ‘whitewashing’) to the comparison between the winners of the Globes and the Academy awards, there is scandal. Every year, scores of movie nerds (I see you, my brethren) yell “WE WAS ROBBED!!” when he/she was overlooked for this/that, and The Academy never quite gets it right.

Sure, some oddities always tent pole the night’s events and provide fodder for the press in the days after the ceremony: Brando refusing his award and sending a Native American in his place. Brad Pitt getting a pizza delivered to his seat. Jack Palance doing one-armed push-ups. That ridiculous selfie. Screw all that though, I just wanna see who wins!

Some years, I think you’ll agree, have had results that confound everyone who paid the ticket fee to see a movie. Questions are raised to this day about those overlooked. Connery bested Washington, Brooks and Freeman in 1987. Hoskins was robbed by Newman in ’86.  Neither Pacino nor Depp were nominated for their outstanding turns in ‘Donnie Brasco’ (huh?).

Then there are other performers who just can’t get there (or haven’t by the time of writing) no matter what they do. Roger Deakins has had 13 nominations for his cinematography and hasn’t won (he shot ‘Fargo’ and ‘Skyfall’ for God’s sake). James Woods has only been nominated twice (no love even for his performance in ‘Once Upon a Time in America!’). Tom Cruise three times. Glenn Close –wait for it – SIX goddamn times. They gave Peter O’Toole a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, but snubbed the guy 8 times for actual roles in actual films.

Kevin Bacon has never even been nominated. Neither was Alan Rickman. Or Scarlett Johansson. Or Steve Buscemi. All have starred in Oscar-winning movies, though.

Great movies have been criminally overlooked for decades. ‘Blade Runner’, ‘North by Northwest’, ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Double Indemnity’ – all movies that didn’t garner one single nomination. All movies included in The American Film Institute’s ‘100 greatest films of all time’. Go figure.

 

There’s something fishy at the Dolby Theatre...

One actor has stood out in recent years as having missed out, and with this being his 5th nomination, I’m hoping that Leonardo DiCaprio finally gets a nod from The Academy. This is not news – for years, the press has debated why Leo and Oscar just don’t get on. I write this because surely, after seeing his performance in ‘The Revenant’, they have to give him the Award?

See, for years, being a fan of Leo was ammunition for mockery. He was a pretty boy – most of my peers knew him for ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and ‘Titanic’. He was material for the fantasies of squealing teenage moviegoers who fawned over hair flicks and dreamy off distance brooding rather than acting ability or cinematic substance. And that is how he was viewed by the critics. When Damon and Affleck were winning the Oscar for writing ‘Good Will Hunting’, Leo was ironically proclaiming “I’m King of the world!” in James Cameron’s disaster movie, and accepting his ‘Blockbuster Entertainment Award’.

I had seen him in ‘The Basketball Diaries’ though. He stood against DeNiro in ‘This Boy’s Life’ and gained his first Oscar nod for ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?’. He was beaten to the Oscar by Tommy Lee Jones in ‘The Fugitive’. But to be fair, Ralph Fiennes was nominated in the same category that year for his work on Schindler’s List and he lost, too.

Problem is, after that there were a string of Big, Empty Movies ™ for ol’ Leo. The nineties saw him boom to mega-stardom, but the Oscars weren’t paying attention. Big bucks don’t necessarily mean little golden statues. ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’, ‘The Quick and the Dead’ & ‘The Beach’ were either hugely successful but critically shunned…..or just critically shunned.

 

“Is there a movie I should have won the Oscar for? Yeah – All of them” - Morgan Freeman

 

Solid performances in ‘Marvin’s Room’ and Woody Allen’s ‘Celebrity’ meant he was never written out, and showed that he - much like Johnny Depp - was never going to settle into a career hosting movies instead of acting in them (see Kate Beckinsale, Orlando Bloom, Vince Vaughn etc.).

Then came the noughties. In 2002, Leo teamed with Hollywood Royalty. ‘Gangs of New York’ paired him with Martin Scorsese and the movie gotten Oscar Nominations. Under the direction of Mr. Spielberg, ‘Catch Me if You Can’ gave Leo that oh-so-sought-after combination of box office success and critical credibility. Working with Hollywood legends? Check. Financially successful movies? Check. Critically acclaimed? Check. Oscar nominations? Nope.

No Oscars in 2002, and no movies in 2003. The beginning of something wonderful though- his relationship with Scorsese, and in 2004, ‘The Aviator’ gave DiCaprio that long awaited nom. Unlike ‘Gangs of New York’, ‘The Aviator’ gave Leo the chance to fill the screen. It’s hard (nigh on impossible) to command the eye of an audience when sharing the screen with Daniel Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson and Brendan Gleeson - at the same time.  Keeping your head afloat in a sea of talent is no mean feat, especially for a guy like DiCaprio. It’s all too easy to forget actual ability when an actor is up for awards in categories like ‘Best Kiss’.

Not winning against Jamie Foxx for ‘Ray’ isn’t so bad. If nothing else, surely just being on the same list as Clint Eastwood is consolation enough? This nomination meant Leo was a true contender. As big as ‘The Aviator’ was, as respected as the Director was and as talented as his supporting cast were – this was Leo DiCaprio’s movie. Maybe the first movie you could honestly say that about.

The fact that he wasn’t chosen for his role in ‘The Departed’ says a lot about the nominations process. Throwing him some token nomination for ‘Blood Diamond’ and ignoring the performance in Scorsese’s movie makes no sense. ‘The Departed’ won Best Picture. Scorsese won his only Oscar that night for directing it (proof again that The Oscars simply don’t get it right a lot of the time). Rather than nominating the two best actors in the movie that won Best Picture and Best Director, they nominate one of these guys (DiCaprio) for another movie that merely meh’d its way through the box office and saw fit to give face time to another (Wahlberg) who’s contribution was minimal. That’s would be like giving Robert Zemeckis the Oscar for Forrest Gump, instead of Quentin Tarantino for Pulp Fiction...*cough*.

“Nothing takes the sting out of the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires give each other little golden statues” - Billy Crystal

 

2013 – ‘Wolf of Wall Street’. It looked so much fun. Whilst Oliver Stone brooded over market fraud in 1987’s ‘Wall Street’ (Michael Douglas rightfully won an Oscar for the part of Gordon Gekko) – Scorsese let rip on a balls-out (literally) tale of Yuppie excess.

A massive hit, Leo swaggers through the movie on a cocaine-and-hooker-fuelled binge, in the first boldly FUN live action movie to be nominated since 1997’s ‘The Full Monty’. Unfortunately, fun wasn’t on the menu at the 2013 Awards. ‘12 Year’s a slave’, ‘Gravity’, and ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club’ are all wonderful and deserving films, and one wonders if things would have been different if WOWS was nominated in another time.

And so to this year’s nom - ‘The Revenant’. I’ll concede that my initial reaction was that it was the ‘Tom Hardy Show’. Hardy’s character has more to say, more choices to make, and his backstory is more interesting. The strange thing is that we don’t want to watch him. Our interest lies with DiCaprio as Hugh Glass.

The gut-wrenching determination to make it back to civilization just to satisfy the most animal of instincts; the sheer brutality of all that must be endured to get there is etched on Dicaprio’s face by the time the characters meet again at the river’s edge. Glass’s relentless, desperate pursuit of John Fitzgerald is the perfect antidote to Justin Belfort’s backstabbing Shyster, and is DiCaprio’s most engrossing performance yet.

Will The Academy agree? Time will tell. One thing’s for sure though, he has their attention.

 

 

 

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