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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

#PoorLeo: Leonardo DiCaprio's Failure Playing The Oscar Game

On January 16, 2014, Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for his 4th acting Academy Award for his performance as Jordan Belfort in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street. On March 2, 2014, Leonardo DiCaprio lost his 4th acting Academy Award as Matthew McConaughey beat DiCaprio for his work in Dallas Buyers Club. The Internet exploded after this loss. There was no shortage of memes, .gifs, and tweets surrounding the subject. My personal favorite comment of the night was this comment. After nearly spending his entire life in show business and having zero Academy Awards to show for it, it certainly appears as if The Academy hates Leo. While that's obviously not true as no man with five total Oscar nominations can ever truly say The Academy dislikes him, it does seem that after Leo has tried so hard to win and has come up short every single time that Leo will never win that Golden Statute.

Leonardo DiCaprio has a new movie coming out this Oscar season called The Revenant. It's made by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu- the man who just won two Academy Awards for directing and producing Birdman a few months ago- and the Oscar hype train for Leo has already started. Leo has already stated how grueling and agonizing the filming conditions were, how he ate raw bison meat, and how he actually slept in an animal carcass. He is certainly setting the stage early and creating a narrative for himself in hopes in endear himself to other Oscar voters. Yet the mood that I am sensing from people not in the industry is the same one my wife had after she saw a trailer to The Revenant, "Well, that's another film Leo isn't going to win an Oscar for."

I am not suggesting that Leo will not win an Academy Award for The Revenant just because he hasn't won one before, I am saying that he will not win one for his role in the film because Leo has a fundamental misunderstanding of how The Game is played. I have no idea if Leo will or won't get nominated for his work in Inarritu's latest, but I do know that he will not win.

You can claim talent and performance all you want until you're blue in the face, but talent and quality is not indicative of Oscar success. It's why Dances With Wolves can defeat Goodfellas for Best Picture, why The Social Network can get screwed by The King's Speech, and why Leo won't win for his work in The Revenant. The Academy Awards are not an objective opinion of who or what is best, it's an opinion by a very small, non-diverse, closed-minded group of what they collectively think is best. To The Academy's credit (detriment?), they are consistent on what they determine is best, and for some reason, Leo hasn't figured this out yet. ran an article back in 2009 entitled 6 Cheap Acting Tricks That Fool The Critics Every Time. It's a great read because it's a article, but it's also disheartening that a humor website was able to write a step-by-step guide on how to win an Oscar. The six tricks are:

1) The Biopic
2) Physical Transformation
3) The Comedic Actor Turned Serious
4) The Outsider Who Inspires a Ragtag Group of Kids
5) Get Retarded, and
6) Go Gay

The article, of course, cites a litany of examples to back up their arguments, but it still holds true five years after it was released. Just look at 2014's Oscars where The McConaissance used Rule #2 to defeat Leo who did nothing but fuck and take drugs for three hours in a Scorsese epic. The 2015 Best Actor race also doesn't bode well for Leo when the lead actor in an Inarritu film who failed to conform to any of the six categories (Michael Keaton) lost to an actor (Eddie Redmayne) who did (#2 and probably a bit of #5). Heck, Leo might have to go up against a trans-gendered Eddie Redmayne in 2016.

It's no secret that Leo has made his share of Oscar-bait films including Revolutionary Road and taking a huge pay cut to star in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar. You could even make the argument that his work in all those Scorsese films constitutes Oscar bait (heck it has worked for Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci). But throughout all 25 of his films (not including The Revenant), DiCaprio has failed to understand the nuance of these specific Hollywood rules. Further, he hasn't shown that he's prepared to really go beyond his set limits in order to win an Oscar- especially not since 1997's Titanic (not coincidentally after he became a worldwide sex symbol).

Rule #6- Going Gay- has worked for a plethora of actors including Tom Hanks (Philadelphia), Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), Christopher Plummer (Beginners), Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain), and Sean Penn (Milk). If Leo really, really wanted to win an Oscar, Going Gay seems like a no-brainer. Yet he's never done it. Once. Ever. Because Leo cares WAY more about being a sex symbol than he does about winning an Oscar.

But I don't necessarily fault Leo for not Going Gay on film. He's most certainly not the only actor in Hollywood to care how he comes off on screen for the affect of his personal life. Mark Wahlberg and Tom Cruise are two other A-listers that immediately come to mind who also care about their on-screen persona when it comes to their off-screen image.

Another Rule that Leo will never follow is Rule #3- Comedic Actor Turned Serious- but that rule isn't his fault. Leo has also never followed Rule #4- Outsider Leading Ragtag Kids- and again, this is another rule I don't necessarily fault Leo for not trying because frankly there aren't many good scripts that follow this trope. It's hard to win an Oscar when your movie is shitty. But there are tropes and scripts that do follow the other three rules- The Biopic, Portraying a Mentally Handicapped Person, and Physical Transformation- that Leo can attempt and has attempted before.

Leo has played a mentally handicapped person once in his career- 1993's What's Eating Gilbert Grape. To no one's surprise, at the bright young age of 19, Leonardo DiCaprio could for the first time in his life say that he was an Oscar nominated actor. DiCaprio would later lose to Tommy Lee Jones for his work in The Fugitive (who surprisingly also beat out Ralph Fiennes for his work in Schindler's List which seems odd to me 20+ years later). While Jones did not fit any of Cracked's neat little boxes, DiCaprio lost that year for two other well-known Hollywood rules. The first is famously paraphrased by Robert Downey Jr's character in Tropic Thunder, and the second is that young actors don't win as they have to pay their dues.

Leo would have to wait another 11 years to earn another Oscar nomination, this time for his work in the Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator. In between Gilbert Grape and The Aviator, DiCaprio made 12 films. Out of those 12 films, none of them confirmed to Cracked's six rules. However, he did make Gangs of New York which garnered 10 Oscar nominations but only one acting nod (for The King himself Daniel Day-Lewis) and Titanic which earned 10 bajillion Oscar nominations and two acting nominations for Kate Winslet and Gloria fucking Stuart. How DiCaprio himself wasn't actually nominated is beyond me, but no matter how good he was in the film he was never going to defeat Jack Nicholson for his work in As Good As It Gets. The 1998 Oscars also nominated Dustin Hoffman, Robert Duvall, and Peter Fonda, so again, DiCaprio was never going to win that year.

After The Aviator (which I will get to in a bit), DiCaprio's next nomination came two years later for his work in Blood Diamond. Admittedly, I never saw Blood Diamond, but the 79th Oscar Best Actor pool was so weak (Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness, Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson, Peter O'Toole in Venus, and Forrest Whittaker in The Last King of Scotland) that the entire year seems like wash. Almost a decade later and I'd be surprised how many people remembered Blood Diamond exists, even saw the film, or knew that the film gave Leo one of his Oscar nominations. Further, I'm pretty sure Blood Diamond doesn't fit one of Cracked's rules unless Horribly Bad Accent is a rule.

After Blood Diamond, Leo's last acting nomination came in 2014 for his work in The Wolf of Wall Street, and we all know how that turned out.

The closest Leo has ever come to playing by the Oscar rules is his role as Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator. The film is a biopic about a Hollywood legend that could be considered a genius. Unfortunately, he ran up against Jamie Foxx for his work in Ray. Not only did Jamie Foxx also star in a biopic of a genius (who died four months before the film about his life came out), but Foxx was a comedic actor turned dramatic who also threw in a little bit of a physical disability. Whoops! Sorry Leo.

Since The Aviator, Leo has made only one film that actually fits Cracked's list (J. Edgar) and one film that probably could have been a seventh selection (Django Unchained). Winning a Best Supporting Actor for playing a charismatic villain has become a Hollywood staple for the past decade or so. Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men), Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight), and Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds) (and to a lesser extent J.K. Simmons in Whiplash) all won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing the bad guy. Leo was a great bad guy in Tarantino's Django Unchained and acted superbly, yet for some reason Christoph Waltz not only stole Leo's Best Supporting Actor nomination (despite that fact that Waltz's Dr. King Schultz is clearly the co-lead in the film) but maybe Leo's win as well. Like Titanic, Leo's non-nomination has helped fuel the "Academy Hates Leo" fire, but, I don't know, shit happens.

Leo's last attempt to win an Oscar by following the Cracked rules came in 2011's J. Edgar. Like many other Leo flicks before it, Leo chose an Oscar-bait movie role without fully considering the nuanced rules behind the rule. The Cracked article explains the rule this way:

"Pick a deceased (or soon-to-be deceased) musician, artist, or mathematician, make sure they're the sort of person the New York media could conceivably refer to as brilliant, insert a big name actor (or Gary Busey) to play the role; watch movie critics and audiences far and wide go apeshit."

For starters, that's eerie prophetic to Eddie Redmayne's Oscar win earlier this year, but it also doesn't really fit in line with J. Edgar Hoover- the widely hated man who revolutionized the FBI. Sure J. Edgar was a biopic, but there have been a zillion biopics over the years and not every single one earns its lead an Academy nomination. Only the ones like Capote, Walk The Line, Ray, A Beautiful Mind, and Chaplin that fit this specific biopic rule earn their title's lead nominations and wins.

Further, J. Edgar also follows along a misconceived notion that Leo has had his entire career in that working with great directors will equal Oscar nominations (and wins). Clint Eastwood has given many people Oscar nominations (Morgan Freeman, Bradley Cooper, Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Marcia Gay Harden, himself) and many more wins (Morgan Freeman for a different movie, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Hilary Swank), but you know, he also does make stinkers like Hereafter, Jersey Boys, and well J. Edgar.

Outside of Clint Eastwood and obviously Martin Scorsese, Leo has worked with Oscar winners Steven Spielberg (Catch Me If You Can), Danny Boyle (The Beach), Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road), and Oscar nominees Baz Luhrmann (The Great Gatsby) and Christopher Nolan (Inception). Obviously DiCaprio's upcoming film The Revenant is directed by an Oscar winner. Working with a great director and giving a great performance in said movie is not enough to win, or even get nominated for, an Academy Award (it's also not a guarantee that the movie will be any good as well).

A lot of DiCaprio's career has to do with the appearance of trying to win an Academy Award as opposed to actually trying to win an Academy Award. DiCaprio is first and foremost a movie star and a moneymaker than he is an actor. Don't get me wrong, I like DiCaprio's acting ability a lot, but he's certainly no Daniel Day-Lewis or Gary Oldman either. As Chris Connelly has said on a now defunct YouTube video, Leonardo DiCaprio makes your dream come true. Alejandro Gonzalez can make a $90 million dollar western thanks to Leo. Christopher Nolan can make a weird dream heist movie because of Leo. Baz Luhrmann can make a Great Gatsby movie with Jay-Z songs in it thanks to Leo. Leo sells tickets and while he chooses to work with a lot of great and interesting directors, he also brings butts into the seats.

That is why I don't think Leo has ever attempted the sixth and final Cracked rule- Physical Transformation. Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron (Monster), Robert De Niro (Raging Bull), Ben Kinglsey (Ghandi), and Nicole Kidman (The Hours) have all WON an Oscar for undergoing a physical transformation. If Leonardo DiCaprio truly wanted to win his first Oscar, he would find a script like McConaughey found Dallas Buyers Club. However, as much as Leo wants to win an Academy Award, he doesn't want to put his A-list, sex symbol status in jeopardy. McConaughey needed a Dallas Buyers Club to resurrect his career. DiCaprio is still going strong.

Yet as well as Leo is doing both critically and financially, DiCaprio's press tour for The Revenant shows that he either doesn't understand the Oscar Game or refuses to fully play by it. Making sacrifices for your art will certainly get you recognition by your Academy peers, but DiCaprio needs more than recognition and a nomination. He needs a win. If DiCaprio really wanted to win an Academy Award, he will need to learn how to the play The Game better.



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