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Monday, February 8, 2016

Leonardo DiCaprio and the Extremely Weak Best Actor Oscar Race

Back in October I wrote about Leonardo DiCaprio's career failing to play the Oscar game and how he wasn't going to win an Academy Award for his work in The Revenant. Since the writing of that post, Leo won the Golden Globe and the SAG Award for Best Actor, and it would be nothing short of a colossal upset if he didn't win the Academy Award for Best Actor as well. I am glad to be proven wrong, and nothing would make me happier than to have one of my favorite actors finally earn an Academy Award. At the same time, it sucks that Leo will finally earn his first award for one of his worst roles. DiCaprio was in The Revenant because as Chris Connolly once said in a Grantland video, "Leo makes your dreams come true". He helps difficult projects like The Revenant get made, but I didn't think he was terribly good in it. That's why it will be bittersweet when he finally wins the Academy Award in a few weeks. At least when Martin Scorsese won his first Academy Award it was still for one of his best films (The Departed), but when Leo wins his first Oscar, it will be for a performance that probably doesn't make his career Top 10.

Outside of the narrative that Leo will win because "Leo is due", Leo will win because his competition is sub-par at best. Leo was due in 2014 and arguably gave the best performance of his career as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, but ultimately lost to Matthew McConaughey because he lost a shit ton of weight and starred in a non-romantic comedy (Dallas Buyers Club). You can give these subjective "he was good in that, but not as good at X, Y, or Z", but ultimately, these Academy Award wins come from predictable formulas. Matthew McConaughey won because Academy voters love it when people go through extreme physical transformations for a role (see: Charlize Theron in Monster or Robert De Niro in Raging Bull). Feel free to read about the six specific rules here.

The weird thing is is that 2015 seems to be the year where people seemingly are judging performances based upon the actual performance. Three out of Leo's four competitors followed a specific formula (Michael Fassbender and Bryan Cranston in The BioPic and Eddie Redmayne Went Gay- Matt Damon did not choose a traditional Oscar bait role), yet weren't all that great in their performances. Matt Damon, Michael Fassbender, Eddie Redmayne, and Bryan Cranston did a good job, but they didn't do THAT good of a job where you said "give that man an Oscar" after seeing the performance. Truthfully, I don't think you'd say after Leo's performance either, but I think a lot more people did for his work as Hugh Glass than any other leading male performance in 2015.

2015 seems to be the year of the weak leading man performance. In 2014, you could have created another five nominees from the snubs that would have been just as great as the five actual nominees (Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, David Oyelowo in Selma, Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Miles Teller in Whiplash, and Ben Affleck in Gone Girl. Boom, Nailed it.). However, you can't do that this year. I think the two biggest "snubs" would be Michael B. Jordan from Creed and Johnny Depp from Black Mass, but you didn't hear a lot of people jumping up and down when they failed to earn a nomination. I jumped up and down when Jake Gyllenhaal didn't earn a nomination for the best acting performance since Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Respected Oscar prognosticator and former Grantland writer Mark Harris wrote on his Twitter feed about the down year for male performances in general.

I am not passing judgment of the weak year for leading male performances- it is what it is- but this weak year is an integral reason for why Leo will win this year.