Oscars: Is It Finally Leo’s Year?

The Wolf of Wall Street

Could Leonardo DiCaprio win the Oscar for “The Wolf of Wall Street”? Any other year, the answer would be an easy yes.

Many consider Matthew McConaughey the frontrunner and DiCaprio embodies the biggest advantage and disadvantage in Oscar-voters eyes: on the plus side, he shows aspects of his talent in the film we’ve never seen before, and awards voters love that. On the minus side, he’s a movie star.

Laurence Olivier said that by the time an actor is mature enough to understand romantic characters like Romeo, he’s too old to play them. After several strong performances (including his Oscar-nominated supporting turn in the 1993 “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”) he confirmed his abilities in “Titanic”; that’s why audiences got so swoony. (And DiCaprio played Romeo shortly before James Cameron’s blockbuster drama).

But he wasn’t Oscar-nominated for “Titanic,” maybe because the film also cemented his status as a Hollywood star.

On the other hand, DiCaprio has the surprise factor with “Wolf.” In the past decade, Colin Firth  and Jamie Foxx gave terrific performances that seemed extra-special but audiences didn’t realize they were capable of this.

DiCaprio is the subject of this week’s Variety cover story, and he’s making himself accessible to the media and to voters like never before. The film was one of his passion projects, and he has been speaking eloquently about the creative and financial risks involved and the artistic contributions of his collaborators. And, crucially, he has persuasively and with humor addressed criticisms of the film head-on.

From Jack Nicholson to Denzel Washington, the Academy has rewarded some of its favorite actors over the last 20 years. Perhaps it wasn’t their best performance but it was their time. Whether DiCaprio’s time is finally here remains to be seen. One thing, however, is undeniable: the “Wolf” is knocking at Oscar’s door.

Here’s a rundown of this year’s other best actor nominees:

Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”:

Advantage: He physically transformed himself, and the character changes 180 degrees during the film. As a bonus, McConaughey has had a great year, winning a slew of awards for this performance, and showing up in  HBO’s well-received “True Detective” and two other movie roles — including “Wolf of Wall Street.”

Disadvantage: His trademark phrase “All right, all right, all riiigggght!” and his folksy-spacey acceptance speeches sometimes make him seem more like an insider at Hollywood’s private club than a Serious Actor. Plus: He’ll have more opportunities.

Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”:

Advantage: It’s not a starry turn, but a real film-actor performance: minimal, nuanced and devastating, and he makes it look simple. It’s not. As a bonus, Dern is a well-liked actor who’s shown a big range since his 1960 film debut. Industry vets love him, but if he wins, this wouldn’t be a sentimental reward: The performance is both a culmination of, and a contrast to, 50-plus years of vivid characters.

Disadvantage: His character, Woody, doesn’t have a “big scene,” in which he laughs/cries, breaks furniture and sets his hair on fire; those are cheap tricks, but voters often love that stuff. It’s a tribute to the integrity of the film that Woody doesn’t do that, but will voters go for subtlety?

Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”:

Advantage: He’s in every scene, in a surprisingly complex role. Director Steve McQueen gives Ejiofor several long takes, in which the camera holds on his face. His range of thoughts and emotions are like a Shakespeare monolog, but without words. And though the film never gives a timeline, Ejiofor conveys the passage of the years just with his face and body language, as his character constantly fights to maintain dignity.

Disadvantage: The competition.

Christian Bale, “American Hustle”:

Advantage: It’s a total transformation, physically and vocally. And he’s unrecognizable after many years of varied appearances and characters.

Disadvantage: There is a vague sense that, as good as he is, this just isn’t his year.

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  1. lisa runnels says:

    all this,acting has become watered down and slap happy acting ,I call it today—leo always does his homework with his films and always gives a great performance—-we have become spoiled, with leo—–the films here in question—–well,dern acts like, his real life self——12 years a slave—–pitt’s money jig–another slave flic,tired of them(5 in 2 years)Mathew,well,good film,but having a son who had aids for 10 years,real aids victims,is not at all like this film—–her—he should stick with the atheist villian roles he’s great at—–American hustle,abomination——-when that era was going on,yes,it was just like that—I knew people who looked,dressed,acted like ,lived like,associated with,—-I hoped I would never see it again ,in my lifetime—–american hustle exploits and ugly era—-I could have done with out it all together-captains Phillips—came out, a few years too late—-had it came out right after all that was going on,i would have run out to see it—I am upset that judi doesn’t receive a best actress for her new film—she is a great actress always—I am disappointed that opera did not get her award—now gravity—really is a science fiction flick—but, they got extremely lucky on how this film came out—–luck—–poor Sandra ,carried the entire film by herself—-

  2. M&M says:

    Here’s an idea…..whoever wins just wins. There’s no need for observations and analysis.

  3. Ali Rich says:

    What’s with the insulting McConaughey when he channels Wooderson? You’ll find yourself confronted by the fury of millions of Dazed & Confused fans who have committed to memory every line Wooderson ever uttered. Apologize.

    Alright? It’d be a lot cooler if you did.

  4. Greg Marotta says:

    Two words: Chill Wills

  5. harry georgatos says:

    Leo should really consider starring in THE DEMOLISHED MAN with Brian DePalma directing!!!! This movie would be a great companion piece with INCEPTION. The book written by Alfred Bester is the best sci-fi psychic thriller ever written and Brian DePalma is the only director who understands the nuance of the book and the only one with the sophisticated visual style who will do justice to the source material, DiCaprio with DePalma is creative and box office gold!!

  6. Richard says:

    Uh, gee, do you thing Tim wants DiCaprio to win the Oscar this year? Uh…doy.

    • Ali Rich says:

      Yeah, he forgot to publish the disclaimer “I am Leonardo Di Caprio and I approve this message.”

      • timgray2013 says:

        I can see why you would think that, but it’s not true. If I was pushing him, I would have said so. I talk to a lot of voters and write about what they’re saying. He has gained a lot of support in the past few weeks. I wanted to talk about all the factors working for him and against him, as well as for the other four in the category. If I was endorsing DiCaprio, I wouldn’t have mentioned the others. And yes, the headline does imply “C’mon folks, it’s about time!” But I didn’t write the headline.

  7. The Kingslayer says:

    Unfortunately for Leo it’s just Mathew’s year, he’s one fire at the moment. The only person I feel could win over Mathew is Chiwetel Ejiofor.

  8. J.E. Vizzusi says:

    “Dern gives the performance of his life in “Nebraska” and simply put is in a world away from everybody else in this catagory.” He should win!

  9. Mr. White says:

    Leo deserves it. I would love for him to win. He’s a fantastic actor and his time has come. The only other person that should win is Chiwetel.

  10. Lorrie says:

    I truly hope that Mr. Leonardo DiCaprio wins this because he deserves it. He is an amazing actor.

  11. Alexis says:

    He has not only been overlooked for so many movies that could have easily won him an oscar– this is THE performance of the year and I tell you I will be so thrilled if the academy truly rewards the best actor and I’ve seen all of the performances, leo is in field all his own.

  12. Bruce Dern should win for Best Actor no doubt…..He is the actors actor and gave a brilliant performance….His subtle performance ranks above the rest ….Dern for best actor….

  13. Spike says:

    I doubt it’s Leo’s year and I also doubt it ever will be. He’s an overrated product of a tireless and well-;paid publicity machine who just hasn’t got the chops to merit an Oscar. The Variety inside cover his week was a pathetic bit of pandering to Academy voters, touting Leo as “the great artist.” Ha. he rarely shows up for more than phoning in a role. I can’t BELIEVE HIM in almost every turn he’s done. In Wolf, he gets to let his ya-ya’s out. Some passion project. Like a frat boy’s fantasy.

    • Ali Rich says:

      Leonardo Di Caprio will get an Oscar when the Academy starts admitting 15 year old girls to its membership.

      He is the acting equivalent of a boy band.

      • JillB says:

        I swear I’ve been thinking this same thing for years. Good to know I’m not the only one.

      • nina says:

        Leonardo DiCaprio is one the greatest actors of our generation. Maybe you should watch more of his movies to really see how great he is. ;)

  14. Leo should win for one simple reason: He deserves it. Despite all the hype for McConaughey, I just can’t see that he did anything all that different from what actors have done before and the story itself is nothing really new. In True Detective he is amazing. I hope he gets the Emmy for that. In DBC he just didn’t earn the gold.

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