Ahead of the Oscars on Sunday night, everyone is expecting Leonardo DiCaprio to end his long running, much-commented-on Oscar drought. He's nominated in the Best Actor category for his role as frontiersman Hugh Glass in Western revenge epic The Revenant (which is also up for Best Picture and Best Director for Alejandro G. Inarritu).
In my Moviepilot review of The Revenant I called DiCaprio's lauded performance "elemental", and he really is a force of nature. I can totally understand the reasoning behind the nomination for his performance.
But all that said, does he really deserve the Oscar for The Revenant? Let me be clear: I loved the movie. I gave it 9.5/10 in my review and called it "brutal, beautiful [and] brilliant". I stand by all of that. And yet, I can't help but think that his expected win is less about the actual performance and more about two other things: the physical hardship he had to suffer through during filming, and the idea that he somehow "deserves" it having spent so many years missing out.
It's a theory expressed brilliantly in an article on Indiewire, who point out that an anonymous actress told Entertainment Weekly that she would be voting for Leo because of the fact he had to put up with cold temperatures. "Sometimes it's so cold it's hard to even act," she reportedly said.
Is it harder to act in the freezing wilderness of Canada than, say, a nice warm studio as fellow nominee Matt Damon did for his charismatic turn in The Martian? Undoubtedly. Do the colder conditions automatically make a performance better? Of course not! Unless, of course, you're deciding who gets an Oscar.
If you want an Academy Award for Best Actor, there are a few things you can do to dramatically increase your chances - undergo a physical transformation, endure physical hardship, or play a historical figure (you could also argue there's a fourth category of be Daniel Day-Lewis). With his role as Hugh Glass, DiCaprio has ticked all those boxes (except the Day-Lewis one), despite the way The Revenant and its source novel took liberties with the true events both were based on. In fact, aside from Jean Dujardin's anomalous 2011 win for The Artist, you have to go back to Jeff Bridges' 2009 win for Crazy Heart to find a winner that doesn't meet at least one of those criteria.
Aside from ticking The Academy's boxes, DiCaprio is also favourite to win because this is "his turn". He's been nominated and missed out before, and he's been overlooked for even a nomination on other occasions. In my opinion he should have already won for a layered performance as Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese's weirdly underrated The Aviator, while I can understand why other people think his work in The Wolf Of Wall Street, Shutter Island, Django Unchained and What's Eating Gilbert Grape? would have deserved the golden statue. I would argue that all of them were more impressive peformances than that in The Revenant.
But then again, picking the right actor for the wrong movie has become something of an Oscar mainstay. Al Pacino won for Scent Of A Woman, but would anyone argue that film is, hands down, his greatest work? Remember, he didn't pick up anything for charting the downfall of Michael Corleone in the first two Godfather movies. Was Kate Winslet's turn in The Reader better than her breakout role in Heavenly Creatures? Want more examples? Humprey Bogart won for The African Queen but not for Casablanca, Denzel Washington for Training Day instead of Malcolm X, and if Jeff Bridges is going to win, surely his iconic role in The Big Lebowski is most deserving (but then, the Academy doesn't so much as cast a glance at comedy, does it)?
So yes, Leo deserves an Oscar, for his overall body of work, at least. For The Revenant though? Maybe not. It might just be another classic case of right actor, wrong year.
Sources: Indiewire, Entertainment Weekly, 20th Century Fox