Yes, it's true that when I was in 6th or 7th grade I owned a Leonardo Dicaprio tear-out photo book and while I can't deny that my young adult self started off as a fan girl of Leo's, I would like to believe that my film tastes have matured over the years to look beyond his boyish smirk to see a really talented young actor emerge.
I appreciate many of DiCaprio's films and I think he is one of the finest American actors of my generation. That being said, I do not believe that the recent over-the-top campaign for Leo to win an Oscar in 2014 is warranted.
Yes, you read that correctly, I do not believe that Leonardo DiCaprio deserves to win an Oscar in 2014.
Let's take a look at the role he is nominated for this year. In Martin Scorsese's, The Wolf of Wall Street, he plays one of the sleaziest scam artist stock brokers known to man, Jordan Belfort. DiCaprio certainly captured the sleaze, but unfortunately the film felt like a failed attempt to recapture the essence of 1990s Goodfellas. It felt lazy at times, and the character never really captured me, except to make me feel uncomfortable during some of the more salacious scenes.
To no fault of Dicaprio's, the movie was over the top, predictable, and while entertaining at times, it is neither the lead actor nor the director's best work to date. Moreover, there were some incredible performances for Leo to contend with in 2013.
Let's look at the other roles nominated this year for "Best Actor";
Christian Bale is nominated for American Hustle a movie that also concerns the comings and goings of a sleazy (albeit, fictitious) con-artist. For me, this film has more interest and depth than The Wolf of Wall Street, and Bale does a fantastic job of getting us to both despise and feel sorry for Irving Rosenfeld. In this match-up, Bale (as well as the screenplay itself) does a better job than Leo at winning over his audience.
Bruce Dern is nominated for his melancholic portrayal of an elderly father battling dementia in Alexander Payne's Nebraska. This role can not be compared apples to apples to that of DiCaprio's role in The Wolf of Wall Street, but Bruce Dern gives a heart breaking performance of epic proportions. The plot delves into emotions that anyone caring for an elderly relative will appreciate. It also allows us to safely dwell in the fear of eventually losing our minds and looking back on our failures, while also giving us hope that the whole of our lives truly amounts to something. Dern is stoic in his portrayal of Woody Grant, and truly deserves accolades for his understated, yet powerful, performance.
Matthew McConaugheyis nominated for the true-life tale of Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club. McConaaughy and Jared Leto (nominated for Best Supporting Actor) were so dedicated in playing AIDS patients that they both lost significant weight for the roles. Their characters decide to start smuggling and selling illegal AIDS medication, both to gain a profit and to help out those suffering from a horrendous disease. While I appreciate McConaughey's dedication and I thought the story was inspiring, to me, it falls in the same category of The Blind Side or Erin Brockovich; movies that intentionally pull on our heartstrings and manipulate us into emotionally connecting to characters and the story. I feel these types of films, while entertaining, feel superficial and fail to reach the true emotional depth that keeps me thinking about a movie for weeks. That being said, McConaughey played his role well, but it did not feel sincere enough to merit an Oscar.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is nominated and, in my opinion, should win an Oscar for his role in 12 Years A Slave. What I tend to look for in a leading role is a sincere commitment to the message of the film and a talent to flawlessly transport the audience into the storyline. In my opinion, Chiwetel Ejiofor captivated his audience by playing Solomon Northup as an intelligent, ethical, and powerful free black man who is captured and sold into slavery. Ejiofor conveys the confusion and heartache of this character to perfection and the scene in which he is finally able to return to his family is acting at it's finest. Where Dallas Buyers Club falls short in it's sincerity and The Wolf of Wall Street lacks in it's originality, 12 years a Slave brings about an impassioned and honest look at an appalling time in American History, and this story is artfully delivered by Ejiofor.
Now, many of those who are pushing for DiCaprio to win an Oscar are not necessarily debating that his latest role is, in fact, Oscar-worthy. Mostly, people believe that he was snubbed for his roles in; The Departed, Blood Diamond, Django, Catch Me If You Can, and Gangs of New York, all roles that I believe to be far superior compared to his portrayal of Jordan Belfort.
The question then remains: should a great actor receive an Oscar, not for the role he is nominated for, but because he has been passed over time and again? My answer is no. While there are many, (some slightly crazy), people who will disagree with me on the internet, I believe that the actor who truly stands out in a particular role each year should be the one to take home that shiny gold statue.
Sorry, Leo -- maybe next year.