DiCaprio wins Oscar as Aussie film sets new record
Aussie film wins six Oscars while crowd favourite Leonardo DiCaprio bags his first.
February 29, 2016
Was it a best actor award that Leonardo DiCaprio won for his role in The Revenant? Or was it “best performance by a leading actor in extreme weather conditions”? The Revenant fetishises the suffering of its central character and the commentary around the movie amplified this.
From the beginning, it focused on the movie’s gruelling shoot, and DiCaprio’s willingness to give his all to the role — eating raw bison’s liver and sleeping in animal carcases in the quest for authenticity. Give the man an Oscar, the cry went up in reviews and features everywhere.
Leonardo DiCaprio won the best actor statuette for his gruelling role in The Revenant.
When it comes to the acting category, the Academy rewards suffering for your art, it’s said, and Leo was judged to be doing it very hard.
Whether the film would have been very different with another actor in the role is an interesting question. At one stage, for example, an earlier incarnation of the project had Christian Bale attached — a man also very keen on physical transformation and authenticity. Would director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s film have changed much with Bale in the lead? Probably not. By contrast, actors Tom Hardy and Will Poulter, in supporting roles, contribute more distinctive, singular performances to The Revenant.
Maybe what Leonardo should have won was the Oscar for “best performance by a leading actor first nominated more than 20 years ago”? This is the “it’s time” argument” that suggests that DiCaprio had missed out too many times before, and that now he should be rewarded.
The actor’s supposed hunger for an Oscar had become a running joke in the lead-up to the event, with all kinds of memes, games and gags about the extent of his desperation.
Even Lady Gaga was in on this argument, tweeting at the ceremony “Don’t know about u but I’m rooting for LEO! He’s blessed us w/ years of his storytelling, he deserves this!”
His Oscar run began in 1994, with a nomination for best supporting actor for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape; after that, he was up for best actor for The Aviator, Blood Diamond and The Wolf Of Wall Street. (As one of the producers of The Wolf Of Wall Street, he also missed on a best picture win.)
But this is hardly an argument to justify this win. It’s not a lifetime achievement award: it’s meant to be for an individual performance. Others have missed out many times more. Richard Burton was nominated for seven awards; Peter O’Toole for eight.
As it happens, best actor was a weak field this year. It was nothing like the best actress category, in which Brie Larson was also a strong favourite: this was a field with several worthy winners. So with the suffering and the waiting, it seemed like a foregone conclusion.
Even so, although we don’t know why the Academy members voted the way they did — but we do know that some of them did not buy the “it’s time” or “he suffered” argument.
The Hollywood Reporter has in recent years run a series called “brutally honest Oscar ballot”, in which anonymous Academy members — people who actually cast the votes — talk about their choices. It’s a small sample: this year there were only four interviews. But they articulated a range of responses to DiCaprio’s performance, and only one of them voted for him.
A member of the actors’ branch told The Hollywood Reporter: ” I thought his performance was all environment acting — if you put somebody in the cold, they’re gonna shake and shiver — and I thought he played the whole thing one-note.”
A member of the executives’ branch echoed this criticism about the hardship factor. “I’m tired of hearing about it — that’s what he gets paid for! I mean, this was not Nanook of the North [a 1922 docudrama shot in the Arctic], for Christ’s sake. Give me a break. He got millions of dollars, and I would assume they had heaters. The fact that he’s never won before? He’s a young man, he still has time.”
Nevertheless, they seem to have been in a minority. Leonardo DiCaprio has his Oscar. Let’s hope that one is enough for him. Who knows what he’d have to put himself through for a second one?