Destroy All Monsters: Because Leo Didn't Win An Oscar For TITANIC, Leo Won't Win An Oscar
I want to get a message out to Leonardo DiCaprio, mostly because I don't want him to kill himself. His self-annihilation track, in his relentless pursuit of an Academy Award, is starting to scare me. Apparently for The Revenant he ate bear liver and belly-crawled through frozen streams and, I dunno, sawed off six parts of his body or something.
That's a lot - and it's impressive - but it's not going to win him an Oscar.
Around this time of year, for the last several, the internet has begun its half-mocking, half-pleading campaign to get Leo the damn Oscar he damn well deserves for being Leo, dammit. I'm not sure if this flashpoint of online behaviour is driven by his talents (he's got some!) or just cuz he's so darn dreamy, but it's out in force again in 2016, with the same basic message: how is it possible this guy hasn't got an Oscar? He's Leonardo DiCaprio!
How did he not win one for The Wolf of Wall Street? Did those Academy plebes not see that movie? He did a line of coke out of a hooker's asshole!
(OK, she was probably an actress playing a hooker, and it could have been a prosthetic asshole too for all I know, but if Leo's commitment to verisimilitude on Wolf was anything like it is on The Revenant, all bets are off.)
Wait, how did he not win one for The Aviator? He flew a plane and went crazy! J. Edgar? He wore a dress and went crazy! Inception? He was so crazy he even dreamed crazy!
On Django Unchained, Leo split his effing hand open smashing a slave skull for dramatic effect, because he believed he was Calvin Candy for exactly that long, if not longer!
Yup: Leonardo DiCaprio is a bloody Oscar goldmine. He doesn't not do Oscar parts. Some actors do their Oscar roles when it's time to win an Oscar; Leo's last "I don't give a fuck if I win an Oscar or not" part was Body of Lies. And before that, it was arguably The Beach. Our guy has been on a holy Oscar mission since the turn of the century.
Spoilers for the 2016 ceremony: he won't win an Oscar. And I fear that with The Revenant behind him, the only escalation of physical hardship that Leo will be able to undertake to finally bag the award will be to either surgically transition from human to baboon, or pilot a one-man missile into the heart of the sun. We are at the dire stakes point. And since I generally like the movie universe a lot better with Leo alive and well (and he's an environmentalist, you guys!), I want to lay out the uncomfortable truth:
When Leo didn't win an Oscar for Titanic, he lost for life.
This isn't because Titanic was his best performance, or even his best role. Oh, he's perfectly fine in it; and casting DiCaprio off the heat of Romeo + Juliet was a keen strategic move by Jim Cameron, and not just from a heartthrob perspective. (Though I shall never forget the shiver of tween-age sighs that echoed through the Eglinton Theatre on that cold, clear December day back in 1997, the moment Leo's sky-blue peepers caught a glimpse of the audience, and vice versa.)
Casting Baz Luhrmann's erstwhile modern-day Romeo as Jack Dawson was clever cinematic shorthand, too, in a movie that was full of such stylistic and structural abbreviations. It set up the "how" of the impossibility of the Jack/Rose romance just as surely as casting Kate Winslet, straight off the set of Sense and Sensibility, set up the "why."
The casting saved Cameron the trouble of establishing the table stakes for Titanic's core story while he was already freighted with the requirements of setting up a bunch of other expository elements including, but not limited to, the forensics of a missing diamond, the spot on the Titanic that would stay above water the longest, and the best place in the hold of the ship to successfully complete an illicit shag. Titanic was complicated, man, and deceptively so; and Cameron's 3-hour screenplay might seem like an indulgence to some, but was in fact a deftly-structured marvel of brisk, purposeful writing.
Cameron wasn't even nominated for the Oscar for writing Titanic, even though the film was nominated for (and won) most of the rest. Of all the awards that night, though, Original Screenplay is the one I maintain to this day that Titanic most deserved; the Academy, in their infinite wisdom, just "missed it."
In like kind, they missed DiCaprio. The other gaping absence in Titanic's catalog of accolades (so gargantuan it requires its own Wikipedia page, separate from the film itself) was the film's lead actor, and to my mind, for the same reason they missed recognizing the screenplay: because DiCaprio was so foundationally responsible for bearing the entirety of the great ship's, and her movie's, weight. He was so integral to the whole thing working at all, that no one seemed to notice he was there in the first place.
This kind of "not noticing" -- artful invisibility, as my podcasting partner Matthew Price calls it -- is the Academy's, and most of film criticism's, blindest of blind spots. Oscars go to people like Eddie Redmayne, who suffer valiantly and oh so bravely!! within the tortured shells (by ableist, white American standards) of the world's Stephen Hawkings or Lili Elbes.
But actors and artists who are flawlessly, guilelessly doing the unornamented work that holds an entire project up? Generally, we only catch up to those years and decades later; they're the cause of the "MVP" Oscars that get handed out to the likes of Martin Landau when we all know the award should have gone to Samuel L. Jackson.
It's pretty easy, for example, to just not notice that Kurt Russell is sort of generally exceptional at his job, until he's well into his crazy-bushy-moustache days, and his opportunity for Eddie Redmayne parts is long behind him. Then, slowly, critical and award recognition will start circling back and assessing the career as a whole, finally seeing the forest, having missed all of the trees.
Leo, dear Leo, has dedicated a shit-ton of screen time since Titanic to proving that he is as willing to suffer for his art as any Redmayne, Day-Lewis or Penn; but this is not the actor he is -- and oddly, the actor he is may be the reason so many people are vying for him to just win an Oscar already. Leonardo DiCaprio is a god damned movie star, darling, and the sooner he remembers that and stops chewing on bear liver, the sooner he'll be on his way to taking the award away from someone much younger than him, who probably deserves it much more than he does.
Destroy All Monsters is a weekly column on Hollywood and pop culture. Matt Brown is in Toronto and on twitter.