Why Leonardo DiCaprio, Who Wows in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ Deserves to (Finally) Win An Oscar
Gisele Bündchen was not impressed. It was the night of Feb. 27, 2005, and the Brazilian über-model was playing the role of ultimate arm candy, strutting down the red carpet of the Kodak Theatre in a strapless white Dior gown. She was escorting her boyfriend of five years, Leonardo DiCaprio, who had just been nominated for his second Academy Award—and first since 1994—for his electrifying turn as industrialist-cum-filmmaker-cum-schizo Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. Many believed that the 31-year-old would take home the Best Actor prize, not only for his stellar turn, but as fair recompense for perceived nomination snubs (see: Titanic, Catch Me If You Can). Alas, it was the star of another biopic—Jamie Foxx for Ray—that took home the little gold statuette, leaving Leo with an empty Oscar mantel once more.
“I figured I should go and support my man so I went there just for that reason,” said Gisele following the ceremony. “I don’t think he was expecting to win. I think I was more upset because I thought he deserved it more than [Foxx]. I was like, ‘He did a better job than [Foxx]!”
Now, Gisele is always wont to speak her mind—her fabulous post-Super Bowl rant (“My husband cannot fucking throw the ball AND catch the ball!”) is the stuff of legend—but on both occasions, well, she was right.
This DiCaprio slight set off a string of Academy Awards injustices aimed at the former teen idol, who at this point has been screwed over by the Academy more than a surgically-enhanced extra on the set of Entourage. Since that fateful night, the actor’s been nominated for two more Oscars—Blood Diamond in 2007, and this year’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Want to know what movies DiCaprio was not nominated for in that span? The Departed, Revolutionary Road, Inception, and, last but not least, his deliciously evil turn as a Francophile slave owner in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, which earned him the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor and a Golden Globe nomination, but no Oscar love. So, in 2014, after dazzling us onscreen for the better part of two decades, Leonardo DiCaprio, one of this generation’s finest actors, still hasn’t won an Oscar. This is a crime.
Now, judging which performance is “best” is a pretty subjective thing, and this year, the Best Actor category, in particular, was the strongest it’s been in years. Joaquin Phoenix, who delivered what is in this writer’s opinion the best performance of the year as a lonely romantic who falls for his sentient operating system in Her, wasn’t even nominated. Neither was Tom Hanks for his convulsing during the last five minutes of Captain Phillips—the best acting he’s ever done, period. Nor was Robert Redford for his towering, largely dialogue-less turn as a stoic, shipwrecked badass in All is Lost. (Maybe the aging Academy membership doesn’t like boats…who knows.) The older fellas’ spots were scooped up by DiCaprio and Christian Bale (for American Hustle). It was, by and large, a positive development since the Academy Awards have become notorious over the years for doling out “career Oscars”—make-up awards to aging, celebrated stars for passing them over when they were in their prime. Paul Newman at 60 for The Color of Money, Henry Fonda at 76 for On Golden Pond, Jon Gielgud at 76 for Arthur (completing the EGOT), and Don Ameche at 77 for Cocoon being the most glaring examples. So it was nice to see the young guns get some love.
The prohibitive favorite this year is Matthew McConaughey, who’s taken home Golden Globe and SAG Awards for his uncompromising portrayal of Ron Woodroof, a real-life Texas a-hole who, after being diagnosed with AIDS, transformed into an anti-viral peddler/activist in Dallas Buyers Club. It’s a great performance—visceral, unsympathetic—and McConaughey really committed himself to the role by dropping 41 pounds. Plus, we are in the McConaissance, with the former himbo in the midst of one of the finest acting streaks ever (see: Magic Mike, Bernie, Killer Joe, Mud, Dallas Buyers Club, True Detective).
#NoDisrespectToMatthewMcConaughey, but it’s DiCaprio that deserves the trophy. With each passing year, DiCaprio’s Oscarlessness gets more and more absurd. Is he too much of a looker for Oscar voters? It’s no secret that cinema’s studs, from Brando (On the Waterfront) to Clooney (Syriana), usually have to ugly themselves up to take home Oscars. Is he so consistently good it’s now second nature, and we don’t appreciate the complexities and nuances of each new performance?
Take the scene between DiCaprio’s character, Cobb, and an apparition of his dead wife, played by Marion Cotillard, in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. For the film’s first two hours, she’s haunted his dreams—guiding his subconscious through painful reenactments of their shared past, including the night she took her own life. “I’m the only thing you believe in anymore,” she says, taunting him. DiCaprio takes her head in his hands and, tears welling in his eyes, says, “I wish. I wish more than anything. But I can’t imagine you with all your complexity, all your perfection, all your imperfection. Look at you. You are just a shade of my real wife. You’re the best I can do, but I’m sorry, you are just not good enough.” It’s such a brilliant bit of acting.
But his performance in The Wolf of Wall Street is that and so much more. As Jordan Belfort, a charismatic monster of a stockbroker, DiCaprio is a feral beast; the id incarnate. When he’s not defrauding investors and dabbling in various pump-and-dump schemes, Belfort is like Wile E. Coyote on a speedball—an outrageous caricature of modern excess. And DiCaprio throws his entire being into the role. He breakdances like a b-boy; has furious sex on top of a pile of cash; gives several Braveheart-style, vein-busting speeches to his band of merry broker-goons; and does enough coke to make Tony Montana blush. He even gets a wax candle pulled out of his ass by a dominatrix. He does it all. It’s one of the most sinister, madcap turns in recent memory, and deserves its place alongside De Niro's portrayal of Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy in the pantheon of cherished, dark-comic performances.
The scene everyone will be celebrating for years to come—and with good reason—is the Quaalude sequence. Belfort must rush home to stop his clumsy boy Friday, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), from placing incriminating phone calls—while zonked out on ludes, of course—from Belfort’s wiretapped mega-mansion, lest his Prestige Worldwide “boats and hoes” fever dream come to an end. There’s just one small thing in his way: the world’s strongest ludes. Belfort, not knowing they were time-release ludes, pops loads of them, and when they kick in, he enters “cerebral palsy” mode. Catatonic, he crawls on his hands and knees like an infantilized clown back to his white Lamborghini. All the motor skills are gone, so it feels like his personal Odyssey as he struggles over every inch. Once he finally makes it into his Lambo and zigzags home, he engages in the most pathetic wrestling match of all time with first his telephone wire, which has him ensnared, and then Hill’s Azoff, as Belfort enacts his bizarre brand of lude-induced justice. It’s an insane sequence, and DiCaprio is the only actor I can think of that could pull it off in such compelling fashion.
So Academy, now that DiCaprio is on the brink of the big 4-0—he crosses the threshold on Nov. 11 of this year—it’s time to do the right thing and honor one of the finest actors of our generation with an Oscar while he’s still in his prime instead of some paunchy supporting role a decade later. You owe him as much. And Gisele.