Following a series of screenings in Los Angeles last week, the media is abuzz with conjecture that Leonardo DiCaprio’s role in The Revenant may be Oscar worthy at last. It would sure be a long time coming for the 41-year-old DiCaprio, an industry favorite who's been nominated but winless four times. His very first Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actor, was earned way back in 1994 for his portrayal of a developmentally challenged teen in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. That was followed by three Best Actor nominations for The Aviator, Blood Diamond, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Four nominations, no wins — though we can’t exactly feel sorry for the guy, considering he has won two Best Actor Golden Globes for The Aviator and The Wolf of Wall Street.
It’s fair to say DiCaprio was a legitimate contender for any of his previous Oscar nods, so if he’s struck out before, what makes this time different? Because this time is different. The Revenant, which hits U.S. theaters Christmas day and international theaters Jan. 9, will be Leo's biggest boon yet. Predicting Oscar winners is perhaps more an art than a science, but it certainly seems like factors have finally converged to make the once-teen heartthrob a likely, almost inevitable, winner for that coveted gold statue. Here’s why.
'The Revenant' Is Totally Badass
An actor doesn't have to be in a cool movie to win an acting Oscar for said movie, but it certainly helps. Sometimes a film is just plain cool, and popular enthusiasm infects the voters within the Academy, thus garnering the film not one, but many, wins. Recent cases in point are Argo, Slumdog Millionaire, and Crash, films that arguably weren't the best in all of the categories for which they won, yet were stylistically unique films that enjoyed a good deal of excitement and buzz.
The Revenant, an action-packed western based on a true story, chronicles the physical and psychological challenges faced by frontiersman Hugh Glass after he's attacked by a bear and then left for dead by his fellow fur-trapping friends. Basically, he's out for blood, and nearly dies about 1,000 times in the American wild. As far as raw cool factor goes, I can't think of anything more badass than a western that's also about a bear attack and also a nail-biting survival story.
The Role Is Physically Challenging
Academy voters are suckers for roles that involve serious physical or psychological challenges on the part of the actor. Matthew McConaughey won for his role in Dallas Buyer's Club, which required him to lose 37 pounds. Little can explain Colin Firth's 2010 win for The King's Speech other than the fact that he rigorously trained to imitate King George VI's infamous stammer. Poor guy wrote in The Guardian that the speech training gave him frequent headaches and caused partial but thankfully temporary paralysis in his left arm.
Leo's portrayal of wilderness-surviving Hugh Glass required that he undergo extreme physical strain. As reported in Variety, Leo says this is the "most difficult" film he's ever done. While shooting in subzero temperatures, his hands and eyes froze, and he withstood long and brutal storms. Sounds tough, but it'll all be worth it once he takes home that Oscar.
He's The Right Age For It
According to this fun analysis at Bitch Flicks, simple math tells us that Leo is bound to win. He's 41, and the average age for an actor to win the leading role Oscar is 43.9. It's not on the nose, but it's close enough.
Academy Voters Will Feel Sorry For Him
After a certain number of winless nominations, one can't help but suspect that a certain sympathy factor comes into play. Perhaps this helped Meryl Streep snag her first Oscar in 1980 for Kramer vs. Kramer after she lost the previous year for The Deer Hunter. (Or maybe it was because, you know, she was the best.) It might have been a factor in Julianne Moore's win last year for Still Alice after having been nominated but winless four previous times. (Though, really, her portrayal of a linguistics professor with Alzheimer's disease was fairly award-worthy).
If Leo wins for The Revenant, it might be in part because voters figure it's about time. Not that he needs their sympathy, really, but it can't hurt.
Because Leo Is One Of The Best Actors Of All Time
Enough with this cynicism — sometimes an actor wins simply because they're the best, and it wouldn't surprise anyone if his role in The Revenant proves Oscar-worthy for that reason alone. This is a guy who's been in 39 movies since 1991, and most of them starring roles. Thirty-nine! There's a reason big Hollywood studios scramble to hire him, and it's because he's one of the best. There's certainly no reason to think his acting genius will wane with this latest masterpiece. Kyle Buchanan at Vulture says that "having seen the film," he thinks Leo will be tough to beat at the 2016 Academy Awards come February. If he proves correct, you'll get no complaints here. He had me at hello.
Images: Twentieth Century Fox; Giphy (4)