Leonardo DiCaprio’s date with Oscar destiny looks to be due Sunday night in Los Angeles. His performance as Jordan Belfort in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street , a performance in which he adds a touch of humanity to a hedonistic and self-destructive stock broker, may be his best ever. It is certainly a climatic moment in a career that has seen one great performance go unrewarded after another, a wrong the Academy can put right Sunday night.
It is DiCaprio’s fifth nomination. His first one was in 1994 for his role in What’s eating Gilbert Grape. It was as head-turning as a breakthrough role gets but Dicaprio lost out to the experienced Martin Landau in Ed Wood. It was a win-win situation for DiCaprio though. The nomination hurled him into the Hollywood big league yet the lack of a win meant he also had space to grow. At only 19, he was also blessed with an elusive mix of popular appeal and credibility and his career and future Oscar chances looked set to accelerate.
DiCaprio’s career certainly shot up with roles in big budget movies such as Titanic and Gangsters of New York, his onscreen charm and talent filling up auditoriums worldwide to the tune of a worldwide career box office gross of over $5.72 billion. Yet DiCaprio’s date with Oscar destiny failed to turn up. Eleven years and 13 movies passed before he received another nomination in 2005 for his role as Howard Hughes in Scorsese’s The Aviator. Another charismatic and dynamic performance well worthy of a statuette went unrewarded as DiCaprio was left applauding Jamie Foxx for Ray.
Two years later, DiCaprio, in the running for Best actor for his role in Blood Diamond, was left clapping in his seat once again as Forrest Whitaker stood on the stage holding the Oscar for his role in Last King of Scotland. Though Whitaker had been the favorite to take the award, it was, and remains, surprising that Hollywood’s most prestigious awards ceremony has yet to honor one of its most prolific, bankable and versatile leading men.
Also surprising have been the roles the Academy has failed to nominate. DiCaprio’s performance in Tarintino’s Django Unchained outshone every other actor not only sharing his screen but filling up those in other theaters. Alluring, dashing and dark, DiCaprio took risks in his villainous performance, but the gamble did not pay off at Oscar time. Performances in Revolutionary Road, J. Edgar and The Departed also impressed fans and critics but went unheralded by the Academy.
But this year could be the one DiCaprio does not depart empty-handed from Hollywood’s Dolby Theater on Sunday night. While he faces stiff competition from Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave and Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyer’s Club, DiCaprio’s performance as the anti-hero, a comedic one infused with humanity, is as deserving. And there is another important factor to consider: Dicaprio is due. The Academy have a history of awarding Oscars to artists previously overlooked for great turns for less acclaimed ones. DiCaprio’s director Scorsese can testify to that, finally receiving the Oscar for The Departed after five previous nominations. DiCaprio though should not suffer the same fate. His date with Oscar destiny is due and the only place he should be stood up come Sunday night is at the podium, Oscar in hand, delivering a speech worth its weight in Oscar gold.
Commentary by Christian Deverille