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Is Leonardo DiCaprio really a Best Actor contender? – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Earlier this week, we received our first official look at Clint Eastwood’s anticipated biopic “J. Edgar,” courtesy of a two-and-a-half minute teaser that was released to Access Hollywood before being posted online.

The reactions from Oscar trackers was swift. And – if you ask me – some of them were unfair.

Based on the brief snippet of footage (and whatever information being fed behind the scenes), one Oscar commentator felt comfortable enough to admit “sensing a possible fall-off down the road” for the film based on the “dicey” trailer.

It’s not just the unenthusiastic reactions that have me scratching my head, however. A handful of sites that post official “predictions” in chart form have Eastwood’s drama on the list of potential Best Picture contenders. One chart has “J.Edgar” leading the list of Best Picture contenders ahead of Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” and Tate Taylor’s “The Help.”

The last one I understand. It’s a beloved blockbuster, the type of film the Academy loves to recognize with multiple nominations … and possibly a few wins.

But how can “J. Edgar” or “War Horse” be in the lead on any chart? No one has seen either film, so far as I know. “Predictions” made in September are stone cold guesses based on past accomplishments of those involved.

Speaking of coasting on momentum, Eastwood’s star – Leonardo DiCaprio – leads George Clooney (“The Descendants”) in the Best Actor race according to these expert charts. Again, how? DiCaprio has been fantastic in other films. He has been nominated before. He could be amazing in this. I’ve actually seen Clooney in “The Descendants.” His performance deserves a nomination. Please tell me, though, that we’re not basing DiCaprio’s chances on a brief trailer … on a tease!

Shouldn’t experts wait until they’ve seen the films to make such predictions? What does it serve, shining a spotlight on a film before it’s actually been screened? If anything, it creates harmful hype – and potential backlash — if a film or a performance can’t live up to being named a “frontrunner” by a panel of experts.

I hope DiCaprio delivers an Oscar-worthy performance in Eastwood’s “J. Edgar.” I honestly do. But I’d prefer to wait until I’ve actually seen the film, and the performance, before stating otherwise.

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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  • September 23, 2011 | Permalink |

    Well said, people are just too quick to judge especially on a 2 minute trailer, a movie that hasn’t even been seen yet, and yet they cast judgement. It does create harmful hype I prefer to withhold any opinion till I have actually have seen the film.

  • September 23, 2011 | Permalink |

    More often than not, it pays to be patient. If Leo and J. EDGAR are worthy, they’ll contend. We’ll know soon enough. Thanks for commenting, rose.

  • September 23, 2011 | Permalink |

    My sentiments exactly, Sean. It seems as if almost every trailer for a Dicaprio film — i. e., Shutter Island, Aviator, Body of Lies, Revolutionary Road, etc., draws these negative assessments — based on what, possibly bad makeup or just a snippet of something that may not even be in the finished film for all we know or quite simply taken completely out of context. I think he gets the worst of it and the best of it, sometimes in the same breath. I can’t tell if people like him or hate him but he certainly makes a splash one way or the other. Still, one should just wait before calling anything or anyone great or terrible based on a bloody trailer or placing them into contention for anything without at least seeing the film first. The entire finished film. The commentator you mentioned above is one of the worst about making knee jerk assessments, too.

  • September 23, 2011 | Permalink |

    Please don’t forget about the film “Warrior”, which is already out & being seen in regard to Oscar nominations. It’s a great film, well-written character-driven script with intelligent dialogue and top notch acting performances by both lead actors, Joel Egerton & Tom Hardy. It’s hard to say which might receive it because they were both so good. However, Nick Nolte should defintiely receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination. He has a plum emotional role for an aging actor. The kind the Academy usually cannot overlook. Besides that, Nolte has a great body of work, and it’s about time he received some recognition. He certainly deserves it here.
    Best regards!

  • September 24, 2011 | Permalink |

    I don’t understand your point. Oscar prediction charts are just that: predictions. They look at the year, some as early as the start of it, and try to guess what will be nominated the following winter. They use all the information available to be as accurate as possible. In some cases, like Clooney’s, that information includes the film and reactions to it. In other cases, such as J. Edgar’s, that is based on less information. Prognosticators have clearly looked at the information available on J. Edgar and concluded it more compelling a prediction than many other films that have been seen (A Dangerous Method, for instance). Not to mention part of the fun is trying to guess as early as possible.

    As for hype and such, that doesn’t follow either. A prestige picture like J. Edgar is very much aiming for awards. If it doesn’t live up to hype it won’t be because people predicted it on a chart but because the same information that led to its chart placement also built up expectations about quality. These are NOT, however, one and the same. I think you’re confused about that. You say you’d rather see the film before stating it Oscar worthy. That is admirable and, I would hope, what most people do. Because prognosticators do not state what is Oscar worthy. They state what is most likely to be Oscar nominated. These are not the same thing (I assume you mean Oscar worthy as in best of the year/among the best). Claiming DiCaprio is in the lead for best performance of the year WOULD be crazy. Predicting him to be nominated for Oscar? Hardly. Since the entire point of predicting is to do precisely that: predict.

  • September 24, 2011 | Permalink |

    I see where you are coming from, Richard. I guess I’d prefer to see more analysis on the actual films and the outstanding performances that guesses made on what might happen.

    Right here is where we disagree. “Not to mention part of the fun is trying to guess as early as possible.”

    I don’t really see that as fun. I’d much rather use the space/time/resources to champion performances I’ve seen and appreciated. Like Nick Nolte’s in WARRIOR, to borrow Joan’s reference. Or Clooney’s in DESCENDANTS. Or Glenn Close’s in ALBERT NOBBS. Or Michael Fassbender in SHAME. Or on and on and on. That, to me, seems more productive than charting potential contenders, but I understand the “machine” needs “fuel,” and this is one way we make it run.

    Thanks for reading, Richard, and for your insight. It is appreciated.

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