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The many facets of Leo DiCaprio: The Wolf of Wall Street

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By Michael Russnow
As Oscar voters continue to mark their ballots until this Wednesday, I wonder what goes into their thinking? Do they vote specifically for what they believe is the best achievement of last year, a surprising performance and accomplishment or is it a cumulative assessment of someone’s career?

For all these reasons, and not just one, I’m going against the grain of what appears to be the general consensus and strongly suggest that Leonardo DiCaprio deserves the Oscar this year for The Wolf of Wall Street, even more than favorite Matthew McConaughey.

This doesn’t in any way diminish McConaughey’s performance in Dallas Buyers Club. It was terrific, and the subject matter of the film made it that much more compelling. However, DiCaprio’s execution, in my view, was even more powerful, in particular as it was a totally different characterization and portrayal than we’ve ever seen from the actor before.

It’s hard to realize sometimes that Leo has been in filmdom’s consciousness for twenty-one years, since he was elevated from his sitcom supporting role in ABC’s Growing Pains to the wow factor engendered in his major debut role opposite Robert De Niro in This Boy’s Life. Later in 1993 that respect was magnified when he stole What’s Eating Gilbert Grape from Johnny Depp and was rewarded with his first Oscar nomination at the age of nineteen.

For the next several years, he continued to intrigue audiences with a different assortment of characters, sometimes in mixed films such as Basketball Diaries and Total Eclipse, in more respected fare such as Marvin’s Room and Romeo and Juliet, and finally emerging as a superstar in Titanic.

Since then he has won fans and critical plaudits for his work in Catch Me If You Can, a young Howard Hughes in The Aviator, as a South African in Blood Diamond and an undercover policeman in The Departed, sometimes Oscar nominated, more times not and sometimes robbed of a nod as in the case of J. Edgar and last year’s Django Unchained.

Through it all, he has mostly been acclaimed for quirky dramatic performances until finally his well-known personal impishness came forth comedically in The Wolf of Wall Street. In this film, which I mostly liked but not entirely, Leo displayed so many facets, delivering emotional high points while also sometimes hysterically funny, that I wonder if his excellence has become so expected we don’t realize how different the role is and what a masterful actor he truly is in this movie for which he was honored with his fourth Oscar nomination.

Or do we still think of him as a kid whose time will come, so let’s give the award to someone else, forgetting that Leo, at thirty-nine, is actually older than Jack Nicholson was when he “finally” won, after many previous nominations, for his performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1976?

The Oscars aren’t always fair and sometimes there’s an incredible assortment of worthy contenders making it truly hard to choose. In some instances there is a tendency for the Oscar voters to give an award to an actor who had one stunningly played standout starring role and might never do so again. Without diminishing their achievements, one could point to Art Carney, Louise Fletcher, Cliff Robertson and F. Murray Abraham, whereas Peter O’Toole and Deborah Kerr kept giving brilliant performances over the years, winning eight and six nominations respectively, never ultimately winning except for their honorary Oscars awarded by the Governors of the Academy.

There’s no rhyme or reason to Oscar lore, and whether Leonardo DiCaprio wins this year it is likely he might well do so in another, though as indicated above there are a lot of renowned stars who never won at all, including Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Irene Dunne, Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Burton and Kirk Douglas.

Whatever the case, if the voters take a really hard look at what went into Leo’s performance and can separate the oft-publicized disdain for the despicable traits and mores that the characters in The Wolf of Wall Street display, my hope is that Leo will win the Oscar this year. There are other fine performances in the category as well, but I really believe that in this instance he deserves it and his time has come.

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