It finally happened. After five nominations, four without wins, Leonardo DiCaprio finally won his Oscar this past weekend for his performance in The Revenant! Yea, we all saw it coming, but you know what, I’m sure I was amongst the millions who felt genuinely happy for the guy. We’ve watched this guy grow from an annoying 90’s heartthrob to becoming one of the best actors of his generation… and yea, he’s still a heartthrob, but he’s also a badass. The 88th Academy Awards was his long overdue crowning achievement (though to be fair, he hasn’t had it nearly as bad as, say, Peter O’ Toole or Roger Deakins) and so one of the topics for discussions of late has been “was The Revenant his best? And if not, what is?”
So I’m here to give my two cents on the matter. Now, we all know that the Oscars rarely recognize the right people on the right occasion, more often than not they go for the safe option (take Spotlight‘s Best Picture win for example). Sometimes the winners are just gimmes and all the talk surrounding the Leading Actor race in 2015 amounted to Leo getting a career win… a sentiment I understand, but if this were a career win, it’s rather early wouldn’t you say? The guy has worked with some of the best in the industry from all around the world and he still has plenty to offer. He’s had his pick of directors since, well, since ever pretty much, and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. Whilst I appreciate his performance in The Revenant, I don’t think it’s his best performance by any means. So, given he’s had five nods, here’s my top five favorite performances of Leonardo DiCaprio.
5. Inception (2010)
As I’ve said, Leo’s had his pick of directors for most of his career, so when he got onboard to star in Christopher Nolan’s follow-up t The Dark Knight, I think we were all pretty stoked about the collaboration. Inception proved to be as good as we’d hoped, and is a wonderful testament to cinematic prowess that Leo possesses. He leads a stellar star-studded cast in this highly ambitious and refreshingly original sci-fi actioner and, frankly, considering that a majority of the dialogue is just explaining everything that’s going on, as Cobb, Leo manages to keep us invested throughout whilst also delivering in the emotional weight. His chemistry with Marion Cotillard in Inception is the core to this film, and considering just how little screen time they end up sharing, the result is all the more remarkable. This is the kind blockbuster we’d expect from Leo, and it’s going to be one for the ages.
4. Blood Diamond (2006)
2006 was a good year for DiCaps – he had his third collaboration with Scorcese release (which we’ll be getting to shortly), and then a collaboration with director Edward Zwick that earned him his third Oscar nomination. As the diamond smuggler, Danny Archer, Leo gives us one of his better, darker roles with a performance that resembles the great Humphrey Bogart’s in The Treasure of Sierra Madre. Granted, he’s more of an antihero who predictably ends up doing the right thing, but for a good portion of the film, Leo constantly has us guessing as to what Archer’s true intentions are. Wonderfully paired with Djimon Hounsou, one minute he’ll be risking his neck to keep his companion from getting killed, the next he’ll be threatening to skin him alive. It’s an incredibly moody and complex character and one that I would’ve been happy to see him win that Oscar for (he lost to Forrest Whitaker that year). And I don’t care what anybody says, his accent was legit, go get a clue.
3. Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
If there was any year where it seemed like the stars were aligned in Leo’s favor for that Oscar win, it was with his tremendous turn as Jordan Belfort, the Wall Street tycoon of he and Scorcese’s fifth collaboration together, Wolf of Wall Street. Where obvious comparisons could be made to Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko, Belfort is truly a different animal altogether. We were all anxious to see how this dark comedy unfolded for DiCaprio, because honestly, when was the last time you could remember Leonardo DiCaprio making you laugh your ass off? It was a welcome change of pace, a deep sigh of relief from those heavy-handed dramas, and with the unlikely genius pairing with Jonah Hill, Leo went to new levels that we’d never seen nor expected from him before, and he’s phenomenal. Watching just the physicality of his performance in the infamous Quaaludes scene alone was enough to have you rolling in your seats. But he still delivers in dramatics when it comes to the film’s darker moments – the ferocity of his speeches, the wrath of his drug addiction, the sheer extent of this man’s depravity is fully felt through Leo… it’s such a shame the win went to Matthew McConaughey that year.
2. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
This was the movie that changed everything. Yes, he had proven his chops in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and yes, by this time he was already a Hollywood icon, but his portrayal of multimillion dollar conman Frank Abagnale Jr. in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can was almost like a revelation. Acting up against the likes of Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken, Leo carries this movie effortlessly, I remember even as a kid being captivated by his performance – it was cool, you know? This was the transitional year of when Leo went from the heartthrob to a serious actor. In Catch Me If You Can he puts his good looks to use – whilst perfectly embodying the youthful innocence and naivety of young Frank – he captures the suave, charismatic and confident persona his character eventually becomes and thoroughly convinces us that he was capable of committing millions of dollars worth in fraud; how could you say no to this guy? This same year we would see him up against Daniel Day-Lewis in his first collaboration with Scorcese, Gangs of New York.
1. The Departed (2006)
In my opinion, The Departed has been the very best to come from this wonderful duo. You have Scorcese doing what he does best with something that was so much better than last year’s Black Mass or most gangster films of the last decade, and then Leonardo in what is undoubtedly his best work. As Billy Costigan, Leo delves deep into the psyche of a man unhinged as he plays a paranoid double life, one of which under constant threat from his lunatic boss, played by the incomparable Jack Nicholson. It’s a role that’s intelligent, elusive, suppressed, and paranoid all in one and Leo hits every mark. It’s just great stuff and serves more as a testament to his acting range as The Revenant does to his method. Leo apparently didn’t want to be nominated over his cast mates and opted out of a supporting nod, hence why he earned a nomination for Blood Diamond, but this is where the gold should have been going to.