Following the release and subsequent critical acclaim of Django Unchained, Tarantino’s latest all-action blockbuster set in the grizzly antebellum era of the Old West and Deep South, the name on everyone’s lips isn’t Jamie Foxx, playing the eponymous role of Django with aplomb. Nor is it Christopher Waltz, who won a slew of awards including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his talented performance. The focus is instead firmly on Leonardo DiCaprio, who put in another fantastically passionate performance as slave-owner Calvin J. Candie and received only another perceived ‘snub’ from the Academy, losing out even on nomination for a supporting actor gong. Fans were outraged, and the question hangs in the air: with so many successful films under his belt, where’s Leo’s Oscar?
Leo DiCaprio is 38, and as of 2008’s Blood Diamond has three Oscar nominations. He’s one of only 39 living actors to pull off that feat, and is the youngest (beating out Joaquin Phoenix by a mere two weeks) to do it. In comparison, Philip Seymour Hoffman at 45 holds the record for the youngest male amongst four-time nominees. The ‘junior’ category of multiple nominees includes ten 45-and-under actors, three of whom have taken home film’s biggest prize – Javier Bardem, Jamie Foxx and the aforementioned Hoffman.
Taking this into account, it seems puerile to say that Leo cannot and never will win an Oscar following Django. It’s an open secret in Hollywood that the Academy aren’t keen on rewarding young, good-looking male stars, and DiCaprio certainly still fits that bill. In fact, there’s rumours abound that his looks are what holds him back from the real accolades. The ‘Jack Dawson’ effect is something people consistently point to, suggesting that no matter how gnarled and wizened Leo gets, he’ll always remind viewers of the lively young boy who fell for Winslet with just a flash of his piercing blue eyes. In reality, DiCaprio has more than ably shed the weight of this character in smaller films such as Catch Me If You Can, in which his role as eclectic lead Frank Abagnale Jr, who transitions between personas at a mile a minute, granted him the opportunity to demonstrate his talent and flexibility. Recent gritty roles in Inception and Shutter Island only cemented his reputation as a multi-faceted, interesting actor. So the question is rather not why Leo remains Oscarless, but when he’ll finally get one.
Looking at the star-studded list of later-life Oscar winners puts his ‘snub’ in perspective: Dustin Hoffman was 42 when he won his first, with his fourth nomination. The same goes for Sean Penn, who was 43. Al Pacino was 52, Michael Caine 53, Jeff Bridges 60 and Morgan Freeman 67. All legendary actors and actresses that indisputably deserve their prizes and all had to wait decades for their first tip of the hat from the Academy. Many of these only received Oscars on their fourth or fifth nomination, with Pacino only winning his on the eighth try. Leo’s got a ways to go to match that record, but the fact is he still has plenty of time to do so. He is – and will remain for a good few years – an A-list actor who can command roles in any film he chooses. Alongside Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise (none of whom have yet won an Oscar) he fits the bill of an actor who can pick and choose his directors at will, with Spielberg, Scorsese, Nolan and Tarantino just a few of the all-time greats who he has and will have the opportunity to work with in the coming years. The world of cinema is, in essence, at DiCaprio’s feet.
Whilst it’s tempting to say that Leo’s been shafted for many film roles including What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Departed, Marvin’s Room and Revolutionary Road along with those already covered: Titanic, Django, Catch Me If You Can, Shutter Island and Inception, were he to have received nomination for all of those he’d be tied for the most ever with the imperious Jack Nicholson. His three nominations are very impressive for an actor of his age, and his career at this juncture is a fine accomplishment in itself. DiCaprio need only look to Denzel Washington’s decades of waiting for his Best Actor award that he finally nabbed back in 2002 following twenty years in the business. Leo’s got years of great films ahead of him, starting with The Great Gatsby in a few months’ time, and his mantelpiece will surely start to look a lot shinier sooner or later.