FACE IT: Leo and That Elusive Oscar
By Michele Willens
We know there are at least four reasons why Leonardo DiCaprio will walk off with the Oscar next month.
1/He left empty-handed the last four times.
2/He put himself through physical hell (as would I for many millions) in The Revenant.
3/The competition is unusually weak.
4/He is not black.
I have no problem with DiCaprio's assured victory, but when did the Best Actor award become equivalent to the Lifetime Achievement one? Was it when Paul Newman won for The Color of Money, after having been passed over for more memorable performances? (Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Verdict) Or when AL Pacino finally took home Oscar for his over-acting in Scent of a Woman? (As opposed to the Godfathers, Serpico, Dog Day, etc) Let us not forget Henry Fonda winning for the sappy On Golden Pond as a way of apologizing for not getting it for Grapes of Wrath and so many more.
As I watched--and admired much of--The Revenant, I did find myself wondering if it would have been that much different with another actor: anyone from Jake Gyllenhaal to Clint Eastwood to one of the Hemsworths to--dare I suggest--Jamie Foxx? You had to be brave, in good health, have expressive eyes, and be able to mumble a few lines of dialogue in some other language.
Contrast this with Bridge of Spies -which managed to be simultaneously admired and ignored--and the performance of Tom Hanks. No one could have so beautifully played that everyman who rises to a kind of heroism. Yet Hanks is the anti-DiCaprio, so predictably great that he is taken for granted, if not punished. Yes, he won two Oscars a long time ago, but he was not nominated for Bridge, Charlie Wilson's War, Apollo13 and Captain Phillips. He is suffering from the Jimmy Stewart syndrome. Stewart, arguably one of the most versatile actors ever, won the Oscar only once. And it was for The Philadelphia Story rather than all the heftier ones on his resume. (Perhaps his too qualifies as one of those 'Lifetimes')
The truth is, the Oscars are becoming so much less relevant. My kids stopped watching them years ago and now, with the racism issue affecting the films their generation relates to, (like Straight Outta Compton), forgetabout it. Personally, I sort of have the same attitude as when I watch a football game now. I want the NFL to go out of business but it's hard not to appreciate a Manning -Brady matchup.
Back to the Leo thing: few can doubt that he is being honored for best endurance by an actor. How different is this than giving the Oscar to someone who plays a disability, loses or gains 50 pounds, or drastically de-glams? It is getting more and more difficult to know when the gimmicks end and the skill begins. In addition, there are so many other awards handed out, the whole circuit begins to feel like a broken record. Leo will finally get his Oscar for going through a tough slog and for not being Tom Hanks. As will his director for making him do it and for not being Steven Spielberg. In the end, the only real suspense will be seeing how lacerating the hilarious Chris Rock will be. Go for it.