The time has come for my annual Academy Awards blog series, now titled Chasing Oscar! Here is part one. To read my take on some of last year’s films, click here
It seems like the whole world has been waiting for the day that Leonardo DiCaprio finally wins an Academy Award.
DiCaprio has received four nominations (one for Best Supporting Actor, three for Best Actor), losing each time. Even though there are more prolific Oscar-less nominees (Peter O’Toole holds the record with eight nods), DiCaprio’s unlucky streak has struck a particular nerve with the public, with plenty of social media posts, memes, and thinkpieces calling for him to win (I’m guilty of one explaining why he hasn’t been snubbed before).
DiCaprio is up for Oscar contention again this year, for his leading role in The Revenant. The film, directed by Alejandro Iñárritu, scored eleven other nominations, the most for this year. It’s been quite the strange awards season, with no clear front-runners and several wildcards across many categories. The Revenant’s chances for the big award, Best Picture, are certainly not guaranteed, even as its overtaken the season conversation as of late.
The only sure thing this year is that Leonardo DiCaprio will finally take the stage, and the Oscar, for his performance.
Anyone skeptical that this is a John Wayne-esque consolation prize is wrong. Even without the groundswell of industry support, DiCaprio delivers the kind of once-in-a-lifetime performance that the Academy salivates over. He plays Hugh Glass, a fur trapper in the 1800s who must fight for survival after a bear mauls him and his comrades leave him for dead. Most of the film is spent in Glass’ company, tracking his pain-staking recovery and desperate quest to survive and avenge. The film is placed squarely on DiCaprio’s shoulders, and he carries it with fierce determination. He is thoroughly committed to every scene, imbuing each with unsettling intensity. Even at the film’s most absurd, Leo’s performance is quite astonishing.
It’s a shame, then, that the film is so absurd. As captivating as Leo is in each of his tribulations, the tribulations themselves are unbelievable to the point of distraction. There’s no way a human being would be able to survive a quarter of things that Hugh Glass suffered in the best of conditions, let alone the American wilderness in the 1800s. It becomes truly ridiculous when another character is killed by a simple stab wound as Glass writhes in agony after his two bear attacks. It’s too easy to disengage with the film and list out all of the things Leo is suffering through to win an Oscar, which I did more than once. It’s not his fault, but the fault of the screenwriters for not crafting a stronger plot. The film’s argument is that love is the greatest fuel for the human spirit, but months in freezing temperatures with a slashed throat, open, infected wounds, and several broken bones? There are limits.
It’s obvious that a lot of effort went into making this movie. Iñárritu, fresh off of last year’s Best Picture winner Birdman, paints a beauty-in-the-brutal picture of Glass’ internal and external pain. You can feel the unbearable discomfort in every shot, and the clashes, of human and animal, are unflinchingly filmed. It is visceral, aggressive, a technical masterwork. The same could be said of Tom Hardy, who plays the subject of Glass’ death-defying rage. While much has been made of DiCaprio, ignoring Hardy’s cold yet understandably pragmatic villainy is a huge mistake. Thankfully, the Academy didn’t and awarded him a nod for Best Supporting Actor.
But all of the talk about supporting performances, impeccable direction, and middling plot don’t dilute the fact that The Revenant exists more as a Leonardo DiCaprio showcase than anything else. This is what he has been waiting for, a role that he could (literally) sink his teeth into and outshine every other nominee. There is very little preventing February 28th from being the best night of his life, and after three decades of top-notch performances, it’s deserved. Unfortunately, the plot doesn’t hold as strong as its lead, and the film suffers for that weakness.
As a Leo vehicle, The Revenant is a resounding success. As a technical marvel, top marks. As a compelling, engrossing story? Less would’ve definitely been more, although the first two might just be enough to secure a Best Picture win.
Coming up: A. Lot. Spotlight, the other big Best Picture contender, The Danish Girl, Creed, Steve Jobs. And those are just the films I’ve seen! Please share any comments you have and continue the conversation! Until next time – BL