Wednesday, November 24, 2010

FYC: Leonardo Island

One of the smartest FYC moves I've seen in terms of a screener making full use of its identity as an Oscar campaign is for Shutter Island. The disc didn't come with the typical eyebrow raising desperation of "please nominate us for every category that exists!", but narrowed its focus. The cover only suggests Picture, Director & Actor.

In fact, one might say that the packaging squints so hard to focus that it grows a the great crease of a worry line right before your eyes. All the better to remind you of its identical twin that Leonardo DiCaprio has grown between his eyes over the years. That worry line serves him so well in this anguished performance.

But, there's more. As you open it up -- remember this is a Shutter Island ad -- it becomes an orgy of Leos. Brilliant move, that. By charting his growth as an acclaimed child actor to massive adult star, all the way from that critically acclaimed leading debut This Boy's Life (1993) to 2010's Inception (sneakily swallowing up the vote splitting competition, in order to better serve Shutter Island) it basically uses the visual language of FYC: Career Tribute Nomination.

Given that Shutter Island came out very early in the year and that the Best Actor category still looks to be in flux, this could actually work. Unlikely sure but not out of the realm of possibility.

And hasn't 2010 actually been quite a year for him. Isn't he having a year comparable to Sandra Bullock's in 2009? The comparison doesn't spring up naturally, exactly. Leo's big year didn't feel like a breakthrough year since he had no career valley to bounce back from. Nor did he really have something to prove in terms of acting prowess. But consider the strange popularity correlations between Sandy's 2009 and Leo's 2010. For this exercize we have to forget all about All About Steve (2009)  but who would object to doing so?

1. Big Beloved Headliner Star
2. First movie of year  that's right in star's wheelhouse (romantic comedy The Proposal | Scorsese drama Shutter Island) opens and becomes big domestic hit in the 100+ range.
3. Riskier followup opens just five months later (Sandra's The Blind Side | Leo's Inception) and becomes a massive blockbuster in the $250+ range.

Isn't that... odd? Box office and timing between releases is pure coincidence you could say as devil's advocate. But how's this for an eery detail: If you compare Sandra's twin blockbuster 2009 grosses with Leo's 2010 double your difference of (domestic) bank is a miniscule $182,000. Isn't that crazy?

I'm not suggesting that Leo will suddenly become the golden boy who wins a surprise Oscar in February or that his marriage will fall apart in scandal directly afterwards (he's not even married!) so the comparison is strained. Furthermore, nobody expected Sandy to become an Oscar winner (until the happening was under way) and everyone has expected that about King Leo from day one. But beloved massive careers do have unifying elements no matter who the stars are; the industry and the public root for said star to succeed ...and to eventually win the most coveted movie prize of them all.

FWIW, Leo's best performances imho.
  1. What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993)
  2. The Aviator (2004)
  3. The Departed (2006)
  4. This Boy's Life (1993) 
  5. Romeo + Juliet (1996)
  6. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
  7. Shutter Island (2010)
  8. Titanic (1997)
  9. Revolutionary Road (2008)
  10. (Everything else blends together qualitatively for me, as something like charismatic coasting at regular best and callow confidence at irregular worst. So I eagerly await a full top ten. He's only 36. Decades of movie triumphs presumably await.)


Murtada said...

To me Leo's best performance is in Revolutionary Road. He showed a depth and maturity that he has not shown before. Plus a willingness to play kinda of an a*****le. It was the first time I saw him as a man ad not a boy and that maturity served him well in both Shutter Island and Inception.

Sebastian Gutierrez said...

His best performance for me is The Departed, but, like you say, he is uniformly excellent in pretty much everything he does. I don't think he's gonna win Oscar gold this year. SHUTTER ISLAND was too much of a head scratcher and didn't garner quite enough critical praise, and INCEPTION is an action blockbuster, and the academy hates those, despite the fact it's better than any other film that will get nominated for Best Picture.

City_Of_Lights said...

There should be no acting noms for Inception. Definitely best screenplay, but the characters were only the vehicle for the ideas presented. The performances in Nolan's Prestige had more emotional weight and content. It's a film I will continue to watch because 9 times out of 10 I want to see character driven projects. I may need to see Inception again to get it all but I don't want to.

As for DiCaprio, I'd say his best role is Revolutionary Role. But he's an actor I don't get, don't get his popularity, and his name on a movie does nothing for me.

Roark said...

Yesss. So glad Paramount is going all in for Leo (and Shutter Island). Huge DiCaprio fan from way back.
To my mind he should already have won for The Aviator and The Departed, and it kinda blows my mind that he wasn't even nominated for Catch Me If You Can (though that was a stacked year, so it wasn't a complete surprise). Or Titanic.

Anonymous said...

If this was my list, I'd put his performance in The Aviator below the one he gave in The Departed. Something about his work in the latter just felt more natural. I believed he was Billy Costigan. This may be a bit unfair as that character was built from scratch but there you go...

Anonymous said...

Hey Nathaniel,

Making the LAMb rounds, found your site, enjoying reading your reviews. Interesting article on DiCaprio though I think you hold him in much higher esteem than I do. I think his early work overshadows pretty much everything since Basketball Diaries, Gilbert Grape, and This Boys Life - though clearly his momentum was not realized until Titanic. I think he has been backsliding ever since, less range and a consistently average to mediocre performance time and time again. Reminds me of M.Night Shymalan, what happened to this guy?

As an exercise, watch clips from Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island and Catch Me If You Can, hell throw in Aviator and even The Departed (though I liked the latter quite a bit but not because of him) and the performances are very nearly identical if not interchangeable.

I think Di Caprio the 'package' and Di Caprio the 'actor' parted ways long ago.

Interested in a different take on Inception?

Come take a look. Also another review of Shutter Island here.

Looking forward to checking out the rest of your site

/3rtfu11 said...

It would be nice for Leo to actually be in the running this season by being nominated whether it’s the Globes, SAG, or the Academy. Nathaniel I know you don’t see the big deal in his performance overall but I speak for many when I say the last sequence in the form of a flashback in the movie is enough to justify such attention. Michelle Williams whose been talked up for Blue Valentine should become a double nominee this year for Shutter Island in the supporting category. She does plenty with a thankless role.


rorydean -- i actually do not hold him in the esteem you're thinking from this post (though those . I do think he coasts too often and i do think he repeats himself too much.

but those are my 9 favorites is what i'm saying. and I stand by the top 5 as amazing work :) but i do think he was better at first than he is now (the departed and the aviator excepted). having seen gilbert grape again it's just an unimpeachable performance, so full of feeling and consistency without getting boring despite its repetitions.

Anonymous said...

Uggh to Shutter Island. Leo's line read of 'Mal won't let me,' its subtlety. And that scene when he sees Mal on a hotel on the other side of the street. He's in shock and distress yet he's a suit. That performance is better and it's the opposite of the histrionics of Shutter Island.

Shutter Island should campaign for cinematography, sound, supporting nods for Clarkson and Levine. But I guess they're doing something sneaky here. By campaigning for the two wrong things, the Academy might remember the exquisitely better parts of the film.

Ryan T. said...

I think I'll go with The Aviator for his best performance since it's the only film (other than Romeo+Juliet and Titanic) of his that I've seen more than three times. Granted most of that is because I had to see the film for a college paper, but he really was phenomenal.

stjeans said...

never cared for Leo. I feel he's trying too hard. in that sense I guess he is like Bullock.

Unknown said...

There was nothing risky about The Blind Side. Shutter Island and Inception are each 100 times riskier than The Blind Side.

Volvagia said...

Exactly. DiCaprio is kind of like McDowell. (A one or two hit wonder (If... and A Clockwork Orange v. Romeo and Juliet and Titanic) who petered out fairly quickly after his acting heights. Also tinged with repetetive character choices.)

Andrew R. said...

1. The Aviator
2. Gilbert Grape
3. Revolutionary Road
4. The Departed
5. Catch Me If You Can
6. Shutter Island
7. Titanic
8. Inception
9. Gangs of New York

I have not seen This Boy's Life and I've never liked Romeo + Juliet. And the Blood Diamond nomination...ergh.

He hasn't earned himself a win from me yet, but his top 4 performances all should've been nominated.

cal roth said...

It's Romeo + Juliet. Fantastic in it. Shutter Island is his second best performance, IMO, and Gilbert Grape and The Aviator tie in 3rd.

But it's always a good thing when everyone has a different favorite performance. It means the actor is really really strong.

Stella said...

Ugh can we not......he's not uniformly excellent, he's uniform, period. I can never get excited for a Leo Dicaprio movement because I'm sure to expect the same thing; a lot of extraordinary eyebrow movement, furrowed brows, and crying. *Lots* of crying. He is one of the worst "good" actors ever seen onscreen in recent memory. It pains me that no one else in his age range is really stepping up to the bat, though.

Andrew K. said...

I've basically given in to the fact that Inception will be nominated for BP but if DiCaprio manages to sneak in the best actor race over his work in Shutter Island I might get an aneurysm...which is odd, since next to Jude "Dickie Greenleaf" Law he's my favourite actor of his generation. I think his work in Shutter Island gets recognised if they feel the need to nominate I can't remember the last time I found him so ineffective as I did in Inception.

Love your ranking of his performances, your top 3 is my #2-#4 and RR tops my list and Catch Me If You Can appears at #5. The Romeo & Juliet inclusion makes me oddly happy for some reason, though.

Andy Buckle said...

I haven't seen This Boys Life or The Basketball Diaries but here are my top 10 by Leo:

1. The Departed
2. The Aviator
3. What's Eating Gilbert Grape
4. Revolutionary Road
5. Shutter Island
6. Blood Diamond
7. Inception
8. Romeo + Juliet
9. Catch Me if You Can
10. Titanic

Urey said...

My fav role from Leo is still probably "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," but I've liked this mature Leo for a couple of years now. Never really got on board with him for "Titanic," but with "Catch Me If You Can," "Gangs of New York," "The Aviator," "The Departed," "Revolutionary Road," "Shutter Island," and "Inception," he's become one of the most interesting leading men that's come around in awhile. He has that luxury b/c of his star power I guess, but he could have easily settled into blockbuster laziness like Nicolas Cage if he wanted to, so good for him in not falling in that trap. And what he seems to have upcoming all sound great. "Hoover" could finally net him that Oscar too. This year he's had will build momentum for him whether he's nominated or not (I think he won't be nodded).

JustDontSeeUnderstand said...

I have to agree with Stella. It pains me to watch DiCaprio. How I wish I could see what all the fuss is about. He is hammy, in my opinion. The over-the-top facial expressions are more suited for the theatre - He is always playing to the last row of the house.

DiCaprio has ruined too many of Scorsese's recent films. Their partnership need to come to an end.

jjablonicky said...

I also think of Dicaprio`s early performances as the best hes done: I mean Whats eating Gilbert Grape?, This boy`s Life and The basketball Diaries show us Dicaprio at his best in that order, but I do think he was excellent in The Aviator, The Departed and most of all in Revolutionary Road...I rhink he does interesting if always commercial stuff but at least theyre sometimes excellent. I think hes got no chance at being nom`ed this year, even though he was good he is not one of the top 5, or the even Top 10, anyways if someone get a nom in the acting caegories in Inception, it would be Cotillard, not that she will because I also believe she is a longshot, as for Shutter Island I think no one stands a chance at getting nomed but they should campaign for cinematography and maybe could score some of the technical

The Pretentious Know it All said...

I agree that Gilbert Grape is his best performance (and by a pretty wide margin). Outside of the obvious formal mechanics and externalities (which he sold very well), I'm not as enthusiastic about his performance in The Aviator. I'd actually be curious to see how today's more grizzled DiCaprio would handle Howard Hughes, a role I still contend he was much too green and babyfaced for at the time.

I think there's definitely room for Leo in the best actor race even if it seems unlikely now. For the moment, I'm not really buying this "Robert Duvall is a lock" narrative that seems to have invaded the consciousness. Really? For a small movie that (unless I'm missing something) nobody passionately loved? And is Robert Duvall suddenly overdue, or am I inventing his Oscar for Tender Mercies? Same line of thinking applies to Jeff Bridges in True Grit, except it's more confounding because no one has even seen the film and The Coens, talented as they are, are hit or miss, especially with the Academy where they miss way more often than they hit.

Anonymous said...

Leo doesn't have the same personality as Sandra Bullock, which is why it feels different. He's very reserved, whereas Sandra just went balls to the wall.

Volvagia said...

Stella, what age range? 30s? There's Gosling! There's Colin Farrell! There's Cillian Murphy! Point is: The media was always going to overbloat the guy who starred in Titanic, an excellently visualised but ploddingly plotted attempt at an epic romance (gee, you'd think Fincher would have learned something). But the story improbabilities of Titanic (such as: how did Kate not slice off his arms in the crash sequence) put Button slightly higher. (C+ to Titanic's C.)


Casey -- i didn't mean "risky" as in a risky film for blind side. But for Sandra it was riskier than what she usually does. But I see that that was unclear. I wasn't comparing her films to Leo but her films to her own films. Yes, Leo's films are infinitely riskier :)

Everyone -- some people have seen True Grit now (they're just sworn to secrecy) and the early word is 'Best of Year' sensational. we'll see.

Ryan said...

wow, thanks for posting those fyc pix! really fascinating

oh and Leo's best performance to date is THE DEPARTED's "Billy Costigan", hands down

Sheila Kind said...

Love Leo but he's not always great. For instance, I'm one who was never really sold on Catch Me If You Can. I thought it wasn't all that great, in fact, but whadda I know? On the other hand, Shutter Island, I think, will stand the test of time. His final scene in that one is a great piece of understated acting. It's just the way he gets up and walks away. He's made a decision and to hell with it all. I also think Leo is an entirely different actor now. Maybe some like that, some don't, but I can't say it's a bad thing. I think he likes the risky stuff and he doesn't always completely succeed but I don't hold it against him like some here. To me he seems to be improving with age, not the opposite. Watching Inception a second time, I could absolutely feel the melancholy of the character he was playing. Now....if he would only do a really good comedy.

Dame James said...

I don't see Leo and Sandy as comparable in the way you do, particularly with their "risky" choices. Inception was poised to make a crapload of money from day one. No one expected The Blind Side to do better than any of the five other sports dramas that get released every year. Inception didn't need Leo, The Blind Side needed Sandy.

Bryan said...

I love it when you rank an actor's performances!

I would have put Revolutionary Road a lot higher, but that's probably because I love Kate Winslet in that film-- and she probably elevated his performance in my eyes.

Stella said...

@Volvagia, career wise, I meant. Pretty much every other famous actor in his age range is more talented than him, but goddamn it if I didn't admit that he has some business sense and work ethic, like Matt Damon. Most of his peers managed to shoot themselves in the foot one way or another and the best actor of his generation, Edward Norton, (transcendental and pitch-perfect in nearly every performance he's been in, and surely in ways Dicaprio could never hope to achieve), is on the verge of going down the drain career-wise. Like I said, it's downright depressing.

Broooooooke said...

Wow no love for blood diamond aye? I think it's my fave Leo performance (though i didn't see RR yet) along with Gilbert grape,The departed, and now Inception. I think you have to watch Inception multiple times to see the beauty of that perfrmance, i can't really explain it, but it was fantastic. Shutter island didn't do 2 much for me, and has any1 here actually seen Titanic lately... it really doesn't hold up well.

But yea, why do ya'll not like Blood Diamond, i think it deserved to win the oscar.

cal roth said...

I love these rankings of performances, too

Volvagia said...

Broooooooke: Blood Diamond? The sanctimonious and stupid movie that showed only Black people getting killed and features a DiCaprio perf that is all accent, no emotion? (Not that different than his Departed turn, but at least there it could be justified. Haven't seen Gilbert Grape, but so far Romeo + Juliet is my favourite of his. So, so good, and probably the most FUN Shakespeare adaptation, especially when considering the first half of the movie. Worst: It has to go to Man in the Iron Mask. Taking wooden acting up to 11. Even Gosling hasn't given a performance that bad. (And I should know. I saw Fracture.)

OtherRobert said...

While What's Eating Gilbert Grape? will probably never be topped for me on the Leo performance scale, I am a fan of Shutter Island. I haven't believed him as a character that much in quite some time and he was so watchable. The role is much harder than it looks as he hovers between a straight man, a heel, a character, and a leading man without ever being allowed to commit to any of those particular types. A few months ago, you singled out Robin Bartlett for the scribbling scene (and for good reason, as she makes the most of a small moment that's crucial to the film) but Leo can't be ignored there. His mania doesn't seem forced yet he gives no clue at that point that he could possibly be anything but a hardboiled investigator seeking the truth. In other words, a lot of Shutter Island would have been laughable with a lesser actor. I hope he can sneak in for a nomination, but I'm not holding my breath.

Robert said...

For me the best is The Departed: the intensity, my god the intensity. I think Leo isn't a chameleon type actor but the type who has a common persona and applies it to different roles.

That said, it will only work against him in the Oscars, where I expect he'll have to do something surprising to get noticed from here on out, or have to wait until he get's his lifetime achievement win when he's gray.

ottoman said...

But um, I think most good actors are fully capable of that degree of intensity. They just choose not to because they prefer the idea of injecting personality and nuance into their characters as opposed to mere scenery-chewing. Dicaprio doesn't even really have an onscreen persona, just onscreen mannerisms. He could never steal scenes, or create an iconic pop culture character, or an iconic cinematic moment, or even a kickass monologue that people will recite or watch for an acting class. I hear everybody raving about his "intensity" and "sadness" but I only hear admiration for the empty mechanics and "sweat", as Nathaniel calls it, for his performance, never for the character.

^And of course this all applies to his later career, not the promising, mixed, and memorable first half.

He's solid, dependable, and vanilla as pudding.

Andy said...

I don't think the comparison between Leo and Sandra Bullock adds up. Sandra was able to cruise to victory because a.) she's a hugely likable actress, b.) 'The Blind Side' was All About Sandra, performance-wise and c.) she was in a hugely successful, easy-to-digest movie that both audiences and the Academy (hello, surprise Best Picture nom!) could agree upon. Plus, she had timing in her favor, too, given the film's Thanksgiving (I think?) release date.

I don't think Leo will win until he has one of those All About Leo-type movies. Sure, he's great in 'Shutter Island,' but that movie is as much a Scorsese film as anything else. 'Inception' is more of an ensemble-type movie.

That being said, I hope he gets nominated this year.


i didn't expect this post to yield such bounteous and diverse opinions but it's been interesting to read. who knew? I guess it helps that Leo makes very very popular films so a lot of people have seen a good portion of his work.

Mary said...

I was in Jr High when Romeo & Juliet & then Titanic were released so I loved him in my youth. I still he's pretty great. My personal favorite performance of his is The Beach.

Urey said...

Yes, I forgot to add "Blood Diamond" to my list. I really liked that performance too, even though it's still one of those Oscar surprises that this got Leo the nod over "The Departed." It really was that campaign that cost the film key acting nods. But "Blood Diamond" is one of Leo's underrated roles. It's too bad he was in competition with himself that year. And he's in that same boat this year.

sheila kind said...

Yeah, the diversity of opinion on Leo is very interesting. To me it just indicates that he is, in fact, a much more interesting and, yes, even exciting actor than some might be willing to admit. Divisiveness is often a nice indicator of brilliance on some level or other. That's something I've always felt to be true. And, I also think it's important to note that quite a few superb actors haven't always done great work either. Brando is one that comes to mind in a big way. An actor who was lionized at an early age due to several most extraordinary performances, went through a period when he had a rather major career downturn but who could periodically come back with brilliance (The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris). I think DiCaprio is only just arriving at another career peak (also beginning to really resemble a man). He cannot be written off as some seem willing to do here. They really are shortsighted to do so, imo.