Leonardo DiCaprio is an Oscar nominee once again. His performance as fur trapper Hugh Glass in The Revenant earned him his sixth nomination (fifth for acting), nudging him closer to that elusive golden statue.
He has become an Alexander the Great searching for the Fountain of Youth, a Captain Ahab obsessed with Moby Dick.
DiCaprio is always the fan favourite at the Oscars, having made his mark as a teen heartthrob before becoming the serious actor that he is now. He is, after all, one of the few mainstream movie stars who can always be counted on to deliver a consistently brilliant performance, regardless of the role. Breaking out in Titanic, the biggest movie of all time must’ve also helped.
But Jack Dawson seems so long ago now, after we’ve seen him eat raw bison liver, drive a Lambo in a quaalude-induced daze and literally smear his blood on Kerry Washington’s panic-stricken face.
And as we prepare ourselves for The Revenant this weekend, we take a look at Leonardo DiCaprio’s greatest performances, the roles that made him Leonardo DiCaprio. Here they are, in no particular order.
The Departed (2006)
DiCaprio had worked with Martin Scorsese a few times already and by now the two had an efficient shorthand. DiCaprio had become to Scorsese what De Niro was back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The Departed was full of flamboyant performances from Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and most memorably Mark Wahlberg. But Leonardo DiCaprio anchored the film with his measured performance as a conflicted cop crippled with inner turmoil.
The Basketball Diaries (1995)
This was possibly the earliest sign of DiCaprio’s greatness. Even more so than What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Both DiCaprio and co-star Mark Wahlberg would go on to greater glory in The Departed. But DiCaprio’s performance as a troubled youth coming of age in a gritty, drug fuelled New York is so heart-wrenchingly good, it’s almost painfully great.
Gangs of New York (2002)
The Leonardo DiCaprio-Martin Scorsese collaboration will always be remembered for other movies. Gangs of New York has somehow become a stepchild in their series of films together. But is it not the grandest? Is it not the most traditional, old-fashioned Hollywood drama the two have cooked up? It is an epic tale that deserves a revisit. This time, even DiCaprio’s spotty Irish-American accent could be forgiven.
Catch Me if You Can (2002)
This may be the most broadly comedic performance of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career. And we haven’t seen anything like it from him since. For that reason alone, it needs to be treasured. His portrayal of career con man Frank Abagnale Jr is still fresh in fans’ minds.
Blood Diamond (2006)
DiCaprio’s perfect accent (it’s Rhodesian, not Zimbabwean), and his ability to bring out the emotion even behind what most would consider generic action scenes is unmatched. Let’s be honest: Blood Diamond had no reason to be as good as it is. And a lot of that is because of DiCaprio. Even after all these years, we can’t really imagine anybody else as Danny Archer.
The Aviator (2004)
The fact that there are so many scenes from The Aviator that are imprinted in our heads is enough to convince us of its greatness. DiCaprio’s partnership with Martin Scorsese would result in many memorable movies, and yes, we have more in this very list. But just that one scene of Howard Hughes losing his mind in the solitude of his messy existence is enough. And The Aviator was full of such scenes. Still, no Oscar.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
There was no other performance in 2013 (yes, even Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar winning one) that was as insanely impactful as DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort. He was playing, in essence, one of the most despicable characters ever. And somehow, in his own unique way, DiCaprio managed to bring out his humanity, while at the same time fully embracing Belfort’s nastiness. Remember that inspirational monologue with the lions and cocaine and freeze frames? It’s enough to make Gordon Gekko look over his shoulder.
The common belief is that the lead actors in great blockbuster movies are interchangeable. It’s the spectacle that sells and not the stars. But take a closer look at Leonardo DiCaprio’s stunning performance as a grieving father in Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece and it’ll change your whole idea about how important acting is in even the glossiest films where effects sometimes overpower everything else.
Shutter Island (2010)
Once again, thrillers are usually not admired for their nuanced acting. The focus is usually on plotting and direction, and in a way, that’s what happened with Shutter Island as well. But keeping Martin Scorsese’s characteristically stylish work aside, DiCaprio’s performance as a hard boiled cop (we won’t ruin the twist if you haven’t seen the movie) is marvellous. There are so many layers to his character, and very few actors could have pulled it off.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
Jay Gatsby is one of the most iconic characters in American literature, so who better than one of their most popular movie stars to take on the role? DiCaprio’s performance was just as eccentric and over the top as Baz Luhrmann’s film. It might not have earned him awards, but he was perfect for the role, combining vulnerability and bravado in the same breath.
Django Unchained (2012)
He wasn’t even nominated for this. Decades will go by and Monsieur Calvin Candie will always be remembered, Oscars be damned. Co-star Christoph Waltz’s interchangeable shrug of a performance, however, will no doubt be forgotten, or worse, meld into an all-encompassing mess of Christoph Waltzness. But let’s get back to DiCaprio for a moment, who once again played a man so irredeemably bad and did it with such glee that it becomes impossible to look away. Even when he feeds a slave to dogs. You can’t turn away.
There’s no way we weren’t going to mention Titanic. The movie that gave the world Leonardo DiCaprio? No way.
Let’s be honest now. There aren’t many actors out there, and even fewer movie stars, that have delivered on such a consistent basis as our man Leo. Not only has he been consistently pushing himself to the edge in his performances, he has being taking on roles unlike those he has done before. On February 28, he will be up for another Oscar. And it really does look like it’s his year.
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The author tweets @NaaharRohan