The Nod: Why Leonardo DiCaprio Should (And Will) Win An Oscar For ‘The Revenant’

After the first press-and-industry screening of The Revenant in November, the Internet issued a proclamation: Leonardo DiCaprio will finally win an Academy Award for Best Actor.

In the weeks since, mainstream and social media chatter has continued to bolster the notion that the Scorsese muse/environmentalist/ultimate ’90s-girl dream date will finally grasp the statuette that has eluded him on the four previous occasions when he was nominated. At the moment, every single expert at the awards prognostication site Gold Derby is predicting a win for DiCaprio, who’s also up for a Golden Globe this weekend for Best Actor in a Drama. (Entertainment Weekly says he’s got that prize in the bag, too.) Those are just predictions, and may not necessarily reflect the thoughts and opinions of the Academy members who actually decide such matters. Still: It seems very possible that on Feb. 29, the morning after the Academy Awards, all those Leo Can’t Win an Oscar memes will need to be permanently scrubbed from the Internet due to their lack of relevance.

Every time DiCaprio was nominated for a little gold man before, there was an obvious obstacle that prevented him from snagging it. When he earned his first nod in the supporting category for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? he was extremely young and also up against sure thing Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. In 2005, his work in The Aviator earned his first lead actor nomination and also pitted him against another sure thing: Jamie Foxx in Ray. In 2007, the year he lost to Forest Whitaker, he was recognized for Blood Diamond, which, though solid, didn’t feel like the signature DiCaprio performance that would finally put him in acceptance-speech-making territory. Then there was 2014, when he was nominated for The Wolf of Wall Street, which, in my view, is still the best, most electric thing he’s ever done. Seriously: In the future, when all the definitions in our dictionaries consist of GIFs instead of text, you will look up the term “tour de force” and find hypnotic images of Leonardo DiCaprio dragging his drugged-up body across a country club driveway and/or popping and locking in a tuxedo. Unfortunately, no man — not even DiCaprio on Quaaludes — can stop a McConaissance in progress. So, he lost again.

Related: Will Leonardo DiCaprio Finally Win An Oscar With ‘The Revenant’?

This year, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious DiCaprio blocker standing in the way. Most of those who seem poised to compete against him — Eddie Redmayne, Michael Fassbender, possibly Bryan Cranston — don’t have quite the same “this is long overdue” factor working in their favor, though that changes a bit if Matt Damon or Johnny Depp get nominated. DiCaprio is only 41, but he’s been working in the business for 25 years and, during the past decade in particular, has delivered ferocious, committed performance after ferocious, committed performance. Any sentence that contains the word “deserves an Oscar” sounds a little ridiculous and extremely entitled. But one can understand why someone would feel justified using those three words in connection with DiCaprio.

So, let’s say DiCaprio does deserve an Academy Award. Does he deserve it for his performance in The Revenant? My hunch is that voters will think of his body of work more broadly when making that call, as opposed to parsing this portrayal in particular, which, because of the character’s largely silent, revenge-driven journey, lacks the emotional range we’ve seen in some of his other roles. (Oh, hey, did I mention that in The Wolf of Wall Street, he makes this speech, which will also be featured, in video form, under “tour de force” in the Multimedia Dictionary of the Future?) Yet in some key ways, DiCaprio’s depiction of the bedraggled, bear-battered Hugh Glass serves as the perfect showcase for what have become DiCaprio’s trademark strengths: his fierceness and his physicality.

Say Leonardo DiCaprio to some people — especially anyone who regularly purchased Teen Beat in the mid-to-late ’90s — and the onscreen imagery that will immediately replay in their brains involves Leo staring through an aquarium at a blushing Claire Danes in Romeo + Juliet, or grinning at Kate Winslet as she descends an opulent staircase in Titanic, or seducing Amy Adams, Elizabeth Banks and every other gullible rube who crosses his path in Catch Me If You Can. They think first and foremost of Dreamy Leo. But in recent years, at least for me, Dreamy Leo has been replaced by Hyper-Intense Leo.

When I think of his filmography, my mind’s eye sees him in The Departed, or Django Unchained, or Wolf of Wall Street, during those moments when he’s unleashing so much pent-up rage that he appears to be a millisecond away from bursting multiple capillaries. There is a lot of hyper-intense Leo in The Revenant, whether he’s foaming at the mouth and wildly shrieking as — spoiler alert — he watches Tom Hardy’s John Fitzgerald kill his son or grimacing and grunting while dragging his open wound of a body across the frozen frontier. There is never a question that he’s putting anything less than 100 percent of his energy into the role, and that, too, is a hallmark of the modern DiCaprio performance: The guy never seems to be half-assing it, even for a second. He’s often unbridled here, but in a way that always suggests he’s in complete control as an actor.

In what may be some calculated Oscar campaigning on his part, DiCaprio has been emphasizing in interviews that he dealt with a lot of discomfort during the notoriously challenging Revenant shoot. “I can name 30 or 40 sequences that were some of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do,” he recently told Yahoo. He’s not shy these days about reminding people that he suffers physically for his art, whether he’s talking to the media or conveying that suffering onscreen. Presented as evidence: the moment in The Revenant when he cries out while setting his own neck on fire, or the scene in which he barfs up raw bison, or, you know, that time he wails while getting mauled — not once, but twice! — by a bear.

DiCaprio has always been a physically raw, emotionally naked actor. That was apparent in his breakthrough role in This Boy’s Life, when he fights back against an abusive Robert De Niro, or in the finely calibrated facial tics he brings to the surface as Arnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, or more recently in the non-stop racist explosiveness he unleashes in Django Unchained. In that Tarantino saga, he famously sliced open his hand during a dining room monologue, but kept right on going, Energizer Bunny-ing through the pain as though he were announcing: “Moviegoers, I am willing to bleed for you.”

In The Revenant, he bleeds and bleeds some more, and gets bitten, and pukes, and nearly freezes to death, among other things. Through it all, he makes Hugh Glass’ anguish palpable, but never tips the scales into the realm of overacting. It may not be your favorite DiCaprio role, or even his best, but there’s no question that it demonstrates how, over the past two-plus decades, he’s learned how to hone the natural instincts he’s had as an actor ever since he was a kid.

In the early moments of The Revenant, DiCaprio’s character tells his son: “As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight.” It feels like a mission statement for the entire movie, and maybe a summary of DiCaprio’s career. In so many of his performances, and certainly in this one, he makes you feel, all the way down to your bone marrow, just how hard he’s fighting.

Now Watch: 10 Things You Need To Know About This Year’s Golden Globes Nominations