In 2002, Peter O’Toole received an Honorary Academy Award, which is given for “lifetime achievements, exceptional contributions to motion picture arts and sciences, and outstanding service to the Academy.” In other words, it’s the Academy’s way of saying, “Sorry you were nominated for eight Oscars and lost every time. It’s just that you were competing against Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Marlon Brando in The Godfather, and Robert De Niro in Raging Bull and… well, here’s a lifetime achievement award. We good?” No actor or actress, living or dead, has been nominated for more Oscars without taking one home than O’Toole; he’s the Buffalo Bills of Hollywood.
His record may not hold forever, though. In “third place,” so to speak, is Glenn Close, who’s 0-for-6 (Richard Burton went 0-for-7 before he passed away in 1984). Some of her nominations were more deserving (generation-defining The Big Chill) than others (utterly ridiculous Albert Nobbs), but it can’t be easy striking out six times in six at-bats. Yet you never hear about Close’s unfortunate batting average. Plenty of baseball players have hit below .200, but the “line” is still attributed to one infamous shortstop: Mario Mendoza. Leonardo DiCaprio is Mendoza; Glenn Close, and Julianne Moore (0-for-4), and Johnny Depp and Tom Cruise (0-for-3) are just some guys.
You may have heard a thing or two about how Leonardo DiCaprio has never won an Oscar. You know it’s legit because he even has a meme in his honor. Yesterday, Jen Chaney explained why he should (and will) win for his angsty work in The Revenant, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was named Best Picture last year. It’s practically a forgone conclusion at this point: Every one of the so-called experts at Gold Derby has DiCaprio winning. This is bad news for Steve Jobs‘ Michael Fassbender and The Martian‘s Matt Damon, but good news for whichever 25-year-old model he takes to the ceremony as his date.
Okay, but should DiCaprio already have an Oscar? Let’s take a look back at all the times he’s been nominated for Best Supporting Actor (once) and Best Actor (thrice) to see who he was competing against, and whether, in retrospect, he should’ve been the one being played off by the orchestra.
Best Supporting Actor, 1994
Tommy Lee Jones – The Fugitive (winner)
Leonardo DiCaprio – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
Ralph Fiennes – Schindler’s List
John Malkovich – In the Line of Fire
Pete Postlethwaite – In the Name of the Father
Danger Guerrero did a fine job of explaining why The Fugitive is the only good movie. I don’t disagree. It’s a masterful thriller that remains tense even when you’ve seen it 47 times (not that I have… I’m actually up to 62). The Fugitive isn’t the type of movie the Oscars usually hands awards to, except the Supporting Actor/Actress category tends to be more populist than Best Actor/Actress. Joe Pesci won for Goodfellas (Ray Liotta wasn’t even nominated), as did Jack Palance for City Slickers and, a few years later, Kevin Spacey for The Usual Suspects. The Piano, they ain’t. Age bias probably came into play for why DiCaprio didn’t win, too. He was only 19 years old when Gilbert Grape was released — voters may have felt he hadn’t put in the time to win yet.
Best Actor, 2005
Jamie Foxx – Ray (winner)
Don Cheadle – Hotel Rwanda
Johnny Depp – Finding Neverland
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Aviator
Clint Eastwood – Million Dollar Baby
Jamie Foxx, who was destined to win an Oscar the moment the Ray trailer was released, was part of a larger 2000s trend: Between 2002 and 2008, Best Actor went to someone playing a real-life person every time but twice (Sean Penn in Mystic River and Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood). DiCaprio threw his hat into the ring by portraying director and aviation expert Howard Hughes, whose life was far more exciting than The Aviator turned out to be. It wasn’t a bad movie, exactly, but one that seemed to exist only to win awards. It looked like a Best Picture winner, but its nearly three-hour running time made it emotionally hollow. DiCaprio gives a fine performance, particularly considering how much the film jumps through time, but he didn’t deserve an Oscar. The same can’t be said for another Martin Scorsese collaboration.
Best Actor, 2007
Forest Whitaker – The Last King of Scotland (winner)
Leonardo DiCaprio – Blood Diamond
Ryan Gosling – Half Nelson
Peter O’Toole – Venus
Will Smith – The Pursuit of Happyness
Yesterday, a friend and I were marveling over Tom Hanks not having been nominated for an Oscar since 2000. Then I looked at everything he’s made since then. There are a lot of duds in his post-Cast Away filmography. The Ladykillers, The Terminal, The Da Vinci Code, Larry Crowne, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — these are movies for Hanks completists, and that’s it. He’s only been award-worthy for two roles: FBI Agent Carl Hanratty in Catch Me If You Can (which is wonderful, but the movie itself is the bigger star than any single actor in it; that’s why DiCaprio wasn’t nominated, either), and the titular captain in Captain Phillips. Except he’s not the film’s MVP. Barkhad Abdi is. The same goes for Blood Diamond. DiCaprio is absolutely out-acted by Djimon Hounsou. Remember the “A Good Boy” scene? You don’t deserve an acting Oscar if you’re not even the best actor in the movie.
Best Actor, 2014
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club (winner)
Christian Bale – American Hustle
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
To use the Internet’s favorite word, The Wolf of Wall Street is a Problematic movie. Besides the whole “does it glamorize Jordan Belfort’s despicable life?” debate, it’s also messy, overlong, and unfocused. But it’s still super enjoyable for two reasons: Matthew McConaughey’s chest-beating (I’ll take him in Wolf over Dallas Buyers Club any day), and DiCaprio. After an endless string of playing serious men in serious movies, he finally remembered he was on Growing Pains and Roseanne and embraced the fact that he’s really funny. Django Unchained was the intro course; The Wolf of Wall Street was his graduation. It’s a remarkably entertaining and physical performance. You can see him give his all in every scene, but he never comes across as capital-A Acting, the way he does in The Revenant. DiCaprio becomes Belfort. This is harder than it seems. You’re always aware that you’re watching George Clooney, even when he’s playing a Soggy Bottom Boy. DiCaprio occasionally has this problem — insomuch as being super famous is a problem — but not in Wolf. You forget it’s the guy from Titanic unable to do anything but crawl.
Or in GIF form:
DiCaprio should be 1-for-4. He’ll soon be 1-for-5.