‘The Revenant’ first Oscar screenings: Raves for Leonardo DiCaprio and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

The Revenant Leonardo DiCaprio Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu Oscar 13579086

The Revenant” screened for the first time on Sunday and Monday at the academy theater in Beverly Hills and the initial wave of reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who wrote, directed and produced last year’s big Oscar winner “Birdman,” has followed up with this epic film in which Leonardo DiCaprio portrays real-life 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass, a fur trapper mauled by a bear and left for dead by the rest of his hunting party who then treks 200 miles to exact his revenge.

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Among those packed ino the 1012-seat theater for two nights running were Oscar voters and members of the 1200-strong SAG nominating committee (their Gotham brethren will get a chance to see the film over Thanksgiving weekend). On both nights, Inarritu and DiCaprio took part in post-screening Q&As, winning over the crowd with their candor.

The film runs 156 minutes and there are long stretches with no dialogue. DiCaprio referenced this, acknowledging that he delivers “almost a silent movie performance.” That worked for Jean Dujardin in “The Artist” four years ago as he won the Best Actor Oscar on his first bid. DiCaprio is 0 for five at the Academy Awards, having lost four acting races and one for producing Best Picture nominee “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Our experts, who cover the Oscar beat year-round for major media, say that this could be his year as he just passed “Steve Jobs” star Michael Fassbender on our Best Actor chart

Inarritu spoke candidly of the prolonged rehearsal and nine-month shooting schedule, describing it as “almost like an impossible task.” He spent weeks with his cast mapping out the camera moves before going on location in the Alberta tundra. Record cold temperatures played havoc with the production, with cameras often freezing. Then an early thaw meant shifting to Argentina for the final scenes. As he readily admitted, “I never knew how difficult it would be. There were times when I thought, ‘What the hell am I doing here? I’m a tropical man from Mexico City.’”

His decision to shoot only in natural light made the production even more complicated as winter days this far north are only a few hours long. He credits his long-time lenser Emmanuel Lubezki with overcoming these difficulties.

The cinematographer, known as Chivo, won his second consecutive Oscar last year for his work on “Birdman,” having prevailed the previous year for “Gravity,” a film by Inarritu’s pal Alfonso Cuaron. Our current odds predict that Lubezki will win for a record third year running. 

While reviews are embargoed till noon PT on December 4, a slew of those attending took to Twitter to voice their opinions. 

Helmer Mark Romanek (“Never Let Me Go”): “It’s great.”

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Writer/director Carlton Cuse (“Lost”): “An amazing piece of filmmaking. Leo should finally win his Oscar, and Chivo will three-peat.”

Producer Cassian Elwes (“Dallas Buyers Club): 

The revenant was so brutal I feel like I need to lie down. Beautiful camera work almost makes it worth it.”

“It’s not a film you can enjoy. You can marvel at its magnificent scope and beautiful intimacy but you are surviving 2.5 hours of brutality”

Actor Bernie Hiller (“Raising Helen”): “Leonardo DiCaprio will win the Academy Award for his next film “Revenant.” Saw it tonight.”

Documentary producer Gregg L. Daniels (“Independent Lens”): “Just attended the first public screening of The Revenant. Incredible! Oscar nominations for everyone a certainty!”

And Jeff Wells (Hollywood-Elsewhere) wrote in a series of tweets: 

“The Revenant” is an experience I’ve never had before…totally it’s own beast. This is not a movie for sissies.  A friend often hid her eyes.”

Beautiful, brutal, immersive, steeped in icy brutality, mad delirium, artful oppression…an ordeal of blood, agony, survival, snow, wounds.

Great cinema can feel hard, difficult, awesome, almost too much.  But it always sticks with you.  I’m presuming “The Revenant” will do this.

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