Despite losses at the Golden Globes and Critics' Choice Awards, "Bruce Dern is still in the hunt for the Best Actor Oscar," Charles Bright recently wrote – and I agree with his reasoning. But I'd like to replace Dern's name with Leonardo DiCaprio and make a similar argument. I think he can really come out of nowhere and win his first Oscar for "The Wolf of Wall Street."
Now I am sure many of you think I'm insane. After all, DiCaprio, despite recently winning the Globe, is not nominated for Best Actor at tonight's Screen Actor's Guild Awards. And aren't the SAG's the most reliable indicator of who is going to win? Don't actors comprise the largest branch of the academy? Yes, yes. But I would argue that a SAG win does not always lead to the Oscar podium.
We see recent examples of actors missing out on SAG nominations and then going on to win the Oscar. Last year's Best Supporting Actor champ Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained") won the Globe, missed out a SAG nod, and then snagged the Oscar. And of course, Marcia Gay Harden was on nobody's radar, including SAG, when she came out of nowhere to win the Supporting Actress Oscar for "Pollock." So while it would be a rare occurrence, an Oscar win for DiCaprio would not be unprecedented.
Another factor to consider is that the film's profile has grown significantly in recent weeks. After missing out on early critics' prizes and underperforming at the Golden Globes, "The Wolf of Wall Street" performed admirably in this week's Oscar nominations. Sure, it only received five nominations, but those bids were in the big categories – Best Picture, Actor, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and a surprise nomination in the Supporting Actor race for Jonah Hill. The film also is doing impressive numbers at the box office, quickly approaching $100 million. The film's showing at the Oscars will most likely only increase its visibility and box office. If the Academy wants to reward the film, this is the most likely category in which to do so.
And despite the fact that Dern is the oldest nominee in the category, a win for DiCaprio could also be labeled as a "Veteran's Achievement Award." With his career in its third decade, Oscar voters might welcome the opportunity to reward DiCaprio at long last after defeats for his three previous nominations: supporting actor for "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" (1993) and lead actor for "The Aviator" (2004) and "Blood Diamond" (2006).
Plus, his performance has many of the qualities that academy voters love to vote for: he gives a larger-than-life performance of a real-life person who abuses drugs and alcohol. This, combined with his fine performance in the summer's box office hit "The Great Gatsby," may give Oscar voters the reason to finally give Leo the Oscar. And Leo, as far as I am concerned, passed his Oscar audition with great speeches at both the Critics' Choice Awards and the Golden Globes.
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Now I am under no illusions that DiCaprio is a front runner. Matthew McConaughey is certainly out front, especially after wins at the Golden Globes and the Critics' Choice Awards. Many actors have also fallen victims to the academy's reluctance to award the sexy, handsome Hollywood leading man (the Slap-the-Stud Syndrome). McConaughey could get around that with his daring physical transformation in "Dallas Buyers Club." That aside, DiCaprio has been far more consistent with great performances in Oscar-winning films. Perhaps if there is an upset in one of the most competitive Best Actor races in years, Leo may become the beneficiary.