As O’Neil keeps saying, it’s unlikely that everything will go as scripted on Oscar night. There’s bound to be at least one big surprise. Maybe Best Actor will be it. But after reading his analysis, I have to admit that I’m just not convinced. Below, the top five flaws that I see in his case for DiCaprio.
1. O'Neil assumes that support for frontrunner McConaughey is less than solid
When upsets in the major categories occur, it’s typically because support for the perceived frontrunner is soft. (Think Lauren Bacall in “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” Kate Hudson in “Almost Famous,” Julie Christie in “Away from Her” and Tommy Lee Jones in “Lincoln”)
In this case, we do have someone (McConaughey) who appears to have a comfortable lead. Is there any reason to think otherwise? He’s won both the Golden Globe and SAG Awards, which almost always equals Oscar. He plays a real person who also has a disease. He is physically transformed onscreen. He gives a flashy performance in a Best Picture nominee that reaped bids in key categories like Original Screenplay and Film Editing. He gets bonus points for his work in “Mud” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” not to mention his current visibility in HBO’s “True Detective.”
Where does McConaughey go wrong?
Is it because of his history doing silly romantic comedies? Is it because it’s his first nomination? The career turnaround might actually add to his appeal, and plenty of people have won on their first Oscar bid. (Look at Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side” four years ago.)
Plus, the anti-McConaughey vote is not automatically going to DiCaprio. This is an extremely competitive category, with both Bruce Dern in “Nebraska” and BAFTA champ Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave” bound to get a fair share of the vote. It’s hard to see DiCaprio suddenly getting past all four other contenders.
2. DiCaprio’s lack of a SAG nomination is too important to overlook
O’Neil himself admitted that he moved Robert Redford in “All Is Lost” out of his number one position after Redford was overlooked by SAG. Sasha Stone at Awards Daily has pointed out that the only male to take the Globe and SAG lead trophies and then lose the Oscar was Russell Crowe in 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind.” As we all know, that was a result of his bad boy behavior more than anything else.
Bottom line: McConaughey’s SAG victory and DiCaprio’s SAG omission give us a pretty good hint at the Oscar outcome.
3. The campaigning is unlikely to alter the race significantly
O’Neil says that in his opinion, “Leo has run a much smoother and more aggressive campaign.” Let’s say that’s true. But is DiCaprio really going to steal that many votes away from McConaughey?
In a close, close race the campaigning might make a difference. Or in a race with a relative unknown, a la Marion Cotillard in 2007’s “La Vie en Rose.” (She was quite visible on the LA circuit in the weeks before that year’s Academy Awards.)
In this case, voters know both actors and have seen their films. And it’s not like McConaughey has been invisible. His ultimate campaign strategy? Victory speeches at both the Globe and SAG ceremonies. (No amount of baby-kissing can top that.)
4. DiCaprio’s “overdue status” is not a major factor
Is the actor overdue for Oscar recognition?
He should have won for his astonishing portrayal of a mentally disabled teen in 1993’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” And he should have at least been nominated for his standout turns in “Titanic,” “Revolutionary Road” and “Django Unchained,” among others.
However, there’s a long list of actors and actresses who are overdue, and the academy has become less inclined to give out trophies just because it’s someone’s “turn to win.” Also, the perception that DiCaprio is still relatively young and will receive the Oscar “eventually” may be accurate. Notice how O’Neil constantly refers to the 39-year-old actor as “Leo,” suggesting that he’s still a boy. If academy members think of DiCaprio the same way, then “Leo” may be out of luck again this year.
5. DiCaprio’s stardom does not earn him Oscar votes
O’Neil claims that the actor is “arguably the biggest movie star in the world giving the biggest performance of his career in the most talked-about film of the year.” Let’s assume that all of this is true. Does stardom really matter?
If big stars always win, then how did both George Clooney in “The Descendants” and Brad Pitt in “Moneyball” lose to unknown Jean Dujardin in “The Artist” two years ago? Why don’t Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and Hugh Jackman have Oscars?
If it’s due to O’Neil’s famous “slap the stud theory,” then why would DiCaprio suddenly win this year? And while “Wolf” may be one of MANY of the year’s most talked-about films, it’s also one of the most polarizing. There’s no chance that it will pull off a surprise Best Picture sweep and carry the actor in with it. Stardom aside, DiCaprio may regrettably be left twenty feet from Oscar on Hollywood’s upcoming big night.
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