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Did Leo deserve an Oscar? A nomination-by-nomination analysis


So, let’s get the important stuff out of the way. Leonardo DiCaprio won an Academy Award on Sunday. Yes, that Leonardo DiCaprio. America’s sweetheart. The Internet’s endless source of entertainment and memes. The man who could’ve totally fit on that piece of wood at the end of the Titanic and didn’t for some reason. The guy with this meme.

It seemed like anyone who knew anything about movies was hyped about this win. Leading up to the Oscars, the big question seemed to be, “Do you think Leo will finally win?” It was a question asked with bated breath and a whispered prayer that the hero everyone loved would finally get the Oscar for which he was apparently so long overdue. So, when he finally did win, the Internet exploded.

I wasn’t quite as swept up in the joy of the moment.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I love Leo. Without a doubt, he is one of the finest actors of our generation, and The Revenant definitely proves that. But I have my own case to prove tonight.

We have latched onto Leo simply because he is an attractive and highly visible front-man for the exclusive band that is Hollywood. We have seen him grow up from a goofy young actor to a young adult heartthrob to a talented and versatile older actor and producer.

But Leo only deserved to “finally” win his Academy Award on this fifth nomination for “The Revanant.” Not before. Not after. And he certainly didn’t deserve the reputation of being criminally underappreciated.

Let’s start by breaking down his previous nominations, shall we?

2014: “The Wolf of Wall Street” (lost to Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club”)

Ah, Matthew. 2014 was Matthew McConaughey’s year, with his stellar work in “Mud,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” and “True Detective.” Don’t get me wrong. Leo’s work in “The Wolf of Wall Street” was among his best. The Quaaludes scene in particular is a masterclass in physical acting. But there is something to be said about the pained, often understated performance of a decaying Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” that just can’t be topped.

2007: “Blood Diamond” (lost to Forrest Whittaker in “The Last King of Scotland”)

I’m going to be honest. I have a weird relationship with “Blood Diamond.” Though I found it to be entertaining and really interesting, I don’t really remember Leo’s performance. I certainly remember his performance in “The Departed,” which came out the same year but for which he wasn’t nominated. But, yeah. Forrest Whittaker’s intimidating and frightening performance in “The Last King of Scotland” was something to behold. Between that and a Leo performance that I don’t remember, I, too, would give this award to Forrest.

2005: “The Aviator” (lost to Jamie Foxx in “Ray”)

“The Aviator” was great! Leo was great! But, REALLY? You can’t NOT give it to Jamie Foxx in “Ray.” I mean, look at this.

1994: “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” (lost to Tommy Lee Jones in “The Fugitive”)

This is kind of a weird one. This was a young Leo, and, man, does he have some serious talent. But, of course, he was absolutely bound to lose to Ralph Fiennes for a spectacular performance in “Schindler’s List.” Wait... Yeah. Somehow Tommy Lee Jones won for this for a sort of decent performance in “The Fugitive.” Bizarre. I will give you that, while he didn’t deserve to win, he also didn’t deserve to lose to Tommy Lee Jones.

To recap, Leo is by no means undeserving. But when compared to his competition in those four specific years, it is hard to justify an Academy Award at any other time.

This argument has been made in a similar fashion already, though. FiveThirtyEight actually did a really incredible piece on it that gives some quantitative reasoning for it. So, instead of giving a quantitative argument, I want to delve a little bit into why it was okay that it took this long for Leo to finally win his Oscar and why he didn’t deserve to become the Internet sensation he did.

The most central part of my argument is the fact that there are tons of other people who deserve Oscars and don’t get them in any sort of timely fashion. The fact that Leo became a massive internet sensation does not make him any more or less deserving than any of these other incredible people. There are so many members of the Academy who don’t get nearly enough love, despite being nominated as many or more times than Leo.

Did you know that Peter O’Toole had eight Oscar nominations and never won in his lifetime? Our generation might only know him as the King in “Stardust” or the voice of Anton Ego in “Ratatouille.” But this is the man who nabbed his first Oscar nomination with his groundbreaking performance in “Lawrence of Arabia” and continued to rack up seven more nominations all the way through 2007.

Coming in right behind Mr. O’Toole is Richard Burton, with seven nominations and no wins. Interestingly enough, both O’Toole and Burton were nominated for their work in “Becket,” which was snubbed at the 1965 Oscars and only won one of its twelve nominations. Maybe they just have bad luck.

On top of all of this, the extremely talented and versatile Glenn Close, who is still alive today, has six nominations and no wins. Yes, she may have had her part in the rather mediocre live action “101 Dalmatians” movie as Cruella De Vil, but this is also a lady who was just nominated in 2012 for her fantastic work in Albert Nobbs as the titular butler.

At this point, it should at least be clear that there are other actors who deserve as much praise as Leo gets. But the fact that Leo’s win is not all that mind-blowing becomes even more definitive when you expand your horizons and look at the people who have been nominated in other categories.

Alexandre Desplat, who won the Oscar for Best Original Score last year for his work on “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” was nominated seven times before winning his eighth nomination. Those nominations weren’t for pushover movies either. He was nominated for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The King’s Speech,” and “Argo,” among other critically acclaimed movies.

There are even great examples this year. Ennio Moricone, who won this year for his riveting and foreboding score to “The Hateful Eight,” has been nominated six times and already won an Honorary Academy Award for his contributions to the “art of film music.”

And can we talk about Roger Deakins?!

You may not know who he is. But let me know if you’ve seen any of these movies: “Barton Fink,” “The Secret Garden,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Dead Man Walking,” “Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski,” “The Hurricane,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “The Village,” “Jarhead,” “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (my favorite movie!), “No Country for Old Men,” “Doubt,” “The Reader,” “Revolutionary Road,” “True Grit,” “Skyfall,” and “Sicario.”

You’ve probably seen a few of those. He has been nominated for his cinematography for thirteen of them, including “Sicario” this year. He still has yet to win. If that isn’t a criminal overlooking of talent, I don’t know what is.

And, just to hammer the point home, there is a man by the name of Kevin O’Connell who has been nominated TWENTY times for Sound Mixing and has yet to win. TWENTY. Wow.

So. Yes. Leo deserved an Oscar. But he certainly didn’t deserve it at any other time when compared to his competition. Perhaps more importantly, his situation was no worse than many, many other people (not to mention the many minority members of Hollywood who are passed over year after year for nominations and wins, but that is a deep subject for another article).

It may be easy to pull up a Leo meme and talk about how this “was finally his year!!!” But, as much as I love him, he doesn’t deserve the hype that he has received from the general public.

Even though we like to root for the photogenic, attractive leads of Hollywood, it’s important to recognize the other outstanding work that also isn’t winning Academy Awards. Maybe now that Leo’s win is out of the way, we can finally start to do that.


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