As our nation stands divided over issues such as gay marriage, social security reform, and the war in Iraq, I would like to discuss a somewhat banal matter by comparison; but one that may be just as polarizing nonetheless. The 77th Academy Awards aired last night and movie-lovers have answered the question of whether they love or hate Best Actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio. To better understand this combustible issue perhaps we should consider a quote from Bill Murray as the character Bob Wiley in the film "What About Bob?": "There are two types of people in this world, those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don't." I ask you dear reader; can the same be said about the forever baby-faced Leo?
Before I go any further with this, I must tell you that I'm aligning myself in the "I love Leo camp" and I give my full endorsement for him to receive the Oscar for his performance in "The Aviator." By the time you are reading this we will all know for sure, but for now I can only hope. So what follows is an unsubstantiated but entirely plausible explanation of why America is firmly divided into the two Leo camps.
Those in the "I hate Leo camp" are primarily former teenyboppers who swooned over him in movies such as "Romeo and Juliet," "Titanic," and in the colorful pages of those awful teenybopper mags. These bratty teens have grown out of the "loitering at the movie theater in a miniskirt at age 14" phase, poor Leo being a victim of this necessary transition into womanhood. As these girls have physically matured in the seven years since "Titanic," the adolescent looking Leo has not, as if he drank from the fountain of youth. Perhaps his apparent eternal youth and boyish figure seem somewhat freakish to his peers with their "smile lines" and "crow's feet" already starting to form. It could be said in short that the women and men who hate him are making a judgment based on looks or a perceived notion that he is unmanly rather than on the merits of his acting ability. Will these former Titanic fans ever come back around and rethrone him "king of the world"?
It's this peculiar, youthful quality in DiCaprio that I would like to think informs his art. Perhaps he is just as capricious as his Howard Hughes character. In order to be a good artist I think you should have a few good eccentricities. I heard a rumor that he won't even watch the films he is in. If that is true, I can only appreciate him that much more.
There is a scene in "The Aviator" in which DiCaprio looks on in horror at his steak dinner after a pea has been plucked from his dinner plate by the grubby paws of Errol Flynn. When I see the disgusted look on his face I imagine that he achieves this ugly mug by picturing what it would be like to have to look at himself on the silver screen. James Lipton should ask Leo about this if he ever appears on Bravo's "Inside the Actor's Studio" program. It's nuance and sublety that make this guy a great actor. It's the exact way he executes Hughes' fear of germs, paranoia, and obsession with cleanliness that make DiCaprio's performance phenomenal.
The fact that Leo has chosen roles that elevate him beyond the "teen dream" status is another reason he is an accomplished actor. Most child actors and teen stars have a hard time being taken seriously in their twenties. Johnny Depp, who was also nominated for a Best Actor Oscar this year has also accomplished the same feat. And he is a great actor as well but his role in "Finding Neverland" is just not as raw as that of Leo's idiosyncratic Hughes.
As for the other nominees, I like Don Cheadle, but it just wasn't his year. If anything he should already have an Oscar for his supporting role in "Boogie Nights." The fact that he has never been nominated for several worthy roles shows how aloof the Academy can be sometimes. Clint Eastwood has been recognized by the Academy for his directing efforts and will no doubt be given more special awards for lifetime achievements in the industry. If he did end up winning last night, I can't say he's undeserving.
I'm sure the performance most of you have seen is Jamie Foxx in "Ray." Most of you also rooted for Jamie Foxx to win as well. The movie and his performance are good, not great mind you. But I'm rooting for him to win the Oscar for his supporting role as a daydreaming cab driver who is called to task by a villainous taxi fare for his complacency in "Collateral."
By comparison to the other contenders, DiCaprio chose a role that shows that with fame and fortune comes much personal pain before true greatness can be achieved. "Ray" has a similar hook to it but unfortunately we have all seen too many films about the perils of being a drug addict, celebrity or not. Not to mention the fact that Foxx's performance as Ray Charles relies more on mimicry and impersonation than it does on soul.
Leo is not at his best delivering "Titanic" lines like "I'm the king of the world," but rather stuttering like a broken record: "Just show me all the blueprints, show me all the blueprints," conveying the personal crisis of Howard Hughes. And to be sure there is no blueprint for his unique and nuanced acting style; which is why that Oscar is hopefully his by now.
Zach Porter is a photographer for the News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 or firstname.lastname@example.org