Tag Archives: The Revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio – Ten Best Performances

In honor of Leonardo DiCaprio finally winning Best Actor, here’s a retrospective of some of his best performances. 

10. Titanic (1997) – Jack Dawson

For better or worse, Titanic catapulted DiCaprio from “up and comer” to “Hollywood superstar.”  The film itself has taken its share of criticism over the years, but it remains popular largely due to DiCaprio’s performance.  Jack Dawson isn’t close to the deepest character that DiCaprio would tackle over the years, but his charisma and heroism carry the movie.

9. The Basketball Diaries (1995) – Jim Carroll

After DiCaprio was nominated for an Oscar for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), The Basketball Diaries was the first time he demonstrated that he could carry a movie in a leading role.  His balance of charisma and personal demons here would serve him well in later roles.

8. Revolutionary Road (2008) – Frank Wheeler

DiCaprio plays of lot of larger than life figures, so Revolutionary Road was something a bit different for him.  Frank Wheeler isn’t a great hero from an interesting time in history.  Instead, he’s the stereotypical 1950’s “man in the grey flannel suit.”  The fact that DiCaprio snagged an Oscar nomination for this role is a testament to his versatility.

7. Inception (2010) – Cobb

Inception is a great film with fine performances.  Even so, DiCaprio gives Cobb a deep sense of pathos and connects with the audience.  This is no easy feat, Inception is a high-concept film and could have easily looked silly if its lead role was in the hands of a lesser actor.

6. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) – Jordan Belfort

Jordan Belfort is a scumbag, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it by watching DiCaprio’s performance here.  He’s charming and charismatic.  Even as he sinks deeper and deeper into to depravity, violence, and stupidity, we kind of feel bad for the guy.

5. The Revenant (2015) – Hugh Glass

I wrote before that this was DiCaprio’s fifth or sixth best performance, and I’ve settled on number five.  It is certainly his most physically demanding role, but Glass himself is not a particularly deep character.  He deserves an Oscar here for degree of difficulty, but he’s been better when he’s had more to work with character-wise.

4. The Departed (2006) – Billy

The Departed has the strongest cast of the films that DiCaprio has appeared in.  He is excellent here, but his role is really a co-lead with Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon.  It gets moved down a couple of slots because in some ways, it’s easier to be part of an ensemble than to be asked to carry a movie yourself.

3. Gangs of New York (2002) – Amsterdam Vallon

Gangs of New York is one of the best movies of the 2000’s, and DiCaprio’s performance comes across as particularly powerful and authentic.  This is no small feat, since he’s opposite Daniel Day-Lewis here.  If DiCaprio’s performance wasn’t well-balanced against the great Day-Lewis, the film could have come across as far more melodramatic.  Instead we have a powerful glimpse into a dark corner of American history.

2. Blood Diamond (2006) – Danny Archer

I was debating putting this performance as #1, and it certainly has a lot to recommend it for that spot.  DiCaprio’s character arc is long and filled with pitfalls here.  For instance, he comes across as an authentic mercenary at the beginning, but leaves just enough room for a potential redemption.

1. The Aviator (2004) – Howard Hughes

There’s a reason why playing well-known historical figures often wins Best Actor awards.  How do you say something new and interesting about someone the audience feels like they know so much about?  DiCaprio pulls out all the stops here, and delivers a haunting performance as a man with control over everything except his own advancing mental illness.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe


2016 Oscars – Day After Reactions

Here are my thoughts on last night’s show:


Chris Rock did a fine job the last time he hosted the Oscars, but this time he turned in one of the better performances in recent memory.  After several straight years of disappointing hosts, it was great to see someone really nail it with the studio audience and the next-day critics alike.

Award Upsets

Spotlight winning over The Revenant was an upset, but the good kind of upset.  I can’t think of any way in which Spotlight shouldn’t be considered the better film.  I didn’t think it would happen, but I’m glad that it did.

Congrats to Mark Rylance for winning Best Supporting Actor over sentimental favorite Sly Stallone, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hardy, and Christian Bale.  Rylance is by far the least well known of this quintet, and he didn’t have much buzz coming in.  However, he was fantastic in Bridge of Spies, so this award is well-placed.

The other big upset of the night was in the Visual Effects category.  I didn’t think Star Wars was going to win (although I certainly hoped after it won the Visual Effects Society Award), but I was shocked that Mad Max didn’t take home this award, especially after it was winning every production award in sight.  I guess I’ll have to check out Ex Machina now.

Award Non-Upsets

Otherwise, the awards themselves went as predicted for the most part.  Mad Max swept most of the production awards, Inside Out won best animated feature, Alejandro González Iñárritu won Best Director, Brie Larson won Best Actress, and Leo won Best Actor for the fourth or fifth best performance of his career so far.  Even the writing awards tracked the Writers Guild Awards.

The Future

Here’s what I’m worried about.  I’m worried that Denzel Washington, Will Smith, or Jamie Fox will be in something next year, get nominated, and the Academy will think everything is hunky-dory.  We need to continue the conversation about the representation of our increasingly diverse society in popular entertainment.  One or two nominations next year won’t fix this issue.

Aside from being the right thing to do, when people from different backgrounds and experiences make art, there are a wider variety of stories being told.  This is the only way to move the ball forward creatively.  Otherwise we’re going to be stuck in a kind of repeating time loop of comic book movies and historical “prestige” movies about Europeans forever.

There are only so many superheroes and interesting historical Europeans after all.  Which would you rather see?  The 100th adaptation of the story a British person who helped win World War II,  Superman 17: This Time It’ll be Good Again We Promise, or a film adaptation of a certain Lin-Manuel Miranda musical (written by Miranda himself preferably)?  I, for one, want to learn more about Alexander Hamilton.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe


Oscar Preview Week – Best Picture and Best Director

Now the two final “big categories.”  I’ll have to skim over some of the other categories, like animated short (expect a heart-warming Pixar cartoon to win over one about the consequences of naked war) and visual effects (Mad Max is primed to sweep most of the technical awards).

Best Picture – The Revenant

Let me be clear.  I, personally, do not feel that The Revenant is the best picture of 2015.  Three of the nominees are definitely better films (Spotlight, Room, The Martian) and three others might be better films (Mad Max: Fury Road, Brooklyn, The Big Short).  I am conceding here that it’s a more compelling movie than Bridge of Spies, but that’s about it.

As my generally positive review makes clear, I think the Revenant is a good film with fine acting and beautiful cinematography.  However, in many ways, it’s a pretty conventional western, like a more gruesome version of Davey Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier (1955).

In contrast, Spotlight uses every tool in the film toolbox to tell a powerful and important contemporary story, Room challenges conventions of genre and perspective. The Martian is equally intense and well-acted, but is actually about something other than “man versus nature.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if Spotlight ends up taking the big award, or even Mad Max: Fury Road.  But as of right now, the smart money is on The Revenant.

Best Director – Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant

Best Director should be a three-way race between Iñárritu, George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), and Adam McKay (The Big Short).  If this were an award for technical direction, Miller would win.  If it were an award for telling a complex story in an accessible, even humorous manner, McKay would win.

However, given that the Academy usually lumps Best Director and Best Picture together, there’s a very high bar to exceed here.  I don’t think there’s enough ammunition for McKay or Miller to pull off an upset.  Iñárritu it is.

Have fun watching on Sunday night!

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

Oscar Preview Week: Acting and Writing Category Predictions

Unlike some years, there isn’t a lot to say about the acting categories this year.  The folks that have been winning all the awards this season will likely win on Sunday.  Still, for your office pools it might be helpful to review.

Best Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant

Leo’s been winning everything.  All he needed to do was get mauled, bitten, nearly drowned, stabbed, beaten, buried alive, thrown off a cliff, and forced to eat raw bison liver.  Hope that doesn’t give too much away.

In all honesty, this isn’t the best performance of his career.  It might be the most physically demanding, but it isn’t Blood Diamond (2006), Gangs of New York (2002), or The Departed (2006).  In any other year, I think the drumbeat would be louder for Matt Damon in The Martian (who by the way, hasn’t won an Oscar either).   Eddie Redmayne would have a better chance for The Danish Girl if he hadn’t won last year too.  But this is Leo’s year.

Best Actress – Brie Larson for Room

For a long time I was feeling like there was no way someone could beat Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn, but award season has proven me wrong.  Larson is amazing in Room, a performance that requires a great deal of subtlety in order to succeed.  A lesser performance would have hammed it up or leaned on genre cliches.

I still think that Brooklyn doesn’t get nominated for anything without Ronan.  Time has proven, however, that Best Actress isn’t “Most Valuable Actress,” and I’ve come around to seeing Larson’s performance as the one with a higher degree of difficulty.  Not only will she win, but she should.

Best Supporting Actress – Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl

I haven’t seen The Danish Girl, so I can’t gauge Vikander’s performance myself.  Judging by her award season haul, she’s the clear favorite.

Kate Winslet seems to be her biggest competitor here, but Winslet may be held to a higher bar for Oscars these days because she’s so well established as one of the top performers of the last two decades.  I thought she was typically great in Steve Jobs, but I didn’t think her performance was better or worse than she usually is.  This is Vikander’s award to lose.

Best Supporting Actor – Sylvester Stallone for Creed

Would the Academy give someone an Oscar to atone for past wrongs and out of pure emotion?  Nooooooooooooo.  Why would you think that?  I mean it’s only happened about 100 times.

I loved Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight, especially one particular monologue.  Still, Spotlight is a sea of great performances and it’s hard to say he deserves an Oscar over anyone else on the cast.  Stallone has the award season momentum and appeal to emotion, so I think he wins here.

Best Original Screenplay – Spotlight

Spotlight won the Writer’s Guild Award here, which is a good predictor for the Oscars.  I can’t argue if it wins here.  It’s up against some strong competition, and there might be some pressure to give hardware to Inside Out or Straight Outta Compton for getting snubbed in the Best Picture category.  The screenplay for Spotlight is really amazing, though, you could close your eyes and just hear the dialogue and you’d still get 80% of the effect of the film.

Best Adapted Screenplay – The Big Short

It’s either The Big Short or The Martian, but the Guild award for The Big Short should break the logjam in people’s minds.  It’s a shame, though.  The Big Short is a well directed and acted film, but I didn’t think its writing was better than The Martian.  If The Martian scores an upset here I won’t be disappointed.

Tomorrow: Best Director and Best Picture

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe

Oscar Preview Week – Best Picture Reviews

It’s that time of year again – Oscar Preview Week!  I realize it’s already Thursday, but to make up for it I’m putting three posts in one today.

I’ve already reviewed five of the Best Picture Nominees, but I’ve seen all eight.  Here are the links to my previous reviews:

Bridge of Spies


Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant


All set?  Good.  Here are the other three in alphabetical order:

The Big Short

Directed by Adam McKay, US, 2015

Up in the Air (2009) may be a more visceral “this is how it feels right now” reaction to the 2008 Global Financial Meltdown, but The Big Short is far more cerebral.  It is less of a narrative film and more of a docudrama.  It is complete with humorous asides to help the audience grasp some of the meatier financial concepts required to understand what is in essence a disaster movie.

The crisis is established as an unstoppable force, foreseen by only a handful of investors.  Its worst excesses are made clear to the viewer, from the smug mortgage bros (one of which is New Girl’s Max Greenfield at his most bro-ish), to regulators asleep at the switch, to greedy bankers laughing behind a wall of money and lies.  And like the forces of nature in films like the Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974), and Earthquake (1974), the perpetrators of the disaster are left unpunished.

Who does Director Adam McKay get to help him tell this story?  A parade of Hollywood’s finest actors giving fantastic performances.  Brad Pitt, Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Melissa Leo, and Marisa Tomei lead a fine cast.  McKay remains the real creative star here, however, using the same tools that he used to make comedy classics like Anchorman (2004) to tell one of the most important stories of our time.

You might like The Big Short if: You have an interest in what the hell happened in 2008.

You might not like The Big Short if: You are one of the perpetrators of what the hell happened in 2008.

The Martian

Directed by Ridley Scott, US, 2015

Two of this year’s Best Picture nominees are man versus nature tales.  With all due respect to getting partially eaten by a bear, The Martian is the more impressive victory over the elements.  Say what you want about a frozen forest in North America, the Earth is teeming with life, water, and air.  Mars is hostile to all three.

Mars is named after the Roman god of war.  The ancients named her that due to her red hue, but for astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon at his most Matt Damon-y), it is a fitting name for more personal reasons.  Left for dead by his crew members, every day is a fight for survival against a world that has no use for organisms of any kind, much less human beings.

Fortunately for Watney, he is blessed with some resources, the gift of a brilliant mind, and a great sense of humor.  While he could despair, he instead takes the opposite attitude and finds the whole situation a bit of a joke.  Those who are trying to rescue him, from mission control to his shipmates (led by Jessica Chastain’s Captain Lewis), are less amused, but no less competent.

Overall, The Martian is probably the most uplifting of the eight movies nominated for Best Picture (Brooklyn is a close second).  It’s a triumph of scientific competence and good humor.

You might like The Martian if: You want to see a movie that will restore your faith in science and humanity.

You might not like The Martian if: You saw Gravity (2013) and you never want to see another “marooned in space” movie ever again.


Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Canada/Ireland, 2015

Room presents to us a situation of monstrous horror, humanity at its very worst.  A young girl is kidnapped, raped, and locked in a shed for seven years.  Her tormentor leaves her with a child to care for, and neither is allowed to leave the shed.  The horror and evil isn’t the focal point of our story, however, instead it is the perspective of the little boy, Jack (Jacob Tremblay).

Jack isn’t traumatized by “Room.”  He was born there, and that’s all he’s ever known.  His mother, Joy (Brie Larson) creates a fiction for him that allows him to process his situation in a manner that keeps him not only sane, but happy.  His mother is tormented night and day, but she makes sure that her son is not.

The trailers and promotional materials make it clear that they get away from their tormentor, so I’m not spoiling anything by saying that, I hope.  Indeed, they are only in “Room” for the first twenty minutes or so of the movie.  Once they escape, we continue the story through Jack’s perspective.  We see a well-adjusted, happy child, but we also see that seven years of captivity and torture have driven his mother into insanity.

Brie Larson deserves the awards she’s been getting for her role here.  The perspective of the film is from her happy and creative child, and she does her best to keep him well-adjusted by hiding her growing anxiety, anger, and depression.  We only see glimpses of it through most of the film, so Larson has to be subtle.  It’s a difficult task, but one that’s well executed.

If Room were told from Joy’s perspective, it would be a horror movie.  From Jack’s perspective it’s a coming of age film, albeit a traumatic and difficult one for the audience to process.  As strong as Larson and Tremblay’s performances are, this is the most interesting aspect of the film.

You might like Room if: You are interested in how shifting perspectives can change the nature of a story.

You might not like Room if: You are expecting a more conventional horror movie.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe



The Revenant (Review)

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, US, 2015

The first of our Oscar nominee reviews this month is the early favorite, Iñárritu’s “The Revenant.”  And yes, Leonardo DiCaprio deserves an Oscar for his performance based on degree of difficulty alone.  But let’s get away from this year’s troubling award season to consider the Revenant as a film.

The Revenant is no masterpiece, but it comes awfully close.  Thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography, we are treated to breathtaking visuals of the American West.  DiCaprio delivers a compelling, physically demanding performance.  I can’t recall a single role he’s had which has called for such a physical and emotional transformation.

DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass, based upon the legendary mountain man of the same name, has a rough time.  By rough time, I mean he’s ripped apart by a bear, buried alive, stabbed, strangled, starved, frozen, and wet.  His goal is simple – survive so that he can have his revenge against the man who betrayed him and murdered his son, Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).

The Revenant is gripping, entertaining, intense, and gruesome.  At the same time, it can’t quite figure out what it’s about.  Is it about the callousness of vengeance?  Survival in the wilderness?  The injustices enacted upon Native Americans?  It touches upon all of these themes, but doesn’t stay long enough with any of them to get beneath the surface.

The Revenant is top notch entertainment, propelled by excellent acting, cinematography, and direction.  However, it is also a thematic jack of all trades/master of none.  Also, there’s a bear attack, in case you haven’t heard.

You might like the Revenant if: You enjoy thrillers and you want to see what all the fuss is about.

You might not like the Revenant if: You expect your Oscar favorites to have thematic focus, or you don’t particularly want to see a man ripped apart by a bear.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe