As far as I can see, Leonardo DiCaprio won the actor for Best Actor for approximately two reasons.
1. The Revenant was so very hard to make, and poor Leo endured great hardship at the hand of hard-driving Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (the director behind Birdman’s undeserved Best Picture Win in 2015) who worked his cast until poor Leo’s soggy goatee grew little grimy spittle-and-blood icicles and threatened to snap off from exposure. And they made a deliberately big deal about this, Leo himself happily dropping little comments about his ordeal: “I was sleeping in animal carcasses,” he said in an interview with Yahoo. It’s admirable to acknowledge people who go to great lengths to make honest movies. But is that really what happened here? Or was this a calculated decision on DiCaprio’s part to get his apparently long overdue Oscar? (I’m also not really buying that Leo has starred in a bunch of popular movies as a series of mostly one-dimensional male leads qualifies him for the most prestigious award for an actor in the film industry, but I digress). As Devin Faraci writes on the blog Birth. Movies. Death., “…the constant harping on how hard it was to make The Revenant has really overshadowed the movie that is The Revenant. Is there even a movie here, or is the film just the byproduct of a particularly masochistic film crew spending some time in the woods?” Sure, it was really hard, but did you play an artful, emotionally convincing role? Certainly not more than, say, the great Bryan Cranston in Trumbo. I wasn’t convinced.
2. Leo’s been waiting a long time, and it’s finally “his turn” to win the Oscar. Are we serious about this? Why do we lend legitimacy to some elite set of white, middle-aged status quo blockbuster Hollywood actors by just letting them wait in line to be awarded the Oscar they’re “due,” after appearing in a series of lackluster, but highly financial successful films? Leonardo DiCaprio’s most common role, in films like The Wolf of Wall St., Inception, and Shutter Island, is just as a loose variant of himself. The actor brings about as much depth to these roles as Keanu Reeves in 1994’s Speed, only he gets away with it because of his dashing good looks and an unhealthy dose of absurd gimmickry. Is he a pretty good actor? Yeah. Is he deserving of Best Actor inevitability? Nah. (Especially when compared to actors like Al Pacino, who genuinely deserved the Best Actor nod in roles like The Godfather, but was snubbed in favor of the inferior but more striking Marlon Brando, who, by the way, had the stones to meaningfully advocate for a cause by sending Sacheem Littlefeather to deliver a speech on Native American treatment by the federal government, instead of just floating around some platitudinous nonsense about The Revenant and how it’s our job to protect the natural world. Thanks a bunch, Leo; now we all know you, a famous actor, cares about the natural world. Did you want a cookie? We already gave you a little gold statue, for some reason.
This sort of award-hunting inevitability culture, I put to you, is one of the causes of Hollywood’s seemingly total dearth of ability to create seriously artful and meaningful films. When we reward actors and filmmakers who create movies not to make a profound impact, or to advance a new artistic aesthetic, but who are instead in the pursuit of the recognition of the moneyed and glamorous Hollywood ruling class, what suffers is literature’s most prominent medium in the 21st century: film. And Leonardio DiCaprio and the Oscar-inevitability class are a big part of the problem.