Friday, December 27, 2013

Top 5 Leonardo DiCaprio Performances

Leonardo DiCaprio had that hard thing to do. You know, that thing where you’re the most famous young actor in the world, but want to be taken seriously. That thing where just one wrong role could ruin your career. Thankfully, DiCaprio has consistently made excellent character choices, bringing to life one fearless and commanding man after another. While he’s currently killing it in The Wolf of Wall Street, I thought it’d be fun to look back at some of the best work he’s done yet.

5. The Basketball Diaries (1995)
as Jim Carroll

DiCaprio’s performance as real life poet and helpless drug addicted Jim Carroll is so many things. One of the finest child performances I’ve ever seen, certainly. One of the most gut wrenching depictions of drug addiction ever captured, truly. And, of course, one of the actor’s most fearless roles to date. I’ll always respect the hell out of DiCaprio for bucking convention and playing such a raw character so early in his career.

4. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
as Jordan Belfort

It’s still early. Ask me in a year and DiCaprio’s relentlessly manic portrayal of real life stock broker Jordan Belfort could very well be ranked higher on this list. There isn’t a single moment in Martin Scorsese’s epic that DiCaprio isn’t fully on. A character this unapologetic about his gross excess should in no way be as appealing as DiCaprio allows him to be. But such is DiCaprio’s unique charm. I can’t say I ever really liked Jordan, but goddamn if I wasn’t sitting on the edge of my seat, eager to see what the hell he’d get into next.

3. Django Unchained (2012)
as Calvin Candie

I’m fascinated by reinvention. By an accomplished and well-known actor delivering a performance of sheer revelation. That was Calvin Candie, the charming and sadistic plantation owner who stole every one of his frames in Django Unchained. Who can forget Leonardo DiCaprio sitting at the head of a dinner table, sawing into the skull of a slave? The white entitlement, the abrupt rage, the overall conviction – as written, Calvin Candie is Quentin Tarantino at his most devilish. As played, it is DiCaprio at his most intrepid.

2. The Departed (2006)
as Billy Costigan

DiCaprio’s physical transformation as undercover cop Billy Costigan never gets mentioned enough. When we first meet him, he looks and acts like a little boy: thin, pale, and eager to prove himself. By the film’s end, he’s surpassed manhood and developed into a whithering shell of a man. Consumed by pills, lies, and constant torment, there is no limit to Billy’s anguish, no depth to his rage. I suppose what I appreciate most about this performance is that I really do like Billy, despite the fact that I disagree with many of his decisions. I always hope he’ll manage to wiggle his way out of the shitstorm he’s in, but, sadly, there’s no stopping that elevator’s descent into hell.

1. Revolutionary Road (2008)
as Frank Wheeler


From the moment I first saw Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road, I knew it contained the finest Leonardo DiCaprio performance I had ever seen. And I’m not sure I can fully explain why. It’s difficult to articulate how well DiCaprio understood Frank Wheeler. When I watch this film, I never see Leonardo DiCaprio, the movie star. I see Frank Wheeler, the tortured spirit. The neglectful father, the vengeful husband, the confused man. Kate Winslet is, of course, largely responsible for the strength of DiCaprio’s performance. The two played off one another so convincingly that to view their performances as separate entities simply doesn’t seem appropriate. I’ll be stunned if another DiCaprio performance ever tops this one for me. But I’ll always be looking. Admiring the fearlessness, hoping for a revelation.


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55 comments:

  1. I think my list would look quite different from yours. I'd almost certainly include The Aviator, which I think is criminally underrated. The same for Gangs of New York.

    Seriously, though, I don't know how you did this as a top 5. I wouldn't be able to limit myself to just five of his movies.

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    1. I do them as only 5 because it's more of a challenge than 10. Ten would be too easy for me, 5 makes it kind of fun. I think he's phenomenal in The Aviator, but I've never been keen on his GoNY performance. Still, a great actor, no doubt.

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  2. Hi5! on number 1. And love love love Calvin Candie.

    Can't wait for Wolf of Wall Street!

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    1. Wolf is INSANE. I really hope you like it. He's so great in the role.

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  3. I could go on and on about this man, and still not be able to pin-point down what performance from him it is that I love the most. I'm a huge fan as it is, so maybe that's a bit of a cheat, but I have to say that Blood Diamond is up there for me. However, so is Departed. But also, then there's Django Unchained too! Ugh! So hard to think of, but maybe in a few years, I'll have my mind singled-down. Lovely post, as usual, my friend.

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    1. Thanks Dan! For me, he's definitely the best part of Blood Diamond (along with Djimon Hounsou). I'm not a fan of that movie as a whole, but those two were incredible in that film. Leo is a damn fine actor indeed. Damn fine.

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  4. Great choices Alex, Wolf of Wall Street sure looks interesting.

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    1. Thanks man. It's one hell of an interesting flick.

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  5. I'll agree with Steve about The Aviator, which was in the top spot when I made a similar list earlier this year. I also did a top five, and it was really difficult. #2 and #3 were the same as yours, and I finished with Catch Me If You Can and Gangs of New York. I haven't seen Wolf of Wall Street yet, but I'm hearing very good things.

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    1. Ah I remember your list, it was solid. Truth is, the man is an incredible actor who has far more than 5 great performances. I dig all of your picks as well, you know? A lot to choose from.

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  6. Great post! He never disappoints. I saw The Wolf of Wall Street yesterday and he was amazing.

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    1. Thanks! He definitely never disappoints. Love his work. So glad you liked Wolf.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  7. I love love LOVE the fact RR topped your list. The two main performances and the movie itself are crazy underrated. This is by far my favorite work from DiCaprio - he reminded me so much of young Brando with his unstoppable rage and he was so heartbreaking in quiet moments, like his last scene.

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    1. Makes me so happy to hear that you're such a fan of his work in that film. He's so fucking captivating. You're right: there's Brando there.

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  8. Five tops is definitely tough to do... I could put "Titanic" on my bottom list for DiCaprio without thinking. I'm sure "Wolf" will be in my top and am in total agreement with you on "Revolutionary Road". Wasn't sure I wanted to see that pairing again after "Titanic" but so glad I did....amazingly well done. You really nailed this one, Alex!

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    1. Thanks so much Dawn!!

      Yeah, that'd be my bottom too, he's just not good in that film. But oh well.

      So glad to hear you're a RR fan, that film devastates me.

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  9. As of right now...

    1. The Wolf of Wall Street (easily the most insane performance he's ever done and take its up to 11. A truly disgusting character but he's so fucking cool)
    2. Django Unchained
    3. Inception
    4. William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet
    5. The Departed

    His performance as Jordan Belfort I think is his crowning achievement. Not only because he's so much fun but he's the funniest thing in the entire movie. I really think Leo should do more comedies.

    In fact, I just came up with an idea that sounds absolutely insane.

    The Dirt directed by Martin Scorsese. (you and I would write the script). Starring Leo as Nikki Sixx, Michael Fassbender as Tommy Lee, Ryan Gosling as Vince Neil, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Mick Mars, and Robert de Niro as Ozzy Osbourne.

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    1. Solid list man, great picks. I love that you loved his Wolf performance, I saw it again today and...wow, so incredible.

      So...who should take the first stab at The Dirt? Because that's a fuckin' winner right there.

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    2. You do the dramatic draft. I'll do the funny draft. Then we figure out how to tell the story the right way while not making it too conventional. Any other ideas on the casting for that film like who should play Pam Anderson, Heather Locklear, and other rock stars and such of that time?

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    3. I will pay good money to watch this.

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  10. I haven't seen "The Wolf of Wall Street" yet, so I can't say how I feel about that. I love the rest of your pics, including an inspired choice for #1. My top 5, as of this moment (it may change by tomorrow) would be...

    1. The Departed
    2. Django Unchained
    3. The Aviator
    4. Shutter Island
    5. Revolutionary Road

    (trying to wrap my head around Robert De Niro as Ozzy Osbourne)

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    1. Thanks man, really enjoyed your picks as well. The Aviator was number 6. He really went all in for that film.

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  11. I'll agree with the general sentiment of being difficult to cull it down to 5. I haven't seen lot of his films but still I can easily think of 8-10 amazing performances that will make a formidable list.

    I haven't seen Revolutionary Road in quite a while but I LOVED both Winslet and DiCaprio in that. You've got me wondering if I'll emotionally react to that movie as strongly as I did then.

    Couple of performances that I think I have more affinity for would be Blood Diamond and Catch Me if You Can. Can't wait for Wolf!!

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    1. I love him in Catch Me..., that was actually the first time since is Grape/Diaries days that I thought he had real talent. I'm looking forward to Hearing your Wolf thoughts!

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  12. Excellent list! I'm glad you included Revolutionary Road, I always think of the final scene, where he's watching his children play at the playground, and he's smiling at them, but you can tell how much he is hurting inside. That is just fantastic acting.

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    1. Thanks! That scene is so fucking devastating, isn't it? A truly haunting performance.

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  13. Awesome picks! I really need to see The Basketball Diaries.

    My five at the moment:

    1. The Wolf of Wall Street
    2. The Departed
    3. Shutter Island
    4. Revolutionary Road
    5. Django Unchained

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    1. I LOVE that Wolf tops your list. Like I said, in a year's time it could very well be higher on mine. He's really quite fearless in Diaries. Scary shit.

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  14. Loved your number 1 and 3 choices, but I'm a bit sad to see you haven't got What's Eating Gilbert Grape on there. I think that's his best performance :)

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    1. Agreed. His portrayal of Arnie in What's Eating Gilbert Grape is incredible. That and Basketball Diaries are my favorites.

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    2. Grape was definitely in the Top 10, but it just doesn't trump his other stuff for me. Still, a fantastic performance, no question.

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  15. Dope choices man. Have yet to see Revolutionary Road and definitely looking forward to The Wolf of Wall Street. His favorite performances of mine are definitely What's Eating Gilbert Grape and The Aviator. Great list!

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    1. Thanks! He's completely insane in Wolf. Hope you dig it! Thanks for the comment!

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  16. If I had to pick, I think I'd mention Catch Me If You Can because for some reason, instead of falling in love with Leo in Titanic or Rome + Juliet, I went for him after seeing him being a con artist. And I'm shamed to say, I haven't seen the 5th and the 1st performance.. sorry!

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    1. He's so good in Catch Me. He went through such a convincing transformation in that film. Rev Road is great but a rather tough watch.

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  17. Hmm ... I guess I need to see Revolutionary Road. Glad you included Django Unchained ... that's a must. ;-) One of my all-time favorite DeCaprio performances is still in What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

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    1. Now you've got me interested in Basketball Diaries, too. I have got to stay off your blog. ;-) With all the great movie recommendations it's like being the proverbial kid in the candy shop. And I don't seem to be finding much time for books and movies these days.

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    2. Haha sorry! But I promise they're really good. You'll like Diaries because it is a flawless depiction and youth drug addiction. And Rev Road is good in that sort of painful way. I think you'd appreciate them both. I haven't had as much time for movies lately either. Busy busy'

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    3. I suspect you don't, what with you directing a movie and all. ;-) I am amazed at how you're keeping up with blogging. Kudos!

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    4. Ha thanks. I actually find writing about films relaxing. And I need all the relaxation I can get right now! Happy New Year to you and your family!

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  18. I definitely appreciated DiCaprio's work in Revolutionary Road, but didn't feel like enough a stretch for him personally and compared to some of the other lead male performances in '08 (Penn, Rourke and, for me, Michael J. Smith in Ballast--an unknown who went largely unrecognized and, alas, hasn't done anything since). Calvin Candie just was not for me. Too much caricature; DiCaprio didn't feel "right" for that role.

    I totally agree with your other picks and would also toss Catch Me If You Can and What's Eating Gilbert Grape onto the pile.

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    1. Oh by no means do I think Leo gave the best male lead performance of '08. Rourke will always hold that title for me. And GREAT call with Smith. I loved that film so much. So many excellent, small films get ignored every year. Which is such a shame.

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    2. I'm so glad Tarra Riggs has gone on to more film roles, even if most of them (i.e. The Help) are small. I'd love to see what Lance Hammer does next. Hopefully he doesn't keep us waiting too long.

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    3. Same here. Ballast was such a confident and personal film. I'd love to see more from Hammer.

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  19. Jesus man, just saw Wolf yesterday and oh God, DiCaprio is a beast in that film. I was amazed at how fucking manic he could get, the power behind every little thing, he captured Belfort's highs and lows exceptionally.

    If I was to rank it would be something akin to:
    1) The Aviator
    2) Revolutionary Road
    3) The Wolf of Wall Street
    4) The Departed
    5) Django Unchained

    Mad props to him in Allen's Celebrity, best 10 minutes or so going. He's a riot in that film!

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    1. Love your list! So glad you liked him in Wolf. A fucking beast indeed.

      He's easily the best part of Celebrity. It was actually quite bold for him to play that part at that exact time. I dig it.

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  20. Pretty accurate list, although I'd have to squeeze Gilbert Grape somewhere in there; he was magnificent in that film at such a young age! Also glad to see Revolutionary Road on your list!! I thought his performance was significantly better than Winslet's yet she received all the award recognition :\

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    1. Gilbert Grape was really close to making the cut here. I love his work in that film.

      I thought Winslet's '08 awards push should've been for Rev Road and not The Reader, but the power of the Brothers Weinstein is obviously all encompassing. Ha.

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  21. Sometimes I think he's gotten better with age but then I'm reminded of The Basketball Diaries and This Boy's Life. I haven't seen The Wolf of Wall Street yet so it's reassuring that his performance in it makes your top 5 - it must be something very special.

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    1. Titanic threw it all off. I love him in Grape and Diaries, but his stretch in the late '90s, very early '00s doesn't really work for me. Everything else is more or less gold.

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  22. Wow, I love that Revolutionary Road is your number one! He's so great in that film. His face when the big thing with April happens...wow. It broke my 13 year old heart, and I still haven't recovered. My favourite performance of his is still What's Eating Gilbert Grape, and I can't even begin to think of the rest of the list. The Wolf of Wall Street is definitely one of the best I've seen from him lately.

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    1. Ah, that scene is, yeah... wow. What a great performance there. He's so good in Grape too. Such a skilled performance for a young actor.

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  23. Great list Alex. My most favorite would be The Aviator. And I have not seen the Wolf yet.

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    1. Thanks Nika! The Aviator was really close to making the cut. He's great in that film.

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