Sunday, 19 January 2020

Best Actor 2019: Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Leonardo DiCaprio received his sixth acting Oscar nomination for portraying Rick Dalton in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood follows the misadventures of fading TV star Rick Dalton and his trustworthy sidekick/driver/stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), and his next door neighbor, the growing real life star Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), in Hollywood in 1969.

Leonardo DiCaprio returns to work with Quentin Tarantino, formerly taking on the over the top supporting villainous role in Django Unchained, this time taking on the lead role of Rick Dalton, a former TV western star now reduced to villain guest spots, and a potential career in bad Italian ripoffs. DiCaprio also makes a return, a most welcome return, to what is a comic star turn from him. One of DiCaprio's greatest cinematic talents is his star charisma, something he doesn't always call upon purposefully, but is always very welcome when he does. This is thankfully something he does make use of here in his portrayal of fading star Rick, though Rick is hardly DiCaprio playing himself, given that DiCaprio has never been anything but a star, and ole' Rick was never a star of DiCaprio's ilk either. DiCaprio then makes a great decision to play both into his star presence while fashioning a unique character in Rick Dalton through alterations to that presence. One important facet of his being his accent, which needs a special mention. This is as it is something that is just a brilliant starting point for his performance that he uses so effectively. This in portraying Rick Dalton basically as a Midwesterner, who came to Hollywood. This in that as we see Rick Dalton in official functions, speaking to director to management so on, he speaks with clearer voice closer to DiCaprio's own. A bit of of an accent but a light one. With Cliff Booth, or when he just can't help it, it drops into a much thicker accent of the place wherever he came from, and this just a fantastic touch right from the outset for DiCaprio.

DiCaprio's performance here is realizing the different sides of Rick Dalton. This as we see his attempting to be an unassuming charmer in the opening scene by meeting a potential new agent (Al Pacino), while really just hearing that his career is pretty dead. DiCaprio's terrific in this scene in his gentle thank you and affable demeanor, while hiding such very real concerned glances as the agent speaks of the poor prospects of his career before recommending that he star in Italian movies. This is against the very emotional Rick DiCaprio reveals moments later as he speaks about the meeting to his best friend Cliff, declaring that he is indeed a has been. Of course as much as this is a terrific bit of character realization by DiCaprio, more than anything this is just an extremely entertaining performance by him. This as his portrayal of the emotional Rick in this moment is absolutely hilarious in portraying such complete devastation, as he declares with such raw emotion that "no one likes Spaghetti westerns". DiCaprio is a hoot in a way by making use of the sort of petulant anger, that one might've argued as a weakness with some earlier dramatic turns of his, is made completely winning by using it for the comedic nature of Rick's struggle. This made all the more enjoyable as we see Rick's attitude turn around in a moment at seeing Sharon Tate and husband Roman Polanski drive by. DiCaprio's equally petulant excitement is wonderful in showing just how childish Rick is about the thing as he makes the change funny, but also natural in showing Rick's easy change in mindset.

As I mentioned in my review of Pitt, this is a proper star pairing where the two finding a great chemistry together. This in creating a sense of just assumed friendship between the two in their interactions, along with just terrific dynamic between Pitt as the straight man and DiCaprio as the showy one. Well DiCaprio does not waste his purposefully more overt performance, fitting particularly for the character that is Rick Dalton. This in portraying the over eagerness of the guy that DiCaprio makes almost bi-polar in his  existence as the struggling star. This in creating such palatable desperation, however doing it in a way that isn't harrowing but rather very funny given Rick's prospects and state of being. Pitt provides that stability, and DiCaprio runs away with the almost insanity of the emotional Rick. This that continues as we see Rick go to his next TV guest spot for a pilot where he is set to play the heavy. Although these scenes theoretically could be the slow ones of the film, as they don't advance what seems to be the pseudo plot of the film, for me they are among the film's best, largely because of DiCaprio's portrayal of them. DiCaprio manages to realize with such eloquence the comic gold of Rick facing his none too great future when talking, before shooting, with a young child actor Trudi (Julia Butters). DiCaprio strikes up an amazing chemistry with her in just two scenes as he reacts towards her conversation with all the gravity as he though he would if he were speaking to some virtuoso acting teacher, while also underlining with this certain sweet charm more so towards just a little girl.

DiCaprio is fantastic in the scene though as Rick discusses the book he is reading about a fading rodeo cowboy, whose body is starting to fail him. DiCaprio is incredibly funny as he delivers this plot of the cowboy as this emotional breakdown he is suffering in the moment as Rick speaks of himself. It is marvelous work as he completely does bring to life Rick's plight, he just also makes it extremely humorous all the same. That in itself is but a warm up though, after Rick flubs a few of his lines of hist first scene leading to one of the best scenes in Leonardo DiCaprio's career. This as he portrays Rick's breakdown in his trailer, that was supposedly all ad-libbed by DiCaprio, and it is a masterful bit of comedy from DiCaprio. He's just perfect in the amount of intensity he brings in his anger as he kicks around the trailer in such a fuss, with yells of sheer hilarity at his failures going fully "native" with his accent. The greatest of this being DiCaprio impeccable realization of a stuttering mess he becomes as Rick wallows in his self-pity, that achieves that emotion but is also just so enjoyable to watch him do it as the pathetic lump that is Rick Dalton in the moment. He's not done though as he screams in anguish at his constant drinking, before the impeccable bit of physical comedy as he casually drinks from a flask, before blowing up in a rage all over again. DiCaprio though topping it all with his firm incisive delivery as he gives himself a death stare, and Rick tells himself to not screw up again or lest he kill himself. It's a tour de force comic scene, right up there with his Lemmon related Quaaludes, and one wonders if screwball comedy is perhaps DiCaprio's true calling.

In addition to all this though we also get a lot of fun from DiCaprio in his portrayal of Rick Dalton's various performances. These sometimes are bit brief, but all enjoyable in their brevity. This with the Clint Eastwood squint with an unimpressed delivery as the lead of Bounty Law (where I want to know how things turned out with Michael Madsen the corrupt sheriff), the eager World War 2 eye patched hero with a raving mania as he kills "those Nazi Bastards" when serving some fried sauerkraut, his menacing glare a ruthless man wanted by the F.B.I as one Michael Murtaugh or just some enjoyable wacky dancing for one Hullabaloo. Man.. if DiCaprio wasn't stuck being one of the last legitimate movie stars, he would've made one fine TV guest spotter, alas the road not taken. The crown jewel of these scenes though is as we see his extended work as the villain on the pilot of Lancer. DiCaprio is a delight twice over. This first in portraying the villainous part with such delectable glee. This bringing as much slime and ooze in every single line that he lingers on as if each were one juicy piece of meat he was trying to savor for all they are worth. His eye glances being that of only the purest contemptible fiend, well that is unless he forgets a line and we have DiCaprio do an instant desperate breakdown that is absolutely hilarious. His extreme frustration is just wonderfully puerile once again. This though is fixed, thanks to the aforementioned trailer scene, and DiCaprio comes in an even greater glory. This in his sweaty, "sexy evil Hamlet", physical manner of a depraved prince just loving every bit of evil he can extol on those around him. Rick is loving it, DiCaprio seems to be loving it, and I'm loving it. The capper though being DiCaprio's strict sincerity in his portrayal of a finally positive emotional breakdown. This one that carries that same entertaining vulnerability, though now in heart filled cheer at hearing he's committed the best acting ever, well at least according to a little girl. This is a great performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, as he has the right type of fun with the role, that does wholly realize Rick Dalton as a person, while also just being a wildly entertaining portrayal of a broken vanity. While I do have reservations still with the film overall, the scenes that really hone in on Rick are comic gems, and DiCaprio is the most essential facet of this in a turn that is such a proper combination of his star presence and great comedic ability.

75 comments:

Luke Higham said...

So pleased you gave him the five.

RatedRStar said...

Louis: Sixth acting nomination.

If this was Siskel + Ebert we pick the winners, I actually probably vote for Leo in a close call with Driver, I was so happy when he was announced in the nominations, I love everything about this performance, even his little scenes when he gets anxiety about being told he has to look like a Hippie by the director or his silent scenes on the plane, his rehearsals while drinking alcohol, just love everything about this performance.

RatedRStar said...

I also loved the ending of this film, I mean, did anybody really want to see Sharon Tate get stabbed 28 times? or Leo and Brad get brutally murdered? no we didn't =D. I love the final scene of Leos when it looks like things will finally get better.

Anonymous said...

My favorite performance of his.

Mike Hannigan said...

He is ok, but just ok, as the whole movie. Phoenix and Driver are out of the competition this year.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the Great Escape scene.

Tim said...

My jaw irreversibly dropped during his Lancer-Scenes. I was struggling with myself on this assessment for a while, but after a rewatch (and a rewatch of a lot of his other best Performances, i was sure to call this the, imho, very best Performance of Leo's Career.

What's your ranking of his best Performances, Louis?

Calvin Law said...

I can agree entirely with this, a performance that really sat well on re-watch. I also want to mention his line deliveries at the end about his flamethrower ‘well those hippies ain’t’ are also just comedic gold.

Calvin Law said...

Also, take this with a pinch of salt but apparently QT is thinking of directing some of those episodes of Bounty Law, though as with anything he says I wouldn’t put any faith in it.

Mitchell Murray said...

"You make a promise to yourself that your going to stop f***en drinking" (Absent mindedly takes a sip from his flask, only to throw it out the trailer door in anger)

"Dennis Hopper...move this "f***en POS!"

"Rick F***en Dalton!"

I love this performance. Although Driver gave what was for my money the most moving, dramatically complex performance of the field, DiCaprio gave what was easily the most entertaining leading turn I've seen all year. He's just a true comedic force when given the right project, but crucially, he also finds Dalton as a character instead of merely repeating his Jordan Belfort performance. If he spent the rest of his career delivering these kinds of turns, I wouldn't mind one bit.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

'Can we do something about the heat?'
'It's a flamethrower'

Probably my second favourite performance of his. Even if the film didn't sit all too well for me on rewatch, I just appreciated DiCaprio all the more.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Was he a 5 for you initially, or did a rewatch help him.

Louis Morgan said...

Tim:

This is my second favorite performance of his just barely behind Wolf.

Tahmeed:

He was always a five for me.

Calvin Law said...

This is one of the strongest years for acting in general. Even supporting actor which was the relatively weaker field for me just strengthened up with a few of my recent viewings. Sterling K. Brown is really staying with me, to the point I’m considering re-watching the film even though I found some elements of it a bit nauseating.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your updated top 20 Leonardo DiCaprio acting moments?

Luke Higham said...

My 2nd favourite after WOWS.

Calvin: Supporting Actress could get much stronger as well with the Jojo Rabbit and Parasite re-watches.

Anonymous said...

Luke, your rating predictions for other Leading Actress performances Louis hasn't seen yet.

Calvin Law said...

I’m hoping for a high 4.5 or 5 for Samara Weaving and Taylor Russell.

Calvin Law said...

Also just rewatched Uncut Gems, strengthened all the more but still ‘just’ #6 for me. This has just been a great year for film.

Calvin Law said...

Also I’m thinking Leo might take this over Driver.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous:
Just to name a few:
Aisling Franciosi - 5
Kaitlyn Dever - 4.5
Beanie Feldstein - 4
Jodie Turner-Smith - 4.5/5
Samara Weaving - 5
Alfre Woodard - 4.5/5
Taylor Russell - 5 (Don't know if she's Lead or Supporting)
Lesley Manville - 4.5 (Ordinary Love with a 4/4.5 for Neeson)

And though she's Supporting, a 4.5 or 5 for Julia Fox in Uncut Gems.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: I'm Driver all the way.

Calvin Law said...

Luke: Same but Louis seems very passionate about this performance.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: I can definitely see that, but I'm just glad this year in all 4 have exceeded my expectations.

Bryan L. said...

Louis: If Tarantino has made this film in the 2000s, do you think Brad Pitt himself could’ve been a good fit for Rick?

Calvin Law said...

Bryan: Funnily enough I think Tom Cruise would be my pick.

Bryan L. said...

Calvin: That could’ve been interesting. I just thought of Pitt because he’s already from the Midwest and his best performance was in a Western lol

Mitchell Murray said...

Bryan: And in an even more interesting parallel, both Pitt and the real Jesse James grew up in Missouri..

Honestly, though, I could see Pitt in the role, but I still feel DiCaprio would be the best choice since he does manic comedy extremely well (which is perfect for the emotional Dalton), where Pitt is best with goofy comedy, so to speak.

Mitchell Murray said...

Also to Calvin's comment, I certainly wouldn't mind seeing another win for DiCaprio, even though I preferred Driver's work slightly.

Calvin Law said...

Louis: thoughts on this 2010s cast for Clue directed by Rian Johnson?

Wadsworth: Benedict Wong
Ms Scarlet: Emily Blunt
Col. Mustard: Nick Offerman
Mrs White: (no clue)
Prof Plum: Jimmi Simpson
Mrs Peacock: Toni Collette
Mr Green: Bob Odenkirk
Yvette: Samara Weaving

Bryan L. said...

Calvin: I'd actually cast Jimmi Simpson as Mr. Green, and for Mrs. White, I think it could be a good comedic showcase for Marion Cotillard. Wong is an inspired choice for Wadsworth.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your SAG predictions for tonight?

Calvin Law said...

Bryan: great choices.

Heading to bed now, hope to wake up to upsets. Namely, Driver > Phoenix.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

I think I gave my thoughts on it before. Although I will say I read somewhere the idea that Tarantino should've called back to that scene by having the ending be one more clip of Rick Dalton now in Nicholson's part in the ending of Chinatown. I think that would've been a great touch.

Anonymous:

DiCaprio:

1. Lemmon Quaaludes 714 - The Wolf of Wall Street
2. Trailer breakdown - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
3. Selling the penny stocks - The Wolf of Wall Street
4. Showing his men how to make a sale - The Wolf of Wall Street
5. The Yacht - The Wolf of Wall Street
6. Flubbing lines - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
7. I.P.O - The Wolf of Wall Street
8. Billy's first visit to the Psychiatrist - The Departed
9. Best acting ever - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
10. Finding his son - The Revenant
11. Billy confronts Colin - The Departed
12. Dinner at Candie's - Django Unchained
13. Arnie finds his mother - What's Eating Gilbert Grape
14. Learning about his dad - Catch Me If You Can
15. Leaving the meeting - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
16. Never leaving - The Wolf of Wall Street
17. Last meeting with his dad - Catch Me If You Can
18. Eating the cake - What's Eating Gilbert Grape
19. A lot of chop - The Wolf of Wall Street
20. First call to Carl - Catch Me If You Can

Bryan:

Potentially, though Cruise seems the ideal choice.

Calvin:

Some fine choices, Tilda Swinton for a lazy, but will definitely get the job done choice for Mrs. White.

Anonymous:

Here are my extremely safe predictions in the hopes that I am wrong in most places:

Ensemble: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Actor: Joaquin Phoenix - Joker
Actress: Renee Zellweger - Judy
Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Supporting Actress: Laura Dern - Marriage Story

Avengers won stunt ensemble already, which definitely was the most deserving choice out of that lineup.

Bryan L. said...

Louis: Do you think Dicaprio himself could've been a good fit for Virgil Hilts? If he used his full star power in the role of course.

Louis Morgan said...

Bryan:

Yes, though I'll also add DiCaprio, unlike Pitt, I've found never has a problem employing his star charisma, he just so often in the past chose roles that would not utilize it.

Louis Morgan said...

Expected win #1 Laura Dern.

Louis Morgan said...

Also got a chance to see Weathering With You, which is good, but definitely not great like Your Name. Actually is kind of a "B-Side" film given the closely related thematic ideas, but just isn't nearly as well plotted. I do like the characters, their interactions, many of the sequences, and the animation again (though I also preferred Your Name on that front as well). It doesn't develop its themes characters or their interactions as well. Your Name is legitimately great though, this is just good. Best animated film of the year though.

Louis Morgan said...

Expected win #2 Brad Pitt.

Louis Morgan said...

I'll give it to Pitt, he does know how to make a speech.

Anonymous said...

Sigh, seeing the Parasite cast present at the SAG makes me think about those oscar snubs for its cast

Mitchell Murray said...

I'll just say right now...I'd be totally fine with Brad Pitt winning. I think he's really entertaining in his film, I think its his best nominated work, and I think its the kind of turn he's been asked to give all these years, yet has never been quite as comfortable with it as he is in OUATIH. Do I prefer the work of Pacino, Pesci and even Hopkins...yes, yes I do, but as far as the quality of Pitt's performance goes, it would make for a credible nominee in a lot of other years, and also just different kind of supporting actor winner than what we've been getting.

Dern, on the other hand....I don't....I'm not....I....ur....I just don't see it. I like Dern - I think most everybody here does - but are they really going to give her the oscar for "Marraige Story" when she's already better in "Little Women", let alone her recent television work and her previous nominated turn. Why couldn't they give it to someone new and deserving like say...I don't know...Florence Pugh? Heck, from what I hear Johansson seems to be a favourite among you guys, and she'd probably have a better chance in supporting than lead this year.

But yah, long story short I'd be cool seeing Pitt win and merely indifferent seeing Dern win.

Emi Grant said...

Mitchell: I know Dern's win might be a done deal right now, but I desperately want Scarlett Johansson to upset her if they're not even going to bother with her performance in Marriage Story.

Emi Grant said...

Also, does anyone see a Parasite ensemble win as a potential statement for Best Picture? Don't think it'll happen, but it will make the current race even more interesting.

Mitchell Murray said...

Emi: Coming from someone who is still feels the film has merit, as long as "Joker" doesn't win best picture I don't care what does.

BRAZINTERMA said...

Louis and everyone who is reading my comment
Tomorrow the list of nominees will be announced for the 40th Golden Raspberry or Razzie Awards, what are your bets?

PS: all nominations for CATS!

Anonymous said...

As long as Rebel Wilson and James Corden get nominated in every possible category, I'll be fine with whatever safe choices the Razzies come with.

Louis Morgan said...

Only less than half paying attention to the TV winners, but Peter Dinklage? Really?

Emi Grant:

Hopefully it wins to make the race interesting, also it would be extremely deserving win there, but I think if anything else loses, the BP probably is over in favor of 1917.

BRAZINTERMA:

Just want to see Cats and lots of it.

Matt Mustin said...

I saw Uncut Gems, which I LOVED. I found it brilliantly stylistic and exhilarating with a tour de force lead performance.

Sandler-5
Garnett-3
Menzel-3
Stanfield-3.5
Fox-3.5/4(not sure)
Bogosian-4(I was thinking a 3.5, but he does so much within the margins)
Richards-3.5
Hirsch-3

Bryan L. said...

Matt: Nice. I actually bumped Bogosian up on rewatch because of what he does in his silent moments. It’s a pretty good ensemble.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I guess I’m in the minority of loving Menzel and finding Julia Fox to be entirely underwhelming.

Louis Morgan said...

Expected win #3 Joaquin Phoenix

Bryan L. said...

Nice speech by Joaquin.

Louis Morgan said...

Expected win #4 Renee Zellweger.

Louis Morgan said...

I'd say the acting wins are all sewn up as Zellweger was the most vulnerable, and if she couldn't lose here (where she's won twice already) I don't see her losing. Even if BAFTA shifts at all, which doubtful, we'll have to look to the TECHS, screenplays and maybe Picture for the surprises.

Louis Morgan said...

PARASITE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Louis Morgan said...

Okay we have a picture race, and it's between my #1 and #2 of the year, couldn't be happier with that situation.

Mitchell Murray said...

Oh, boy......well again, why is there this desire for Zellweger to win another oscar? Where is this coming from? Is it because she's been out of the spotlight for some time? Is it because her first win hasn't aged all that well, perhaps? Is it because of the expectations of the film and role? I don't get it. Its a good performance, don't get me wrong - she does a pretty credible job in the part - but we've just seen these kinds of overly calculated, safely handled biopics time and time again. There's nothing in "Judy" that asks her to create something THAT astonishing or memorable, so I don't understand where the love for her performance is being felt.

As for Phoenix...(sigh)...man, this is hard to say. I love the guy's work, and YES, that translates to "Joker" as well. That performance really worked for me in the approach that was offered for the character; That's both in the disturbing nature of the Arthur's violence, and in the psychological profile Phoenix grants to him. For me, he was consistently effective and striking even when the movie fell short of being such....nevertheless, I just can't embrace him winning as much as I'd want, with the competition he has. If he was going against either DiCaprio or Driver that would be one thing, but he's going against both, and I simply admired both those performances more than his.

Mitchell Murray said...

So I guess out of our expected winners, I'd be most happy for Pitt and most disappointed for Dern.

Anonymous said...

The Parasite win was the only (remotely) exiting thing about that snoozefest of an Awards show. Happy for the cast and well deserved!!

Emi Grant said...

Let's go, Parasite!!!!

Calvin Law said...

Happy for none of the expected winners. Overjoyed for Parasite. So that balances out!

Calvin Law said...

Okay I watched the Joaquin speech and I have to say he is being quite the class act.

Matt Mustin said...

Calvin: Not often what you associate with Joaquin, but I agree.

Calvin Law said...

And Pitt’s speech was great too, especially that quip on QT, I wish he’d remembered to acknowledge Mike Moh but I suppose it’s easy to forget things in the spur of the moment (beyond a nitpick really).

Anonymous said...

Ehh, love Phoenix as an actor but as a person he's insufferable. Just IMO

Anonymous said...

At this point in time i think a very probable outcome will be that the Oscars will split director/picture between Mendes and Parasite.

Matt Mustin said...

Anonymous: I still think 1917 is gonna take picture.

Luke Higham said...

Finally, a best picture race that we can actually enjoy.

I predict 1917 and Parasite for Best Film and Foreign Film at the Baftas.

And with the acting categories, I've stopped caring to be honest.

Calvin Law said...

At least we know there'll be a couple of good speeches regarding those acting categories. I will admit I'd still find it hilarious if they gave it to Pesci and he didn't turn up.

Matt Mustin said...

Calvin: I feel like a big part of the reason they won't give it to Pesci is because they *know* he doesn't care.

Bryan L. said...

Prediction: Joaquin Phoenix is going to dedicate his Oscar to River in his speech. And I’d be glad with that.

Matt Mustin said...

Bryan L: That would be wonderful.

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