No matter how much or how little of Oscar season 2023 is spared after the actors’ strike, “Killers of the Flower Moon” will be part of it as a near-certain Best Picture nominee, if not the frontrunner to win. But this is no surprise, and not just because it is a Martin Scorsese picture. In fact, it is Leonardo DiCaprio who pretty much ensured that “Killers of the Flower Moon” would be a Best Picture player – because pretty much every movie he’s done in the preferential ballot era has been.
In the 15 years since the Best Picture field expanded, nearly half of them have included a movie with DiCaprio in it – or at least it will once “Killers of the Flower Moon” is nominated. It will then join a collection of DiCaprio Best Picture nominees since 2009 that includes “Inception,” “Django Unchained,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Revenant,” “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood,” and “Don’t Look Up.” In addition, it will break a tie with his “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” co-star Brad Pitt, who still has only six Best Picture nominated movies since 2009.
However, Pitt has worked far more frequently than DiCaprio since 2009 for one reason or another. Since the Best Picture field expanded, DiCaprio has only starred in 10 movies – and only “Shutter Island,” “J. Edgar” and “The Great Gatsby” were not Best Picture nominees. With “Killers of the Flower Moon” poised to be DiCaprio’s fifth straight Best Picture nominated movie and his seventh in his last ten films, it will officially make him the biggest sure thing in the preferential ballot era.
Of course, plenty of critics think several of those movies shouldn’t have been nominated, especially “Don’t Look Up.” Yet no matter what critics and pundits might say or argue about these films, Academy voters have been in lockstep, at least when it comes to nominating them.
It may not entirely be because of DiCaprio’s star power or performances. However, being one of the last major movie stars who is selective about their projects and hasn’t been in a superhero movie yet certainly adds some credibility. It has also helped him get nominated for half of his last six Best Picture nominated films – including a win for “The Revenant” – and has made him an odds-on favorite to be nominated again for “Killers of the Flower Moon.”
Before the preferential ballot era started, being in a Best Picture nominee was much harder when the field had only five slots. Still, DiCaprio managed with Best Picture winners in “Titanic” and “The Departed,” and nominated films like “Gangs of New York” and “The Aviator.” But he also had his share of misses and near-misses like “Catch Me If You Can,” “Revolutionary Road,” and “Blood Diamond” – and his all too obvious failed attempt at Oscar-baiting in “J. Edgar” proved he isn’t entirely foolproof in this era either.
Nonetheless, DiCaprio is as close to being foolproof as anyone these last 15 years, at least in regards to being in Best Picture contenders. Aside from DiCaprio and Pitt, Tom Hanks is the only other A-lister who’s been in six Best Picture nominees since 2009, including “Elvis” just last year. Still, Hanks’ only acting nomination at that time was for “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” despite that film not getting into Best Picture either. And like Pitt, Hanks has been in more than ten movies since 2009.
Pitt still has the one thing DiCaprio hasn’t gotten in this era. While both have an acting Oscar – with Pitt ironically getting his for “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” before DiCaprio lost in Best Actor – only Pitt has a Best Picture winner that he himself produced in “12 Years a Slave” ten years ago. As for DiCaprio, all of his last six nominated films lost Best Picture – with “The Revenant” arguably the only one that came close to winning – and “Killers of the Flower Moon” has a long battle ahead against “Oppenheimer” and “Poor Things,” among others, to snap that losing streak.
Although DiCaprio himself is favored for another Best Actor nomination regardless, the likes of Cillian Murphy and Bradley Cooper are considered bigger favorites to win for now. It’s still not guaranteed he even gets nominated since he’s been snubbed as the lead in a Scorsese Oscar favorite before with “The Departed” – though DiCaprio really snubbed himself out by getting nominated for “Blood Diamond” instead. Even so, just getting a fourth Best Actor nomination in his last five films would be historic enough, despite being 1-for-3 for wins in that span so far.
DiCaprio can clearly afford to take his time choosing his projects and choosing the most high-profile of them. But it may be less about him choosing the best projects and more about having the resources to choose the least risky ones with the highest-profile collaborators.
Among DiCaprio’s last six Best Picture nominated films and “Killers of the Flower Moon,” two of them were made by Scorsese, two more were made by Quentin Tarantino, one was made by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu on the heels of his Best Picture win for “Birdman,” one was from Christopher Nolan right after “The Dark Knight’s” snub helped make an expanded field possible, and Adam McKay made the other after his past two films received Best Picture nominations. And even with films that missed the cut, “Shutter Island” was another Scorsese picture, “The Great Gatsby” came from the unnominated but iconic Baz Luhrmann, and “J. Edgar” was from multiple Oscar winner Clint Eastwood.
It says something that DiCaprio has only worked with big-name directors and/or past winners and nominees in this span and has practically become Scorsese’s muse in the last 20 years. That alone has helped him and his movies get a leg up in a way pretty much no other actors have done as frequently in this era. However, this can also be seen as an asterisk in a different context.
When one only works with the likes of Scorsese, Tarantino, Iñárritu, Nolan, and other highly decorated directors, it makes it much easier to gain accolades and Oscar consideration. When one is a big enough name that they can pick and choose to work with such legends exclusively, it makes it almost too easy. In the last 15 years and pretty much his entire career, DiCaprio hasn’t exactly dared to go out of his comfort zone when it comes to collaborators – as he’s steered away from directors who are women, relative newcomers, and people of color, almost as much as he’s steered away from dating women over 25.
In that context, DiCaprio’s run looks more like a triumph of his extensive connections as much as a triumph of talent and his eye for scripts. As such, even when he goes over the top physically in “The Revenant,” over the top comedically in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Don’t Look Up,” and “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood,” or to increasingly vile places in films like “Killers of the Flower Moon” it isn’t as if he doesn’t have a massive safety net to work with.
Regarding awards season, DiCaprio has the greatest success rate of any actor in this era. But with these movies and directors at his disposal and his somewhat risk-averse approach to choosing directors and projects, it would be more remarkable if he didn’t have that kind of success rate. Yet, considering how so many of his peers have a lot more bombs, puzzling choices, and misguided Oscar-bait films on their resumes since 2009, maybe it really isn’t as easy as he makes it look.
Whatever the method and its standards, it is the oldest story in Hollywood by now. Once more like clockwork, an Oscar season will go forward with DiCaprio headlining one of the biggest films in the running – however, that season might look if or when actors go back to work promoting it. And once more like clockwork, an Oscar season will go forward with DiCaprio either locked into a nomination or in the running whenever he is eligible to make a case for it himself.
While “Killers of the Flower Moon” will be first and foremost talked about for Scorsese, Lily Gladstone’s heartbreaking performance, and Robert De Niro’s return to glory, DiCaprio seems almost invisible and taken for granted by comparison. But since it’s pretty much taken for granted that a film and performance of his will be at the center of Oscar season, as in almost half the Oscar seasons since the preferential ballot era began, perhaps it really is old hat.
Even as Oscar voters go further out of their comfort zones with each passing year, there are some preferences of theirs that don’t die out so easily – and a DiCaprio film in the thick of Best Picture is clearly one of them.
Have you seen “Killers of the Flower Moon” yet? If so, what did you think? Do you think DiCaprio will be nominated for Best Actor? Will the film win Best Picture? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account and check out their latest Oscar predictions here.
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