Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Leonardo DiCaprio – Movies Spotlight – November 2011

Leonardo DiCaprio, 37, is still probably best known for his role opposite Kate Winslet in James Cameron’s Titanic. However, in recent years he has become one of the best leading men in Hollywood. This month he stars in the Clint Eastwood directed biopic J. Edgar about J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI.

Early Career:

DiCaprio began his career making appearances in commercials and educational films before getting his first break picking up a role in the soup Santa Barbara and a series regular role in Parenthood (the short-lived series based on the Ron Howard movie) in 1990. He continued to get TV work with roles on Roseanne and Growing Pains, and he got his first film role in 1991 on the sci-fi comedy Critters 3 and then another in Poison Ivy. His work on Parenthood garnered him a nomination for Best Young Actor from the Young Artist Awards. However, it was not until Robert De Niro chose him out of four hundred young actors to co-star with him that he had his real breakthrough. The film was 1993’s This Boy’s Life.

Breakthrough as a Child-Actor:

After This Boy’s Life, DiCaprio followed it up with another fantastic performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, co-starring and even upstaging Johnny Depp as Depp’s mentally handicapped brother. Director Lasse Hallstrom was reluctant to cast him at first, as he felt DiCaprio was too good-looking for the role, but found that he was the best among the auditions by far. He earned his first Oscar nomination for the performance. Next, he worked with Sam Raimi on the campy western The Quick and the Dead playing the cocky son of the town’s big man. DiCaprio’s performance is fun, the film does feature a few great actors (like Gene Hackman and Russell Crowe) and is entertaining in spots, but it does not hold up too well as a whole. He also made his next critical hit in 1995 with The Basketball Diaries, a biopic about Jim Carroll.

Titanic – Becoming the Biggest Star in the World:

DiCaprio had established himself as a good young actor, one that critics knew and praised, but he was not yet a star or box office draw. That changed in 1996 when he was cast opposite Claire Danes (who was the bigger of the two, star wise, at the time thanks to My So-Called Life) in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Luhrmann updated the style and look of Shakespeare’s play to feel more modern and hip and cast Danes and DiCaprio in an effort to appeal to younger film goers, and it worked. Even today, the film is one of the most iconic romances of its generation. Next, he took a role in Marvin’s Room playing opposite Robert De Niro again, as well as Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton, truly testing his skills as an actor.  The film is okay, but DiCaprio came out of it being called an equal to the wonderful actors sharing the screen. Now having both critical praise and commercial appeal, he was ready to become a huge star. The film that did it for him was his next – Titanic. Before Avatar topped it, Titanic was the highest grossing film of all-time, and it won eleven Oscars including Best Picture. It made DiCaprio one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and also one of the main heartthrobs from teenage girls. However, the film also had some backlash for him, as it was too big and a little too sappy. Critics and some audience members seemed to dislike him purely due to his association with the film and line ‘I’m the king of the world’, which was on repeat in pop-culture after the film (and to some extent still is). He may never be quite as popular as he was around the time of that movie. Now, as a big star, studios started to place him in bigger films. First up was United Artists’ The Man in the Iron Mask, directed and written by Randal Wallace, coming off his big hit Braveheart (which he wrote). The movie was a failure critically but made money commercially. He then made Celebrity with Woody Allen, which is one of Allen’s lesser films, appearing in a self-mocking cameo. And then Fox put him in The Beach, the second of their two film experiment with director Danny Boyle that yielded two disappointments for them critically (though I am a fan of both The Beach and A Life Less Ordinary). However, the film was a success at the box office thanks to DiCaprio’s fame (and the same goes for The Man in the Iron Mask). Both films garnered him Razzie nominations (not because he is bad in them, but due to the Titanic backlash).

Collaborations with Martin Scorsese:

DiCaprio has had one of his most fruitful actor-director relationships with Martin Scorsese. They have made four films together, beginning with Gangs of New York in 2002. Scorsese initially had trouble getting a studio interested in the film, but when DiCaprio became interested in starring, coming off three box office hits in a row, Miramax jumped in to finance the project. However, the filming was plagued with creative disputes between Scorsese and the producers as well as multiple budget overflows. It is the most expense film Scorsese has made. Despite the issues, the film received critical acclaim (for the most part, though I would argue it is one of his lesser films) and ten Oscar nods including Best Picture. While DiCaprio is good in it, giving his first grown-up performance (so to speak), he is overshadowed by Daniel Day-Lewis’s magnificent performance. Their next picture together came in 2004 with The Aviator, a biopic about Howard Hughes. DiCaprio originally developed the project with Michael Mann, but he decided to leave the director’s chair and only produce as he had just made two biopics (Ali and The Insider) and did not want to take on a third just then. DiCaprio decided to pitch the script to Scorsese after having a good working relationship with him on Gangs of New York. He spent over a year preparing for the role, which was his most difficult to date (and probably still is). The film was a financial and critical success and DiCaprio received his second Oscar nomination. In 2006 the two worked together again on The Departed, a remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. The film was highly anticipated and became the biggest hit critically and commercially among their films together. It won Best Picture and Scorsese a Best Director Oscar at the 2007 Academy Awards. They again reunited in 2009 to make Sutter Island (which was delayed until 2010). The film is much different than most of the work either had done previously, being a psychological thriller, but it yielded both DiCaprio and Scorsese their biggest box office opening weekend of their careers to date. The pair is currently working on a few upcoming rumored projects together.

Working with the Best Directors in Hollywood:

In addition to Martin Scorsese, DiCaprio has worked with many of the best directors in Hollywood since 2002 starting with Steven Spielberg on Catch Me If You Can. DiCaprio’s performance as Frank Abagnale Jr., a very skilled forger and con-man, seemed to make him cool again with many viewers put off by Titanic. And likewise, the film was a great international success (and one of Spielberg’s better films of the decade, second to Munich). He made Blood Diamond with Edward Zwick about the Sierra Leone Civil War in 2006. He played a South African and donned an Afrikaner’s accent. He received his third Oscar nomination for the film. In 2008 he made two films, first he worked with Ridley Scott on Body of Lies, a CIA spy Middle East thriller. DiCaprio liked the film because he viewed it as a throwback to the political films of the 1970s (things like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor). Then he reunited with Kate Winslet in Sam Mendes’s (her husband at the time) Revolutionary Road about a failing marriage in the 1950s. Both DiCaprio and Winslet had been reluctant to work on romances in the wake of Titanic, but had remained good friends. Thus, when Winslet came with the project to DiCaprio he agreed and production started quickly. Both are fantastic in the film (and it is one of the most underrated films of the year and possibly decade). In 2010 he starred in Christopher Nolan’s action thriller Inception, yet another critical and commercial success. These films have not only made DiCaprio one of the top leading men from a talent perspective, but also one of the biggest stars in Hollywood currently.

Future Projects:

DiCaprio has two films upcoming in 2012, both scheduled for a release on Christmas Day. First he is reuniting with his Romeo + Juliet director Baz Luhrmann for an adaptation of The Great Gatsby. It co-stars Carey Mulligan as Daisy and Tobey Maguire (who he worked with on This Boy’s Life) as Nick. Then, he takes on his first role as a villain in Quentin Tarantino’s southern western Django Unchained. It is about a slave turned bounty hunter who sets out to rescue his wife from a vicious plantation owner (played by DiCaprio). It stars Jamie Foxx and co-stars Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, and Kerry Washington (among others). DiCaprio is also rumored to be attached to Todd Fields’s new film Creed of Violence about two men in 1910 who try to stop an organized arms smuggling ring.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Career Highlights:

1)      What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) – supporting (DVD, Streaming)
2)      The Basketball Diaries (1995) – leading (Blu-ray, DVD)
3)      Romeo + Juliet (1996) – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
4)      Titanic (1997) – leading (DVD)
5)      Gangs of New York (2002) – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
6)      Catch Me If You Can (2002)* – leading (DVD)
7)      The Aviator (2004) – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
8)      The Departed (2006)* – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
9)      Blood Diamond (2006) – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
10)   Body of Lies (2008)* – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
11)   Revolutionary Road (2008)* – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
12)   Shutter Island (2010) – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
13)   Inception (2010)* – leading (Blu-ray, DVD)
*Editor’s picks

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