After years and years of pushing his body and emotions to the limit in a number of Oscar-bait performances, the great Leonardo DiCaprio won his much overdue Best Actor Oscar for eating a buffalo heart in the frozen tundra in Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s The Revenant. DiCaprio took a much needed break after this, having not made a movie until this year, where he stars in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood. DiCaprio is one of my all-time favorite actors, as he was a staple in the movies that I watched growing up and the movies that formed my cinematic taste. I’ve missed seeing DiCaprio on the big screen and cannot wait to see what Tarantino does for him in this one.
For this list, I am going to break down my favorite DiCaprio performances and movies. However, I am excluding the ones he did with director Martin Scorsese, as they would dominate this list. So there will be no Shutter Island, Aviator, or Wolf of Wall Street here (they would arguably be the top three), though excluding those films and still having a list this strong shows how incredible DiCaprio’s filmography really is. Here are my picks for the best Leonardo DiCaprio movies.
And remember, these movies are based on DiCaprio’s performance and quality of the movie.
5 – ARNIE GRAPE in WHAT’S EATING GILBER GRAPE (Lasse Hallström, 1993)
- This is a performance that gets forgotten in the DiCaprio filmography, but is simply brilliant. DiCaprio is truly remarkable in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. He is so sweet, and funny, and heartbreaking as the mentally handicapped brother of Johnny Depp’s tortured Gilbert. He’s so good, if you did not know it was DiCaprio, you would think they hired an actual handicapped actor for the part. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? is Lasse Hallström’s best film as a director and really highlights all the talented actors in the film. DiCaprio is just perfect and rightly earned his first Oscar nomination.
4 – COBB in INCEPTION (Christopher Nolan, 2010)
- Christopher Nolan’s Inception is one of the great movies of this decade. It is one of Nolan’s biggest and most ambitious films and really established him as one of the premiere auteurs. Through all the visuals, action, and twisting plot, there are a number of excellent performances, most notably DiCaprio as the leader of this group of dream thieves. DiCaprio plays a desperate, almost obsessed man trying to extract information from the mind of a business tycoon’s son. But what DiCaprio does best is take us on the journey. This is an exposition-heavy movie, as Nolan has so many rules and twists in this wild dream world, and DiCaprio delivers the exposition to where we can follow and we believe Cobb is this veteran thief. This is a masterpiece movie and DiCaprio is in the center of it.
3 – FRANK ABAGNALE JR. in CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (Steven Spielberg, 2002)
- In Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can, DiCaprio plays Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenager who forged millions of dollars’ worth of checks while posing as a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and a legal prosecutor all before the age of nineteen. What’s insane is that DiCaprio was almost 30 when he made this film, yet you don’t bat an eye in believing that he is this troubled teen. DiCaprio pulls out the boyish charm and Hollywood charisma to make us believe this kid charmed his way into millions of dollars. DiCaprio also shows us the sadness beneath Abagnale Jr., as he would give up all his money and lavishness just to have his family whole again. This is one of Spielberg’s most underrated movies and subtle, yet powerful performance from DiCaprio.
2 – CALVIN CANDIE in DJANGO UNCHAINED (Quentin Tarantino, 2012)
- In Quentin Tarantino’s Western epic, DiCaprio gives a performance that he had never done before. Always the protagonist in his films, he plays the villain in the film and the worst kind at that. Calvin Candie is a character with no redeemable feature to him. He is a blood thirsty, despicable slave owner who is the definition of evil. For all his evil, DiCaprio makes Candie amazingly compelling and a blast to watch on screen. DiCaprio dives into Candie and never leaves, reaching deep into his soul to portray the most despicable of humans. This performance was criminally overlooked by all award circles and stands as one of the best performance from any Quentin Tarantino movie.
1 – JACK DAWSON in TITANIC (James Cameron, 1997)
- DiCaprio’s performance as Calvin Candie would have landed the top spot if you asked me to make this list six months ago. However, earlier this year I had the pleasure of seeing James Cameron’s Titanic on the big screen for the first time since the 1997 release and it just blew me away. This movie is an astounding achievement and even though I had seen the movie numerous times, it still blew me away seeing it on the big screen. DiCaprio’s performance is one that gets overlooked by the film’s scale and scope, as well as the great performances from Kate Winslet, Gloria Stewart, and wonderfully smarmy Billy Zane, but his performance is one only he can do. James Cameron is a good writer in terms of story but not so much with dialog. If you listen to the dialog that comes out of Jack Dawson’s mouth, it’s kind of hokey, yet DiCaprio makes it sing and makes us fall in love with the street rat artist. This was the movie that made the world fall in love with DiCaprio. Yes, his boyish good looks and charm made teenage girls go wild, but this was a movie-star performance from an up-and-comer and one of the key pieces to Titanic’s success. They don’t make movies like Titanic anymore.
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