Author: Bill Coyne

DiCaprio’s Oscar: A reminder of the Academy’s past cruelty

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On Sunday night, after a 22-year wait since his first nomination for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Leonardo DiCaprio was finally awarded the Oscar that so many, rightly, believed that he deserved. There is one problem though: He didn’t give the best performance of the year – that honor goes to Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl. Heck, The Revenant doesn’t even represent DiCaprio’s best personal acting performance.  Last Sunday, the Academy, as it has done many times in its history, gave a make-up Oscar to an actor who had given far better performances, but had lost in bad luck coincidences or got out hyped by another performance.

Leonardo DiCaprio had previously lost to Matthew McConaughey’s body-transforming, tour-de-force performance in Dallas Buyers Club; Forrest Whitaker’s great, but over-hyped and largely forgotten, turn in The Last King of Scotland as Idi Amin; and Jamie Foxx in Ray – which managed to be both great and timely as Ray Charles passed during production of the film.

The 2007 Oscars is where he should have gotten his due. Two things combined to ruin it: Runaway hype for Forrest Whittaker’s performance and Leonardo DiCaprio being nominated for the wrong movie.

Leonardo DiCaprio had two performances hyped prior to the 2007 Oscars: Blood Diamond and The Departed.  His performance in The Departed was better, but Blood Diamond found him trying on an accent and was much more gimmicky. The film generated all sorts of hype about blood diamonds. I specifically remember friends picking out engagement rings around the time of the film and asking where the jewelers sourced their diamonds. The cultural fad surrounding the weaker performance doomed DiCaprio.

My problem with his performance in The Revenant is that it is overwhelmingly physical and a total gimmick in that sense. If you throw tons of stunts and action at an actor it is easier, in my opinion, to craft a realistic performance. When you are given actual things to react to, I feel that doesn’t demand as much acting skill. Ask this question: If it wasn’t Leonardo DiCaprio and was instead an unknown or lesser actor, would this have even been nominated? I lean towards no – and while some would argue that is because DiCaprio is that good, I would respond it is because DiCaprio is that good and the Academy felt it owed him.

When I think of great performances, I typically lean toward occasions where actors or actresses are able to convey an extensive amount of emotion without as many physical things to react to.

F. Murray Abraham’s Oscar-winning turn in Amadeus is a fine example. Most critics concur that where he won the award was in his handling of Old Salieri. Sure, make-up helped him to achieve the performance, but he conveyed every emotion – and nearly all of it came by virtue of his line delivery. He was confined to a wheelchair and barely moved.

Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Chuck Noland in Cast Away is another performance that comes to mind. Hanks was so convincing that he created a living, breathing character that the audience actually cared about out of his inanimate companion, a  volleyball named Wilson. Hanks didn’t manage to take home the award because of the massive hype around Gladiator – much of it deserved – though, in my opinion Hanks bested Crowe in terms of Best Actor. In some ways, Crowe won in much the same way DiCaprio did – pulling off a physically demanding performance with more aplomb than what the audience is accustomed to.

Finally, in what is, to me, one of the great snubs in Oscar history, Bob Hoskins’s turn in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? didn’t even get nominated, which remains beyond me. Hoskins gave the hammiest of noir performances and managed to handle all the madcap antics going on around him with unquestioned seriousness. Even more impressive, Hoskins gave a physically skilled performance, but unlike Crowe and DiCaprio he was reacting to nothing. His costars were mostly animated, so he had to use his acting skill to react to the choices of an actor who hadn’t been drawn in yet, and he pulled it off seamlessly.

I’m happy for DiCaprio. He earned the Oscar he won, he just got it nine years late for a performance that was more about gimmick and physical stunts than it was about acting; and that is a shame, especially for Redmayne who should have won Best Actor back to back years.

Finding My Own Music: Jamiroquai

4811178153_8bc03bbaaa_oGrowing up, my music was mostly my parents’ music. Billy Joel, Rush, and Cat Stevens were dominant forces. My first cassette was Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits (the one with that cool airbrushed blue horse on the cover). My first CD was given to me by my grandmother (before I had a CD player) and was Britney Spears’ debut album. When I asked her why she bought it for me she responded, “Maybe if you listened to the music kids these days listen to, you would have more friends.” Great intentions, Grandma – poorly delivered. Also, that album was terrible.

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Cold Lamb Sandwiches

A week ago my employer sent out an email that would make anyone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder shudder. Our “Diversity and Inclusion” tip of the day was to “Sweat the small stuff.” This, at first read, felt like insanity. If I were to spend my time sweating the small stuff I would blow my entire budget on deodorant. I’m already a compulsive worrier – Photo by torbakhopperI didn’t need to be told to worry more.

But after my initial reaction, it caused me to reflect on how I think about the small stuff. In my experience, it is often the small stuff that I love about those I am in relationships with and miss about those I am separated from (either by distance or by the ending of the relationship).  The inside joke, the strange greeting, or just the timbre the conversation takes on between certain people.

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Vulfpeck – Thrill of the Arts: Or, How Crowdfunding is Changing Music

The record industry ’60s and early ’70s worked much differently than it does today. Bands were judged more for the albums they produced than their singles. Record deals were developmentally focused – there was an expectation that the first album might not be a success, but signing a band was a long term investment. Bands were going into professional studios for the first time and record companies were operating with the understanding that bands had to learn how the studio worked and it might take some time for them to find their ‘sound’. Payoff on investment wasn’t instant.

For example, Rush (a band that I will likely reference ad-nauseam in this blog) signed a four-record deal. Their first three albums were massive flops. By the fourth, however, the band was more confident in who they were and what they were doing. The result was 2112, which is widely considered one of the finest examples of 70s progressive rock. In today’s single-based marketplace the band would have never gotten the chance to make 2112, and even if they had there wasn’t much in the way of marketable tracks on the album.

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