Leonardo DiCaprio’s Top Performances

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Di Caprio’s dramatic breakout at age 19 earned him his first Oscar nomination and hinted at his future as one of the best actors in the business. Starring opposite Johnny Depp and Juliette Lewis, DiCaprio earned raves for his turn as Arnie Grape, a young boy with a development disability that results in emotional outbursts and unusual habits, like an obsession with climbing the town’s water tower. Restraint and control are DiCaprio’s biggest strengths here; he never plays up his character’s ticks in ways that feel forced or non-genuine. The commitment to the role and to Arnie’s combative and highly sensitive personality is revelatory for a young actor, and DiCaprio finds a lovable innocence in the boy that speaks directly to every viewer’s experiences as lost and imaginative teens. Arnie may find trouble in communicating with the outside world, but in DiCaprio we see every troubled and elated emotion under his skin.
Leonardo Di Caprio has arguably never delivered a bad performance. He’s been in some bad movies — and even then, that’s debatable — but he’s never the bad seed. Reason being, it’s not really in his blood.
Looking back, the only shoddy credit to his name is his debut on Romper Room at the age of five, which saw him removed from the children’s television series for being too disruptive. Since then, he’s climbed higher and higher.
As his former Growing Pains co-star Alan Thicke once told People: “We had the sense then that nothing was ever going to stop him. He just lit up the place.” And we all know Alan Thicke tells nothing but the truth. In this particular case, Mr. Seaver was right on the money. At only 41 years old, DiCaprio is a leading member of Hollywood’s $20 million club, commanding a top salary alongside the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, and Sandra Bullock.
It’s deserved. In only a few decades, he’s already been won 34 awards from 137 nominations, which include two Golden Globe wins and five snubs by the Academy Awards. Don’t send him your tears, though, he could care less…
“I don’t think I ever expected anything like an Oscar ever, to tell you the truth. That is not my motivation when I do these roles. I really am motivated by being able to work with great people and create a body of work that I can look back and be proud of.”
It was the movie that made DiCaprio an international star. James Cameron’s big-budget love story onboard the doomed R.M.S. Titanic showed that the actor could carry a major feature with his charisma (and heartthrob persona).
The Beach
Until it goes off the rails in its final act, Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Alex Garland’s thriller about a small colony of folks who’ve settled a remote Southeast Asian island is a moving portrait of generational angst. These Western travelers and backpacking ex-pats are searching for utopia in a highly technologized world, and DiCaprio’s charming cockiness comes in handy as his adventurous tourist goes from looking for connections to desperately trying to survive. This highly anticipated film, which was the first project DiCaprio signed on to following his Titanic superstardom, didn’t win much love back when it was first released. It’s worth another look.

Catch Me If You Can
Arguably the performance that successfully transitioned him from teen heartthrob to acclaimed dramatic lead, Catch Me If You Can made fantastic use of DiCaprio’s well cultivated sense of manic energy to make legendary con man Frank Abagnale a tragically charismatic figure. A far cry from the unapologetic villainy of Jordan Belfort, Frank is just a guy trying to survive — so much of his showmanship stemming from his desire to make his father happy. Still fresh-faced at 28, DiCaprio’s ability to juggle so many dramatic modes and hold his own alongside acting stalwarts like Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken showed he was capable of being taken just as seriously as the big boys.

Shutter Island
Di Caprio’s work with Martin Scorsese has always centered around obsession, and this noirish mystery is their most haunted film yet — as well as the most vulnerable the actor has ever been. He plays an investigator looking into the disappearance of a cryptic inmate at a creepy island insane asylum. As he delves further into the case, however, his own psyche starts being called into question. So DiCaprio not only has to carry the narrative, but he also has to tear down his character as the film proceeds. To keep us watching while fostering such uncertainty is the mark of a truly great actor.

The Departed
DiCaprio’s third time working with Martin Scorsese led to Scorsese’s finally getting an Oscar for best director. DiCaprio gives a solid performance playing an undercover cop. It’s certainly not his best among the collaborations with Scorsese, but it’s certainly not the worst, either.

The Aviator
His Oscar-nominated performance as legendary tycoon Howard Hughes is one that should have won him the Oscar. Playing Hughes from his heights as a Hollywood director and airline innovator to recluse was a feat that few could pull off. He does it exceptionally.

Christopher Nolan’s trippy mind-heist movie showcases DiCaprio’s talents at an all-time high. Seen at times as a slick-dressed crook while at other moments a broken-down father desperate to get back to his family, it’s a performance that doesn’t get enough credit. Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi heist thriller has DiCaprio entering people’s dreams and stealing their thoughts — only this time, for that proverbial one last job, he and his team are hired to implant an idea inside someone’s mind instead of boosting the usual cerebral data. How did a film with a plot so byzantine, and a set-up so offbeat, ever become such a massive hit? Credit Nolan’s dexterity with dialogue and interlocking setpieces, but let’s not also forget DiCaprio’s remarkable, underrated performance as a brilliant, tormented thief trying – and failing – to keep his own demons at bay. This is one of the saddest blockbusters you’ll ever see, and a lot of that is due to to its star, who brings a humanity to what could have easily been a generic brooding hero type.