At a recent Screen Actors Guild interview I did with Leonardo DiCaprio, the audience cheered long and hard for his swaggering tour de force in Martin Scorsese's admittedly divisive The Wolf of Wall Street. In this true story of Jordan Belfort, a douchey New York broker with the toxic talent to sell you nightmares disguised as dreams, DiCaprio, 39, won some of the best reviews of his career. With Oscar nominations a week away, the big question is: Can DiCaprio make the cut? Right now five actors are considered locks:
Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave
In this true story of Solomon Northup, a black man living free in New York in 1841 until he winds up as human chattel in the Deep South, the British Ejiofor, 36, provides proof that acting is an art. His eyes, deep with pools of confusion, pain and barely repressed rage, give a performance that ranks him high in every awards race.
Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club
McConaughey's Ron Woodroof is a rabid gay-basher who fights against AIDS after contracting the virus himself. Here, the 44-year-old McConaughey hits a career peak. What he does is transformative, going way beyond losing 40 pounds to play the ravaged Ron. His explosive, unerring portrayal defines what makes an actor great, blazing commitment to a character with the range to make every nuance felt.
Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips
Hanks – 57 and at the top of his everyman game – plays Richard Phillips, the captain of a commercial ship boarded by Somali pirates who held him for ransom. He starts by playing Phillips with deceptive simplicity and reaches true levels of artistry when the captain succumbs to post-traumatic stress. This is acting of the highest order in a movie that raises the bar on what a true-life action thriller can do.
Bruce Dern for Nebraska
Dern, 77, is understated (and unforgettable) as bleary-eyed old man Woody Grant, whose broken dreams are half-mended when he thinks he's won a million bucks in a phony magazine scam. In a career that saw him specialize in instability and menace, the veteran actor finds the bruised heart in Woody – and his finest two hours onsceeen.
Robert Redford for All Is Lost
Sailing a yacht that's about to go under, Redford, also 77, is alone on screen for two hours – no flashbacks, no backstory – and still holds us in his grip. And yet Redford, who can play intelligence, wit and nuance to a camera like nobody's business, delivers a master class in acting.
If you're a DiCaprio booster for a Wolf performance I called "the wildest damn thing he's ever put onscreen," you have your work cut out for you. So which of the five favorites would you kick to the curb to make room for Leo?