Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
2016 was Leonardo DiCaprio's year. He spent more time on yachts than he did on land, he danced incognito at every festival, he saved some environments. Oh yeah, and he finally won that Oscar.
No words can truly convey the amount of anticipation and, ultimately, relief and joy that DiCaprio—nay, the entire world—felt when Julianne Moore stood atop the stage of the Dolby Theatre and finally announced his name. It had been an incredibly, incredibly long time coming. Most Leo fans believe that his unrequited fight for an Academy Award came in 1997, when he was snubbed for the Best Actor nod despite the movie receiving 13 nominations in other categories—and the fact that he froze to death while clinging to a door frame that most definitely could have accommodated two people.
And sure, he probably should have gotten at least something for Titanic. Acknowledging DiCaprio's fellow actors as well as everything from the sound effects to set decoration to "My Heart Will Go On" and not DiCaprio is a slap in the face. But we're going to present an entirely different argument: That his path to Best Actor actually started 10 years ago today, when he starred in The Departed.
The movie was by far the most serious of any in his portfolio to date, and it set his place as the venerable Martin Scorsese's chief collaborator. To get permission to use the term of endearment "Marty" is to know that your life path has just taken a complete 180...in the direction of award season gold.
Before he took on the part of undercover organized crime cop Billy Costigan, Leo's star level was still quite impressive. He'd received an Oscar nom (for supporting actor) for What's Eating Gilbert Grape. He cemented his hunk status with what, to this day, is still the most amazing adaptation of Romeo + Juliet. He'd taken on his first two Scorsese flicks, Gangs of New York and The Aviator. He had already proven that he was an incredibly serious actor, worthy of heavy topics and carrying box office success.
But The Departed was different.
Courtesy Warner Brothers
For starters, it was arguably the most star-studded cast of any of Leo's big films to date. Suddenly, DiCaprio was finding himself onscreen next to Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin. It was a Boston-based crime drama, which everyone knows is the secret to career milestones and reinventions. Want to prove that you are Oscar-worthy? do a Southie accent. Just see The Town and Ben Affleck's pre- and post- career for proof.
And finally, it ever-so-slightly altered the course of his IMDb profile. It was the last of his ensemble roles and the kicking off point for top billing for Leo—expert Leo-watchers will take note that non-highly moral (and non-Oscar-worthy) flicks were no longer a part of his life. Immediately after The Departed, he starred in Blood Diamond, playing a Zimbabwean smuggler in a movie that ensured this writer will never wear a jewel that isn't 100% conflict-free. See above for insights about foreign accents, natch.
He followed that up with turns in Scorsese's Shutter Island, Christopher Nolan's Inception and he reunited with his Titanic costar and Oscar darling Kate Winsleton Revolutionary Road. If that's not a one-lane road to Award City we don't know what is. He took up the time-honored Academy-pleasing tradition of completely altering one's physical appearance, to play J. Edgar Hoover. He commented on the atrocities of the slave trade in Django Unchained, the loneliness of wealth in The Great Gatsby, and the detrimental greed of the stock trading business in The Wolf of Wall Street. And then of course there was The Revenant, about which we need make no argument.
It was around the time of The Departed that he started his Oscar campaign off screen, too. In 2007 he wrote, narrated and produced his environmental documentary The 11th Hour, and since then has been widely agreed upon as one of the world's top climate change activists. DiCaprio has helped with UN negotiations, appeared at DAVOS summits and led a march through the streets of Manhattan with 400,000 of his closest friends. Oscar nominations may be earned on the screen, but it's the winners who put in extra time proving that they're likable. And boy has Leo been doubling down on proving that he's likable.
His number one suitor? The Internet. In between all that serious acting and campaigning for climate change, he's been goofing off to the sheer delight of everyone on the World Wide Web, spurring dozens of GIFs and memes. A few personal faves include Strutting Leo, Dancing Leo and that time he did "I'm flying, Jack" with Jonah Hill. We'll probably never know if it's all on purpose or not, but we don't know how a person could dance like this at Coachella or run like this with a super soaker in hand without wanting to go viral.
Taken as a whole, the post-departed period in his life feels like one decade-long dress rehearsal for his 2016 Oscars campaign. It taught him how to select roles, how to pair up with the best of the best, and how to really hit a home run at a late night talk show appearance. Now that he finally has that gold statue, let's hope he hit the reset button to kick off another ten years just like the previous.