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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Five Best: Leonardo DiCaprio

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="147" caption="Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, courtesy of"][/caption]

With the release of Shutter Island on DVD today, June 8th, let's take a trip back through the films of Leonardo DiCaprio and look at his five best films, listed in chronological order.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="208" caption="Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" courtesy of"][/caption]

What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993)

In Leo's first Oscar-nominated role, he plays Arnie, a mentally handicapped child living in rural Iowa. DiCaprio's performance is quite moving and, at times, very funny. Johnny Depp is  Gilbert, his older brother, who is shouldered with the responsibility of taking care of Arnie and his morbidly obese mother. The film may focus on Depp throughout, but the star of the show is DiCaprio. Few films depicting the mentally handicapped are handled with as much care as Gilbert Grape, and DiCaprio draws you in with his performance. He never shows qualms about the way he is, but is, in essence, a normal kid who just wants to enjoy life. Thankfully, Gilbert makes it his point to keep his family together, including his very free willed, energetic younger brother.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="211" caption="Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in 'Romeo + Juliet" courtesy of"][/caption]

Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Call me crazy, but between Baz Luhrman's re-interpretation of Shakespeare and Cameron's blockbuster on a boat, I'll take R+J any day of the week. It's a tad over the top and ridiculous, given the use of "Old World" language in the modern day, but DiCaprio, Claire Danes, and the rest of the cast play it so well. Luhrman takes clever approaches to the story (i.e. pistols being branded as "daggers" and "swords") and creates an enjoyable romp through an English classic that keeps your attention and makes you really wish these kids could just make it work! My freshman year in high school, my friends and I did our best to make our version of a "mafia" Romeo and Juliet. It didn't quite have the production value, but I'd like to think our hearts were in the right place. Besides, it was fun playing Mercutio and dying on camera.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="213" caption="Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Gangs of New York" courtesy of"][/caption]

Gangs of New York (2002)

During the early 21st century, Martin Scorcese began begging for Oscars with this "period piece" and his follow-up biopic of Howard Hughes, also starring DiCaprio, The Aviator. DiCaprio's better performance was probably in The Aviator, but Gangs was the better film, if only because of Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day- Lewis). Give Leo some credit though - few can hold their own against Lewis on screen (look at There Will Be Blood, where Paul Dano does a decent job, but is truly eaten alive by Day-Lewis' on screen power). But, with the direction of Scorcese, the film becomes an extremely dark look at early America and the ganglords that ran it. The movie can be a little hit and miss - Cameron Diaz's performance is far from "riveting." But the film is still a moving look at revenge, heartlessness, and the "kill or be killed" mentality of early New York.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

In what may be DiCaprio's most fun film to date, he plays Frank Abagnale, Jr., real-life con man and fraud. Directed by Stephen Spielberg and also starring Tom Hanks, Catch Me If You Can is a funny, intriguing romp through the young life of Abagnale, while being racked by Agent Carl Hanratty (Hanks) of the FBI. DiCaprio plays so well off of Hanks and his father in the film, Christopher Walken, that his wholehearted, carefree attitude is wonderfully refreshing. DiCaprio masters the art of tongue-in-cheek buffoonery in this film, but on a level so much more sophisticated than slapstick comedies or the Judd Apatow productions of today. He's really just a kid who wants to make his father proud, even if that means pretending to be everyone else under the sun.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="211" caption="Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson in "The Departed" courtesy of"][/caption]

The Departed (2006)

Scorcese returned to form in '06 with this remake of  the 2002 Hong Kong thriller Internal Affairs. Starring DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, and many, many more, it had every star at their best, creating a gritty crime drama set in Boston. DiCaprio bulked up a bit for the role and certainly plays an undercover with good realism. Scorcese won his first Oscar for the film and has his cast to thank, specifically Damon and DiCaprio, whose characters are the central plot-movers. Either way, The Departed was proof that the Scorcese-DiCaprio pairing is a dynamic duo that is a force to be reckoned with. Leonardo DiCaprio's career is still very young - this summer's Christopher Nolan thriller Inception will be yet another addition to his long list of gripping films.

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