I don't know if you heard, but Leonardo DiCaprio won his first Oscar at Sunday's awards.
The Oscars this year were overshadowed by the controversy over an all-white slate of acting nominees, but the one thing seemingly everybody thought to mention, even if they were talking about how they wouldn't watch the awards this year, was how it was Leo's time.
The weird thing about this is that Leo was very young to have this narrative spring up around him. A woman in her 40s will be the beneficiary of this narrative sometimes (as we're seeing with Amy Adams, who will probably win in the next few years, if she ever does), but men who get the "overdue" narrative around them tend to be in their 60s or even 70s. Look at, for instance, Paul Newman (just 62 when he won) in 1987. Even Al Pacino was 52 when he finally won. Leo was but 41. (The gap between his first nomination and first win -- 22 years -- actually bests Pacino's -- 19 years -- but pales compared to Newman's -- 28 years.)
Leo ended up being the beneficiary of, I think, three separate things happening.
Martin Scorsese finally won: Scorsese sort of stepped into the "can you believe this guy doesn't have an Oscar yet?!" for men after Pacino won in 1993 (we'll get to a big reason for this in a second). It's unusual for a director to fill this role, but Scorsese's level of critical acclaim has always been unusual. Critically, Scorsese was a big part of DiCaprio's march toward Oscar perennial, turning around his image from pretty boy to pretty boy who could act. (Those paying attention already knew, but working with Scorsese certainly helped.) It certainly didn't hurt that Scorsese won for a movie starring DiCaprio, for which DiCaprio very well might have won best actor, if he had been nominated for it, instead of Blood Diamond.
Kate Winslet finally won: Her winless streak on the actress side of the equation took up headlines for a while -- and she certainly has ties to DiCaprio, as I hope you're aware.
Tom Cruise took himself out of the running: The thing about Newman's big win was that he was a reliable box office star who also could turn in really great performances. For a time, that fit Cruise as well (though I think he was better at choosing scripts than he was as a legitimate actor). When Cruise nuked his image in the summer of 2005, though, he essentially tore down his status as the heir apparent to Newman's title. That vacuum being open left things open for Leo.
The important thing I hope you'll take from this is that it is murderously difficult to predict whom the narrative will coalesce around. I probably wouldn't have predicted it would be DiCaprio, but here we are. So here are some different film professionals who could be come the new "overdue" actor.
Amy Adams: This makes the most sense,as she has five very recent nominations and is much loved within the film community. She's also starting to take television roles, which suggests that her film career is slowly slipping away, a victim of Hollywood sexism. Working against her? She is nowhere near the star DiCaprio is.
Johnny Depp: Euuughhh. I think he's probably winning one, one of these days. But the certainty people felt about him doing so back in the 2000s (when he got nominated for a very bland performance in Finding Neverland) has mostly disappeared beneath shtick. Still, he's made a lot of people a lot of money.
Brad Pitt: This is mitigated somewhat by the fact that Brad Pitt has an Oscar. Nobody knows he does, because it's for producing 12 Years a Slave. So he probably shouldn't count, but if we're looking for a popular narrative to start to build, Pitt makes the most sense.
Will Smith: Smith has been nominated twice and was in the conversation on at least two other occasions (this year for Concussion, 2007 for I Am Legend). He's made everybody a lot of money, which helps.grease the wheels for a "career" win. The main thing standing in his way is that he's not terribly good at choosing scripts when he decides he wants to make a quality film. But an auteur deciding to craft a film around him would probably solve that.
David Fincher: Again, unlikely it's a director, but it's happened before. Fincher has come close twice with Benjamin Button and Social Network (much closer on the second occasion), and he's arguably the Scorsese of his generation, in his love of hyper-masculine studies of cornered men. He also flits neatly between genres, while maintaining his tone, crucial for people to start building him up.
Matt Damon: Damon also has an Oscar (for writing), but he's enough of Leo's contemporary that I expect there to be a little buzz around him. I think we'll wait for him to win for a while, though.
Glenn Close: The odds of there being a sudden series of, "Hey, why doesn't Glenn Close have an Oscar?" pieces seem small to me, but she has been nominated six times. With the right (probably supporting) role, she could probably win.
Harrison Ford/Eddie Murphy/Sylvester Stallone: Ranked in rough order of likelihood (and I thought about throwing Schwarzenegger in here too). The latter two had their supporting actor shot and lost, largely because of bridges burned (fairly or unfairly) back in the day. Ford just hasn't had the role. He was offered the Michael Douglas part in Traffic and almost certainly would have won if he had taken it. Alas.
Robert Downey Jr.: I mean maybe?
Roger Deakins/Thomas Newman: Both of these esteemed craftsmen (Deakins a cinematographer and Newman a composer) have 13 nominations and no wins. That's horrible. But it seems unlikely the media will suddenly anoint them, because, well, who cares about behind the scenes people but film geeks, right?
Tom Cruise: You laugh, but it's going to happen. We're not there yet, but we will be.
If I'm putting money on it, Smith has the right combination of elements, but you can't really predict these things. So who knows!
Maybe you do! Reply and tell me who I missed.
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