I would still so love to see George Clooney win the Best Actor Oscar for “The Descendants,” one of the year’s best films. His performance is witty, touching and as always understated – and I could almost see his chances trickling away with every prosthetic added to Leonardo DiCaprio’s face in “J. Edgar.” Here’s what it comes down to: Clooney is great in a lovely, touching, relatively small family drama. DiCaprio is good and nearly unrecognizable in a big, bad film. Hmmm.
As said in my review, DiCaprio is quite convincing as J. Edgar Hoover, but he never transcends the film’s limitations. The screenplay gives him no real character to play, just a series of gestures. But a huge stunt-acting part – he ages, he gets fat, he has the obligatory-for-Oscars crying scene – and don’t they always beat subtlety? Colin Firth wins for stuttering in “The King’s Speech,” not for being touchingly buttoned down in “A Single Man.”
Clooney has a crying scene in “The Descendants” too. He and director Alexander Payne are not awards-intolerant or stupid about the whole thing. And J. Edgar did arrive with a big Rotten Tomatoes splat of mostly negative reviews along with a some raves. But Clint Eastwood and DiCaprio can get Oscar nominations just for showing up, with one unfair exception. DiCaprio didn’t get nominated for “The Departed.” Why? My best guess: too subtle.