Every time I sit down to put together a new Sexiest Males Alive list, I ask myself the same question: Should Leonardo DiCaprio even be on here? That of course would seem like a very common question, as the whole point in these rankings is to determine whether one person or the other merit a mention, but with Leo it’s different still. Not so much a question of whether he deserves to be on the list, it’s a question of whether it wold do him, or his competitors, justice to be included. I’m still torn about the October edition.
This entire discussion invites perhaps unhealthy doses of nostalgia, maybe even sentimentality. At age 34, Leonardo DiCaprio may not be quite as sexy as he was in his younger, more playboy-like years, but a) he’s still hotter than most other people on earth (his movies continue to be obligatory viewing, for reasons of general quality and worship), and b) I still feel a sort of loyalty to the younger Leonardo I fell so passionately and confusingly in love with when I was in my early teens. With regard to the SMA list, the question then becomes whether he should be judged on his still considerable hotness, which would make him a contender for the Top 40, or his smashing 1997 looks, whose explosive cocktail of emotional and physical attraction would risk blowing away all competition. Over the last several months, I’ve ended with some halfway formula, but I can’t say I’m sure it has done him justice.
Back when The Fellowship Of The Ring premiered in 2002, I felt a certain with those people who camped outside their local movie theater in order to get their hands on tickets to the premiere. Not because I was particular passionate about Lord Of The Rings, but rather because it reminded me of how I myself looked forward to the February 1998 Norwegian premiere of Titanic with the same quasi-religious fervor. Some of it of course was due to how excellently James Cameron managed to wrap expectation into the whole Titanic mythology (The Biggest and Most Expensive Movie Of All Time etc.), but though I didn’t think about it at the time, Leonardo himself was a big part of my sky-high expectations. It was never something I questioned, but after I saw him in Romeo + Juliet the thought of getting to watch him on screen for three hours became an independent motivation for me to see Titanic. Though I often go with classic beauty, I’m also one who has a tendency to tire quickly on picture-perfect guys. But with Leo, I’ve never ever grown tired of him. I’m not sure about this, but I suspect that my instant physical and emotional attraction to him was one of the main reasons why Titanic had me crying my heart out. Or, just as likely, I was just a softie.
That said, I still try as best as I can to defend both Leo and the movie against unfair criticism. After the initial wave of interest, during which basically every single human being in the world saw it at least once, a predictable backlash materialized. The movie was dismissed as an intolerably sentimental chick flick, with Leo likewise was dismissed as nothing more than a teen heartthrob. Since I liked the movie very much, and to this day continue to think that Leo’s performance is quite good, I went to great lengthts to defend both, even though some people might look down on me for it. I guess one of the reasons why I did that was because I wanted to maintain my special relationship to the movie as a project, no matter what, but I’ll never be ashamed of it.
As the years have passed, and Leo’s list of critically acclaimed movies have grown longer, the need for me to defend him against unfair criticism (those people who instinctively think he’s a mediocre actor because they saw him in Titanic years ago), but I’ve found myself jumping into the fray occasionally if someone claimed that Leo was a fine actor, except, you know, he was in Titanic (rolling their eyes). Then I patiently argue that it could be that their assessment of the movie have been influenced by the broader cultural environment that now seems to have rendered Titanic out of sync with the expectations we have towards movies today. Often, they acknowledge that they liked it just fine when it was released, and Leo was good in it after all, not they haven’t seen it in a while. But I’m not collecting DiCaprio converts for their own good. I’m doing it for me.
Leo’s critical success have had other positive effects, too. One is that it’s no longer anything suspect about wanting to see a DiCaprio movie simply because he’s the headliner. Though not necessarily very successful artistically, movies like Gangs Of New York and The Aviator have gained him a reputation for continually growing as an actor, while at the same time not being afraid to do something he hasn’t done before; he brought something more than just his fabulous body to The Beach (1999), the somewhat idyllic adaption of Alex Garland’s cult novel; he saved Jack Nicholson from making a fool of himself in the otherwise brilliant The Departed; and in Blood Diamond he crammed an impressed range of conflicting emotions into his lead role. Much like Johnny Depp, Leo has often managed to make his characters seem perhaps more interesting than the would otherwise, and same with movies like Marvin’s Room, Catch Me If You Can and The Basketball Diaries. Leo has never really tested my loyalty, simply by looking so consistently hot, and acting so consistently well that I would’ve been foolish to lose interest.