This brilliant young actor's career had an auspicious beginning when he was kicked off the set of his first job! Yes, at the tender young age of 5, Leonardo DiCaprio was kicked off the set of Romper Room for being disruptive. However he rebounded nicely with several early TV roles on a series based on the film, Parenthood, drama Santa Barbara and sitcom Growing Pains.
Even at a young age DiCaprio displayed a tremendous acting range in his early films with early roles as a troubled teen addicted to Heroin, an autistic child and a rebellious teenager with an abusive father. He has continued his impressive acting career and is one of the best US actors under 40 years old. At 37, Leo DiCaprio has already been nominated for 3 Academy Awards and likely will be nominated for many more Awards in the future.
In addition to critical acclaim, Leo DiCaprio has also been a success at the box office with several blockbusters, including two films on the all time Top 50 US Box Office films; Titanic and Inception. Leonardo DiCaprio has starred in a variety of genres including action, drama, suspense and horror genres. He has worked with many great Directors, but DiCaprio has worked most often with Martin Scorcese who has cast him as a lead actor in four of his films. That Scorsese has come back to Leo DiCaprio for four films is a testament to his ability as an actor.
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10. Basketball Diaries (1995)
A Cautionary Tale about Teen Drug Abuse
Two years after his amazing role in Gilbert Grape, Leonardo DiCaprio shocked us with another outstanding performance in The Basketball Diaries. Adapted from the book by the same name, the film chronicles the downward spiral of Jim Carroll (Leo DiCaprio), a prep school basketball star who begins to follows a dark path of destruction through rebellion and drug abuse.
A combination of factors including sexual abuse by their prep school Coach, a friend dying of Leukemia, and teenage angst contribute to Carroll's progressive drug use as he follows a dark tunnel down into the abyss -- from high school basketball star to heroin addict and male prostitute. This is not a feel good movie but it is an amazing story and a compelling Leo DiCaprio role that clearly demonstrated his wide range as a young actor.
Much like the 1980s film, Clean and Sober, starring Michael Keaton this is a cautionary tale about the drug abuse and the ease at which problems can escalate for young people caught up with drugs and alcohol.
The film was the first feature film for Director Scott Kalvert but an outstanding Directorial debut. The cast includes Lorraine Bracco (of Soprano's fame) as Jim's mother and Bruno Kirby and Mark Wahlberg as two of Carroll's close friends. It is a gripping and compelling movie and one of my favorite early films featuring Leonardo DiCaprio
Check out this signed Leo DiCaprio photo during the filming of Basketball Diaries.
9. What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
A Poignant Coming of Age Story in Rural America
What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a critically acclaimed coming of age film set in a small fictional town, Endora. It is a story of a family of kids trying to come to grips with losing their father. Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp), the oldest of the kids (16 or 17) is not the responsible man of the house and he deals with a lot of responsibility including holding down a job at a convenience store, caring for their morbidly obese mother and looking after his autistic brother, Arnie (Leo DiCaprio).
Gilbert's life is boring, predicable and frankly a burden, until he meets Becky (Juliette Lewis), a new girl in town. Becky is a cute free spirit girl and Gilbert is quickly hooked on her. However, falling in love with Becky is another complication in his already complicated life and he now has to try to juggle this relationship with everything else.
While Depp and Lewis are quite good in this film, it is DiCaprio's performance as the mentally handicapped Arnie is outstanding and he handles the role with poignant compassion. It was not his first feature film role, but Grape was DiCaprio's coming out party with this brilliant performance. DiCaprio was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this role.
If you Liked Gilbert Grape, then Check out Benny and Joon
8. Shutter Island (2010)
An Intense Psychological Thriller Starring Leo DiCaprio
Shutter Island is an intense psychological thriller and the fourth pairing of Martin Scorsese with Leonardo DiCaprio. Set in 1954, US Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) is investigating the disappearance of a female murderer who escaped from a mental hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island. However, she escaped from a locked room with no sighting by guards. What's more, she disappeared from a facility that is so isolated that no one could live trying to swim to freedom.
As the investigation continues, we discover that there are things going on at Shutter Island facilities that are very disturbing and Daniel's ulterior motive is to stop the atrocities on the island. We discover new facts at every twist and turn of the movie and things are never as they appear. It is a will plot line that takes many twists and turns. You will be captivated throughout and your mind will be working overtime trying to figure out what really is going on between Daniels and the Island team.
Scorsese has assembled an top-notch cast for Shutter Island led by Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow, the "evil" masterminds at the mental facility. Dicaprio is partnered with Mark Ruffalo as US Marshalls and their interplay is outstanding. It feels as if they have worked together for many years even though they have been thrown together for the investigation. And the real shining star of the films is young Michelle Willams, who plays the ghost of Daniels dead wife, Dolores. She is at times compassionate, at times mysterious and at times outright haunting. A gripping performance for such a young actress, we can expect more good things from Williams.
7. Gangs of New York (2002)
A Gangland Epic in NYC's Violent Five Points Neighborhood
Gangs of New York is an epic period film about the Five Points Neighborhood in New York City just prior to the Civil War. Five Points was reputed to be the most dangerous slum in the world at this time and Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis) was one of its most notorious gang leaders in the area.
The story follows fictitious character, Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio), who returns to Five Points after many years away to avenge his father's murder by killing Bill the Butcher many years earlier. Daniel Day-Lewis was outstanding in this film and was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar. The main story is fiction, but it is set against a backdrop of actual events that transpired during 1863 in NYC.
While DiCaprio's role was much demanding than the Bill the Butcher role, he is a thoroughly convincing as a young tough on a mission of revenge. Vallon must first gain Bill's trust to get close enough to kill him. Along the way he falls for one of Bill's girls, Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz). While trying to gain Bill's confidence, Vallon is exposed and he must negotiate his way out of the Devil's lair.
The movie is an entertaining gangland drama that will have you hanging on edge as Bill and Amsterdam seek to kill one other. Ultimately, this movie ends with a classic "all hands" gang fight that denigrates into an all city riot about the newly instituted National Draft for the Civil War.
6. Titanic (1997)
An Enduring Love Story Set During a Historic Disaster
Titanic was a blockbuster success and is #2 all-time on the movie box office list behind Avatar. With all that success, it has attracted many haters from the movie critic world. However, in reality this was a beautiful epic film about the most famous maritime disaster in history. The sinking of the Titanic is one of those senseless disasters that will remain ingrained in our psyche for hundreds of years. This Leonardo DiCaprio movie uses the sinking as a backdrop to a human drama on the ship, the forbidden love affair of two fictitious characters, Jack Dawson (Leo DiCaprio) and Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), who is engaged to another passenger.
Romantic movies are often panned by critics as sappy and simplistic, but this movie gives us a glimpse into some of the human dramas that must have existed as the ship was sinking. One of the most moving scenes in the movie involves a working class mother singing her children to sleep (as the ship sinks) after abandoning any hope of rescue. It is thought that the crew locked some of the lower class travelers in the lower decks because there were not enough lifeboats on the ship. This gripping scene really brings home the magnitude of the despair of the passengers as the ship was sinking into icy waters.
Unfortunately a side effect of DiCaprio's role in Titanic was that many movie fans and critics viewed him as a simple "pretty boy" actor after this film, without regard to his wide range and critically-acclaimed earlier roles. Those that did were missing out on a tremendous resume of films featuring DiCaprio.
5. Blood Diamond
A Gripping Tale of an Abused People in Sierra Leone
Blood Diamond is an intense and eye opening film about the diamond trade out of Sierra Leone (Africa). This impoverished country is controlled and dominated large diamond mining companies and the street gangs they use to protect their interests. These gangs and their leaders recruit children and brainwash them into heartless murderers.
Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an opportunistic ex-mercenary gun runner who operates on the border of Sierra Leone. He trades arms for diamonds with the gang leaders but he is caught on the border trying to smuggle the diamonds into nearby Liberia and is thrown into prison. While in prison, he overhears a story about a very large diamond that was recently discovered in Sierre Leone from another inmate, Soloman Vandy (Djimon Hounsou). Vandy was captured after his family was captured in the region but he knows where the diamond is hidden. Archer arranges to have Vandy released and the two pair up to recover the diamond and rescue Vandy's family.
While the film is partly an action thriller, it is really a chilling drama that sheds light on the atrocities being committed by these local gangs in Western Africa. The most harrowing scenes involve the brainwashing methods used by the gangs on young boys. It will absolutely leave an lasting impression.
There are so many compelling performances in this film that I cannot name them all. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Actor (DiCaprio) and Best Supporting Actor (Hounsou). This film is truly a must see film for everyone to expose these brutal atrocities to more of the world.
If you liked Blood Diamond, you should check out The Last King of Scotland
4. Inception (2010)
Leo DiCaprio's Fastest Paced Action Thriller yet
Inception became an instant sci-fi and cult classic when released in 2010. It's highly complex plot and futuristic "dream invasion" themes were well received by techies and science fiction fans. What's more the film was written and directed by Christopher Nolan who has already developed a cult following among fans despite being 41 and only completing nine films to date.
Cobb (Leo DiCaprio) is a skilled dream thief with a checkered past. Cobb steals valuable secrets from business executives and others during their dreams using technology that allows him to become a character in another person's dreams. As the story unfolds we learn that there are actually four levels of dream state and it requires an increasing amount of skill, and produces much more risk, to penetrate into deeper levels. We also learn that Cobb is one of the few people that has ever penetrated into the fourth level of a dream state and something bad happened when he last did so. And yet, in order to complete a huge life altering heist, Cobb and his team must negotiate the risks of penetrating into the fourth level of a Japanese business leaders dreams.
Cobb's mentor, Miles (Michael Caine), knows about Cobb's past and advises him against taking this job, but when Cobb refuses to quit Miles decides to help assemble the team to protect him as much as possible. The team is played by a group of talented young actors including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe and Lukas Haas.
While not his most challenging role, DiCaprio is able to balance toughness and vulnerability while leading the team and fighting his own past demons. As usual, Christopher Nolan has excelled at putting together a unique film that stuns us both mentally and visually. Inception was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. It wone 4 Oscars, including Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects.
I cannot explain too much of this movie without spoiling valuable portions of the film, but this Leo DiCaprio film is excellent and highly entertaining. It is a non-stop action adventure with a highly unique sci-fi premise.