It’s called the “Pitt-Hanks Continuum,” and it posits that cool guys don’t win awards, and the cooler you are, the less likely you will ever win an Oscar. It’s why Brad Pitt will never win a Best Acting Oscar (despite stellar performances in movies like Kalifornia, 12 Monkeys, Inglorious Basterds, Se7en, Fight Club, and I’M JUST GOING TO SAY IT: Meet Joe Black). He’s just too cool. You spend the whole movie wondering what it would be like to be his character, without ever imagining that you could. Tom Hanks, on the other hand, plays relatable characters – “everyman” characters – and his warm style of performance lets you in, so that you feel what he feels and understand the world as he understands it. And because of that, HE wins awards left and right.
That is why Cary Grant never won an Oscar, but Jimmy Stewart did. Or why Michelle Pfeiffer didn’t, but Sandra Bullock did.
Our Golden Boy Leo has spent the majority of his career being cool. Think Gatsby, Wolf of Wall Street, Django Unchained, Inception, Gangs of New York, The Aviator, Catch Me If You Can, Celebrity, Romeo + Juliet, – all the way back to Titanic where he was poor but impossibly gorgeous, impossibly noble, impossibly heroic Jack Dawson. The very essence of Edwardian cool.
Says James S Murphy (who came up with the theory) in Vanity Fair:
Leo will finally win his, because in The Revenant, he at last shifts toward the Hanks end of the spectrum. It might not seem like that at first; playing a scout named Hugh Glass who has abandoned white “civilization” to live on the frontier with his half-Pawnee son, DiCaprio seems, once again, to be cast in a role that sets him above and apart his fellow characters, much like in The Wolf of Wall Street or The Great Gatsby. In little time, however, his character is subjected to a series of humiliations, from being mauled by a bear to eating a dead bison that had already been half-devoured by wolves. This is not Leo the playboy who dates models in real life, but DiCaprio in an ugly beard and bearskin playing a dad and a widow, haunted by dreams of his dead wife, which we get to watch.
The film breaks down the barrier of cool that DiCaprio has assembled over the years, on-camera and off. Bedraggled and bereft, Glass becomes the object of our empathy and the guiding consciousness of The Revenant. He’s not cool, and based on the film’s surprising box-office success, audiences are glad for it. It’s not the first time Leo’s cool has been broken down in a movie. In both Revolutionary Road and Shutter Island the humiliation of his characters is central to the plot. It takes more, however, to win the Oscar than to simply move away from the Pitt end of the spectrum. It requires becoming a Hanks—becoming a character the audience can identify with and not, as in those other films, someone it pities.
Much has been made—in no small part due to the P.R. campaign for The Revenant—of Leo’s willingness to subject himself to this host of grueling trials—yes, it was him in the river and the horse, and, yes, he ate a raw liver—but this narrative does not by itself explain why he will win the Oscar. Just as important is the way the film is shot. Over and over again, it employs one of the fundamental techniques of classic Hollywood cinema: a shot-reverse-shot combination of a close-up with a point-of-view shot. It’s a brilliantly efficient, oft-used way to get the audience to identify with a character and, quite literally, feel like they are in his position.
Because we can finally feel what Leo is feeling, because we can finally understand what it’s like to be him, he will win the damn Oscar.