Monday, December 3, 2012

Will the Academy Award "Django Unchained" for its Portrayal of Revisionist History?

Jamie Foxx
One of the longest hold outs of the awards season, director Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, finally made its premiere at a Directors Guild of America screening on December 1, a little over three weeks until its international release. Speculation has long surrounded the film on if it is worthy of at very least a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. While there were differing opinions and a standing ovation at the screening, the question remains unanswered. For now, we cannot help but wonder if Tarantino can pull back-to-back nominations, or if he just created another fun film.

It has been a very competitive season, and with director Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty's recent New York Film Critics win, it almost seems like a little too late for Tarantino. This is not to insult the film, but when front runners such as director Tom Hooper's Les Miserables and Ben Affleck's Argo, Django Unchained has to do a lot to win over audiences. The one benefit is the name recognition with Tarantino, who at this point is a veteran and whose name can possibly guide his work into the upper pantheon. Even then, up until Inglourious Basterds, his track record was a little spotty with grind house style cinema and kinetic dialogue that wouldn't appeal to the older Academy voters. In fact, Inglourious Basterds could have gotten the nomination on the sheer fact that it was revisionist history that took down one of history's most hated men.

Still, consider the nominations that Tarantino's films have collected over the years:

Pulp Fiction

*Best Original Screenplay: Roger Avary, Quentin Tarantino
Best Actor: John Travolta
Best Supporting Actor: Samuel L. Jackson
Best Supporting Actress: Uma Thurman
Best Director: Quentin Tarantino
Best Film Editing: Sally Menke
Best Picture

Jackie Brown

Best Supporting Actor: Robert Forster

Inglourious Basterds

*Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz
Best Cinematograhy: Robert Richardson
Best Director: Quentin Tarantino
Best Film Editing: Sally Menke
Best Sound Editing: Wylie Stateman
Best Sound Mixing: Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti, Mark Ulano
Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Best Picture

"*" Indicates wins.
Nominations: 16
Wins: 2

It is easy to see how Tarantino is always considered whenever he comes out with a new film (save for maybe Grindhouse). With Django Unchained, he is going into another soft spot for the Academy: westerns. If there is any doubt that the Academy still has a bias towards the genre, consider that Rango won Best Animated Feature last year and directors Joel and Ethan Coen's True Grit received a Best Picture nomination in 2011. The genre is very rich in America's cinematic history. Since western films are getting rarer in terms of brilliance, it is easy to see why Django Unchained may be a big deal.

Also consider that early reports have stated that the revenge story deals a lot with racism, another common theme at the Academy. Director Paul Haggis' Crash won Best Picture in 2005 tackling that very issue, and even last year's nomination for The Help reflects some sense that voters appeal to equal opportunity studies. This is also most relevant in that its lead (Jamie Foxx, who won Best Actor for Ray and received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Collateral) is African American and seems unrepentant on killing white slave owners. Somehow, this revisionist history can be seen as a grand lesson in why racism is wrong.

Samuel L. Jackson
Of course, Tarantino's work is notoriously graphic. The subject matter alone (and the choice to name the film after Django, a notoriously bloody film, doesn't help) implies that this won't be much different. Where this would receive immediate disqualification to most, Tarantino has always been seen as an auteur when it comes to this style. He mixes witty dialogue with snappy visuals in a way that can easily be seen as entertainment. Of course, his bloodier works, Kill Bill and Reservoir Dogs, haven't received any Oscar attention. The question now is if the film manages to be just more than a visually unique experience and present something interesting.

While it isn't reflective of the voters as a whole, recent reviews by critics on Twitter range from Jeff Wells (Hollywood Elsewhere): "A lot of people are going to love Django Unchained, but forget any awards action. Okay, maybe Leonardo DiCaprio or Christoph Waltz for supporting, but I doubt it." to David Ehrlich (Operation Kino): "Django Unchained: holy s**t. brutally hilarious spaghetti comedy does for business what Basterds did for war. Best American film of 2012." Either way, this raises speculation on if the film can be more than just a crowd pleaser.

On Oscars statistics website GoldDerby, it shows the film in the #9 slot in Best Picture with odds of 25:1. As Jessica Chastain's climb after Zero Dark Thirty's premiere has proven, there is a chance that the film can escalate in the weeks to come, but it will unlikely beat Argo or Les Miserables, who both lead the pack. The latter has also recently been shown to critics and has adjusted the predictions as well, causing Hugh Jackman to get some major consideration as Best Actor. In fact, with all of the other films opening against it, Django Unchained looks to critically be the weakest and while it may get a lower spot nomination, it stands little chance of winning anything greater.

Of course, Tarantino's real strengths have been in the Best Original Screenplay category. He has already been nominated twice and won once. His writing is what he has become most recognized for. In fact, he currently stands at #4 with odds of 11:2. The films above it, Zero Dark Thirty, The Master, and Moonrise Kingdom, may have stronger odds, but are not particularly in the clear. However, irony should be pointed out that Tarantino did lose to Bigelow's The Hurt Locker last time he was nominated, and with the way that Zero Dark Thirty is going, it is possible that this will become a running gag of his career.

Christoph Waltz
Then there is talks of the acting categories. Besides the trailers and promotional materials, one of the earliest pieces of press that the film produces was moving Christoph Waltz, who from the trailers appears to be a more minor role, from the Best Supporting Actor slot (which he won in for Inglourious Basterds) to compete against Jamie Foxx in Best Actor. The reasoning was that his odds of winning were higher. However, with the category already filled with Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln) and Hugh Jackman, this move may have been fatal, considering that Best Supporting Actor hasn't quite solidified in quite the same ways. As it stands, Waltz is almost dead last in the category with odds of 100:1. Foxx is doing a little better, but still places odds of 100:1. 

However, as Wells pointed out, Leonardo DiCaprio (nominated for three Oscars including Best Actor in The Aviator and Blood Diamond as well as Best Supporting Actor in What's Eating Gilbert Grape) is getting considerable attention. He places #4 in the Best Supporting Actor category with odds of 6:1. While no one has been able to shake Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) from the top position, it is at very least a good sign for the film. 

While it hasn't really factored into nominations before, the soundtrack is an odd choice. While it features a names like Ennio Morricone, it does feature songs by 2Pac and Rick Ross. Tarantino isn't shy about rap music, but if the use of David Bowie in Inglourious Basterds seemed like a stretch, hearing a western movie get down to some Rick Ross will be more appalling. Since rap is notoriously a young person's genre (and not predominantly white), this may prove to be a factor. It isn't that films that have featured rap haven't been nominated, but in terms of revisionist history and the Academy's respect for westerns, this may just seem disgraceful. Who knows.

While Django Unchained may end up being one of the most ambitiously original films of the year, it sounds like it will be more of a crowd pleaser than Oscar front runner. Les Miserables and Zero Dark Thirty are already planning on stealing its thunder come its Christmas release. Still, if it can get a Best Original Screenplay nomination, that will be a sign that this film isn't a total waste. Another interesting thing to consider is that this is the first film since editor Sally Menke's death. Can his new editor, Fred Raskin, possibly bring the kinetic energy to Tarantino's work that has made his visuals so iconic?

Is the revisionist history arc a little too much for the Oscars this time? Can Waltz pull a surprise upset and get a Best Actor nomination? What about Jamie Foxx? Will Leonardo DiCaprio finally win an Oscar, and beat Phillip Seymour Hoffman? Is the soundtrack going to be the deal breaker? With all of the original music, is it possible to see Frank Ocean get a Best Original Song nomination? 


  1. Tarantino is my favorite director of all time, and Django is my most anticipated movie in about 2 years. I am really hoping for this movie to be great and I am glad that it at least has good odds in some categories like screenplay and supporting actor for Leo. Hey by the way, we seem to be on the same page for a lot of stuff movie related, so I was wondering if you were interested in doing a collaboration with me. Maybe a podcast, or a vice verca guest blog? What do you think? It would benefit both of us tremendously.

    1. Sounds great. I would enjoy collaborating. Let's talk and see which we want to do.

      I would really enjoy doing a podcast if it works out, though I will need to invest in some things (i.e. microphones, soundboard, other things)if we go through with that. I am on a podcast, so I know what is needed, but since I don't edit them, I am not aware of the technical aspects. But all can be learned in time.

      The only real question is when and how frequently. Also, I suppose we can do a collaborative blog as starters and work from there.

    2. Cool. Do you have Skype? Because in order to get things going we are going to need to live chat. I haven't done a podcast before but I almost started doing one so I studies a lot of the how to's and read up on it. I have a decent microphone and I can get audacity for free which is pretty good for a free audio editing program. If you have done podcasts before then you can use the same equipment if you still have it because the way I see it it doesn't need to be perfect and I also don't see it taking over our blogs as our primary projects. So if you have Skype you can add me at michael_duddy and as soon as we see each other we can talk.

    3. I'll need to look into Skype. Truthfully, I figure that differs things a little bit. The other one that I do is done with everyone in the same room, so I am familiar with that set up. Also, the reason that I say invest in equipment is because what we (as in my other show) have is communal and at our "recording studio" which is basically someone else's house at all times.

      I figure that all I need is to look into a good microphone and since we don't necessarily need a soundboard (or a physical one), that should make things a little easier. I will have to look into everything and get back to you probably later this week.