The Tarantino Effect – When Will Oscar See Him as a Director, Not a Writer


Boal_TarantinoWith all the craziness of awards season, I hadn’t fully noticed the big story circulating among the writers branch that the two great screenwriters Mark Boal and Quentin Tarantino were squaring off in the Original Screenplay category once again.  The last time the two dueled was in 2009 when Boal’s The Hurt Locker triumphed over Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

In the 2009 season, many had assumed it was a no-brainer that Boal would emerge the victor after winning the Writers Guild of America Award and after the impressive showing the film had with the major guilds.  Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, though an audience favorite, had to settle with Christoph Waltz being the sole representation for the film in Oscar’s Supporting Actor category.  Coincidentally, Waltz is nominated again this year for his performance in Django Unchained.

As Zero Dark Thirty continues to get pummeled by outspoken Oscar voters, and looks to be a likely unrewarded film in any category on Oscar night, Tarantino’s film has emerged as a likely candidate to win Original Screenplay and Supporting Actor.  While the film as a whole won’t be as successful, or have the same outcome, as Bigelow’s first Oscar-winning film, Tarantino has yet to have one of his films go “all the way.”  Call it poor timing when another film just a tad better captures the cultural zeitgeist in a way that seems to overthrow Tarantino’s film, or it could simply be that the Academy doesn’t love Tarantino THAT much.

tarantino_oscarTarantino’s first dance with Oscar for Pulp Fiction (1994) was a massive hit on both critical and audience fronts.  The film won the Palme d’Or at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, captured dozens of citations from the nation’s top critics as the Best Film of the Year, and grossed over $100 million dollars at the box office.  The film was released October 1994 and grossed $9 million in its opening weekend.  Unfortunately, earlier in the summer of 1994, Robert Zemeckis released his epic Forrest Gump, starring fresh off his first Oscar win Tom Hanks.  Hanks would receive universal acclaim along with co-stars Gary Sinise, Sally Field, and Robin Wright.  The film garnered 13 Academy Award Nominations and $329 million at the box office, while Pulp Fiction’s impressive, but modest, funds only managed seven nominations.

It was, perhaps, his  best shot to catch Oscar’s big one. Over the next fifteen years, Tarantino released five films that were virtually ignored by Oscar.  Jackie Brown (1997) only managed a Supporting Actor nomination for veteran actor Robert Forster.  Both the lead, Pam Grier, and Quentin Tarantino were given the shaft and went unnoticed.

His revenge, two-part thriller Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) grossed a combined total of over $130 million dollars. It had a score of 85% and 84%, respectively, on Rotten Tomatoes, and was a fan favorite.  Vol. 1 only received one major award mention during its year. Uma Thurman for Best Actress in a Drama at the Golden Globe Awards.

Vol. 2 was perhaps closer to Oscar than its predecessor, scoring Golden Globe nominations for Uma Thurman and David Carradine and a Critics Choice nomination for Thurman.  Both would ultimately fail to gain recognition in the end.  Despite being one of Tarantino’s most entertaining, and most cleverly written features, Kill Bill received no love from critics and received no recognition from AMPAS members for either Tarantino’s writing or directing efforts.

Grindhouse (2007), the co-directed Robert Rodriguez double feature (Planet TerrorDeath Proof), had more people split on the director’s abilities and tastes than ever before. I personally found the film to be Tarantino’s worst effort – partly because there were too many hands in the pot from writing and directing standpoints. Grindhouse was ignored by both critics and audiences and grossed just under $25 million dollars at the box office.

Inglourious Basterds would revitalize Tarantino’s career and gain him a new legion of followers, not only within the fanboy community, but also on the Academy front.  Django Unchained, though clearly problematic in places, returns the writer/director to the Oscar ceremony to fight it out for his second Oscar.  Many think he’s owed after losing to Boal for his work on Basterds. Some think Django is one of the writer’s finest moments in cinema thus far, but no matter what the outcome, Tarantino has a lot to live up to for his next effort.

markboal_oscarThough Mark Boal’s resume on the cinematic front isn’t as deep as Mr. Tarantino’s, his other penned effort, Paul Haggis’s In the Valley of Elah (2007), did get an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones.  As it stands today, all three of Boal’s screenplays have garnered one acting nomination each.  That’s a good track record for a “rookie” writer/producer.  Waltz is the only rewarded actor from a Tarantino picture however, distributed by the Weinstein Company, the Oscar experts have had at least one actor winning the Academy Awards in the past four years.  This year TWC has Waltz for Django, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro,  and Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook, and Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams for The Master.  One of those eight talented actors are bound to win.

In the end, Boal and Tarantino may both end up losing to foreign auteur writer/director Michael Haneke, whose film, Amour, scored five nominations, including Picture, Director, and Lead Actress. I’m expecting this outcome for Haneke who still remains Oscar-less despite an impressive resume that includes The White Ribbon and Cache.  He just might have the legs to top both the writers who have won Oscars before.  I believe Tarantino is one or two films away from winning an Oscar for Directing and even Motion Picture of the Year.

Tarantino is reportedly working on a third installment to Kill Bill but this has yet to be confirmed and was denied a few months back at Comic-Con though there are fanboys praying currently for its existence.  iMDB still has it as announced.  Mark Boal has no pending projects as of yet.