Why Quentin Tarantino Will Not Win an Oscar

Blue people with braids and pointed ears are ready to trump the entire Third World, the Nazis and the Holocaust at the Academy Awards. (See: Cameron, James.)

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The box-office receipts prove that the studio executives were right. The masses can absorb these ideas, just as they did when Hollywood took a licking stick to Southern racism, the Vietnam War, Wall Street hustlers, sexism and so on. Avatar, as Teresa Wiltz has observed right here on The Root, is many well-meaning clichés rolled into one seemingly endless 3-D marathon.

One of the wonders of popular culture, however, is that profoundly important issues can be kicked around with no more depth than a cartoon page, but all of those soppy pages stacked one atop another, year after year after year, eventually create a lumpy critical mass that can trip up the clichés of bigotry and help send them for a heavy fall. An extremely successful marketing firm recently found out through a worldwide survey that the No. 1 issue on the minds of the many is the ecology. Hmm.

The attempted extermination of European Jews through industrialized murder can never be outdistanced in importance: It underlines one of the ongoing threats to our species, which is what can happen when wrong-minded people have command of nearly irresistible technology.

 

 

But I do not think even that is enough for Inglourious Basterds to squeak past Avatar. Tarantino’s film is, finally, far too sophisticated for the Oscars. Denzel Washington "should" have won for Courage Under Fire, but both the film and his performance were too nuanced. (Then there is the fact that Washington’s performance strayed too far from what was thought to make for an “authentic” black performance—or, some variation of hip-hop minstrelsy.)

The same can be said of Don Cheadle in Devil in a Blue Dress, which Pauline Kael and I used to agree was one of the most original characterizations since James Cagney in 1931’s The Public Enemy. Some claim that Robert Duvall did not win for The Apostle because Hollywood Jews are too suspicious of redneck Christians. I think the actual problem was sophistication again, just as it was when Meryl Streep did not take home the Oscar for Doubt.

Christoph Waltz of Inglourious Basterds may win for his astonishingly human performance as the charming Nazi who delights in playing cat-and-mouse games with his intended victims. His subtle wit and worldly air make him a superbly ominous villain.

But that will not help Tarantino win an Oscar. This is, after all, the United States. When it comes to culture and the masses—and those who make their livings off of the masses—one would be a fool to think that there is ever anything close to what we might call even money.