Quentin Tarantino: Oscar Campaigner Extraordinaire
The director deserves another honor besides the one the Cesar Awards gave him Feb. 25.
The French Academy gave Tarantino an honorary Cesar Award Feb. 25, and he also deserves an award for meritorious service to other people's movies in the Oscar race.
Tarantino got what Cesar host Antoine de Caunes called "a big f---ing phoque [plaque]" in Paris Friday (while Xavier Beauvois' Oscar-snubbed Of Gods and Men won best film and opened in the U.S the same day). But Tarantino's also been a big f---ing flack for other movies on the Oscar campaign trail, even though he doesn't have a movie of his own.
Tarantino's like the endlessly generous movie promoter Jeff "The Dude" Dowd, only nobody wanted to punch him, as critic John Anderson once famously punched Dowd at Sundance (for being too aggressively evangelistic on somebody else's cinematic behalf). Tarantino was effusive but unintrusive, the life of every party. He boosted Toy Story 3's long-shot Best Picture odds by making it the #1 film on his Top 20 list (followed by The Social Network, Animal Kingdom, I Am Love, Tangled, True Grit, The Town, and Greenberg). When the press gleefully noted he'd left ex-squeeze Sofia Coppola's very-long-shot Oscar hopeful Somewhere off his list, he deftly said he'd omitted it because he'd headed the Venice Film Fest jury that gave it the Golden Lion -- and it would've made his top ten.
He collected a Critics Choice award and Friars Club Roast toasts: Jeff Ross said, "You changed the face of cinema. I just wish cinema would return the favor." Samuel Jackson introduced him by the name he would most like, "Quentin Super Fly Tarantino Presley." Everywhere, he bestowed bonbons of bon mots on movies he loved.
He was in fine form Jan. 13 hosting the Sunset Tower bash for Tilda Swinton and I Am Love. "For me, it was the movie-love movie of the year!" he said, launching into a monologue that perfectly mimicked director Luca Guadagnino. He compared the film to a Douglas Sirk melodrama -- "bloody as hell," as he put it in Pulp Fiction -- only with all the overwhelming emotion packed into the end. Then he slammed his hand to his heart with a thump to express the devastation. Shades of Uma Thurman's adrenalin needle.
While Swinton swanned around the pool, hugely amused by the Oscar campaign process, and Marilyn Manson, wearing Lisa Loeb lookalike glasses, serenaded Marisa Tomei (wearing similar glasses) with Loeb's hit "Stay," Tarantino told Gremlins director Joe Dante about the "spaghetti Western" he'd just penned. Tarantino was, as Samuel Jackson observed, "like a walking spaghetti Western." Idiotically, Hollywood hasn't given Dante a new movie to direct, but Tarantino is no fair-weather friend of movie genius. (Another measure of Dante's continuing cultural relevance: 21 years after Gremlins 2, The Fighter's au courant billion-dollar coproducer Todd Lieberman still uses it as a cultural reference: "After 7 pm, my kids become the Gremlins.") Tarantino promised to send Dante his new essay on Sirk and Don Siegel, for scholarly reaction. "If I have three more essays, I'll have a book!"
Then Animal Kingdom director David Michod walked in, appearing dazed by overwork and lightning-strike success. "The debut of the year!" exclaimed Tarantino. "It was #3 on my list!" "I went to see a shrink for the first time in my life," said Michod, "because editing the film was driving me crazy. After months, he says, 'Years from now, you won't be thinking so much of Animal Farm.'" But even clueless shrinks will be thinking of Animal Kingdom for decades to come, thanks partly to Jacki Weaver's subtly thunderous, Oscar-nom turn as the mama in the crime family drama.
"That scene where they aren't getting out of the house!" said Tarantino, "It's like Toy Story 3, the scene with the furnace! AUGHHH! And the mother -- 'cause she doesn't want it to happen, but she doesn't want to be the bad guy, so she goes against her own motherly nature -- "
Tarantino's expert, celebratory insights did more for Michod's spirits in minutes than that damn shrink did in months, and his imprimatur didn't hurt its Oscar chances any. If you only had Tarantino's example, you'd think movies were all about fun and inspiration and mutual support and undying loyalty to deathproof art.
"Good on ya, mate!" said Tarantino to Michod. Back atcha, Quentin Super Fly Tarantino Presley.
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Scott Feinberg, the lead awards analyst for The Hollywood Reporter, is one of the entertainment industry's most experienced and trusted experts about the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys. He started on the awards beat in 2001, writing for independent websites including his own ScottFeinberg.com before joining the Los Angeles Times and then THR, for which he writes “The Race” blog, which won the LA Press Club’s National Entertainment Journalism Award for best entertainment blog of 2012-2013. A voting member of both the Broadcast Film Critics' Association and Broadcast Television Journalists Association, he is also writing a book about film history for young people for which he has interviewed more than 500 high-profile Hollywood figures whose careers span the silent era through the present.
Follow Scott on Twitter at twitter.com/scottfeinberg.
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