Oscars: Why You Can't Rule Out a Best Picture Nom for 'The Hateful Eight' (Analysis)

THR's awards analyst imagines how Quentin Tarantino's latest and perhaps most controversial film could still navigate the tricky terrain of the Academy.
'The Hateful Eight'  Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

A lot of people, inside and outside of the Academy, have major issues with the eighth film written and directed Quentin TarantinoThe Hateful Eight. Some object to its style, finding its three-hour runtime, overture, intermission, chapter titles and narration by its filmmaker somewhat pretentious. Others take issue with its substance, especially its prolific use of the n-word, gun violence and physical and verbal abuse of the one woman among its titular characters.

These factors, along with a late release date, probably go a long way towards explaining why the film — if not Tarantino's script and Jennifer Jason Leigh's supporting performance — has failed to register with any of the major awards groups that already have announced their nominees and winners.

And yet, in spite of all of the above, one cannot rule out The Hateful Eight for a best picture nomination.

Why? Because the Academy is an animal unto itself, demographically unlike any of the other groups (big, with some 6,200 voters, and including people from every segment of the business, unlike the others), and with a "preferential ballot" voting system that rewards support that is passionate, even if it's not widespread (hence the recent best pic noms for several films that many members disliked but a few loved, such as The Tree of Life and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close).

Nobody understands or knows how to exploit this dynamic better than Harvey Weinstein, whose many Academy conquests include best picture noms for Tarantino's last two films — the similarly controversial Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Django Unchained (2012) — and whose company needs some Oscar love this year as much as ever.

So what's the needle that needs to be threaded to get Hateful a top-category slot?

The Academy's writers branch is a small one that Tarantino seems to have wrapped around his finger — indeed, he's won two best original screenplay Oscars, and was nominated for one other. He never joined the WGA (he's not a joiner), so Hateful won't show up when the group announces its WGA Award nominations (unlike the other guilds this one only considers the work of members) — but the Academy's writers are not a big concern.

Below-the-line guys also love Tarantino productions — he is loyal to and elicits the best work from his below-the-line collaborators, such as cinematographer Robert Richardson and costume designer Courtney Hoffman, and to Hateful he even recruited the legendary composer Ennio Morricone. It's very hard to imagine those branches not recognizing the film with noms in their own categories and strongly backing it for best picture as well.

The film obviously needs some love from the actors branch, the Academy's largest, which is why the whole big ensemble has been making the rounds together (even though some can't stand others); fortunately for the film, actors love Tarantino, who casts a ton of them in colorful parts and has rescued the careers of more than a few, so it's not unreasonable to assume a chunk will get behind this film.

Additionally, you're hearing a constant drumbeat about the fact that Hateful was shot on film and is being projected on 70mm because it (a) is undeniably interesting, but also (b) reminds Academy members, and specifically directors, that Tarantino is the ultimate film aficionado and purist and one of the last people able or willing to fight for traditional cinematic approaches like these.

The fact that fellow auteurs like Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson, who normally are pretty reclusive, are out on the campaign trail with Tarantino — moderating Q&As, participating in joint interviews and hosting dinners (Nolan is listed as the host of one set for tonight in L.A.) — cannot be coincidental. It's undoubtedly the result of a little coaxing from Weinstein, who probably "gently reminded" them that if Hateful fails to resonate, they shouldn't expect him to provide them with similar sorts of opportunities in the future (he previously released Anderson's The Master in 70mm in a bunch of theaters).

The bottom line? It's a little too soon to bury the Oscar prospects of The Hateful Eight alongside the many characters who are killed in it. Tarantino has a habit of being the last man standing.

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