Why “Inglourious Basterds” should win Best Picture….and why it won’t
To make it clear, I haven’t seen all the movies nominated for Best Picture Oscar, so it’s entirely possible that one is better than “Inglourious Basterds”. But I’ll admit I’m skeptical, if only because “Basterds” one of the best movies I’ve seen in a very long time. So I’m going to make a list of the reasons I think “Basterds” should win, which are non coincidentally the reasons it won’t. Believe me, there are spoilers. And why haven’t you seen it yet?
It’s arguably the best movie made by an edgy young film director while he’s still edgy and before he’s really old. The Academy Awards love edgy young filmmakers many decades after they stopped making innovative movies. And I say this as someone who really liked “The Departed”. But everyone knows Scorsese was winning for his first tier classics made years ago. This is a chance for the Academy to break the vicious cycle. Instead of recognizing Tarantino’s genius 20 years from now, when he makes a movie that has his imprint but no innovative feel to it, why not give him the award when he still has the ability to blow an audience away with his genius? Tarantino’s no spring chicken at 47, so it’s not like Hollywood would be wandering off into the scarily youthful woods by giving him this award. And for people who’ve seen it, you can firmly say he won it for this year, not for “Pulp Fiction”. Because it’s probably the better picture.
“Basterds” takes a piss all over tired Hollywood conventions about WWII. Making movies about Nazis is Oscar bait, and they end up taking themselves more seriously as movies than they do the war itself. “Basterds” lashes out at this tendency by writing an alternative history, and in doing so subverts movies like “Saving Private Ryan” or even “Schindler’s List”, that present themselves as definitive pieces on an event that was too huge and too horrible for anyone to say anything definitively about it. By skirting the need for a WWII movie to Say Something, Tarantino reminds us that Saying Something can sometimes interrupt the humility it takes to even begin to understand something. Tarantino also asks hard questions about stereotyping Jews as passive victims in WWII movies, by making his Jewish characters run against the stereotype—their horror at the genocide translates into murderous rage, something rarely allowed in WWII movies that are more interested in exploring Allied reactions than those of the people most oppressed by the Nazis.
“Basterds” falls into Tarantino’s ongoing project of centering female characters in his films. I’ve written before about how interesting it is to me that Tarantino has decided to use the power to make any movie he wants to make movies about women that assume that women are strong and capable (but still have normal human flaws), and that if you’re shocked by that, then it says more about you than women as a group. I wouldn’t say that’s the definitive feminist statement, but it’s certainly a feminist statement, one that’s struggling more against Hollywood representations of women than trying to suggest that all women are strong by virtue of being women. Tarantino’s female characters also run against Hollywood’s lame attempts to provide characters that are “strong women“. Quoting Overthinking It:
I think the major problem here is that women were clamoring for “strong female characters,” and male writers misunderstood. They thought the feminists meant [Strong Female] Characters. The feminists meant [Strong Characters], Female.
Tarantino’s sadly radical project over his last few movies is to write female characters the way that you write male characters. But Mélanie Laurent didn’t even get a nomination for her widely praised portrayal of the character Shoshanna, probably because she never speaks in English and because she doesn’t fit into a heart-warming Hollywood stereotype. Instead, Sandra Bullock got a nod.
My prediction is that Christoph Waltz wins Best Supporting Actor, and the movie maybe wins a couple of technical awards, and that’s it. I suspect it only got nominated for Best Picture because they expanded the field to 10 nominations. It was just too hot for Hollywood.