The nominations: Picture, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound Editing
The film: Its 1858 and the Speck brothers have just purchased a number of male slaves from a Mississippi auction. One cold night while they are transporting the men, the Specks are interrupted by a curious German gentleman Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who expresses a desire to purchase one of the slaves. When the Specks rudely refuse to listen to Schultz’s proposition he kills one and wounds the other. Schultz is actually not a slaver but a bounty hunter and one of the slaves, named Django (Jamie Foxx), has information on some criminals he is seeking for a bounty. A generally peaceful man, Schultz makes a deal with Django that if Django should help him find the criminals the Brittle brothers and kill them for the reward he will give Django his freedom. Schultz and Django find the plantation where the Brittle brothers are working under an alias, kill them and take away a big reward. One night Django reveals that as a free man he plans on finding his beloved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) and buying her freedom with the bounty money he’s earned. Schultz is so moved by Django’s story that he agrees to teach him the trade of bounty hunting, spend the winter collecting, and then he will help Django rescue his wife.
After a long and lucrative winter of killing, Django and Schultz start their plans to find Broomhilda. They discover that she had been sold to the infamous plantation Candie Land where the even more infamous slaver Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) owns one of the largest cotton farms in Mississippi. Schultz proposes to Django that they pose as slavers looking to break into the sport of Mandingo fighting, where slavers pit their slaves against each other in a mano-a-mano fight to the death, and pretend to want to by a fighter from Candie. They meet and Candie is instantly intrigued by Schultz and Django the supposed black slaver and agrees to let them purchase one of his fighters. Schultz becomes friendly with Candie and discovers that indeed Broomhilda works as a house slave on the plantation. As Schultz is making a deal to by a Mandingo he offhandedly requests to purchase Broomhilda as well, but Candie’s head house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) is convinced that Schultz and Django have ulterior motives for being so friendly.
The odds: Even though most people find if not all of Quentin Tarantino’s films to be keenly acquired tastes, the most subjective still have great struggle in denying the auteur as a smart and thoughtful wordsmith. Within a particularly unpredictable awards season the Original Screenplay category is a tight race with passionate fans of the various films throwing hard support for their favorites, but Django Unchained feels to have a slight edge in the race. In 2009, Tarantino lost the category with his ingenious and highly-lauded Inglourious Basterds but lost to Mark Boal, who is nominated again this year of Zero Dark Thirty, and his script for The Hurt Locker. Though Boal’s script is incredibly taut with journalistic realism, AMPAS voters have unquestionably not forgotten the incredible misfortune of not being able to honor Basterds, and though it was a better script, are inclined to count said misfortune towards their final vote this year. If anything Tarantino’s screenplay is another cut and dry example of his mastery of writing even if most viewers disagree morally with the grotesqueries, the violence, the barrage of racial epithets; his audacious spirit should be praised and awarded in this, the highest arena of cinematic arts. Meanwhile with an unprecedented situation with the Supporting Actor category, as all are past Oscar winners, it is worth noting that Christoph Waltz is getting plenty of buzz for his performance as Dr. King Schultz. The already eloquent speeches written for his character are elevated even more so with his charm and thoughtfulness as an actor. While I am still angry over DiCaprio missing the nomination in his personally groundbreaking performance as the ghoulish, Southern devil cad of a slave owner Calvin Candie, Waltz is ripe to win another for Team Tarantino (Go Team, Go!). Though Robert De Niro holds a lot of favor, including yours truly’s, for his neurotic patriarch in Silver Linings Playbook, Waltz did win the Golden Globe and the BAFTA not to mention AMPAS voters adore him. It’s a toss up and a nail-biter all in one…don’t you love it? I know I do.