It was the announcement heard round the world.
The Cannes Film Festival finally confirmed on May 2 something everyone had anticipated: Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” would have its world premiere in competition at the 72nd annual extravaganza.
The vision of Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie ascending the steep red-carpeted steps of the Palais des Festivals and strutting their stuff in front of a global press corps of thousands is what Oscar dreams are made of.
“It’s everything that people love about Cannes — the glamour and the stars,” one longtime Cannes veteran told me.
Already, the barely screened movie — set in Los Angeles in the late 1960s, when the city was terrorized by the Charles Manson murders — is generating buzz as a serious Oscar contender. DiCaprio stars as a fading television actor and Pitt as his stunt double, with Robbie playing DiCaprio’s neighbor Sharon Tate.
Going into Cannes, Tarantino surely has Oscar on his mind. He first competed at the festival in 1994 with “Pulp Fiction,” after making his debut there two years earlier out of competition with “Reservoir Dogs.”
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With “Once Upon a Time” likely screening on May 21 — 25 years to the day that “Pulp Fiction” premiered at the fest — the big question is whether the silver anniversary will be lined with gold? If history repeats itself, Tarantino and company will have a very busy awards season. “Pulp Fiction” not only won the Palme d’Or but went on to be nominated for seven Oscars. Tarantino took home original screenplay honors along with Roger Avary.
Then there’s the director’s black comedy “Inglourious Basterds,” which premiered at Cannes in 2009, winning Christoph Waltz the fest’s actor award as well as the Oscar for supporting actor.
“Pulp Fiction” and “Inglourious Basterds” aside, it’s rare that a movie that wins at Cannes goes on to score an Academy Award. In fact, the only film that has
grabbed both the Palme d’Or and the Oscar for best picture is “Marty” — in 1955!
If “Once Upon a Time” is well received on the Croisette and earns a laurel or two, all the better. But more important is Sony’s task of keeping the momentum going before and after the film opens in the U.S. in late July.
This also is Tarantino’s first outing without Harvey Weinstein and his ruthless campaign strategies by his side. The director officially dumped the disgraced movie mogul in in 2017 soon after he was accused of sexual assault. Weinstein could be sitting in a New York jail cell 4,000 miles from Cannes when “Once Upon a Time” faces the festival press. Tarantino will most certainly be grilled about Weinstein as well as the director’s longtime muse Uma Thurman, who alleged that the director created hazardous set conditions that resulted in a car crash during the making of “Kill Bill.”
Tarantino was smart to quickly and publicly apologize to Thurman, but expect the “Once Upon a Time” cast members to be asked if they experienced similar problems during filming.
Does any of that matter come Oscar season? Probably not.
“Once Upon a Time” is exactly the kind of movie that Hollywood loves — a movie about Hollywood. It’s also a sure bet at the box office, as most of Tarantino’s films have been moneymakers.
“It’s going to cost Sony a boatload of money to get everyone to Cannes,” says the fest veteran. “They wouldn’t have gone into competition if they didn’t think it was a winner.”
Eight months are left to go before Oscar nominations are announced on Jan. 13, but keep in mind that Tarantino’s films have amassed 24 noms, with a total of five wins.
In the trailer released for “Once Upon a Time,” a young girl on the set of a Western whispers in DiCaprio’s ear, “That was the best acting I’ve ever seen in my whole life.”
Let the campaigning begin!