Django Unchained’s box office performance through December 30th has surpassed 60 million dollars – six days into its nationwide run. It’s tracking higher than Quentin Tarantino’s last film, Inglourious Basterds and has been closing the gap between Les Misérables – a more holiday-friendly picture released on the same day. Historically, pictures of such a violent nature find it difficult to find a foothold in the box office around this time of year. Just last year, David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo struggled to find an audience – instead slowly garnering viewers the further away it got from the holiday season. Quentin Tarantino too, has struggled with releasing films around the holidays – most notably with the release of Grindhouse around the Easter time period. But with the remarkable early success of Django Unchained, its prospective awards chances ought to be reconsidered.
With Inglourious Basterds, the prospects that the film would be a larger awards play were grim. Christoph Waltz was always considered a front-runner for Best Supporting Actor in 2009, along with a possible writing nomination for Quentin Tarantino – beyond that, the picture was largely dismissed as a commercial play. But as contenders came and went, the film’s stature only grew as it challenged The Hurt Locker and Avatar for Best Picture of its year.
The slow critical acceptance for Inglourious Basterds may have resulted in many pundits hesitating to put much stock in Django Unchained. Reportedly still filming in the fall, the editing process for the was hurried by The Weinstein Company. Questions as to if the film would even make it for release was brought up. But now that Django Unchained has finally reached a commercial audience, the skepticism of to how it figures into the awards season ought to be reconsidered. For the past two years, The Weinstein Company has championed a Best Picture winner with The King’s Speech and The Artist. As their major contenders, Silver Linings Playbook and The Master have struggled commercially (their combined total box office intake, roughly 28 million and 16 million respectively, has already been surpassed by Django alone), the question as to what film to champion is quite clear. And it’s not as if Django Unchained hasn’t played favorably to critics – citations for Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio have been littered throughout the critics’ circuit. The Golden Globe citations have boosted the film’s chances as well as being a bigger Academy Awards play.
But is there hesitation in getting burned again? The Weinstein’s championed Inglourious Basterds and lost. Potential acting and writing nominations are probable (assuming that overlap in potential nominees does not hinder its chances) for Django Unchained, but can the picture breakthrough to the Best Picture and Best Director categories? Is there more vested interest in pushing the friendlier Silver Linings Playbook instead? Provided that The Master is out of play entirely, it’s becoming clear that it’s one or the other for The Weinstein Company. Does Silver Linings Playbook look like Best Picture winner? Films like Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, and Argo are dominating the conversation as the leading contenders for the win. But in such a competitive year, one has to wonder what a zeitgeist film like Django Unchained can do to rally a victory – that is, if it can secure the nominations.