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Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Enters Oscar Race Following Cannes Premiere

Marc Malkin

Let the Quentin Tarantino debates begin.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywoodpremiered on Tuesday night at the Cannes Film Festival to declarations of it being a “masterpiece” with comparisons to “Pulp Fiction” to others wondering aloud on social media that they needed more time to process and figure out how they really feel about this year’s most anticipated film at the festival.

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Tarantino never fails to evoke endless conversations about the merits of his movies and “Once Upon a Time” will be no exception. Like his take on Nazis in “Inglourious Basterds” and slavery in “Django Unchained,” Tarantino tackles another dark time — Los Angeles during the Charles Manson murders when the city was fearing for its life.

Within hours of the premiere and a six-minute standing ovation, it was scoring 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes based on 22 reviews.

But how will this all add up come Oscar time?

Leonardo DiCaprio seems sure to be nominated for his starring work as a fading 1950s Western star as will Brad Pitt as DiCaprio’s longtime stuntman. There’s no reason why Tarantino couldn’t once again pick up noms for best picture, director and original screenplay.

The director is no stranger to nominations, with his films having earned more than two dozen over the years.

Winning is another story. Only a handful of the noms have turned into Oscar wins.

Could “Once Upon a Time” be Tarantino’s ticket to sweeping the Oscars? It’s too soon to tell. It’s only May and we have a lot of time between now and the end of awards season. We also still haven’t seen “The Irishman,” Martin Scorsese’s much anticipated gangster film for Netflix starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, who also happens to appear in “Once Upon a Time.” If “Roma” is any indication, the streamer will be spending big bucks come Oscar time.

Also in Cannes, Robert Eggers’ surprise hit “The Lighthouse” quickly gained Oscar chatter within minutes of its first early Sunday morning screening at the festival. In two days, it topped Rotten Tomatoes with a 100 percent score based on 24 reviews. “Lighthouse” star Robert Pattinson is likely to give DiCaprio a run for his money while his co-star Willem Dafoe will do the same for Pitt.

“Once Upon a Time” takes place in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. There are multiple storylines that eventually converge in some expected and unexpected ways. There’s signature Tarantino violence, which may turn some voters off but not enough to kick it out of the race. The nostalgia factor could play well with older voters, even though they might have mixed feelings about a film taking place during L.A.’s dark days surrounding the Manson family murders. Fortunately, this isn’t a film about the horrendous killings.

Tarantino also has to be careful when it comes to facing the press. He became visibly annoyed at the “Once Upon a Time” press conference in Cannes when a female reporter from the New York Times asked why Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate character wasn’t given much to say in the movie. “I reject your hypothesis,” Tarantino said without further comment. How he reacts to similar questions, especially those about Uma Thurman’s allegations of abusive behavior, is yet to be seen, but getting defensive in any of these situations won’t do him any favors.

After the premiere, Tarantino and his cast enjoyed a private rooftop dinner at the JW Marriot. They remained in a VIP area behind white curtains as guests trickled up to the outdoor venue for an after party featuring a live band, photo stations and director’s chairs emblazoned with DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters’ names.

However, Sony Pictures chief Tom Rothman did make the rounds, mingling with guests and members of the press. He was wearing a Champion t-shirt like the one Pitt wears in the movie.

Rothman smiled and told Variety, “I had it under my tux in case we got lucky tonight.”

Wonder if he’ll be wearing it to the Oscars, too.

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