We’re not even close to Oscar season but we already know which movie is the frontrunner for all the major categories.
Every once in a while a movie hits theaters and becomes the “movie of the moment” like when “Get Out” took America by storm just a little over two years ago. Jordan Peele’s writing/directing debut launched him into one of the greats stratosphere instantaneously.
Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is that movie right now and it is as much daringly controversial as it is an absolute masterpiece.
Twenty-five years ago Quentin Tarantino redefined storytelling with the structure of “Pulp Fiction” – not knowing when these chapters we’re watching in sequential order take place in the timeline of the movie.
Since then, he’s made seven films that include “Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2,” “Death Proof,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Django Unchained,” “The Hateful Eight” and finally “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.”
While one could argue most of these movies are at least good – “Inglourious Basterds” is somewhat of a thrilling masterpiece – nothing compares to “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.”
Without giving too much away:
The story centers around two best friends, a fading narcissistic actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime talented stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), at a time when Hollywood is about to drastically change forever. It’s the end of an era. At opening, Dalton meets with an agent who tries to convince him that he should star in Spaghetti Westerns, which triggers Dalton into thinking his career is over while Booth says it’s not that bad.
That’s when we learn that Dalton’s home in the Hollywood Hills has a very famous couple living next door, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate. But this is months before the infamous Charlie Manson murders occurred.
Ultimately, we learn that while the end of the Golden Era is unfolding before our very eyes, both Booth and Dalton are extremely talented at what they do. Booth proves he could kick Bruce Lee’s butt and Dalton has one scene as the bad guy in a Western that is simply mind-blowing. It’s as if it was the performance of a lifetime. Think Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview in “There Will be Blood.”
In the shocking violent conclusion of the 2hr 41min venture, Booth and Dalton (AND Brandy the dog) prevent the Manson murders in a somewhat inadvertent way.
To put it simply, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is an undeniable force to be reckoned with by every single filmmaking standard. Not only is it a funny, touching buddy comedy with a wild controversial and cathartic finish, everything from top to bottom is A+ filmmaking.
Tarantino spins some controversial subject matter into some hilarious moments too – like when we learn that Cliff Booth has a reputation for murdering his wife and getting away with it.
When we see the scene of Booth allegedly murdering his wife, it’s purposefully designed to be ambiguous; about whether or not it’s true or not that Booth murdered his wife. And then he not only makes that scene hilarious but Tarantino pulls a wild magic trick on the audience because you not only sympathize with Booth, you would also be his friend in a heartbeat. Somehow we just know that Booth is a great guy deep down. That goes for Rick Dalton too. Despite their obvious flaws; they’re genuine likeable people.
Here’s another magic trick Tarantino pulls. There’s no plot. We just meander in-and-out of these character’s lives for two hours before the thrilling conclusion. And it works. Somehow, it is incredibly entertaining in every way possible. Tarantino’s snappy and hilarious dialogue obviously helps but there is never a dull moment where you’re thinking, “Where is this going?”
We are constantly learning from and growing with these characters and this story. Also, Tarantino is fully consciously aware at all times of our expectations – knowing what happened on that fateful night in August of 1969. He does some pretty extraordinary stuff in that context.
Pitt and DiCaprio are truly electric playing off each other. Their chemistry is undeniable.
But the MVP of the movie is a dog named Brandy. She’s a good girl.