Friday, September 27, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

If there's one thing that Hollywood loves is movies about movies. And if there's one filmmaker who loves making those movies, it's Quentin Tarantino. Famously known as a film nerd, Tarantino's filmography is filled with homages to film history. Whether it's the blaxploitation era in "Jackie Brown" or the spaghetti westerns in "Django Unchained", his love of cinema is always on display. You could therefore argue that his latest Best Picture contender - "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - represents a culmination of his filmography to date. Chock full with references to classic cinema, Tarantino shows off his film literacy with a comedy-drama that educates as much as it entertains.

Indeed, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is practically a crash course in classic cinema. Set during the late 1960s, it reflects the turning point when Classic Hollywood was making way for the New Hollywood movement which would emerge in the next decade. Incorporating real life figures of the time with fictional characters, the film thus follows a fading star of 1950s TV Westerns - Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo DiCaprio - who struggles to find his place in the new world order. With his trusted stunt double and closest friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) by his side, he attempts a personal reinvention as a movie star. But it will prove to be his greatest challenge yet, as a growing, youthful counterculture threatens to leave him behind.

That tension between old and new hollywood is at the core of "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", as it serves as a time capsule for a turning point in the film industry. In this regard, Tarantino instills an evocative atmosphere of 1960s Los Angeles, thanks to the music, clothing, sets, and the hair. Oscar nods for the film's aesthetic would definitely be well deserved, particularly for Best Production Design. And Quentin Tarantino will surely garner the respect of his peers in his Best Director bid.

Tarantino's attention to detail brings a tangible authenticity to the settings, augmented by playful nods to films and stars of the era, ranging from "The Great Escape" and "Rosemary's Baby" to "The Wrecking Crew". Indeed, the latter notably draws attention to the subplot involving rising star (played with eager gusto by Margot Robbie). But while initial promos highlighted the ill-fated Tate - and the murderous Manson Family plays a major role in the film - she remains more of a concept than a fully drawn character.

Ultimately, Tate's storyline becomes a casualty of a screenplay that struggles to cohere. As such, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Thankfully, its best parts truly resonate enough (and will surely push it forward in the Best Original Screenplay race). Namely, the friendship between Dalton and Booth and the charismatic performances from DiCaprio and Pitt. Indeed, Brad Pitt is cool personified in a performance that will likely net him a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Meanwhile, DiCaprio will also garner himself yet another Best Actor nod for his outstanding work. Using every ounce of his physicality and expressive eyes, he is often self-deprecating and vulnerable as a man who must prove to himself and the world that he is a true movie star. Ironically, DiCaprio is effortlessly charismatic in the role, once again proving his movie star bona fides. And perhaps that's the essence of the film and Hollywood itself. No matter the era, it's a town built on make believe and only the most convincing imposters survive.

1 comment:

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