Movie Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

I’m still making my way through as many of the Oscar nominations as I can. Up this time was Quentin Tarantino’s latest, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I’m never entirely sure what I’ll get with a Tarantino movie. Some of his works are brilliant, and some feel like they try too hard, but I’d generally say I’m a fan. I’ve yet to watch a Tarantino and feel like I wasted my time, and that’s saying something. Once Upon a Time has been nominated for 10 Oscars, though, so my expectations were riding pretty high going into the movie.

For the first half to two-thirds, I was left wondering what all the buzz was. The movie seemed headed toward the 6-7 range. Then the last third went and made me revise my rating all the way to a 9, and that’s saying a good deal. Of course, it happens in a way that I’d rather not discuss, on the off chance some of you still haven’t seen the movie and intend to. Suffice it to say it does a great job of tying the various strands together in a very compelling fashion, making you think back on what you’ve already watched and view it in a different light.

The premise is straightforward: Tarantino shows a slice of what life was like in Hollywood in the late 60s. Leonardo DiCaprio plays an actor headed toward has-been status, and Brad Pitt is his longtime stuntman and gofer. The bulk of the first half just follows the two of them through their lives, while also showing us glimpses of real-life people (played by actors, of course): Sharon Tate and Bruce Lee among them. Eventually all paths intersect, though I believe the movie makes several assumptions, the largest being that you realize Sharon Tate’s ultimate fate (murdered along with four friends in her house with four others, at the hands of the Manson Family).

That’s all I’ll say about the plot, but I want to talk a bit about the various awards it’s been nominated in, and my thoughts for each of them (in light of the movies I’ve already seen):

  • Best Picture–It’s a great movie, but not nearly the level of 1917 or A Marriage Story. That said, it’s all about Hollywood, which often plays to Oscar voters more strongly than it does to me.
  • Best Director–Again, a solid job by Tarantino, but I didn’t see anything here to make me think it’ll win.
  • Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio)–I thought it was fascinating seeing a great actor act as a bad actor, and I imagine that was very tricky to do. Adam Driver still has my vote so far, however.
  • Best Supporting Actor (Brad Pitt)–A great turn by Pitt as the stunt man. I wouldn’t be upset if he won.
  • Best Original Screenplay–Often the category Tarantino does best in, but I didn’t think this writing was Tarantino at his best form.
  • Best Cinematography–If 1917 doesn’t win this, I’ll be stunned. I can’t imagine seeing a better shot movie than 1917.
  • Best Production Design–I could see this movie winning this one. They did a wonderful job recapturing that era of Hollywood, and they did it in a way that felt effortless, which I think is even more remarkable. Loads of little details that all work together perfectly.
  • Best Costume Design–Ditto
  • Best Sound Mixing–I’m not a big enough sound guy to be able to give an informed opinion.
  • Best Sound Editing–Ditto

I’m glad to see none of the movies I’ve watched so far have been anything close to duds, though if you’re turned off by violence and language, I wouldn’t say there’s anything in this movie to say you should see it anyway.



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