I have said this before and I'll keep saying it - 2019 was one of the best years for movies. And for a 2020 where we were robbed of our theater going experience, I'm glad that we had 2019 to revisit.
And one of those movies that I keep revisiting is Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, which is currently 16 on my personal top 100.
When I look at Quentin Tarantino's career, there are 3 movies that stand out in my mind.
The first one is The Hateful Eight, Pulp Fiction, and Reservoir Dogs... But the movie that surpasses each of those in my mind is Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and I am so happy that it did.
As we know with Pulp Fiction ($8.5M Budget) and Reservoir Dogs ($1.2M Budget), Tarantino has always found a way to capitalize on a low budget by building a strong script, adding humor, and finding a great cast to bring his world to life.
When Hateful Eight ($62M Budget) came along, Tarantino was very well established in his career and could cast whoever he wanted in his leads - but what I loved about that film is that while he had as many resources as he did in that stage of his career.... he chose to keep the scale small and have the majority of the tension-ridden drama take place in a small lodge during a blizzard... once again relying on the props, actors, and his script to keep the audience captive.
But when he has had the luxury to put more money down on his films like Django Unchained ($100M Budget) and Inglorious Basterds ($70M), I have always found myself going back to his smaller scale movies.... Until Once Upon A Time In Hollywood!
Movie Making Elements
First, you have the scale of practical effects/sets that were used with Tarantino rebuilding the hollywood strip to the finest detail. There are so many driving scenes which harks back to American Graffiti by George Lucas, but in those driving scenes - you truly get transported back to that era! You have the DJs on the radio and an amazing soundtrack that you are listening with DiCaprio and Pitt. Which really brings you into the car with them and into this world.
And in my opinion... this is his best script. And there is so many cases you could make for his other movies but the back and forth dialogue with DiCaprio and Pitt to me is a big reason why Brad Pitt got his Oscar for best supporting actor!
This filming is so much fun! You get the lighting elements/reflections of the strip, and all the scenes of driving cars in the film down the windy Hollywood Hills and down the strip. From a practical effects standpoint, you have to get creative on what part of the sets you fill in each shot and with the constant motion of the cars... it is so much fun to watch.
So many! But I'll cut myself off at 2.
1) Trudi and Rick: The first scene for me is when Rick Dalton gets a job as a villain in a western and is reading a book next to child actor: Trudi Fraser. And this scene actually had me crying laughing in the theaters!
Things I Love:
- Just the comparison of the book sizes. Trudi is reading a big Walt Disney Bio and Rick Dalton (the adult) is reading a skinny western about a down and out Bronco Buster.
- As Rick talks about the Book you quickly make the connection that Easy Breezy (the Bronco Buster) is him... And Trudi just assumes that he is just that moved by the book when really Rick Dalton is once again reflecting on where his career has lead him.
2) Hollywood BLVD Drive: There are so many driving scenes but the one I am referring to is when he hear the song California Dreamin' by Jose Feliciano come on the radio.
Things I Love:
- In this scene we get to see two careers passing each other in the night with Sharon Tate reflecting on her rise to stardom and Rick simply reflecting on a good day on the set, at a time in his career where he really needed it.
- And this scene to me is such a flex! Because you see the sharp detail of the sets that Tarantino built down to every news stand.
- When I say that this movie is just fun to look at... this scene is the prime example. The lights, the music, the feeling that is just left unsaid. So good!
- The Camera Work is so fun to watch! And you get this with so many driving scenes but when you take in the night reflections of the city of lights off the buffed and shined car, the moving camera following Rick's car... a work of art.
What Stands Out:
The Story. When you look at Tarantino's movies, the one thing that builds the tension in his movies is that you know there is going to be one extremely violent scene! So when you don't see it, you are on the edge of your seat waiting for it to happen. With this story documenting the murder of Sharon Tate, you know that the road you are on will eventually lead to the Manson Family Murder. And as an audience, that kind of leaves you unsettled and nervous.
While we largely view this movie through the eyes of a has been actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Pitt), we see glimpses of the beautiful life that Sharon Tate had and how she was so loved by those around her - which makes this inevitable build up all the more sad, which is strange for a Tarantino movie.
This movie celebrates her life. And as the climax happens in the movie, Tarantino changes history and proposes the question of what if the Manson Family Killers went to this fictitious home next door... the home of Rick Dalton... and what if Cliff Booth greets these "guests."
There was such a sigh of relief and the audience was once again able to take on their customary role, and that is cheer for the gore filled killing, and for Cliff to bury these "Hippies!"
It is such a rollercoaster, but I think there is one glaring element that makes this movie special. In a world where we see all sorts of movies documenting real life events, there is a fine line that exists where you simply recount violent history and not celebrate it.
If the Manson Family saw this movie, they would HATE IT. Because Tarantino robs them of their high profile murder and makes his band of Hippies NO MATCH for Cliff Booth on multiple occasions.
There was an interview with Tarantino, DiCaprio, Pitt, and Robbie and one touching element of that interview was when Tarantino recounted his talks with the Tate family, sharing his idea. And not only did they give him their blessing, but they also wanted Margot Robbie to wear some of Sharon Tate's jewelry. And this move, made me respect Quentin Tarantino even more as a film maker.
Going back to Tarantino's early years working in a movie store... he always had a love and admiration for the film industry and this movie celebrates that! From the little guy prepping the next set, the makeup artists behind the scenes, to the glitz and glamour of what we the audience would see as we go to the movies.
To me, this was Tarantino's authentic self showing his love for what he does, while still holding onto the elements that he is famous for, and capitalizing on a budget that brought his cherished memories of this Hollywood Utopia to life.
- Joey Almars
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood currently ranks in my personal top 100 movies of all time as well as what I believe to be the 100 greatest movies of all time. To see where Once Upon A Time in Hollywood currently ranks on those lists... follow the links!