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Posts Tagged ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’

Last year, shortly before the Oscars I wrote about how I thought Green Book was in with a real shout of winning the best picture Oscar Because of the way the best picture is voted for, it can be seen that the most popular film, doesn’t necessarily win, it is more that the least unpopular movie wins.  A quick recap on how voting works:  In other categories the voter picks their favourite and the person/people/movie with the most votes wins. In the Best Picture poll however, each voter ranks the films from favourite to least favourite.  All the votes are counted and if a film achieves over 50% of the vote it wins.  If however there is no clear winner, the film to achieve the lowest number of votes (or number one picks) is eliminated.  The vote is recounted; the second place pick of anyone who voted for the eliminated film is now elevated to the first choice.  This process is continually repeated until one film achieves over half the ballot and is declared winner.

Thus the least unpopular movie triumphs.  Green Book probably wasn’t the film to get the most number one picks, but it probably got a lot of 2nd, 3rd or even fourth place picks.  The complication this year is that it’s a really strong field, with no obvious Green Book.  The closest is probably either Ford v Ferrari, or Little Women.  Another curveball, Netflix.   It is often suggested that lots of voters don’t go to the movies so haven’t seen all they have voted for.  Sure, they get screeners of nominated films, but is there a higher chance that the will already have seen a movie on a screening platform like Marriage Story and The Irishman.  They we have the Hollywood effect, Hollywood has no vanity and doest vote for movies about itself does it?  Films about films and the industry tend to do well, and Once upon a Time in Hollywood is a real love letter to the town and the industry.  Joker and Jojo Rabbit may be just a little to divisive and Parasite has the massive battle of subtitles to overcome.

So who will win? who knows, and who really cares? The true merit of a film is how much the viewer enjoys it, not how many awards it wins, or how much money it makes!  With this in mind, here is my ranking the best picture nominations from favourite to least favourite:

  1. Once upon a Time in HollywoodOnce_Upon_a_Time_in_Hollywood_poster
  2. ParasiteParasite
  3. 19171917
  4. Jojo RabbitJojo Rabbit
  5. The IrishmanThe Irishman
  6. Marriage StoryMarriage Story
  7. Ford v FerrariFord v Ferrari
  8. Little WomenLittle Women
  9. Jokerjoker

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It’s that time of year again, my top ten movies of the year.  The criteria for selection: All films to have been released in the UK during 2019,  and seen by me in a cinema. 

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – The film I was most concerned about turned out to be my favourite of the year. I didn’t particularly enjoy Quentin Tarantino’s last film, The Hateful Eight, do we really need another movie about Charles Manson, and most significantly, is he capable of the sensitivity needed to tell the story of the horrendous murder of actress Sharon Tate?Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

The Irishman – Martin Scorsese’s epic tale of mob hitman Frank Sheeran based on the novel I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt.  This is not Goodfellas part 2, it is more thoughtful and sombre film than Scorsese’s previous entries into the gangster genre.  A masterpiece by a true master of cinema, the three and a half hour runtime is justified! The Irshman

Styx – Unbelievably this is just Wolfgang Fischer second feature, and more than a decade after his debut.  If All Is Lost is an existential crisis, Styx is a commentary on one of the biggest world issues today.  The title tells you all you need to know: In Greek mythology Styx is the river between the land of the living and the land of the dead.  Passengers must pay the ferryman, if they have no money they must remain on the river for 100 years.styx

Midsommar – I visited rural Sweden for midsummer a few years ago, while I’m pleased to report there was no murder or mutilation, it is a really big deal.  If you hated Hereditary, you will really hate Midsommar!  I was mixed on Hereditary but loved Midsommar.  The film looks amazing and is disturbing rather than scary, the near two and a half hour runtime flew by.  Once again Florence Pugh proves she is the most exciting and talented young actor working today.Midsommar

Apollo 11 – The rare inclusion of a documentary on my bets of year list.  Made up of NASA footage shot at the time of the moon landings.  Much of it on 65mm.  With no voiceover and no talking heads, it’s a wonder the film can hold the attention for its 93 minute runtime.  The key word here is wonder, because the film is filled with wonder, it is nothing short of stunning.Apollo 11

Burning – Its best to go into Chang-dong Lee’s Korean thriller with as little background information as possible.  Wonderfully ambiguous that keeps you guessing until the end and ultimately asks a lot more questions than it answers.Burning

Can You Ever Forgive Me? – True story of celebrity biographer Lee Israel based on her own memoir detailing her decent to rock bottom.  Written and directed by Marielle Heller with both flair, and humanity.  Melissa McCarthy’s gives her best performance to date, Richard E. Grant is as brilliant as ever.Can you ever forgivr me

If Beale Street Could Talk – Barry Jenkins adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel.  Brilliantly conveying a novels internal monologue in a way that last years On Chesil Beach failed to do. The acting is first rate throughout,  but the true triumph of the film comes in its direction and construction.If Beale Street Could Talk

The Nightingale – I have been waiting five years Jennifer Kent’s follow up to The Babadook, it was worth the wait.  What has been tagged as a revenge thriller, but it is so much more than that, a damning indictment of colonialism it is brutal but never gratuitous.The Nightingale

Under the Silver Lake – The downside to David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up to It Follows is that it has a feel someone trying to emulate David Lynch or the Coen brothers.  The plus side, is that it looks amazing and has some great moments of flair.  It doesn’t always work but it so bold it deserves to be seen.Under the Silver Lake

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A little late with my movie of the month following a busy weekend, here are the contenders, just five new movies and two classic reissues:

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw – The Fast and the Furious long since stopped being The Fast and the Furious and became Mission Impossible, if you accept that you will probably enjoy their latest outing.  It isn’t exactly good, but it is really great fun.  Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham are likeable stars, Idris Elba is having great fun as the villain, and Vanessa Kirby is sensational.Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw

Oldboy – Back in cinemas for one day only, one of my all time favourite movies is as great as ever.Oldboy

Blinded by the Light – Based on the memoir of Bruce Springsteen supperfan Sarfraz Manzoor: Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll.  The tone of the film doesn’t always work, not knowing if it wants to commit to being a musical fantasy or not.  The young leads are great and its use of music of The Boss is great.Blinded by the Light

Pain & Glory – Many of Pedro Almodóvar’s movies have elements of autobiography, particularly about his relationship with his mother.  This may be his most autobiography and is certainly about his mother. Penélope Cruz is as great as ever in a small part.  Always underrated as an actor, Antonio Banderas gives the performance of a lifetime; it’s a shame Oscar is blinkered to subtitles! The film features something in the final act that I would call a revelation rather than a twist, it is truly sublime. Pain & Glory

Apocalypse Now, Final Cut – I first saw Apocalypse Now in my early teens, and loved it.  A few years later I saw a scratchy old 35mm print on the big screen, it was even better. The Final Cut offers a longer version of the film (but around 20 minutes shorter than the Redux version), with a runtime around three hours.  More significant than the cut, is the print, a 4K transfer from the original negative; I saw it on IMAX, it looked amazing! Apocalypse Now

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino’s return to form.  Rather than try and distil my thoughts into a paragraph, take a look at THISonce upon a time in hollywood dicaprio and pitt

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – Teen horror, that lacks any real horror or scares.  It is generally fun with likeable characters, and a couple of good performances.  The film looks fantastic with excellent production design and photography. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

As always I excluded re-releases for movie of the month, this leaves two contenders.  In most moths Pain & Glory would be a clear winner, but looses out to my Movie of the Month:movie of the month once upon a time in hollywood (1)

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Spoiler warning – I have avoide any final act spoilers, but do talk about many aspects of the film in detail.  If you intend to see the film but have not as yet, I recomend you watch it before reading this.  once upon a time in hollywood poster

I was really concerned when Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was announced.  Firstly we don’t need another movie about Charles Manson, but more significantly, is Quentin Tarantino capable of the sensitivity needed to tell the story of the horrendous murder of actress Sharon Tate?  My fears were exacerbated  by the fact I didn’t particularly enjoy his last film, The Hateful Eight (2015).  Quentin Tarantino has been self indulgent ever since  Kill Bill (2003 and 2004) got so long the studio forced him to cut it in half.  Django Unchained (2012) is a good 165 minute movie that could have been a great 100 minute movie.  The Hateful Eight, just dragged!  But I am always hopeful of a return to form, after all, I love Tarantino’s first six movies (Kill Bill is officially one movie), and despite their problems Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight had some really good moments.  It is has been suggested that his work is also hollow and shallow, and totally lacking in sensitivity.  As for lacking in sensitivity, he would probably say guilty as charged and proud of it.  Shallow, is unfounded, but they are certainly hollow, this isn’t a problem, and shouldn’t be considered a criticism.  This is partly because they are so entertaining, but mainly because it is the intention, it is part of the art, the idea of l’art pour l’art suggests true art, is free from any didactic, moral, or function.  The lack of sensitivity was a bigger hurdle to overcome knowing what happed to Sharon Tate and how it could have been depicted.  However, I had overlooked one thing: Once Upon a Time.  The title evoked the Sergio Leone Once Upon a Time movies, I had forgotten that Tarantino had started a movie Once Upon a Time, and that movie, Inglourious Basterds was revisionist at very least, bordering on a fairytale.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, falls very much in this category, revisionist and, or fairytale, and like Quentin Tarantino’s best movies Pulp Fiction (1994) and Jackie Brown (1997), its full of characters you want to spend time with.  The film is littered with a mixture of real and fictional characters, it is told from the prospective of two of the fictional characters Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).  Dalton is an actor who had been the star of a TV western, until he quit to pursue a movie career, think Steve McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive.  Unlike McQueen who within a couple of years of leaving TV was making The Great Escape, Dalton’s career is in a slow but undoubted descent, playing villain of the week on other peoples shows.  Booth is Daltons stunt double whose work has dried up in line with Daltons.  He now works as a driver and general gofer for Dalton, who finds himself without a driving licence thanks to a string of DUI charges.  If not an alcoholic, Dalton is on his way to becoming one!  Racked with insecurity, Booth is also a crutch, the friend who will tell him how it is, but with a positive spin, an ego massage.once upon a time in hollywood dicaprio and pitt

The film is set at the turning point in cinema after the death of the Golden Age, and in the early days of New Hollywood when young filmmakers were making films like Bonnie and Clyde (1967),  The Wild Bunch, and Easy Rider (both 1969).  This is symbolised by Dalton who doesn’t know his place in the new order:  Idols like Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart are a thing of the past.  At the same time, he is too old to be a star of new Hollywood like Al Pacino (who appears in the film as Daltons new agent), and Dennis Hopper (who is referenced in the film).  He isn’t as good, or possibly just as lucky as Steve McQueen (who appears as a character played by Damian Lewis).  The actor who isn’t mentioned, is Clint Eastwood who went from the TV show Rawhide (1959–1965) to Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy of spaghetti Westerns (between 1964 and 1966).  But then neither is James Arness who was the star of Gunsmoke for twenty years but never found anything like that success on the big screen.TV Cowboys

In the film, Dalton lives next door Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), and his new wife Sharon Tate (delightfully portrayed by Margot Robbie).  This both brings the story together and gives prospective to the Daltons character.  Polanski is the hottest director in town thanks to his previous film Rosemary’s Baby (1968).  His young wife Tate, is something of an enigma, groomed as a studio ingénue, in a system that no longer existed.  Married to, and working with Polanski, what could have happened if not for her tragic death?  Polanski is largely absent from the story concentrating more on Tate as she drifts through the film, an ethereal presence in the background of the story.  It has been suggested that she doesn’t have enough lines of dialogue, but that somehow misses the point of what this story is, she is the heart of the movie, not the subject of it.  The film portrays Tate purchasing a first edition of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles as a gift for Polanski.  A fan of Hardy’s work, she recommended the story to her husband for a movie adaptation.  Ten years later, he made the film, with Nastassja Kinski in the title role.  It was nominated for six Oscars, winning three of them.  Would this have been a project they worked on together?  once upon a time in hollywood margot robbie

Forgoing a traditional three act structure, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has one prolonged act, a time jump and a montage followed by a final act.  The less you know about the final act the better, I am therefore not going to mention it further.  The montage that separates the two acts is Tarantino at his best, it is snappy and fun where it could have been clunky and distracting.  Narrated by Kurt Russell, it gives a great insight into the “spaghetti” film industry, filled with too clever for their own good in jokes.  What we see is the natural conclusion to the first act, and a perfect setup for the conclusion.  This is no surprise as one of  Tarantino signatures, and expertise is the juxtaposition of narratives.   The brilliance of the montage is how it blends a little truth, and a lot of in jokes into the fiction.Rick Dalton Movie posters (1)

Quentin Tarantino has an interesting history of shooting people in cars talking, and making it really interesting, his first two movies, Reservoir Dogs, and Pulp Fiction are full of them.  The latter even had a key scene in a restaurant where old cars had replace booths.  This isn’t anything new, he would have grown up watching movies like American Graffiti (1973), and Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), that latter making great use of the smaller Techniscope cameras to get inside the car and changing the way cars were shot.  Here we see great conversations in cars, or one particular car, Rick Dalton’s Cadillac Coupe DeVille.  We see Dalton talking to Cliff Booth, these conversations centre around Dalton’s insecurities and fears.  But we also see Booth picking up Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) a hitchhiker; their conversations are frivolous and fun in the vein of what we expect from Tarantino.  Tate however is more a mystery, we see her driving with Polanski in his old MG, and in her Porsche giving a lift to a hitchhiker.  The two journeys have destinations, the first at the Playboy Mansion, the second at valet car park.  Despite the lack of dialogue we learn so much about the character in this moment.  The hitcher and Tate embrace and wish each other luck, an instant if temporary friend.  At the Playboy Mansion, Tate is greeted by friends Mama Cass (Rachel Redleaf) and Michelle Phillips (Rebecca Rittenhouse), the trio immediately go off to dance joyously.  We learn a little more, thanks to some exposition from Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis).  That is where we start to understand, the film is Rick Dalton, and Cliff Booth’s fictional story that we follow while the real world happens around them.  They, like everyone are witnesses to history unfolding, and they are our way into this world separated from us by almost exactly fifty years.  The reason to stay with the film, is that you want to spend more time with these people.  Booth is described as a war hero, it is suggested he may have committed, and got away with a terrible crime.  He comes across as a nice guy, the type you would like to have a beer with, but there is something under the surface, is he totally zen, or is this anger management?  Is he a coiled spring waiting to explode?  As always, Tarantino writes characters better than he rights stories, this is probably why Jackie Brown, based on Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch remains his most accessible film.  But, as all successful people are, he understands his limitations and works with them, sometimes embracing them.  Structure is his his friend, his collaborator. talking in cars

Like all the best Tarantino movies, Once Upon a Time is as much about look and mood as it is about story and character, and that is what he has created so well.  You believe that Rick Dalton, lives in that house, and that Tate and Polanski live next door (and he is afraid to talk to them), and that Booth lives out in the valley behind a drive-in.  The streets look like the 1960’s and look like a real world, not a set (except the E-type Jaguar, on Daltons road that never moves in six months), the people dress like they are from the 60’s not dressing up to look like the 60s’, and listen to music of the time.  Music has always been a big thing in Tarantino movies, and he is famous for his deep cuts, there is no exception here.  He wisely stayed away from The Beatles (referred to as, The White Album) and we get a perfect blend of Paul Revere & The Raiders, Bob Seger, Neil Diamond.  a lot of the songs I recognise, but don’t really know.  This vague recognition is all part of the shorthand that drags us in, as is Booth’s T-shirt bearing the logo for Champion spark plugs (I’m sure I had one when I was a kid, and expect to see people wearing them again now).  But, I suspect it goes deeper than that.  Tarantino isn’t just saying “remember the 60’s?” He is saying “this is what the 60’s were, and this is what they could have been!”. He is reminding us of the ideas and ideals of the day, and how they were lost, forgotten and destroyed, but for the smallest things, those ideals could have been realised.  And most significantly, he is telling us that we are at a similar tipping point today and asking the question, “what the fuck are you going to do about it”.  This is possibly the first time since Inglourious Basterds that he has had something to say.  Am I reading too much into this and attributing Tarantino depth that he doesn’t have?  I don’t think so.  This is a film that needs a second and a third viewing, and like Pulp Fiction, and Inglourious Basterds one that film students will be debating and deconstructing for a generation.

As mentioned at the top, I am not going to go into the final act, but have said enough to indicate that it isn’t an accurate depiction of events, it doesn’t try to be.  If you are interested in what happened, and how this was a turning point for the era and movies, listen to Karina Longworth’s amazing podcast You Must Remember This, where she dedicated a who season to the lead up, events, and aftermath.

If this is to be Quentin Tarantino’s penultimate movie (I don’t believe it is), it is truly a return to form, and an amazing springboard to his swansong.  Taken on its own merits it is a fun, and often funny film that somewhat recaptures my favourite of his films, Pulp Fiction.  It is also a fitting love letter to the Hollywood as a whole, and the birth of New Hollywood.  A director who has always had an eye on late 60’s,a and 1970’s cinema, he has finally visited, and it was a rich and rewarding trip.  The film has its issues, but they are easily forgotten simply because they are outweighed by everything else that is so good.  Not Tarantino’s masterpiece but an accomplished work and for only the second or third time in his career, he isn’t just entertaining us, he has something to say.  Thank you Quentin!

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