Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★½

Less of a review, more of a challenge introduction (don't worry, there's discussion proper on this one).

As many of you know I tend to be very, very behind on the hot new releases, especially considering how much 2019 hit it out the ballpark in terms of great films. Even though I tend to rag on it a lot, the Academy Awards are a decent enough barometer for what the best of the year can offer (at least in America) and remind people of how good a year can be before we complain for them picking the wrong choices (like snubbing Uncut Gems, The Lighthouse, Dolemite is My Name, A Hidden Life, like I said, it's been a good year). For about two or three years I've wanted to be caught up with, at the very least, the big boys (and great girls) the Best Picture category so I can definitively answer what I would pick as the best of the year before the Academy lets me down. So, with that said, I've decided to do a little challenge for myself entitled:

92nd Time's the Charm!

Basically, I intend to finally watch every Best Picture nominee before the prestigious(-ish) awards show announces the film that everyone will gravitate and remember for decades to come and make my prediction (I mean we ALL remember Driving Miss Daisy as the best film of 1989 oh wait a second). My incentive for failure is that for every one film that I miss before the night of February 9th, I have to watch one film from my Anti-Watchlist, without choice and without breaking that promise (needless to say, I really want to actually succeed at this). I'll sprinkle these catch-ups throughout the less-than-a-month period, and see how things turn out for me (and hey, it helps that like 2017 every film I am eager to see minus the obligatory "old man committee" choice).

Anyway, yeah, like my initial reactions in my first review, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is still such a stellar film and I will now stand by the idea that this is Quentin Tarantino's best, or at least my favorite, film that he's pumped out of his super-solid filmography. The beauty that Tarantino unearths in recreating the 60's dreamland of Hollywood is nothing short of sublime, and genuinely feels like a good antidote to some of the more cynical viewpoints that have come out of the recent monopolizing of big-budget franchises and reliance on recognizable Intellectual Properties (there's merits to be had in some of these works, don't get me wrong, but it's frustrating when some use a established idea to pass of an inferior project). Human frustrations are to be had, sure, of the failures, screw-ups, and evil that come up in an idyllic paradise, but it's all in great respect and in service of the art or cheapo quick-productions they make, an innocent and comfortable good that are willing to shed their skin as actors and producers to enjoy and watch what makes up Hollywood (I mentioned in my last review how this is wonderfully done through Sharon Tate sitting in a theater with others watching her movie, The Wrecking Crew, but this is also present when Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth watch an episode of The FBI, making wisecracks and comments like two great friends would and sharing the experience of the show as a community).

Of course, the finale deserves some special recognition, now that the cat's out of the bag towards how Tarantino envisions his history of Hollywood. As you know (and if you don't, SPOILERS from here on out), three members of the Manson family alter their plans of murdering those in Tate's house as a result of a bathrobe-wearing, margarita-in-blender-guzzling Dalton (which cracks me up everytime he takes a swig) and proceed to invade Dalton's home in a twisted, logically-unsound way of giving comeuppance as a result of TV teaching them how to kill (in a way, also commenting on Tarantino's frustration at moral guardians open firing on his violence-heavy films). Compare and contrast, if you'll allow me, on how The Haunting of Sharon Tate reconfigures history (spoilers for that but who gives a shit). Daniel Ferrand's misbegotten version treats the Manson family as spooky slasher villains, reveling in the evil that is their motto and openly justifying their presence through Tate and the gang defending themselves and living to tell their side (or not, I dunno shit got dumb at the end in that one).

Tarantino, however, denies giving the Manson family that sort of legacy, by way of Cliff Booth, tripping balls, curb-stomping and vanquishing their ploy even with a stab to the chest (and a flamethrower courtesy of Dalton). Tate lives, the Manson family don't have the victory of changing the world like they want, and are reduced to footnotes of despicable creatures who wanted to do "devil shit". Tarantino openly sides with the fantasy and transcendence of movies (even through a quick-zoom just before Dalton torches member Sadie, a technique only done once prior in the in-universe film The 14 Fists of McCluskey) and allows his love letter to film to avoid the taint that was the night of August 8, 1969. From the way Hollywood is completely transformed into the glitzy nightlife adorned with lights and the easy-going driving sequences that mostly bask and adore the world surrounding the driver, Tarantino openly refuses to let that vision die, damning the reality in favor of something better and, really, something we all wanted and love because of it (is that self-indulgent? Yes, but with a purpose).

True, the bits of narration is badly-introduced and forgotten about for most of the film (where it does fine as exposition similar to the way one would talk about the true crime) and Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen is the only off-the-mark recreation of a real-life figure that casts its celebrities almost perfectly (my god, dad was right). There's some reasonable disdain for the way Tarantino shows the two would-be female murderers in the finale as tasteless and uncalled for, but knowing first-hand what the alternative is and understanding Tarantino's intent while aware that these two committed one of the scummiest events in history, it's something I myself can't find great umbridge in (for real, if you've seen this and The Haunting of Sharon Tate and found the latter more tasteful, I probably don't wanna know you). Having said all that, this is a thing of beauty, one that wants to radiate love even with the ugliness of humanity and misguided hippies present, and is hypnotically beautiful because of it. A hell of a fantastic start for my Best Picture run-through and a revisit that's just as rewarding as the first time.

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