Oscars 2019: The Case of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

We have reached the eighth post in my Case of series outlining the pros and cons of films up for Best Picture at the Oscars. Up now: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. If you missed previous write-ups, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/14/oscars-2019-the-case-of-ford-v-ferrari/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/15/oscars-2019-the-case-of-the-irishman/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/17/oscars-2019-the-case-of-jojo-rabbit/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/18/oscars-2019-the-case-of-joker/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/18/oscars-2019-the-case-of-little-women/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/19/oscars-2019-the-case-of-marriage-story/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/01/20/oscars-2019-the-case-of-1917/

Let’s get at it!

The Case for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Tarantino is a legendary filmmaker and his efforts have yet to win Best Picture despite nominations for Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained. With critical acclaim and healthy box office ($141 million), this star studded entry might simply feel like QT’s time has come. The precursor love has extended to Brad Pitt (the major front runner for Supporting Actor) and a Golden Globe victory for Best Musical/Comedy. It’s tied for the second most nominations with 10 along with The Irishman and 1917.

The Case Against Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

This might not seem like a big deal. but its omission for Best Editing kind of seems like a thing. The Best Picture recipient almost never misses that final five. Furthermore, its loss in the PGA race to 1917 and SAG ensemble to Parasite are significant exclusions.

The Verdict

A narrative is being established that the race could be between 1917 and Parasite. Yet Hollywood still feels like the third viable contender even with the lack of SAG and PGA attention.

Up next in my Case of posts… Parasite!

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Movie Review

***There are light spoilers contained in this review. Nothing here should adversely affect your viewing experience, but if you wish to go in totally clean, you may wish wait until watching it.

fairy tale

noun

  • something resembling a fairy tale in being magical, idealized, or extremely happy

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is this writer/director’s version on that definition. It’s certainly hinted at in the title. There’s little doubt that this is his idealized view of a Hollywood that was indeed magical in his eyes. The picture takes place over a period of six months in 1969 as the movie business is undergoing a seismic shift in attitude befitting the era. Films like Easy Rider with their independent and counter culture spirit have overtaken big budget musicals and other weary genre exercises. Young hotshot directors like Roman Polanski are hot off acclaimed stateside debuts like Rosemary’s Baby.

Mid level TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) finds himself at a crossroads. He had a hit western in the 1950s called “Bounty Law”. Years later, he’s primarily cast as the heavy in weekly episodic serials. He doesn’t find it particularly rewarding and he hates the idea of hippies populating his industry. His schmaltzy agent (Al Pacino) wants him to go Italy to shoot low budget spaghetti westerns. Rick sees it as a career death knell.

There is one constant in Rick’s life besides an endless supply of booze. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is his trusty stunt double who’s been with him for years. In this fairy tale, Cliff represents the extremely happy. While Rick often hilariously and sometimes touchingly fusses and frets over his standing in the business, Cliff is happy go lucky. This seems, in part, to stem from the fact that he may have gotten away with offing his nagging wife. Guilty or not so, he’s just as happy performing menial household tasks for Rick as he is falling off horses or doing dangerous car stunts.

Another example of the extremely happy is Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Her and her aforementioned virtuoso hubby Roman Polanski have just moved next door to Rick. She seems to walk on air in her new world of Tinsel Town bliss and is a stunning breeze of fresh air to any room she enters. While Rick is floundering, Sharon is perpetually adorned with a glass slipper.

Of course, we the audience know the real life happenings that ended Sharon’s life in the Hollywood hills. While Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) is giving little screen time himself, notable members of his cult are. They make the acquaintance of Cliff, who ends up at the Spahn ranch in a deliciously climactic and anticlimactic sequence. The primary cult member is Pussycat, played by Margaret Qualley in a standout performance that is both unnerving and charming.

The events of the Manson murders are handled in a manner in which perhaps only this filmmaker could get away with. Inglourious Basterds lovers take note. The Manson aspect is not the main focus at all. Yet when it’s time for that fateful night, it’s handled in an audacious manner that is right in Tarantino’s violent wheelhouse.

That said, as it pertains to screen time, this is probably the director’s least bloody offering to date. Hollywood is more about spending leisurely time with these characters. You get the feeling that Tarantino would have killed to hang out with them fifty years ago, particularly Rick and Cliff. The actors playing them are terrific. DiCaprio has the more complex role as he battles his demons and his battered ego. Pitt’s Cliff is a simpler man, but his work here is every bit equal to DiCaprio’s. Robbie is a ray of sunshine. Her scene where she visits a movie theater playing one of her pics is joyful to witness (and kudos to Tarantino for using the real footage of Tate). Supporting players are too numerous to mention, but it’s always great to see frequent collaborator Kurt Russell in anything. And Mike Moh warrants mention for an uncanny impression of Bruce Lee.

An argument could be made that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Quentin’s “slowest” picture. Due to his intense interest in the late 1960s era where he came of age in Southern California, it could also be said that it’s his most personal. Sometimes personal is code for self indulgent. My take? Getting to indulge in his words and creations is a luxury. Taking the time to savor his characters and the situations he puts them in is endlessly entertaining. This could be called a dark fairy tale when considering its maker. I’d say it’s more melancholy upon completion as this visionary artist contemplates what could have been in his most treasured model of Hollywood.

**** (out of four)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Box Office Prediction

Director Quentin Tarantino and star Leonardo DiCaprio both return to the silver screen for the first time in three and a half years with the release of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood next weekend. Set in the late 1960s, Mr. Tarantino’s latest casts DiCaprio as a washed up TV actor with Brad Pitt as his longtime stunt double. The sprawling supporting players include Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Damian Lewis, the late Luke Perry, Damon Herriman, Mike Moh, Zoe Bell, and Al Pacino.

When Hollywood premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, it did so to reviews expected of its director. The Rotten Tomatoes score is at 92% and it could attract Oscar attention. The teaming of DiCaprio (in his first role since his Oscar winning turn in The Revenant) and Pitt and the many Tarantino followers certainly have given this a high profile.

In order to achieve its maker’s largest all-time three day start, Hollywood would need to top the $38 million made by Inglourious Basterds ten years ago. However, that’s a bit of a misnomer. 2012’s Django Unchained opened over Christmas and took in $30 million from Friday to Sunday. Yet it made $63 million over its expanded holiday rollout.

The range here is pretty wide. It’s feasible that Hollywood doesn’t quite reach that high 30s threshold. I think it gets there with a just a few hundred thousand to spare.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood opening weekend prediction: $38.7 million

Oscar Watch: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

25 years ago today, Quentin Tarantino’s second feature Pulp Fiction held its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. Today saw the Riviera unveiling of his ninth – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The black comedy casts Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as a movie star and his stunt double, respectively. Set in 1969, Hollywood also focuses on the Manson murders with Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. The sprawling supporting cast includes Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, the late Luke Perry, Margaret Qualley, Damian Lewis, Bruce Dern, Emile Hirsch, and Al Pacino.

Slated to hit screens stateside on July 26, it’s fair to say this is the most eagerly anticipated Cannes debut of 2019. Some reviews from the festival are glowing and that’s not unexpected when it comes to Mr. Tarantino. Others, while positive, indicate it’s not quite the masterpiece that Pulp Fiction or Inglourious Basterds are. Both of those pics (and 2012’s Django Unchained) nabbed Best Picture nods.

Based on early buzz, I expect Hollywood to do the same with a strong possibility that its director gets a nomination as well. He will almost certainly be honored for his Original Screenplay. As for performances, both DiCaprio and Pitt are being lauded. I’m not certain at this point whether both will be campaigned for in lead Actor. A split (meaning Pitt in Supporting Actor) could increase the chances of both getting in. Margot Robbie is also getting raves and could certainly factor into Supporting Actress.

Bottom line: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has been looked at as a contender since it was announced. Today’s happenings in France confirm it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Autopsy of Jane Doe Movie Review

Andre Ovredal’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a brisk and largely effective experience that focuses on a profession not often explored in the movies: morticians. They’re the father and son team of Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austin Tilden (Emile Hirsch), Virginia coroners given an unusual late night assignment.

The title character has been delivered to them after being discovered at a grisly homicide scene. Jane Doe (Olwen Catherine Kelly) is a beautiful twenty something found in the basement of a house where the crime occurred. The other victims are marked with the bloody injuries you’d come to expect. Her corpse is in pristine condition.

As the duo pry away at her body, the cause of her demise becomes even more confounding. What’s inside of Jane Doe can’t explain her outward appearance. The Tildens begin to question who or what they have lying on the slab. And that’s when the supernatural elements kick in.

The screenplay doesn’t dwell much on character development or backstory. There is a couple minutes on Tildens family history that’s not really necessary, but it’s thankfully brief. What is dwelled upon is close ups of Jane’s cold gray eyes and other cut open features. You begin to wonder when and if those eyes will blink or move. In many ways, it is Kelly’s performance that’s the most expressive and she never utters a word.

The screenplay succeeds at turning Cox and Hirsch into amateur sleuths as they go about their assignment. Cox’s Tommy is the veteran who thought he’d seen it all while Hirsch’s Austin is still his apprentice in the nearly 100 year old family business. This is a different and often original kind of detective story before the scare tactics take over the second half.

It’s the first half that succeeds the best as we wonder where this is all leading. Once we’re clued in, the explanation makes some sense (not always the case in this genre). The Autopsy of Jane Doe is also sensible in being quick and efficient with enough suspense to keep horror enthusiasts happy.

*** (out of four)

Oscar History: 2007

Tonight on the blog – we review the Oscars from 2007, continuing with my series of Oscar History posts. 2007 was a year in which the brilliant Coen Brothers finally received some Academy love. Their critically lauded No Country for Old Men won Best Picture and earned the twosome the Best Director prize. It’s hard to argue with the Academy’s choice of this terrific pic for the top prize.

In my view, There Will Be Blood would’ve been another deserving recipient and it was nominated for Best Picture, along with Joe Wright’s Atonement, Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton, and Jason Reitman’s Juno. I likely would’ve left Atonement and Juno off the list and considered David Fincher’s meticulously crafted Zodiac and/or Ridley Scott’s American Gangster.

A running theme of my Oscar posts has been the Academy’s consistent lack of comedy inclusion and, for me, the genre’s 2007 highlight was Superbad, one of the finest raunch-fests in quite some time.

I was also a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s ode to B movies, Grindhouse.

There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson was included in the Best Director race along with Gilroy and Reitman. Atonement director Joe Wright was the lone director left out whose film was nominated and Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was a bit of a surprise nominee. As mentioned, they all lost to the Coens. I would have certainly included Fincher’s work in Zodiac.

The Best Actor race was over as soon as Daniel Day-Lewis’s work in There Will Be Blood was seen and it would mark his second win after being honored for My Left Foot eighteen years earlier. Other nominees (who truly can say it was just an honor to be nominated after Day-Lewis’s tour de force): George Clooney in Michael Clayton, Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd, Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah, and Viggo Mortensen for Eastern Promises.

Nobody plays a calculating bad guy better than Denzel Washington and I probably would have found room for him with his turn in American Gangster.

In the Best Actress race, Marion Cotillard would win for La Vie En Rose – beating out Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), Julie Christie (Away from Her), Laura Linney (The Savages), and Ellen Page (Juno).

Leaving out Keira Knightley’s work in Atonement was a surprise. For my dark horse contender, Christina Ricci’s fearless work in Black Snake Moan might’ve made my cut.

Like the Best Actor category, the Supporting Actor race was over when audiences and critics saw Javier Bardem’s amazing performance in No Country for Old Men. Other nominees: Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War, Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild, and Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton.

Paul Dano’s performance in There Will Be Blood certainly should’ve been acknowledged here. Two others to consider: Robert Downey Jr.’s work as a boozy reporter in Zodiac and Kurt Russell’s hilarious and sadistic role in Grindhouse.

The Supporting Actress race belonged to Tilda Swinton as a ruthless attorney in Michael Clayton. She would win over double nominee Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There, Ruby Dee for American Gangster, Saoirse Ronan in Atonement, and Amy Ryan for Gone Baby Gone.

I would’ve included Kelly MacDonald as Josh Brolin’s wife in No Country for Old Men.

And there’s my take on the ’07 Oscars, my friends! I’ll have 2008 posted soon.