Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a completely different pace for Quentin Tarantino and it’s one of his best pieces yet.
As he always does, he sets the tone of the film using Rick Dalton’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) footage from his western television show. He instantly transports us to that era and took the audience on a journey.
Normally his runtimes feel dragged out BUT the reason this film kept you engaged was the preconceived expectation of the Manson murders. This film was a bit more tame than the rest of his filmography but he still managed to keep his signatures throughout. When I mean a bit tame, I mean there isn’t violence plastered across the screen.
If you’re a cinema lover like me, then you’re going to fall in love with this movie. Tarantino praised every aspect of the film industry in that era and was so meticulous that it felt like a fairytale. Robert Richardson used such warm tones and he made LA as dreamy as possible.
The reason it’s called “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is because it’s a story about filmmakers and their everyday lives. Whether they’re old agents, washed up actors or newcomers, everyone had a story and everyone wanted to see their name in lights.
The reason this film worked so well was because of the dynamic duo of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. Their characters of Rick Dalton (washed up actor + alcoholic) and Cliff Booth (a very flawed stuntman) were written so well and they both had great chemistry, which made it so much fun. They both owned the screen in their own way and DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton moved in and out of different character’s effortlessly!
The most beautiful part of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the portrayal of Sharon Tate. The story wasn’t supposed to be about her but Margot Robbie was absolutely lovely as Tate, that we were just waiting to see more of her. Again, it was the day in the life of a upcoming actress and her hopefulness of becoming a star pulled on the heartstrings. Tarantino made sure to honour her spirit and he did it so beautifully!
This is one of the best movies of the year because it will just transport you to that era. Tarantino integrated so many films and references that you will definitely need a second watch to let it all set in!
Quentin Tarantino has developed his own cult following over the years and it is because of the way he structures his stories. The other reason, he has such a devout following, is because he only plans on making 10 films. Tarantino is considered an auteur because of his unique style throughout his filmography.
Ahead of the release of his 9th piece, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, I decided to take a look at his previous films and understand how Tarantino received his cult status.
By doing so, I’ve also ranked the films from best to worst and will be analyzing them, by my own ranking, and not by their release dates.
Jackie Brown (1997)
Jackie Brown (1997) was a near perfect heist film and it’s all thanks to the incredible portrayal of Jackie Brown by Pam Grier. The way she carried herself from the opening credits really set the tone for how headstrong she would be throughout.
I also considered this a more political film for Tarantino because of the emphasis that was placed on gun propaganda in America. He also touched upon systemic racism and corruption in the police force, as he used Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Ordell to really explain it.
It felt like a buddy cop film, even though it was much more graphic and violent than your standard buddy comedy. Tarantino is known for adding comedic dialogue at the most unusual moments and that’s why some scenes end up sticking out from the rest. An example would be when, Ordell is in Max’s (Robert Forster) office and he’s explaining what the money would be used for. Or the scene in the van when Ordell and Louis Gara (Robert De Niro) figure out where the rest of the money went.
Tarantino also uses a 5 part structure, majority of the time, to move the story along, even when it is linear. In this case, Tarantino allows a different point of view in the final act with Robert De Niro, when conducting the heist. Another trait I picked up on while watching his films is his famous “trunk shot” and he uses it to show a position of power for his characters towards the beginning of their journey.
What I loved about Jackie Brown was the connection between the dealer, the cops and the middle man, as they all work together, for different reasons, in order to perform the ultimate con.
2. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) has Robert Richardson at his finest and he made this film so visually stunning, while telling a vengeful tale about a woman who had everything taken away from her.
The film plays out like a graphic novel and Tarantino incorporated many different aspects when creating the structure for this story. Yes, it has a disjointed narrative but it all fits together so well because of the voiceovers from Black Mamba (Uma Thurman), tying everything together.
Tarantino pushes his characters to the limit and always allows his actors to play around with their characters and make it their own. Uma embodied Black Mamba and pushed herself to her own limits. The fight choreography was so sharp and edited nicely. They didn’t shy away from the graphic content and it allowed this to be one of the best female led films ever. The choreography and the sound design were perfectly balanced and it definitely stood out from the rest of his films.
Having Lucy Liu and Vivica A. Fox as former Vipers, in the first instalment, made the fight choreography so much better because it was awesome to see, two women with the same skill-set, fighting each other to the death!
Richardson and Tarantino really played with lighting and silhouettes throughout the film and always placed these transitions at the right time. One distinct moment was the final battle sequence with the Crazy 88 vs Black Mamba. In this sequence there were vibrant colours, then once she gauges a member’s eyes out, it shifts to black and white… then afterwards when the lights are switched off, the background is blue, allowing the characters battling in front to be in a perfect silhouette. These are beautiful artistic choices that set Kill Bill Vol. 1 above the rest.
3. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Reservoir Dogs (1992) really sets the tone for his filmmaking abilities that he carries throughout the rest of his filmography. He always has the best opening credits that usually have a great song choice with the rest of a stacked soundtrack.
He tends to always start his film with a scene that has already started and the characters are in mid conversation. Sometimes the dialogue has no relevance to the actual content of the film and it’s just a tactic to get to know the characters on screen and the way they think.
What was so great about Reservoir Dogs was the cast, and the way Tarantino decided to hide certain parts from his audience, so that the implication was there but the audience didn’t see certain graphic scenes, such as cutting a victim’s ear off. The screenplay was simple but it was packed with heavy dialogue that would explain characters intentions and their backstory.
One of the most iconic scenes from this film was the “Stuck in the Middle With You” song playing over Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde aka Vic Vega, torturing a victim and cutting his ear off. It definitely reminds me of something Kubrick would do!
Each actor had great chemistry with each other and the stand off at the end was proof of that. It was a classic guns out, waiting game and they all said their piece before firing at one another.
4. Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Inglorious Basterds (2009) is one of Tarantino’s most daring features because of how he depicted American soldiers and Nazi’s during World War 2.
Like the rest of his filmography, Tarantino has definitely structured this one in a similar way, there is a breakdown showing different groups of people who eventually come together to defeat the evil at the end.
This one is filled with vengeful dialogue and systemic hatred of Nazi Germany, which adds tension in every single scene that Christoph Waltz is in. Waltz is incredibly charming and moves through languages so fluidly, that I was left mesmerized by his effortless performance. The reason this film is in a league of its own is because of how Tarantino decided to perceive both sides and he was able to do that through philosophical dialogue between both parties.
This film not only has a brilliant performance from Christoph Waltz but has Brad Pitt’s best performance to date, Diane Kruger as a great British spy and newcomer Michael Fassbender knocking that infamous bar scene out of the park.
Tarantino’s love for cinema does not go unnoticed because he always incorporates references of the history of filmmaking in his movies. The plan at the end of this film to burn down the theatre with all the Nazi’s in there, while watching a Nazi propaganda movie was genius. He thought of everything and showed Shoshanna’s (Melanie Laurent) process in editing her own piece to fit the propaganda film.
Even though this film appears to be disjointed, everything fit together nicely and it’s one of his more engaging pictures.
5. Django Unchained (2012)
Quentin Tarantino has always been vocal about the need as a filmmaker to be able to write whatever he pleases and to some extent, I agree. In this case, he approached slavery from a different angle and at times it was used in a powerful way.
We have Django (Jamie Foxx) breaking free from his chains at the beginning of the film, thanks to Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who is a bounty hunter and bought Django for his knowledge on the whereabouts of the Brittle Brothers.
Throughout the film we see Django break free from his trauma and harness the hatred into saving his wife from plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
The performances from Foxx, DiCaprio and Waltz were fantastic and that would be one of the main takeaways from this film.
I love the way that Tarantino often uses various languages for manipulation and secrecy throughout his filmography because it shows his creativity and love for all forms of cinema. Similarly to Inglorious Basterds, when he uses those languages to move the story forward, Django Unchained does the same when Dr. Schultz and Django plan on freeing his wife Broomhilda from “Candieland”. It was a tactic used because Schultz is German and Broomhilda speaks German as well.
It’s very difficult to watch this film because of the brutal violence that Tarantino often shows in his films, but it’s not surprising. If you’re going into a Tarantino film, thinking it won’t be brutally violent, then you haven’t been paying attention to him as a filmmaker. The only downfall of graphic violence, is showing it while making a film about slavery, especially through a white man and a white lens on camera. However, there was also a balance when Django started killing the plantation owners and took over for Dr. Schultz. Funnily enough, there is some sort of balance in Django Unchained in regards to power and it kept shifting throughout.
Django Unchained attempted to have a very political narrative and showed how brutal it has been for the black community in the United States, but in true Tarantino fashion, he pushed the limits too far. The 110 times that the “n” word was used throughout the film was excessive. It’s one thing to incorporate it into the dialogue at certain moments, but there is a way to show the trauma and brutality without using that word. The word was used almost in every sentence and it became exhausting to hear by the end of the film, we all know Tarantino is a better screenwriter than that.
Django Unchained fell apart at the end because Tarantino did not know which ending to give Django. If you watch the film, it seemed like there were two endings and the payoff was anticlimactic. When he was captured again and then attempted to break free AGAIN, the final half hour seemed like it dragged on, even though that ending would have made more sense.
6. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Pulp Fiction is considered the film bro cult classic and Tarantino’s masterpiece.
However, in comparison to the rest of his filmography Pulp Fiction lacks the disjointed, yet structured fluidity of the rest of his films.
His choices for his opening credits, accompanied by the most perfect soundtrack, truly go unmatched, because those two things will always be a Tarantino signature. Again, he opens on a scene with two characters in mid conversation.
I found that he developed his knack for everyday conversational dialogue and then he quickly cuts to an act of violence, all in one scene, to throw the viewer off and it was extremely present in Pulp Fiction.
It was hard to pay attention to the characters on screen in this one, solely because names were thrown around and never established. It wasn’t until Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) came on screen, that I actually understood what was happening and who Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) was.
Pulp Fiction had very strong moments that are memorable like Jules Winnfield’s (Samuel L. Jackson’s) Ezekiel speech, Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega’s (John Travolta) dancing sequence and the car scene with Vincent and Jules, when Vince forgot the safety was off.
The final two Chapters in Pulp Fiction dragged on and I made the assumption that it was resolved earlier. The entire subplot with Butch Coolige (Bruce Willis) was completely lost for me and it’s because the character was never fully developed or explained.
In many of his films Tarantino always takes it too far and there’s always one scene that pushes that limit. In this one it was the rape scene of Marcellus Wallace by the Confederate White Racists from the gun shop. The placement was incredibly unnecessary and I didn’t think it really should have been incorporated in the film. It felt like the majority of this film was imaginative with no real payoff. A series of “what if” moments that were somehow tied together.
7. The Hateful Eight (2015)
The Hateful Eight was a beautiful feat for Quentin Tarantino because he decided to film this on 70mm Panavision, which hasn’t been done in a very long time. The film was larger than life and truly can only be appreciated on the big screen. Ennio Morricone’s Oscar winning score at times seemed better than the actual content of the movie itself, but really set the tone for the journey these characters were about to take us on.
Tarantino uses his 5 part structure to tell his story and introduces his characters quite effortlessly. It was a very simple story about bounty hunters and “wanted” victims, locked together in a tavern during a snowstorm. Of course with a mixture of characters such as these, tensions arise and it definitely leads to interesting dialogue.
However, this film does not hold up over the years. I watched this on dvd in the comfort of my home and the beauty of the 70mm feat was stripped away, causing the grandiose of this Western to fade with it.
The ensemble cast worked wonderfully together but the dialogue was extremely heavy, almost too heavy to follow at times. There was little to no action in this film and the dialogue dragged on. Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth and Jennifer Jason Leigh were the standouts in this film and it was because they were the only ones who had somewhat of a different character to play with.
Halfway through this film, the purpose of the bounty hunters got lost because they were all locked in this tavern. Most of them were racist an continued to attack Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) for serving in the military. You could tell that Tarantino was grasping at straws trying to make this interesting, that he ended up creating a Whodunnit situation with John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
The film dragged on and the ending was anticlimactic because again, he introduced Jody’s (Channing Tatum) subplot too late and then tried to make sense of Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), Bob (Demien Bichir) and Oswaldo Mobray’s (Tim Roth) placement in the tavern previous to all of them crashing there.
It’s sad to say, but Ennio Morricone’s score was better than the entire movie.
8. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) & Death Proof (2008)
The reason why these two films are ranked in this way, is because Tarantino plans on making 10 films, as I have stated previously. So it’s only natural that I rank his two worst together.
Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) was incredibly disappointing to sit through because of how incredible Vol. 1 was. It felt as if Tarantino stretched out the narrative and it could have been resolved in Vol. 1. I felt as if the momentum from Vol. 1 did not carry out into Vol. 2 and it felt very bland.
Tarantino took on a film noir angle in Vol. 2 and it worked really well considering Black Mamba was trying to find out where Bill was. I think the reason Vol. 2 was bland was because he decided to show her training all at once and it was too long. The reason why Vol. 1 was better was because he placed her character in an environment where she already had this fantastic skill-set, so to show how she got to that point was redundant for me.
The massive difference between Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, is that Vol.1 had little to no dialogue and managed to show the viewer everything and have them piece the story together themselves. Whereas Vol. 2 had too much dialogue and had characters overly explaining their actions, instead of just doing them.
After Black Mamba, aka The Bride, aka Beatrix Kiddo, aka Mom…. MOM? Yeah, mom… the entire time she thought she lost her daughter and then at the end we find out that her daughter is living with Bill, her husband. That part I never really understood because it didn’t make any sense. When we see Beatrix at the beginning of Vol. 2, she’s pregnant but doesn’t seem pregnant enough to have had carried a child for longer than one trimester. I felt as if the ending was quite convenient and extremely anticlimactic in how she executes finally KILLING BILL.
Lastly, Death Proof (2008) was a film that felt like a sadistic, male fantasy YET, it was female centric and empowering at the same time.
The most unique aspect that Tarantino added in Death Proof, was his own trailers and previews for satirical horror films. Now looking at it, it would most definitely caused audiences to get annoyed because the previews in the actual theatre are 15 minutes long and so were the ones that he added at the front of his film. So that’s a half hour wasted on empty commercials. Death Proof itself was a waste of time and a waste of his very limited filmography.
Kurt Russell was cast perfectly as Stuntman Mike, it’s because he’s incredibly charming and easy on the eyes, even though he was much older than the young girls he preyed on.
The film was centred around a group of girls, but the dialogue reeked of a man’s writing, it was filled with sexual dialogue and pointless chatter about how women enjoy the company of men. At the same time, the final act allowed the women to take control of the situation with Stuntman Mike trying to kill them, and instead they go after him.
Death Proof felt like a passion film for Tarantino and I just did not understand why he decided to make it. Yes, the use of film in the year 2008 was different, but the story was pointless and outdated. Considering the rest of his filmography, Death Proof is forgettable and is most definitely not up to par with the other 6.
Quentin Tarantino has definitely made a name for himself has a cult classic leader and his filmography has grown with him. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, seems like a love letter to his life’s work and to the beautiful medium of cinema. So, we shall see where this 9th instalment will rank in his filmography.