If nothing else, the pandemic gives me the chance to catch up. Missed this last year ... rectified it for this week's Geezer Cinema. Not the best way to watch it: on a 30" TV with no external sound system, and the Starz version was cropped to fit the screen. It seemed like Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson may have anticipated this ... even when two characters were on opposite sides of the screen, they managed to be visible on our TV.
I once wrote of Tarantino, "Tarantino’s flaws are easy to pick out, because they are often the same as his good points." It would be easy to balance out the good and the bad as a measure of how successful a Tarantino film is, but I don't know that it works, or rather, for me, the good always outweighs the bad. I've seen all of his movies except The Hateful Eight, and I've liked them all. The only thing those flaws do is prevent Tarantino from making a classic, but his best is way more than good enough. And Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood is one of his best.
For one thing, every actor wants a chance to work with Tarantino's dialogue, so he is able to do things like get Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt to star in his movie, as a fading actor and his stunt man. Tarantino's love of pop culture comes out partly in the way he casts his films with favorite actors of his that haven't been seen much of late (Clu Gulager, Rebecca Gayheart, Brenda Vaccaro). Besides Leo and Brad, OUATIH trots out Al Pacino and Bruce Dern. There are younger actors like Margot Robbie, Margaret Qualley, Maya Hawke, and Dakota Fanning. He brings back people who have been in previous QT pictures: Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth (Roth gets a credit even though his part was edited out of the movie). I don't know if I thought of this before, but at least here, Tarantino shows an eye for actors better known for television: Timothy Olyphant, Luke Perry (his final role), Damian Lewis (who looks so much like Steve McQueen you think they used CGI), Costa Ronin, Damon Herriman, Lena Dunham, Mikey Madison (a long way from her work on Better Things), Sydney Sweeney, Scoot McNairy. OK, I've made my point.
Tarantino applies the same personalized touch to his soundtracks ... as we were watching, I told my wife if the official soundtrack included every song that we hear even for a short bit, it would be at least a 3-disc set (it turned out to only have 21 songs, along with commercials and DJ patter).
His connection to the (movie) past is one of those good-but-flawed aspects of his movies. I could make another list of historical figures who appear in OUATIH ... the fictional Leo's character lives next door to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, and of course, there's the Manson family. You might be fooled into thinking this is a true story, although you'd quickly figure out you were wrong. Perhaps the key is in the title: "Once Upon a Time" suggests a fairy tale is coming our way.
I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the way Tarantino indulges himself in ways that result in really long movies, but that indulging is often delightful. His recreations of old television series are detailed ... he makes up fake shows that look just like the real ones, and he has no problem stopping his movie for a bit just to show a bit of one of those excursions.
As the film moseyed along, I felt that rather than create tension, Tarantino was just relying on our knowledge of Manson, Tate, et al to give unearned suspense to his movie. As Mick LaSalle wrote, "It’s amazingly discursive. Tarantino knows he has our attention, because he knows that we know where the movie is heading, toward that fateful night in Bel Air. He also knows we’re not exactly in a hurry to get there." But the tension is real in the last part of the movie, partly because "we know where the movie is heading", yes, but also because Tarantino takes us there. And, of course, we don't necessarily know where it's heading, we just think we do.
Brad Pitt got an Oscar for his performance (Supporting Actor ... Leo was up for Best Actor, but the truth is, they are co-leads), and he deserved it. He commands the screen, even though he doesn't always seem to be doing anything, and even though he's working with DiCaprio, who is pretty good himself.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is #132 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 film of the 21st century.