Quentin Tarantino is undeniable. Whether or not you like his films, he's undoubtedly one of the most idolized living directors. That's why the tagline for his latest film, "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood" – which is nominated for "Best Picture" and nine other awards at this year's Oscars – was simply "the 9th film from Quentin Tarantino." For many, that's all they need to know.
But "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood" ("OUATIH") is a little different than the average Tarantino film. Set in 1969 Hollywood, it focuses on the parallel stories of washed-up TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt); up-and-coming actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie); and the followers of Charles Manson.
In some ways, it checks a lot of Tarantino's boxes. It's dripping with nostalgia and an appreciation for Hollywood's "golden days." Tarantino has always been a filmmaker's filmmaker, packing his movies with references, high production value and tons of stars – and "OUATIH" has all of that. Its strengths are its production design, use of music and its ability to play with the unexpected. For much of the film, it's not totally clear why Tarantino has decided to include Tate or the Manson family at all in a film that could easily just be about Dalton and Booth. But it all becomes clear in the final hour in a way that's almost impossible to predict.
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But overall, the film is less engaging than Tarantino's others. For one thing, while Tarantino is known for his use of non-linear plots, "OUATIH" is fairly straightforward in terms of storytelling and editing. And while Tarantino films are usually packed with intentionally over-the-top violence and profanity, by his standards, "OUATIH" is pretty tame.
Arguably the film's weakest element, though, is its depiction of women. In "OUATIH," Tate is beautiful but silly, a woman who spends all of her time dancing around or hoping to be recognized. It's a shame since Robbie has proven herself repeatedly to be more than just a pretty face. And the women of the Manson family are merely props to remind you that those crimes play a part in this story – except Mikey Madison, who devours her brief time onscreen as Susan "Sadie" Atkins, one of Manson's most notorious followers.
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Ultimately, "OUATIH" is a perfectly fine movie. Its bad parts aren't too bad but its good parts aren't that great either. It doesn't deserve too much hate or praise. It's fine. It's not the best picture of the year – but that may not stop the Academy from saying that it is.
Now, let's break down the big questions:
Who might enjoy "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood"?
Fans of Tarantino; people who've always wanted to watch a Tarantino movie but thought the others seemed too extreme; people obsessed with the '60s; people who like movies that are about making movies; DiCaprio fans.
What else is it nominated for?
Best Director, Actor in a Leading Role (DiCaprio), Actor in a Supporting Role (Pitt), Original Screenplay (Tarantino), Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.
What's the likelihood it will win "Best Picture"?
Its chances are good but it's not a sure thing. It did win the "Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical" category at the Golden Globes, which doesn't always guarantee success at the big show but also doesn't hurt. And Tarantino has a pretty good history with the Academy, though he's never won the top prize. He has two Best Original Screenplay awards (for "Pulp Fiction" and "Django Unchained"), so his chances of walking away a winner in that category are even higher.
Ahead of the 92nd annual Academy Awards, KVUE's Britny Eubank is reviewing all of the Oscars' "Best Picture" nominees. If you'd like to read more of her thoughts on all sorts of movies, she writes about them every month. And don't forget to catch the Oscars on KVUE on Sunday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m.
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