Tagged: Quentin Tarantino

Review – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Margaret Qualley, Mike Moh, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Julia Butters, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

As the self-taught filmmaker whose primary education was famously five years working behind the counter at a video store, a deep love of the movies has always been a central part of the Quentin Tarantino mythology. While that love of cinema of all kinds has always been evident in his movies through their eclectic references and homages, with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, this great lover of the movies finally gets to make his film about the movies. Taking us back to the late 1960s, he captures Hollywood at a moment of seismic generational change and in typically Tarantino fashion, demonstrates a simultaneous fascination with history and an unwillingness to be beholden to it. Continue reading

Advertisements

Review – The Hateful Eight (2015)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir, Michael Madsen

Hateful Eight1

At a time when the film industry has become almost uniformly digital, Quentin Tarantino remains a passionate supporter of the celluloid process. With his eighth film, The Hateful Eight, he has put his money (or rather, someone else’s money) where his mouth is and chosen to shoot the film in the long dormant Ultra Panavision 70mm format. The last film to be shot on this super wide screen format (2.76:1) was Khartoum in 1966. Yet while employing a film format which is associated with epic spectacle, with its minimal locations The Hateful Eight is probably Tarantino’s smallest scale film since Reservoir Dogs – though twice as long and with fifty five times the budget, indicative of the increasing excess of Tarantino’s work.

Bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is taking wanted murderer Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock to collect the $10,000 reward. While most bounty hunters prefer the ‘dead’ option in ‘dead or alive,’ when John “The Hangman” Ruth catches you, you hang. Continue reading

Oscars 2013 Recap

The Host

This year the most thankless job in Hollywood went to Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane, in a move which was obviously supposed to give the ceremony a bit of edginess and youth appeal (and on that front it was a success with the viewer numbers in the US up 20% from last year). The reviews of McFarlane’s performance have ranged from lightly positive to downright scathing. It’s a tough job at the best of times, but it was made all the tougher, as he alluded to, by the fact that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler had been so universally praised for the job they did at the Golden Globes a few weeks ago.

Oscars host Seth McFarlane

Oscars host Seth McFarlane

McFarlane was a bit hit and miss, as most hosts are, but was largely exactly what anyone who is familiar with him expected him to be. His opening bit, in which he conversed with William Shatner as Captain Kirk who was contacting him from the future to warn him against all the mistakes he was going to make as a host, came in at 19 minutes and was just way too long. There was a good idea there, but it was just stretched too far.

The humour in McFarlane’s television and film work comes from two sources: crossing the line of good taste and being inappropriate, and very specific pop-culture referencing. Both were on display on Oscar night. While it was apparent that he was reining himself in to some extent, McFarlane was always going to try and push things a little bit. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it crossed the line. The joke about no actor being able to get inside the head of Abraham Lincoln quite like John Wilkes Booth, was in typically poor taste but it got a good laugh. The “We Saw Your Boobs” song in his opening number didn’t go down so well, being just one of a number of incidents which led feminist commentators to accuse the host of misogyny (though as Family Guy co-writer Alec Sulkin pointed out on twitter, it seems slightly ironic to accuse the host of misogyny on a night that was also celebrating fifty years of James Bond).

Captain Kirk helps out Seth McFarlane

Captain Kirk helps out Seth McFarlane

McFarlane may have been better served to more heavily favour the pop-culture referencing, given he was in a room full of people who live and breathe movies and would therefore understand that kind of referencing and in-joking. His introduction of Christopher Plummer, in which he pointed to a side door to usher in the Von Trapp family singers only to have a young Nazi run in and exclaim “They’re gone!” went down a treat.  A bit more of that sort of stuff and a bit less of jokes about nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis being a potential future girlfriend for George Clooney, and he may have got a more generally positive response.

The Presenters

This year it was really pleasing to see a bit of class return to the Academy Awards on the presenter front. The Oscars are an institution and an important part of maintaining that sense of grandeur is having big names presenting awards. In recent years the really big names have been notably absent, but this time around the presenters included screen legends such as Christopher Plummer, Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep (because she wasn’t actually up for an award this year) and Jack Nicholson. Their presence brought a bit of prestige to the event. That being said, I want to have one whinge. Jack Nicholson was brought out to present the Best Picture award, but had to hand over to Michelle Obama who appeared via a live video cross from the White House. Michelle Obama is a good get for the Academy, however, in this situation I don’t think she trumps Jack Nicholson (especially not on video). Jack is one of Hollywood’s absolute living legends, and being in the twilight of his career and not doing a lot of publicity means we don’t really see much of him. Michelle Obama tends to appear on the nightly news just about every day, so I felt that her presence was a waste of valuable Jack time.

Not even Barack is as in love with Michelle Obama as the woman on her left

Not even Barack is as in love with Michelle Obama as the woman on her left

As always, the presenters were a bit hit and miss in their attempts at pre-announcement banter. Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy take the cake for least funny seemingly adlibbed jokes, and Kristen Stewart and Daniel Radcliffe have no business being on stage at an Academy Award ceremony at this point in their careers (Stewart was her usual grumpy self but at least this time had the excuse of an injured foot).

Moment of the night from a presenters point of view was Mark Wahlberg who had to present the Best Sound Editing category in which there was a tie. Clearly taken aback by what he was reading, Wahlberg felt he needed to convince the crowd that he wasn’t having them on, so in classic Boston fashion stated “No BS. We have a tie.” When I was saying before that the presenters brought back a bit of class to the event, I wasn’t so much thinking about Marky Mark.

The Awards

Despite the fact that this was one of the more open Academy Awards in recent history it ended up being a night almost entirely devoid of surprises on the awards front. Argo followed on from its dominance of the lead up awards to claim Best Picture. Daniel Day Lewis cemented his position as one of the all-time greats with his win for Lincoln making him the first man to win the Best Actor award on three occasions. Jennifer Lawrence tripped over on her way up to collect her Best Actress award. Christoph Waltz’s magic relationship with Quentin Tarantino continued as he claimed his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar from two collaborations. Anne Hathaway won the one award which was such an absolute lock you could have bet your house on it. In fact, the only major award in which the bookies’ favourite didn’t walk away with the statue was Best Director, in which Ang Lee pipped Steven Spielberg (but that category was a shambles from the moment Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow were left off the nominations list).

Argo takes out Best Picture

Argo takes out Best Picture

The speeches are always the least interesting part of an awards night. After the excitement of finding out who wins you then have to sit through a couple of minutes of them listing names of people you don’t know. In a nice, if not overly subtle, comic touch, the decision was made to replace the usual play-them-off music with the theme from Jaws, with John Williams’ ominous tones letting rambling recipients know that their time was up. As is always the case, there is a bit of a double standard when it comes to playing them off, with winners of lesser awards being cut while Quentin Tarantino was able to finish his speech, walk away from the microphone and then come back to say one more thing and have the music stop for him.

Christoph Waltz spoke beautifully, Adele spoke horribly (but that is more to do with the fact that her speaking voice is every bit as ghastly as her singing voice is wonderful). Daniel Day Lewis got big laughs for his revelation that he and presenter Streep had, after much thought, decided to switch roles, as he was originally meant to play Margaret Thatcher and she Abraham Lincoln. But for mine, best line of the night goes to Argo producer Grant Heslov who, standing between co-producers George Clooney and Ben Affleck, opened his acceptance speech with “I know what you’re thinking… three sexiest producers alive.”

The Musical Numbers

The “theme” for this year’s ceremony was a celebration of movie musicals, seemingly because Les Misérables had been nominated for Best Picture and because it was ten years since the last time a musical won Best Picture (Chicago). It was a bit of a shame, therefore, that a number of the musical numbers for the evening were a bit flat.

Both Shirley Bassey, singing ‘Goldfinger,’ and Adele, singing ‘Skyfall,’ appeared to be singing within themselves, not really punching the big notes, except for the last “Gold” which Dame Shirley hammered. The cast of Les Misérables came out to sing a number, an awkward mash-up of ‘Suddenly’ and ‘One Day More’ designed to give everyone a bit to sing, even if they are not in that scene, without going on too long, which just ended up sounding a bit messy.

While there was nothing spectacular about Barbara Streisand’s performance of ‘Memories’ as part of the In Memoriam section, it was still a reasonably big deal to see her on stage. But Jennifer Hudson was the absolute standout for the night and really brought the house down with her rendition of ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ from Dreamgirls, appropriately receiving a standing ovation.

 

 

As it turns out, after it was all said and done the moment of the night didn’t even happen as part of the ceremony, but in the interviews after. Jack Nicholson, obviously agreeing with me that Michelle Obama got in the way of valuable Jack time, decided that he would interrupt Jennifer Lawrence’s interview with ABC. Classic Jack…

by Duncan McLean

Best Picture Breakdown

This year’s Best Picture race is one of the most open in recent memory, with no film being expected to dominate proceedings and take home a swag of awards. Obviously this means that it is going to be trickier than usual to tip the winner. When it comes to tipping Oscar winners it is important to remember that you are tipping who you think will win the award, not necessarily who you think should win the award. For that reason, sometimes it is more difficult to accurately tip award winners when you have seen a number of the films, because your own tastes and opinions tend to cloud your judgement. So what follows is a simple for and against for each of the nine nominees for this year’s Best Picture award. Then you can weigh up the arguments, see which you think is the most convincing, and then blindly guess the same way you do every year.

Amour

Amour

Five Nominations

Notable Awards: Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or, BAFTA Best Film Not in the English Language, Golden Globe Best Foreign Language Film, European Film Awards Best Film, National Board of Review Best Foreign Film, National Society of Film Critics Awards USA Best Film

Why Amour will win: Amour is only the ninth foreign language film in 85 years to even get a nomination for the big award, and the fact that it has five nominations all up, including for Director (with Cannes Film Festival darling Michael Haneke making the cut ahead of the likes of Tarantino, Bigelow and Affleck) and Screenplay, two categories which usually go with a Best Picture win, suggests that the Academy sees this film as a legitimate contender, rather than just rewarding it with an also-ran nomination. And hey, a French film took home Best Picture last year. So it can happen.

Why Amour won’t win: You want to know how many times a foreign language film has won Best Picture at the Oscars? Zero. It has never happened. The closest you can get to foreign language winners are The Godfather Part II, The Last Emperor and Slumdog Millionaire which all won Best Picture and contained sequences of dialogue in Sicilian, Mandarin and Hindi respectively.

 

Argo

Argo

Seven Nominations

Notable Awards: Golden Globe Best Drama, BAFTA Best Film, DGA Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, SAG Best Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture, AFI Movies of the Year, National Board of Review Top Films

Why Argo will win: Momentum. After initial fears that Affleck missing out on a Best Director nod meant the film wasn’t really in the running, in recent weeks Argo has firmed as the favourite after taking out a number of lead up awards. Winning the Golden Globe isn’t always the best guide to picking the Oscar winner, but winning the Directors Guild of America Award is. Despite there being two best picture awards at the Golden Globes, one for drama and one for musicals or comedy, only four times in the last ten years has the winner of one of those two awards gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. On the other hand, nine out of the last ten films to pick up the Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures award at the DGA awards have gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars that year (the only one to miss out was Brokeback Mountain which was pipped for the Oscar in a bit of a surprise by Crash in 2006). Hence the reason a number of eyebrows were raised when Ben Affleck won that award this year.

Why Argo won’t win: The big red flag next to Argo is the fact that Ben Affleck did not receive a nomination for Best Director. Across the previous 84 Academy Award ceremonies, only three times has a film won the top award despite its director failing to receive a best director nomination, with Driving Miss Daisy in 1990 being the only example since the early 1930s. Of course, in the last couple of years the Best Picture field has expanded from five nominees to up to ten. So whereas once it was the norm for the five Best Picture nominees to provide the five Best Director nominees, under the new system there will always be at least four or five Best Picture nominees that won’t be represented in the directing field. The temptation is to see those films which don’t also get a Director nod as the also-rans in the field.

 

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Four Nominations

Notable Awards: Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, AFI Movies of the Year, NBR Top Films

Why Beasts of the Southern Wild will win: The Beasts of the Southern Wild is the little film that could. The surprise hit of the year, it came out of nowhere to feature prominently in a number of Best Films of 2012 lists. It definitely stands out in the field as something totally different. A small budget, artistic premise, a six-year-old leading lady and a debut director (both of whom have been nominated in their respective categories). Could the Academy voters get swept up in the fairytale of it all? It’s also not unheard of for a directorial debut to win Best Picture. Sam Mendes’ American Beauty, Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves and James L. Brooks’ Terms of Endearment are the most recent to have done it.

Why Beasts of the Southern Wild won’t win: Small indie films win festival awards, they don’t win Academy Awards.

 

Django Unchained1

Django Unchained

Five Nominations

Notable Awards: AFI Movies of the Year, NBR Top Films

Why Django Unchained will win: There is the feeling that Tarantino has been working his way towards Academy recognition. He is one of the most influential filmmakers of the last twenty years and the Academy don’t want to find themselves in the same situation that they had with Martin Scorsese where it wasn’t until almost forty years into his career, and after helming a number of films regarded as all-time greats, that he finally won a Best Picture and Best Director award. Inglourious Basterds got close. Could Django Unchained be the film the Academy recognises (even though Tarantino himself failed to get a nomination)? Also, Django Unchained really stands out in the field for its appeal to the youth demographic. The Academy Award ceremony has been trying hard for the last couple of years to appeal to the youth demographic, to maintain relevance and combat a declining viewership. Could the same thinking enter the voting process?

Why Django Unchained won’t win: Tarantino’s eighth feature film seemed to be firming as a real Oscar contender until the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened. It changed the story. After that event rather than slavery or spaghetti westerns Tarantino found himself, once again, forced to talk about excessive violence in his cinema. He then failed to receive a Best Director nomination, and unlike Argo and Zero Dark Thirty which have maintained their relevance in this race despite missing Director nominations, Django Unchained seems to have fallen by the wayside. You could also argue that Django Unchained isn’t as good as Inglourious Basterds was and it is competing in a stronger field. So if the Academy wasn’t willing to favour Tarantino in 2010 it doesn’t look like they will in 2013.

 

Les Miserables Poster

Les Misérables

Eight Nominations

Notable Awards: Golden Globe Best Musical or Comedy, AFI Movies of the Year, NBR Top Films

Why Les Misérables will win: Les Misérables seems like an obvious contender. You have one of the most popular stage musicals in history being finally brought to the screen with an all-star cast (two of whom have been recognised with acting nominations) by an Oscar-winning director. Tom Hooper followed up his surprise success with The King’s Speech by opting for this very ambitious project. It is a significant upping of scale from his previous films and could help with the perception of him progressing and evolving from his previous success. The other X-factor for the film was the unconventional approach to shooting the musical numbers, with the actors singing live on set rather than lip-synching to pre-recorded songs. Could this experimental approach, which allows much more performative freedom to the actors, be deemed as worthy of recognition from the Academy?

Why Les Misérables won’t win: In the 1960s there were four musicals that walked away with the Best Picture award: West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music and Oliver! In the 44 years since Oliver! won only one musical has the award, Chicago in 2002. That is a roundabout way of saying that musicals don’t tend to fare well in recent times. And Les Misérables isn’t even just a musical, it’s practically an opera. Also, Russell Crowe.

 

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Eleven Nominations

Notable Awards: AFI Movies of the Year

Why Life of Pi will win: Ang Lee, an Academy favourite, has taken a much-loved book which many thought was unfilmable and brought it to life, at the same time as showing the industry the potential of digital and 3D technologies. Life of Pi is tipped to be a major player in the Visual Effects and Cinematography fields, but the fact that the film also received nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director suggests it is seen as more than just a technically impressive film. For a film which is at best being talked about as an outside chance, it is worth noting that Life of Pi has earned more nominations than any film other than Lincoln.

Why Life of Pi won’t win: With the film being tipped to do so well in the technical categories, there is the danger Academy voters will see Life of Pi’s primary achievement being technical, that it is first and foremost a beautiful looking film. Very rarely do films come out on top in the Best Picture category on the grounds of being amazing technical achievements. Titanic ? Maybe Lord of the Rings?

Lincoln

Lincoln

Twelve Nominations

Notable Awards: AFI Movies of the Year, NBR Top Films

Why Lincoln will win: Do I have to spell it out for you? A period drama about America’s most worshiped president, directed by the world’s biggest director, with an all-star cast led by arguably the finest actor of his, or any, generation. How could it not win?

Why Lincoln won’t win: For all the above reasons, Lincoln feels almost too good to be true. In the eyes of many people it just smells like Oscar bait, and sometimes the Academy reacts against that. Also, this film more than any other in the category had to deal with the weight of serious expectation when it came out. It is a fantastic film, but everyone expected it to be. Has it done enough to exceed people’s expectations and win voters over, or will the high expectations it had to deal with mean it gets overlooked in favour of one of the more “surprising” films.

 

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

Eight Nominations

Notable Awards: NBR Top Films

Why Silver Linings Playbook will win: While it’s eight nominations is not the most by any candidate this year, it is the categories they came in which is significant. Usually we talk in terms of the ‘Big Five’ categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and one of the Screenplay categories). In also getting nominations in the Supporting Actor and Actress categories, Silver Linings Playbook is the first film in 32 years (since Warren Beatty’s Reds in 1981) to get nominations in the Big Seven categories. It suggests that the Academy sees this as being an excellent achievement across the board. It also should be noted that the last three films to receive nominations in the big five categories (Million Dollar Baby, American Beauty, The English Patient) all went on to win Best Picture.

Why Silver Linings Playbook won’t win: While it feels unfair to pigeonhole Silver Linings Playbook as a romantic comedy, when it boils down to it that is what it is, a brilliantly written romantic comedy. And unfortunately for David O. Russell, comedies don’t traditionally fare well in this category. In the last thirty years the only two films which could be described as comedies to have won Best Picture are Shakespeare in Love in 1998 and The Artist in 2012. Also, despite scoring nominations across the big seven categories, it is really only Jennifer Lawrence who is considered among the favourites. So it is entirely possible that Silver Linings Playbook could be staring down a shutout.

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

Five Nominations

Notable Awards: NBR Best Film, AFI Movies of the Year

Why Zero Dark Thirty will win: Before it had even been released, Zero Dark Thirty had already won the New York Film Critics film of the year award, and early on it was seen as Lincoln’s primary competition for the Best Picture Oscar. In recent times its momentum has plateaued a bit, particularly with Bigelow failing to receive a Best Director nomination, but still remains among the serious contenders. The film is a harsh and unimpassioned look at the hunt for bin Laden and, as such, has an immediate political significance. As yet we haven’t seen an Oscar go to a film dealing directly with the events of 9/11 and its aftermath, but none of them have been as good as this one and perhaps the closure to the story that comes from the death of bin Laden means voters are ready.

Why Zero Dark Thirty won’t win: While Zero Dark Thirty is seen as one of the real contenders it has had to deal with some controversy surrounding the perceived messages it sends about the use of torture as an interrogation method. Is the film pro-torture? The Oscars are not a ceremony that tends to court controversy. There is nothing particularly edgy about the Academy. The hint of something being divisive could frighten off the voters.

——-

So with all that in mind, I think the nominees can be broken up into four categories…

The Contenders: Argo, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty

The Potential Dark Horses: Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook

The Outsiders: Amour, Django Unchained

Thanks for Coming: Beasts of the Southern WildLes Misérables

by Duncan McLean

Review – Django Unchained (2012)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo Dicaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington

I’m a big fan Django Unchained Posterof the Western genre. After an extended period of time in which it really went out of fashion in recent years we are starting to see a real re-emergence of the Western with quality productions like Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), James Mangold’s remake of 3:10 to Yuma (2007), the Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit (2010) and, of course, the brilliant HBO series Deadwood (2004-2006). However, it is probably not since the 1950s that there has been a Western which has been greeted with as much popular anticipation as Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.

Django Unchained again sees Tarantino doing what he does best, genre pastiche: taking past styles and forms of cinema that he loves and giving them the Tarantino twist. The result is kind of a Blaxploitation Spaghetti Western and it is ridiculously entertaining. Our setting is the deep south of the USA, in the years immediately preceding the Civil War. Our heroes are an unlikely duo, Django (Jamie Foxx) a slave, and Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a onetime dentist now bounty hunter. The surprisingly conventional plot for a writer who made his name by tinkering with chronology and breaking his screenplays down into individual storylines and chapters, sees the two brought together when Schultz needs Django’s help to recognise a trio of wanted men. They stay together because Schultz feels compelled to help Django rescue his slave wife, Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington), from the horrible slave owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Tarantino has been very intentional in his promotional interviews for Django Unchained about labelling the film as a “Southern” rather than a Western, emphasising the difference in the core conflict at the heart of his movie. The Western genre has always been racially charged, but it is usually white men and Indians, or white men and Mexicans. In Django Unchained we are focused on the tension between white and black in the Deep South (which does allow the writer/director to continue his fetishistic relationship with the N-word). We’ve seen movies about slavery before, but not quite like this. Tarantino isn’t looking to make any overt political statements about the plight of the African-American. Rather he does what only he seems to be able to do, taking a seemingly taboo subject from one of the darker periods in modern history and using it as the basis for a ridiculously entertaining and quite funny film. It was the formula which worked so effectively with Inglourious Basterds in 2009. In that case it was Wold War II Europe providing the setting for a revenge tale about a small group of American Jewish soldiers taking vengeance on the Nazis on behalf of a downtrodden people. In Django Unchained Tarantino does for 19th century American slavery what he did for the Holocaust three years ago. Again we have a revenge tale, but this time our avenging angel is one man and the oppressed people are the black slaves.

Christoph Waltz as Dr King Schultz

Christoph Waltz as Dr King Schultz

While Jamie Foxx is the first name billed and plays the title character, the real star of this film is Christoph Waltz. Tarantino is a lover of dialogue. There are few directors working in mainstream cinema who happily allow scenes of dialogue to extend for as long as Tarantino does. As an actor, Waltz manages to combine eloquence and a calm elegance with a genuine sense of menace which makes him the perfect vehicle for the director’s wordy but sharp dialogue. Waltz was a revelation in Inglourious Basterds. As a relative unknown his performance as Col. Hans Landa gave us one of the best screen villains of the decade and won him an Academy Award. His work in Django Unchained is every bit as good, and really blurs the line between a supporting and leading character. He has received an Oscar nomination in the supporting category, but I feel like he is the lead character, or at least the co-lead, for the first three quarters of the film. Either way, it is a tremendous performance, about as endearing as you can imagine a bounty hunter to be, and makes me hope for further collaboration between the Waltz and Tarantino in the future.

There are two other supporting roles which are worthy of comment, both due to the fact that they see highly regarded actors venturing outside of their usual character scope. Firstly we have Leonardo DiCaprio playing the villain, Calvin Candie. DiCaprio has always been known for his intensity of performance, but that intensity has never really been applied to a villainous role before. Outside of the things Candie does and says, there is so much about his character which just pushes your buttons. Whether it is the touch of boyishness in his face which makes you think of him as a spoilt child, the semi-incestuous relationship with his sister, or his rather uncivilised interests in blood sports and phrenology, there is just something that manages to make you uneasy in his presence.

Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen

Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen

The other is Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson, and it is he who makes the greatest departure. In the same year that we saw him playing Nick Fury in The Avengers, Jackson delivers one of the performances of his career as Candie’s most trusted slave, Stephen. What makes the role so interesting, and challenging for us as viewers, is where Stephen sits in the racial divide that is at the centre of the film. Effectively Stephen is Candie’s chief of staff. He runs the house, is well dressed and treated by Candie with a level of respect not afforded to anyone else but his sister (there is a scene in which Candie and Stephen sit together drinking brandy which is indicative of their relationship). Stephen is a classic Uncle Tom figure, aligning himself with the white characters, seeing the other black characters as subservient and being an agent in their oppression. He believes in the status quo. Add to the fact that Jackson is playing an elderly man, weathered by many years of service, and it is quite an impressive achievement and has garnered some serious critical attention (if not the Oscar nomination he so openly hoped for).

Coming in at 165 minutes, while not excessive by current standards, Django Unchained is Tarantino’s longest film yet. Its main fault, which relates a bit to the runtime, is that at times it gets a little self-indulgent. Self-indulgence is always going to be a part of Tarantino’s cinema. So much of his style openly comes from his desire to engage with and replicate the things that he finds cool, in other words, indulging himself. So self-indulgence is not a problem in itself, but when it gets to the point of interfering with the flow of the picture it does become an issue. One scene in particular is representative of this. Towards the back end of the film there is a scene in which Tarantino makes a cameo appearance as one of the LeQuint Dickey Mining Company employees charged with transporting Django and some other slaves to the mines. For mine it is the worst scene of the film, though I’m sure some will point to the dancing horse at the films finale. Ignoring the fact that Tarantino’s performances in front of the camera have never come close to his prowess behind the camera, it is not his appearance in itself which makes the scene excessively self-indulgent. It is the fact that he is playing an Australian. One of the other workers in the scene is played by Australian actor John Jarratt of Wolf Creek fame. The Australian accents are quite jarring, and really make the scene stick out in a way that it wouldn’t have if they were playing Americans. Tarantino is a great admirer of Australian exploitation cinema (you can see him espousing his love in the wonderful 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!) and it feels like the sole reason for the Australian characters, and much of the dialogue that flows from them, was that he wanted to have John Jarratt in his movie.

Django Unchained is the Western done Tarantino style, complete with a final bloody shootout to rival Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, and despite moments of self-indulgence it has the all requisite laughs, violence, cameo appearances and intertextual references to see that his legions of devoted fans will not be disappointed.

Rating – ★★★★☆

Review by Duncan McLean

Five Oscar Nomination Surprises

Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone announce the nominees for Best Picture

Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone announce the nominees for Best Picture

At 5:30am Los Angeles time, Oscars host Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone announced the nominees for the 85th Academy Awards. While there were a few categories which panned out exactly as expected, the nominations did throw up more than the usual number of surprises. Here are five of the biggest…

1) Only 9 in the Best Picture

There were a few notable omissions in the Best Picture category. Moonrise Kingdom, The Master, The Sessions and, to a lesser extent, Skyfall had all been talked about as Best Picture contenders but all were notably absent from the nominees announced. What makes that even more surprising is the Academy chose only to give out nine of a possible ten nominations. So it wasn’t even that these films were simply squeezed out by other worthy pictures, rather they were deemed not worthy of a nomination.

2) Amour gets some love

It is not often that a foreign language film gets Academy recognition outside of the Best Foreign Language Film category. So it was somewhat of a surprise to see Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner, Amour, pick up five nominations including Best Picture and Best Director. If nothing else it means that Amour will be the shortest of short priced favourites to win the Best Foreign Language Film category.

3) Big names missing in the Best Director field

It was the Best Director nominations which contained the biggest surprises, primarily as a result of who wasn’t there. Ben Affleck, Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow had all been talked about as serious contenders to take the award home, yet none of them managed to get a nomination. The most obvious beneficiaries of these ‘snubbings’ are the surprise – unexpected but not undeserved – nominations of Michael Haneke and Behn Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).

4) Silver Lining Support

The surprise nominations in both the Supporting Actor and Actress categories both came from Silver Linings Playbook. Robert De Niro had only received a handful of lead up nominations, none of them major, for his role as Pat Sr. His surprise nomination means that there wasn’t room for some more fancied possible nominees, particularly Django Unchained’s Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. Australian Jackie Weaver came from right out of left field to score a nomination in the Supporting Actress category having not received any lead up nominations, other than as part of an ensemble cast. The Golden Globes and SAG nominations had opted for Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy) or Maggie Smith (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) to round of their fields, but neither seem any more deserving than Weaver.

5) The Dark Knight does not rise

While I don’t think anyone was realistically expecting The Dark Knight Rises to earn a best picture nomination, most would have expected it to figure somewhere (maybe in visual effect?), but instead it became the highest profile film to be completely overlooked by the Academy this year.