15 September 2019 3243 Views

Once upon a Time in Hollywood. The Best Film this Year?

by James Murphy

Summer is officially OVER! So it’s a fair time to look back as the Autumn / Fall approach..


Best movie of the summer and the year?  Well, it was not MEN IN BLACK INTERNATIONAL (pointless) or HOBBS AND SHAW (I hated it in every way possible). I have said already that SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME was a favourite. That’s down to sheer charm, personal attachment to its motifs and now the bittersweet realisation that the movie marked the end of Spidey in the Marvel Cinematic universe and possibly, the beginning of the end for both brands? Also, it’s a way of mourning Tony Stark and I don’t care if they have him cameo in Black Widow et al.

Equally, one can appreciate and even adore a movie in part because of what it embodies and represents and savour its qualities, without any great desire to see it again, whilst wishing it every success in every award ceremony going. And so it is with ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (OUATIH hereafter). This is a long review. But it’s a long movie, that speaks to the whole of the art-form. Critics must try and match that method, somehow.

I’m not writing a review here so much as a commentary and overview, attempting to do justice to a movie and its maker that by their very nature invite multiple, philosophical discussions. Plus, I’m low on editing time this week. 


I have no hesitation in recommending this masterpiece. You MUST watch it! See it in a Cinema / ‘theater’ if you can; before its home entertainment release.  This is a record breaker. 100 million plus at Box Office, despite lacking some super-hero sequel franchise credit with which to be propelled through the busy season. An ‘independent’ movie, albeit with a post Weinstein era, proper distribution from Columbia /Sony and the commercial clout of many a movie star on the cast list.

Plus, Tarantino: the man IS  a brand, himself. Nevertheless, one cannot avoid or diminish the achievements on display, both in terms of financial success and a fusion to still daringly creative choices.

He’s not the first guy to tackle the film industry as its own platform premise for an entertaining night at the movies. There have been countless ‘meta’ (love that word, btw) commentaries on Hollywood, from Hollywood, in Hollywood, down the years.

  • Some were dare one say it ever so slightly overrated (The Player). A few are still hilarious yet satirical in their day: SoapDish /BowFinger / Tootsie.
  • Hail Caesar was shamefully underrated and neglected and showed quite how great an actor Alden Ehrenreich can be. Sunset Boulevard is a meditation on ageing and power dynamics; its characters inhabit yet transcend ‘Hollywood’ life (also: GREAT musical soundtrack spun off from the source material).


  • Singin’ in the Rain is pure optimism and timeless beauty, whilst LA Confidential dwells in the underbelly and pulpy darkness of the entertainment world; providing a truly absorbing period piece thriller. And a first rate cast at the peak of their 1990s power (Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell and yes, Kevin Spacey).
  • Naomi Watts is, simply, an exquisite presence in Mullholland Drive. 


  • I appreciate that I am in a minority, but I loathe Birdman with every fibre of my being, because it is to my mind, pure self indulgence and cannot decide on whether it exists as pure fantasy or genuine commentary on the acting craft..each to their own and all that. And to be fair, the director of said film did get Leonardo DiCaprio (Leeeeeooooo) his first Oscar for The Revenant so..I forgive you. Leo was due that award for years and I am so pleased he finally won official recognition via gold statuette.


  • Even more philosophically / obscurely..I would go so far as saying that STAR WARS is in fact, a movie about movies, given that it encompasses and introduces every genre possible, via fairy tale simplicity and charm, with an intention of engendering a love of movies and mythology (sadly..its legacy now is just more..Star Wars..but that’s an argument for another day).


  • What ties all those entirely disparate threads?..Well, a movie about movies but also so much more. With perfect cast and a fusion of tones and styles in one elegant whole..

..I am of course, talking about..OUATIH! ..

It is a bit like digesting the whole of television and cinema history of the 1960s, with hints of the 50s and 70s. All in a long package at 2 hrs 40 minutes yet delivered in self contained chunks or skits that, whilst unconnected by anything resembling a true ‘plot’ in the strictest sense, feel organic, real, substantial and satisfying.

There is a loving recreation of every scenic and stylistic detail from the era; this is a sensual, real, vigorous love letter to its own art form.

One is transported back to a time when an actor’s career stood or fell on the strength of the weekly ‘pilots’ in syndicated television, that either won further commission, or sank without trace. A leading man then had the tough choice to remain safely tenured in television, or take a calculated risk and venture toward movies.

Think Bill Shatner, George Lazenby, Doug McClure, George Peppard, Jim Garner and even Clint Eastwood. Also: David Caruso and George Clooney in the 90s: propelled into big fame by television..one ventured to film, correctly..one..misjudged his exit (guess which one). 

This film is RIGHT in the peak era of Western tv shows, ‘spaghetti’ cowboy /war movies and the occasional, once in a lifetime, leading man shot. DiCaprio is not playing any of those actors; yet he somehow embodies that age, time and stakes for an actor in and out of a studio system. 

Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) is an actor, noted for his ability to play villains with aplomb and relish on every second television show. But he is also known as an almost leading man, whose genuine movie star charms were somehow obscured by his tendency to be tested for the same parts as Steve McQueen. What’s fascinating is that Leo could, theoretically, have thrived in that 60s/70s pool of talent had he been born a few decades earlier. His is a timeless stardom, though he too HAD to choose his movies very carefully to avoid type-casting or reduced commercial viability. Robert Pattinson is in a similar place today, about to play BATMAN and yet having climbed through numerous smaller films as a character actor to truly earn that privilege.

So we have a slice of history and nostalgia yet also a commentary on the precarious position of even the most powerful of jobbing thespian.

Immediately, there: the set up and ‘USP’ of a f