In the wake of the mass hysteria that followed after the horrifying Harvey Weinstein assaults came to light, Hollywood is still awash in the jitters. Fear and trepidation now clouds every thought and word and deed: fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, fear of associating with the wrong people, fear of supporting the wrong artists, fear of being called out by a Twitter swarm, fear of getting fired, banned, cancelled. Whatever potentially sensitive topic pops into our conversations and timelines, fear casts a pall over us all.
Despite the intensity of those fears among those closest to the epicenter of Hollywood’s circles of power, Quentin Tarantino’s latest epic opened to $40 million, a personal best for the director, at a time when the top of the box office is ordinarily dominated by tentpole sequels and reserved for name-brand franchises (with the sole exception of Jordan Peele’s impressive $175 million haul for “Us,” which is still in the top ten of the year and is wholly original). Tarantino’s big opener has arrived as a showcase event, one rarely seen much these days, replete with big Hollywood stars and a splashy premiere. It also came with an all-too-predictable cascade of shitstorm think pieces that range from clickbait hyperbole like “Quentin Tarantino is finished in Hollywood” or some such, at the Daily News no less, to sweeping generalizations about the character of the director and his treatment of women; his past transgressions (a confused blur of things he said once, things he did on set once, his interests, etc) are now somehow put on par with Weinstein’s long history of outright crimes, if you listen to a few of the outraged folks who steer the armored tanks of discontent on Twitter. And so it goes.
To what end, this? Whatever is going on in our culture right now likely has very little to do with having actual power. This? This is easy. Chastising Tarantino is a quick solution to a much bigger problem that can’t be solved with scolding tweets and admonishments. At this point, though, one must contemplate what it is we want from our art and artists, and what the measure for that will ultimately be. When the conversation becomes less about the quality of the film and more about vetting the people who made it, you have to wonder – what is the point?
How will the fate of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” unfold come time for Oscar consideration? It all depends on whether or not the shrieking this week is prolonged enough to have a lasting impact. If it maintains traction into December, the people who make lists and choose nominations might still feel too jittery to touch the movie. If enough of the right people get exhausted by hearing so much outrage aimed at filmmakers – outrage that really ought to be focused on the dangerous creeps who are
running ruining our country – then it should do very well.
In terms of the Academy, they like Tarantino. They like him enough to gift him with two original screenplay wins and multiple nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. This film is right in the wheelhouse of many of the members who still really dominate the Academy. Many will think that the new members will belong to the group who believes in policing all aspects of art and artists to winnow them down to a shimmering standard of purity, and that utopian ideal shall lead out of darkness and into the light. Those folks might shun the film, agreeing with those who believe “Tarantino is over.” Right, okay.
But back in the real world, it looks plausible that the film COULD do well, depending on what other films open this year.
Leonardo DiCaprio, in particular, seems poised for a nomination for Best Actor. If it’s me, Brad Pitt gets in for supporting as well, along with screenplay, picture, director, cinematography, and editing, just for starters. Margot Robbie and Margaret Qualley could both be up for supporting actress. Down ballot, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if 72-year-old legend John Dykstra gets his 6th nomination in visual effects since he first wowed us with Star Wars, for the way he helps seamlessly stitch together delicious vistas to recreate long shots of 1969 LA’s endless horizons and boulevards.
I think ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ will easily be regarded as one of the year’s standouts because it is already obvious to anyone paying attention that opulent balls-out movies like this hardly ever get made anymore. It’s my hope that people who love it will stand up for the film and defend Tarantino’s right to do it the way he wanted, without fear, without trepidation. Because now more than ever America needs bold and sometimes reckless artists who can punch the numb sense of helplessness off some of our defeated faces. Now more than ever we should encourage unfettered writers and directors to keep making films that can shake up a timid Hollywood that some people are trying to sanitize into impotence. We have to give the Coens, DuVernay, Nolan, Bigelow, Fincher, Scorsese, and Tarantino all the creative freedom they’ve earned. We should support their bracing hardcore alternatives to the soft-pedal, easy-to-swallow utopian fantasies that do not reflect the severity of our current crisis and cannot inspire the fearless spirit we need to prevail over real-life perils.