Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

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10 Great Movies To Watch If You Liked “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Unspooling over a handful of days in February and August of 1969, Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the director’s love letter to Tinseltown, albeit one inked with a poison pen. Atypical of QT, his latest is a giddy grab bag of pop culture references and playful allusions to Hollywood’s past and potential futures.

While there are dozens of movies specifically referenced in the film (and you’ll find a few of them on this list), there are also several that we’ve included that involve either people who are in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, or that are thematically similar, or share the same locales while exploring complementary conceits and perceptions. While not a definitive listing, it’s a great starting point and there’s bound to be a few surprises for casual Tarantino fans and serious cineastes as well. Enjoy!

 

10. The Nice Guys (2016)

The Nice Guys

Set in Los Angeles circa 1977, Shane Black’s neo-noir private eye comedy isn’t just a valentine to the La La Land that used to be, like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Nice Guys is an edgy and artful buddy picture at heart. True, the Nice Guys takes place almost a decade after Tarantino’s film, but it does detail another turning point for the film industry, at that odd time when porn films were peaking and as close to mainstream as they ever were.

Black’s The Nice Guys is as fast-paced as it is funny, with great performances from Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, and Angourie Rice, upon whom a fair bit of ink has been spilled hailing her turn as Gosling’s streetsmart daughter. This is most certainly true, but also making a memorable appearance is Margaret Qualley, who also makes a meal of her scenes as a spaced-out hippie in Tarantino’s OUATIH.

So, while Black’s noir-ish riff on LA is an elegiac and nostalgic confection, it shares enough of that grit, grim humor, comedic rapport, and quick wit that it will appeal to fans of both films for many of the same reasons. Recommended.

 

9. The Wrecking Crew (1968)

The Wrecking Crew

The fourth and final film in the spy-fi Matt Helm film series, each featuring “the King of Cool” Dean Martin, director Phil Karlson’s The Wrecking Crew isn’t exactly cubic zirconia comedy, it’s pretty light weight stuff. That said, this particular swinging-spy comedy franchise does have some easy-going attributes that make it a great artifact of the late 60s.

The main draw to The Wrecking Crew is Sharon Tate’s charismatic performance as the bumbling Danish guide and possible top secret British agent Freya Carlson (fun fact: Freya Carson was the inspiration for “Felicity Shagwell” in 1999’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me).

Freya, when not taking some silly pratfalls, does manage to kick some butt (action scenes in the film were choreographed by Bruce Lee, and this is illustrated briefly in a sequence in OUATIH), and while Martin mostly calls in his performance, this film also earns extra cool points for giving Chuck Norris his first ever screen role.

This is the film featured in a couple of scenes in OUATIH when Sharon (Margot Robbie) takes it in as a matinee, having a sweet exchange with a ticket-seller and then a little later, sharing the audience’s laughter and mirth. It’s one of the most euphoric, dreamlike sequences of OUATIH, watching as Robbie’s Sharon watches the real Tate on screen. It’s subtle but effective, and helps to illustrate that Sharon Tate was a real person, full of life and light, and not just a fatality of a hideous crime.

 

8. The Big Lebowski (1998)

The Big Lebowski

“I’m the Dude, so that’s what you call me. You know, that or, His Dudeness, or Duder, or El Duderino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing,” explains the titular unemployed layabout, in the Coen Brothers’ most idiosyncratic and outright enjoyable shaggy-dog misadventure.

As the Dude in question, Jeff Bridges will be forever identified as the personable pothead, who’s Raymond Chandler-inspired exploration to nowhere (The Big Lebowski rubric is a reference to his 1939 novel “The Big Sleep”) has spawned one of the most fervid fanbases around, and it’s easy to see why.

Sure, on the surface there may not be a lot of obvious interconnections between The Big Lebowski and Tarantino’s OUATIH, but both films share a whimsical narration that unfolds in Los Angeles, where the audience spends a lot of time just hanging out with a wide assortment of people; some close to fame, others on the periphery, and all fascinating to varying degrees.

The eccentric characters that the Dude encounters –– the brilliantly inspired cast includes Steve Buscemi, Flea, John Goodman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, John Turturro, and many more –– in vignette fashion across L.A. and environs, pay careful homage to film noir conventions, along with the witty repartee, dangerous dealings, and unconventional, almost stream of logic maneuverings, making for a verifiable comedic masterwork.

 

7. The Great Escape (1963)

Great Escape

The classic jailbreak film from John Sturges, adapted from Paul Brickhill’s 1950 novel wherein he recounts first-hand his true life story of a daring mass escape from Stalag Luft III, a POW camp in Poland during World War II. This thrilling, fact-based account of Allied soldiers escaping their Nazi captors via tunnelling out of their prison is a thrilling cinema classic.

In Tarantino’s OUATIH we are treated to a sequence in which DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton discusses that he was once shortlisted for the lead role in The Great Escape and we even get a glimpse of what The Great Escape might have looked like with Dalton in Steve McQueen’s breakthrough star turn. Additionally, a scene from OUATIH that unfolds at the Playboy Mansion has a cameo by Damian Lewis as McQueen, who plays the part rather spectacularly.

Leading the big deal cast of The Great Escape is of course McQueen as American Captain Virgil Hills and Richard Attenborough as British Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett, with other luminaries such as Charles Bronson, James Coburn, James Donald, James Garner, David McCallum, Donald Pleasence, and William Russell in this often parodied, spoofed, and highly influential tale of alliance, survival, and tragedy.

 

6. Short Cuts (1993)

Short Cuts

Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, like Tarantino’s OUATIH is a magnificent LA-based ensemble piece, and both films artfully communicate a sense of time and place over a finite but fascinating period.

Short Cuts weaves together a batch of Raymond Carver’s trademark spare and disturbing short stories into an unordinary quagmire of disparate, desperate characters in a precarious and incensing fashion. Bookended between two disasters; aerial spraying during a medfly outbreak and an unsettling earthquake, the film’s impressive cast — some twenty-two principals, including Anne Archer, Bruce Davison, Robert Downey Jr., Jennifer Jason Leigh, Andie MacDowell, Matthew Modine, Julianne Moore, Chris Penn, Tim Robbins, Madeleine Stowe, Lili Taylor, Lily Tomlin, Fred Ward, and Tom Waits — under Altman’s twinking, assured direction, never falter.

As with Altman’s and Tarantino’s best work, Short Cuts and OUATIH touch upon many moral issues but do very little moralising. This mixture of sentiment and cynicism, heartbreak and hysterics careens fearlessly into self-reflexive thoroughfares, taking the viewer into the darkest avenues that humanity lurks and leans in.

Short Cuts is an emblematic example of 1990s cinema, and it may be Altman’s greatest work, awash with restless, allusive imagery, insights, and intensity. Short Cuts is a long ride, and an extraordinary wandering of unforgettable art and impact.

8 Reasons Why “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” Is One of Tarantino’s Best Films

Although Quentin Tarantino’s never been a prolific filmmaker (he’s directed nine features since 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, if you count the Kill Bill films as a single entry, which QT famously does), he’s certainly one of the most influential. His breakthrough second feature, the zeitgeist-defining 1994 tour de force Pulp Fiction has left a lasting impression on American cinema.

Arguably the most influential film of the 90’s, few movies have been as quoted, as cloned, or as dissected and debated as Pulp Fiction and yet, even after endless repeat viewings, this hard-hearted and half-joking gem never gets old.

Now with the release of QT’s hotly anticipated ode to Tinseltown finally in wide release, Taste of Cinema is here to excitedly announce that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ranks with the director’s best work.

It may just be his most incidentally enjoyable, outrageously entertaining, and visually exciting work to date. Certainly this is top tier Tarantino and is destined to make many Best of 2019 lists come December. But until then, meander down these canyon roads, dip your toes in the Playboy Mansion pool, get in the queue for a matinee of Sharon Tate’s The Wrecking Crew, and inhale an LSD-dipped Red Apple cigarette.

This fairytale of the bright lights is a generous allowance from a dependable if indulgent director, proudly presenting us with a delighted dream from which many of us might awaken with a scream trapped in our throats.

 

8. One of QT’s strongest screenplays

Unraveling in 1969, just ahead of the New Hollywood movement that would forever alter the film industry, Tarantino’s latest film focuses on three forlorn characters; Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fading Western TV actor having a simultaneous midlife and identity crisis trying to make it in the movie business; Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Dalton’s stunt double and BFF; and then most ill-starred of them all, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), the real-life rising star whose life and career were cut short most tragically on August 9th, 1969, at the hands of members of the Manson Family.

Tarantino’s script, which echoes many similarly set multi-protagonist Hollywood parables (both All About Eve [1950] and Sunset Boulevard [1950] spring to mind), spends a great deal of time tackling egocentric celebrities and czars pawing their way into the hype and the glow of the limelight.

Atypical of QT his script is permeated with pulp culture references and his child-like adoration for the footlights. He loves the movies, the people who make them, and the city where so much of the entertainment industry spins their golden gossamer.

There’s also the romanticized offering of old-school glamour and glitz, an extravagantly ornate folkloric representation of the past, an almost hysterical fear of hippies, and with that the elusive but alarming threat of brutal bloodshed. Dotted amongst the erstwhile haze of Hollywood is QT’s excellently talkative pentameter and just as effective portents of ruin.

 

7. Los Angeles itself

It should come as no surprise that for Tarantino, who grew up in Hollywood, his illusory Los Angeles is as romantic as it is real. This film is that rare Los Angeles-set movie, like Rebel Without a Cause (1955), The Long Goodbye (1973), or Short Cuts (1993) with a real sense of place and relation. Hollywood is as much a character in this film as Booth, Dalton, or Tate.

So many LA-exclusive incidental delights populate the picture; the euphoria of speeding down the freeway with the top down; letting loose at swinging party at the Playboy Mansion, sauntering through the backlots of the big studios, spying stars at every junction; tiptoeing barefoot down Hollywood Boulevard with far-out hippies, basking in the glow of neon signs; bustling movie houses on every corner, lit up like bijous; in every direction the famous mingling with the huddled masses.

From Robert Richardson’s expert lensing, to Barbara Ling’s near perfect production design, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is packed with period details as vivid and tangible as possible.

 

6. The focus is on characters, not plot

In the post-Tarantino 1990s he coined the term “hang-out movie” to better capture what he was after with pictures like Jackie Brown, where plot takes shotgun next to spending time with indelible characters. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is more about the moments at the end of an era and the delighted and discontented people in those moments.

They’re all victims of circumstance, and while it may seem that the Manson family is forcing the narrative towards some final, fleeting exit, it’s still the observational character moments that define the film: Tate spends a honey of an afternoon at the movies, Booth and a charismatic hitchhiker (Margaret Qualley) end up at the Spahn Ranch where something unseemly has to be taking place, and Dalton makes a guest appearance on a TV pilot wherein he’s overthinking his avenue.

With this film we are presented with characters in a special and very specific place and time. Maybe nothing much happens over a few days in February but the play of light and the spatter of shadows suggest that summer and August in particular, hold something sadly significant and terribly, terribly wrong.

 

5. The devil is in the details; fun nods to Tarantino’s other movies

For Tarantino fans there are a wealth of nods and winks to his body of work throughout the film.

Characters constantly smoke Red Apple cigarettes, the fictional brand used throughout his films. And if you stick around for the credits (and you always should) your sides will ache during Dalton’s commercial and outtakes for Red Apples.

Also, for those paying close attention it’s revealed that Dalton makes some Spaghetti Westerns for one Antonio Margheriti, an alias used by Eli Roth’s Sgt. Donowitz in Inglourious Basterds (2009).

Additionally, the cast is a who’s who from Tarantino’s repertoire of regulars. Apart from DiCaprio and Pitt reteaming with QT, vets of his previous films like Zoë Bell, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, Monica Staggs, James Remar, and Kurt Russell appear in the film. Mr. Orange himself, Tim Roth also had a scene, but it was unfortunately cut from the film. Here’s hoping we’ll get to see it on the eventual blu-ray release.

Capturing Social Change through Clothing: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood Costume Designer Arianne Phillips on Dressing Quentin Tarantino’s Latest

Hawaiian shirts. Leather jackets. Go-go boots. These are just a few of the costume staples that leave a defining visual mark on Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s latest film in which real history is viewed through a fictionalized lens. We are in 1969, a year of change — both in Hollywood and the U.S. Think the start of the Nixon presidency, the eroding of the studio system before the artistically adventurous New Hollywood came to the rescue and yes, the Manson Family murders that claimed five lives, including that of a very pregnant Sharon Tate, actress […]

“There Is No Video Village”: DP Robert Richardson on Shooting Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood in 35mm

During lunch break on a Western TV series, fading star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) settles into a director’s chair next to his nine-year-old co-star. The young actress is armed with a Walt Disney biography, Dalton a pulpy Western novel. The girl asks Dalton about the story in his book and he recounts the tale of an over-the-hill bronco buster that eerily mirrors his own circumstances. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a loving valentine to an era of studio filmmaking that was coming to an end in 1969, but it’s also a rumination on the inevitability of aging and mortality […]

Back to One, Episode 68: Damon Herriman

It’s rare for one actor to be cast as the same real-life character in two different productions almost simultaneously. When that real life character is Charles Manson, that makes some news. Australian actor Damon Herriman has taken on this challenging role in both Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood and the second season of David Fincher’s Netflix series Mindhunter. Herriman is perhaps best know for playing Dewey Crowe in the series Justified and currently plays Paul Allen Brown in Perpetual Grace LTD. We talk about the character of Manson, how good writing makes for good acting, and why […]

“It’s a Movie About LA and Driving in LA — When You Could Actually Drive in LA”: Production Designer Barbara Ling Recreates the Open Streets of 1967 LA for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood’s production designer Barbara Ling built the lurid worlds of the most perverted Batman movies: Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, where Uma Thurman (as Poison Ivy) strips out of a pink gorilla suit while golden Tarzans in table cloths swing from vines and lay belly down to form a human path for her to walk on. I’d be lying if I told you D.P Stephen Goldblatt’s close ups of Batman and Robin’s rubber derrieres and armor nipples haven’t been secured into an easily accessible shelf at the top of my memories, which […]

“…It’s a movie about LA and driving in LA — When You Could Actually Drive in LA”: Production Designer Barbara Lee Recreates the Open Streets of 1967 LA for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood’s production designer Barbara Ling built the lurid worlds of the most perverted Batman movies: Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, where Uma Thurman (as Poison Ivy) strips out of a pink gorilla suit while golden Tarzans in table cloths swing from vines and lay belly down to form a human path for her to walk on. I’d be lying if I told you D.P Stephen Goldblatt’s close ups of Batman and Robin’s rubber derrieres and armor nipples haven’t been secured into an easily accessible shelf at the top of my memories, which […]

Cannes 2019 Dispatch 6: Parasite, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo

A great prize list aside—better than any since at least 2011—I can’t fall in line with a majority of this year’s press corps in declaring this a banner year for Cannes; ironic, given that, on paper, this indeed was going to be a banner year for Cannes: Malick! Bonello! Hausner! Tarantino! Dumont! Diop! Lav! Bong! There was something for everyone, and most of it seemed to go down quite smoothly, even as distinctions between the good, bad, and ugly was as indiscernible as ever. On the two critics’ grids I participated in, for example, virtually every film across every section […]