The movie doesn’t just depict the Hollywood of the 1960s, it downright glamorizes it. One sequence finds us at the Playboy Mansion, decked out for a party, as Steve McQueen smokes a joint and slyly watches Sharon Tate dance. Our characters drive down the Sunset Strip, visit the Spahn Movie Ranch and dine at El Coyote. The whole thing is a shot glass full of nostalgia for anyone who’s spent time in Los Angeles, particularly during the latter half of last century (a number that includes many academy voters). It doesn’t hurt that the movie is funny, well-crafted and, in a strange turn for the auteur, sweet.
Is that enough?
Total nominations: Ten (picture, director, actor, supporting actor, original screenplay, cinematography, sound mixing, sound editing, costume design, production design).
Synopsis: A washed-up actor (who lives next to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate) and his stunt double stare down the end of their careers in 1969, as the Manson Family cult continues to grow.
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton, Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth and Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, with a supporting cast rounded out by Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters and Bruce Dern.
Why it could win: The academy has a soft spot for movies that present Hollywood in a good light. Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of self-adulation? In the past, we’ve seen films like “Argo” and “The Artist” earn the top prize against arguably better fare, probably because they bathe Tinseltown in a golden light. Well, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” does that and more, correcting a historical atrocity while romanticizing the movie industry of the 1960s. Toss in a few movie stars and killer soundtrack, and we’ve got a real contender on our hands.
Why it might not win: The movie ends with a quick but intense bout of pulpy violence, the kind generally found in the sort of genre fare that hasn’t historically resonated with the academy. Such gore (along with a nearly comedic amount of strong language) isn’t uncommon in Tarantino films, but it’s also a major reason his movies tend not to earn best picture. Still, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is arguably his warmest, most traditional film. Perhaps in this instance, nostalgia will outweigh the brutality.