Friday, August 21, 2009

I Think This Just Might Be My Masterpiece

Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds is quite possibly the best film Tarantino has ever directed, even when considering his masterpiece Pulp Fiction (1994), which is one of my favorite films of all time, and the absolutely brilliant Reservoir Dogs (1992), Jackie Brown (1997) and Kill Bill Volume One and Two (2003, 2004). After catching the 11:30 AM screening with my girlfriend Anne and her brother Jamie, I tried to pinpoint the last time I felt such unadulterated joy and cinematic delight while watching a movie.

The excitement of watching The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan) for the first time comes to mind, but I don't think I've really seen something with the same raw energy and gleeful excitement found in Inglorious Basterds since Martin Scorsese's The Departed (2006). I saw The Departed five times in theaters alone; something tells me I'll be going back to see Inglorious Basterds again.

Christoph Waltz, who plays the despicable yet oddly fascinating Nazi Colonel Hans Landa, has his name written on this year's Best Supporting Actor Academy Award (after winning Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year for his incredible performance). Tarantino's labyrinth screenplay, which introduces and employs dozens of memorable characters, is only partially devoted to the tale of the Basterds, the Jewish-American rogue soldiers on a mission to kill and scalp every Nazi they can find in France. Instead of filming a traditional revenge movie, Tarantino has made a distinctly European picture full of fascinating, three-dimensional characters who are the unsuspecting stars of a spaghetti-western-turned-war picture.

Tarantino holds back on the relentless violence his younger audiences will certainly crave, in favor of a terrificly-written series of events in which characters meet each other, discuss film and play games, and are eventually subject to very brief outbreaks of violence. It's not that different from the structure of Pulp Fiction (although Inglorious Basterds is told in chronological order).

Brad Pitt has impressed me once again as Lieutenant Aldo Raine, the head of the Jewish Basterds, with a thick Southern accent and a serious problem with the Nazi Party. Pitt's performance is both wildly comical and seriously frightening; it's worth noting that Pitt has given brilliant performances in uniformly superb movies for the past few years, including Babel (2006, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, Andrew Dominik), Burn After Reading (2008, Joel and Ethan Coen) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008, David Fincher). Bravo to actors like Pitt and George Clooney who use their star power to make bold and daring films.

Costars Melanie Laurent, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Til Schweiger and even Mike Myers deliver excellent performances in the scenes which ultimately lead to the inevitably blood-soaked finale, in which the Jewish people get their revenge against the Nazi Party at the film premiere of a German propaganda movie.

Aside from writing and directing one of the most entertaining and joyous odes to cinema ever put onscreen, Tarantino has also crafted a film that is a rumination on the wonderful power of cinema to destroy evil forces and change the course of history. If there's a better message to be found in a motion picture this year, I'd like to hear about it.

With apologies to Public Enemies (Michael Mann) and The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow), Inglorious Basterds is the best film I've seen this year. To hell with the fact that Tarantino has rewritten history - I think this just might be his masterpiece.

Tomorrow I will write about my extreme disgust regarding Paramount Pictures' decision to move the release date of Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island from October 2nd to next February. Martin Scorsese is my man, and I don't appreciate this release date change (unless, of course, Scorsese himself requested the change). The absence of Shutter Island in this year's fall movie calendar leaves me without much investment in any of the other new releases this fall (other than Steven Soderbergh's The Informant!, Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are, and Joel and Ethan Coen's A Serious Man). Perhaps Inglorious Basterds will remain as my #1 film of the year, after all.

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