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Oscar-nominated film review: 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' intertwines aesthetics with nostalgic narrative

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

A screenshot of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." 

Editor's note: This article is the fifth of seven film reviews that are The Daily staff's top picks from the 92nd Academy Awards nominees. The final results will be announced at the annual ceremony, streaming at 7 p.m. Feb. 9 on ABC Network. 

Hollywood, hippies and the summer of '69 all embody the spirit and creative vision of the latest Tarantino movie. 

Elements of the narrative, aesthetic choices and real-life events are interwoven to pay homage to the struggles of old Hollywood in the film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” The mastery of these elements will, without a doubt, be well recognized at the 92nd Academy Awards on Feb. 9.

The film is a dark comedy and drama, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. This is Tarantino's ninth film and continues the legacy of his unique aesthetics, along with onscreen violence. Previous films of his include box office hits “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction.”

The film follows multiple storylines that are inspired by, but not strictly bound to, the real-life events of the murder of Sharon Tate by members of the Charles Manson family. One of these narratives follows a once-prosperous, downward-spiraling Hollywood actor named Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio).

In a quest to find redemption later in his acting career, Dalton works alongside his stunt double and close comrade, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), to find a role that can save both their careers. Together, they intertwine with an alternate reality of the true encounter of the Manson killings and death of Sharon Tate.

However, the storyline’s focus is not centered around the version of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) portrayed in the movie, but rather an alternative reality for the Manson family. Throughout the film, several Manson family members like Tex (Austin Butler) and Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) serve as a conflict to the interests of Dalton and Booth.

Outside of narrative elements, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” also aims to immortalize the era of a transitioning Hollywood during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It plays to Tarantino's strong suit of aesthetics by heavily relying on this unique period of old Hollywood.

The places portrayed in the film like the iconic Los Angeles Regency and Village Theaters, the vintage cars like the 1966 Cadillac DeVille driven by Dalton and Booth, and the imitations of famous people like Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) all give a masterful sense of the time period.

Dalton's internal struggle with the actor he wants to be versus the role he plays within the current Hollywood community is primarily based on Hollywood’s transition from old to new. He is collateral to an ever-evolving American pop culture. His age and the death of old Hollywood classics, like western films, contribute to the complexity of the narrative, as Dalton struggles with the thought of becoming obsolete.

The Daily staff's full list of reviews from the 92nd Academy Awards nominations:

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