A city deserves an auteur. A director laureate. New York has Scorsese. Paris has Truffaut. Madrid has Almodovar. I mean, Omaha has Alexander Payne.
Los Angeles has Tarantino.
The birth of “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown” marked more than the arrival of rock ’n’ roll cinema. Each film was a picture of L.A. as seen through the windshield of an Angeleno who grew up on freeways and was born from the racks of VHS tapes. If examined under a microscope, we can only presume that the strands of Tarantino’s DNA would have film sprockets.
With “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” he has crafted a Los Angeles masterpiece. Like all of his work, it is somehow both languid and electric. Hilarious and terrifying. Formalist and completely inventive. The breadth of Tarantino’s toolkit is immeasurable. His ability to turn tone on a dime has no equal. His use of music is enviable to the point of infatuation.
Tarantino has directed a magnum opus to Hollywood and the dreamers that refuse to wake up. It arrives with the promise of saving us from cinema that puts the soul to sleep. Particularly as we currently question what movies are and where they should be seen, “Once Upon a Time” is a declaration of love to cinema itself.
It is a masterwork that takes time to meet the dolly grip and chums around with the stuntmen. The kiosk ushers and the popcorn scoops. The lobby cards behind the glass and the soaring billboards above Sunset. The intersection where the Mann Village stares down the Mann Bruin in a Western duel. Where Spahn Ranch has just begun to splinter and the Playboy Mansion still glistens. Where a midnight drive down Hollywood Boulevard sitting shotgun alongside Brad Pitt is a plunge of adrenaline to the heart.
Considering the violence and brutality we associate with the work of Quentin Tarantino, the overwhelming takeaway as he continues to rewrite history is, shockingly, hope. It is hope that we might give rides to strangers. Hope that evenings might end with a few broken bones but lives intact. Hope that cinema is in fact as alive as it is in a Tarantino film. He walks us up to the gates of our memories and buzzes us in.
Jason Reitman was Oscar-nominated for directing Oscar for “Juno” and “Up in the Air.” His other films include “Young Adult” and “Tully.”