Advertisement
Movies

West vs. East: ‘Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood’ and ‘The Irishman’ slug it out

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”
Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio: The cars, the clothes, the sunshine in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”
(Andrew Cooper / Columbia Pictures)

“The Irishman” vs. “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” It’s Scorsese vs. Tarantino. DiCaprio vs. De Niro. East Coast vs. West Coast.

Extended movie running times vs. tragically weak bladders.

For the moment at least, this year’s Oscar race for best picture appears to be a showdown between two movies made by motormouth masters: Tarantino’s meditation on the last gasp of Old Hollywood and Scorsese’s summation and possible farewell to the crime drama genre he helped define.

How do you choose? If you’re a moviegoer, you don’t have to. You count your blessings and pray that a theater chain within a 50-mile radius of your house is showing “The Irishman” so you can see it properly before it lands on Netflix.

Advertisement

But if you’re an academy voter who loves both films, you’re going to eventually have to choose. Over and over again. Because the two movies are going to go head to head in several categories at the upcoming Oscars.

I already mentioned leads Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. Then you have Al Pacino and Joe Pesci (again, how do you choose?) trying to make headway against Brad Pitt’s golden turn as faithful stuntman Cliff Booth in “Hollywood” for supporting actor. (And, yes, Pitt should be in the lead. We’ll talk about that some other time.)

Both movies also are likely to land nominations for director, cinematography, film editing, production design and costume design. And since their primary (though, assuredly, not only) demographic is men old enough to smile at the memory of seeing “Taxi Driver” in a movie theater, it’s likely that there’s going to be a lot of brow-furrowing when they’re marking that final ballot.

Are there some intangibles that might play on voters’ emotions and give one of these great films an advantage at the Oscars? I’m glad you asked. Kick up your (bare) feet, grab yourself a loaf of prosciutto bread and some red wine and let’s take a look.

Advertisement

Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
Brad Pitt, Hawaiian shirt and aviator sunglasses. You own this look, right?
(Andrew Cooper / Columbia Pictures)

STYLE

In the wake of “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’s” release, a torrent of style guides were unleashed, helping us make like Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth and Sharon Tate. You may well be reading this wearing a bright Hawaiian shirt layered over a faded Champion T-shirt and a pair of aviator sunglasses. Or maybe you’re rocking a groovy pair of calf-length boots. One thing’s for certain: Once the weather dips below, say, 80 degrees in L.A. (happy holidays!), the number of brown leather jackets on the streets is going to be a real problem.

The only style item in “The Irishman” likely to show up in any “where to buy” guides is the boxy black hat Pesci has been wearing to the film’s premieres. And the movie makes it painfully clear what it thinks about Cliff Booth’s casualwear ethos when Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano shows up (late) wearing a Hawaiian shirt for a meeting with Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa.

“YOU’RE 15 MINUTES LATE AND YOU’RE WEARING SHORTS???” Pacino bellows.

Due respect.

Advantage: “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”

Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in “The Irishman.”
Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in “The Irishman.” Did De Niro’s Frank Sheeran really murder Jimmy Hoffa? Director Martin Scorsese says the question doesn’t matter.
(Netflix)
Advertisement

VERACITY

Tarantino seamlessly blends fact and fiction in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” putting the film’s central character, DiCaprio’s struggling actor Rick Dalton, next door to newlyweds Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski’s Cielo Drive rental home, having Cliff Booth confronting Manson Family members at Spahn Ranch and showing Tate tooling around Westwood and catching her movie “The Wrecking Crew.” It culminates in a glorious fireball of revisionist history, a fairy-tale ending for its princess heroine.

Nothing we see happen in “The Irishman” may be true. Something happened to Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, but we don’t know if mob foot soldier Frank Sheeran (De Niro) had anything to do with it. And Sheeran’s claim that he killed gangster Joey Gallo seems even more far-fetched. (Bob Dylan didn’t mention him in his song “Joey.”)

Scorsese doesn’t care about any of this, saying “The Irishman” isn’t about facts but rather the “emotional truth” of the journey Sheeran takes over decades, a passage that ends with a clear-eyed gaze into an existential abyss. Death is the only truth that abides in this movie.

Advantage: “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”

Margot Robbie in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”
Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”
(Andrew Cooper / Columbia Pictures)

APPEAL OUTSIDE THE DAD DEMO

Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate doesn’t say a lot in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” but her spirit hovers over the entire movie. You could even argue that it exists simply to restore her life.

Advertisement

Women are entirely in the background in “The Irishman.” Anna Paquin, playing Frank Sheeran’s disapproving daughter, is the film’s highest-billed woman — and she has one line in the movie. Now, it’s a hell of a line and she spends much of the movie fixing her father with expressions of horror and contempt. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is a movie about men that will be seen primarily by men.

Advantage: “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”

El Coyote figures prominently in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”
Los Angeles Mexican food landmark El Coyote figures prominently in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”
(Con Keyes / Los Angeles Times )

FOOD

OK. Neither of these movies is “Big Night” or “Babette’s Feast.” And “Kraft Mac & Cheese a la Cliff Booth” is going to haunt me the rest of my life because of the way he pours on the packaged cheese powder without adding any liquid or margarine. Rick Dalton, at the very least, would have added a whiskey sour.

But “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” does shine a spotlight on two landmark L.A. Mexican food institutions: El Coyote and Casa Vega. Also: drinks at Musso & Frank! As far as I know, no one has been murdered at any of these places, making them preferable to that Little Italy clam house where Gallo gets whacked in “The Irishman.”

ADVANTAGE: “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio cruise a sunny, traffic-free Los Angeles in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”
Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio cruise a sunny, traffic-free Los Angeles in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”
(Andrew Cooper / Columbia Pictures)

OVERALL VIBES

Tarantino’s movie takes place in the L.A. sunshine, where a couple of buddies cruise around town in a creamy Cadillac Coupe de Ville. No traffic. No cellphones. Just Paul Revere & the Raiders playing on Boss Radio station KHJ with the pervading air of wistful nostalgia filling the lungs.

“The Irishman” opens with a tracking shot of a nursing home and ends with De Niro shopping for his own coffin. It’s ... contemplative. And sobering. The clock is ticking. You can’t stop the inevitable. But that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to be in denial about it.

Advantage: “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”


Newsletter
Get our weekly Indie Focus newsletter
Advertisement