Glorious Inglourious Basterds
Immediately following the roll of the credits, I declared Inglourious Basterds to be my favorite film of the year thus far. Granted, the 2009 slate has been less than stellar and the usual Oscar-caliber suspects have yet to reveal themselves. That being said, my votes for the first batch of Academy Award nominations would be as follows:
Best Picture: Inglourious Basterds
Best Director: Quentin Tarantino
Best Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz
Best Supporting Actress: Melanie Laurent
Tarantino has arguably the most unique eye and taste in contemporary cinema. To me, Inglourious Basterds is his finest film to date, in terms of story and cinematography. It is as if Tarantino dons a loaded orchestra wand, stands on a dais (eyes and grin equally wide and wild), and conducts the violent scenes before him with precision and maniacal joy. To be honest, I am not bothered or distracted by the violence in Tarantino films, because I interpret it more as artistic choreography than gratuitous bloodshed. Basterds is no exception.
Some directors seem to apply the overused slow motion (bullet time, time-lapse, etc.) technique to their films in order to accentuate the action. Tarantino, on the other hand, appears to specifically decelerate scenes to emphasize the emotion; he wants us to know exactly how his characters feel as they each administer their preferred method of vengeance or justice. That has never been more evident than it is in Basterds, and credit is due to the very talented ensemble as well as the man behind the lens.
The Basterds cast was actually a pleasant surprise. Frankly, this is Brad Pitt at his best. I was quite bored throughout The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and thrilled to see Pitt finally reveal his truly dark humor roots in Basterds (versus his campy performance in Burn After Reading).
But I’ve rarely seen an actor steal an entire movie more deftly than Christoph Waltz, as Colonel Hans Landa. A seasoned actor from Austria and relative unknown in the U.S., Waltz is a knockout in Basterds, and a shoe-in for Supporting Actor when the 2009 Oscar nods are announced. Waltz plays Landa brilliantly, a disarmingly jolly menace with a similar disposition to The Joker (Heath Ledger, last year’s posthumous recipient in this category).
The two female leads in Basterds, Diane Kruger and Melanie Laurent, both imbue and arm their characters with the strength to more than hold their own among the overwhelmingly male cast. I was extremely impressed by and drawn to Laurent, an alluring French actress who is also worthy of acting accolades for this film when awards season arrives.
The soundtrack to Basterds features an eclectic mix of tracks that accompany and elevate certain scenes in the film beautifully. Tarantino rarely disappoints when it comes to the music that he meticulously chooses for his projects.
I’ve heard many refer to Inglourious Basterds as a Jewish revenge movie. I am Jewish, but that fact remains irrelevant with regard to my appreciation for this film on all levels. To me, a (historical or fictional) bad guy is a bad guy, whether in life or on screen. Obviously I am able to differentiate between reality and fantasy, and this movie was far easier for me to experience personally than the painfully authentic Schindler’s List. I admire both films for their direction and cinematography, and would argue that Basterds‘ remarkably unconventional perspective is as important in the educational entertainment landscape as one with a more historically accurate portrayal of that era, locale and war.
Basterds truly is a stunning piece of work; from script, structure and pace to the performances and overall aesthetic. While not for the faint at heart, it is a movie that I would recommend to those who appreciate the craft and art of filmmaking. You need not be a Tarantino loyalist to enjoy Basterds; you will be absolutely riveted from the incredibly tense and boldly diffuse first scene through the very rewarding conclusion.