My number 6 film of 2012 is set during 1858 - two years before the Civil War - in Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi involving a freed slave who turns bounty hunter practically begs for controversy in the form of racist slurs and violence. After experiencing this latest project from writer/director Quentin Tarantino, I've concluded two things.
One, "Django Unchained" - based upon the two aforementioned controversies - is Tarantino's most ferocious and brutal movie yet.
Two, "Django Unchained" – nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture - is his best film since 1994's "Pulp Fiction."
6. "Django Unchained" - Jamie Foxx plays the title character, and once this emotionally and physically beaten slave meets an odd German dentist, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), his world will never be the same.
Even though Dr. Schultz purchases Django, he treats him like an equal and promises to grant him his freedom once a very specific job is done.
You see, Dr. Schultz might be a formally trained dentist, but these days he earns his pay as a bounty hunter who collects rewards for corpses.
At the moment, his crosshairs target the rotten Brittle brothers who Django, unfortunately, knows all too well.
Their journey focuses on killing the miserable siblings, but also takes them on a search for Django's wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).
The movie plays out like a Spaghetti Western revenge picture, as Tarantino's love for cinema and this genre, in particular, shows through.
The first third of the film certainly looks like a cowboy movie as Django and Schultz stop at a familiar (to the audience) western town with horses, muddy streets and a saloon, but soon Tarantino pulls out of the accustomed setting and into the deep south.
Plenty of films over the decades portrayed a Spaghetti Western formula in different eras and locales, but this film uniquely jumps from a commonplace western location to somewhere completely different.
What's not different, however, are Tarantino's signatures of exceptionally written dialogue, comedy and, of course, bloodshed.
He owns a special gift for blending these ingredients into an explosive and highly entertaining concoction, and especially excels with the element of surprise in many forms.
In a few key sequences, the story places our heroes in the most impossible sets of circumstances, and they need to conjure up unimaginable, but also perfectly logical, plans to work their magic.
It's great fun watching these characters apply their elbow grease, and Waltz seems to be enjoying himself the most of any character in the picture.
Waltz won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar as the fiendish Col. Hans Landa in "Inglourious Basterds" (2009), but plays the mirror opposite as Django's closest ally, friend and all-around good guy.
Well, except for, ya' know, Schultz kills people for a living.
While several other players generate unpredictable laughs in the strangest places, the film takes to the other extremes. It isn't afraid to show the barbarism of slavery.
Racism isn't forcibly presented, but instead Tarantino seems to be simply turning back the clock just over 150 years and pointing his camera.
So many characters use the N-word without thinking twice, and use it in matter of fact moments and the cruelest of exchanges.
It's ugly and uncomfortable, but most likely very accurate for the time period and environment.
The most shocking scenes, however, are demonstrated not in words, but in unspeakable violence towards slaves.
Several times the movie rips at your emotions, but in this particular world, it provides explicit context which spells out evil.
Does Tarantino go overboard?
Of course, but violence goes both ways as Django and Schultz deliver plenty of retribution.
DiCaprio brings sinister enthusiasms to Candie, and at one point will leave you stunned as the mild-mannered racist finally and ferociously explodes.
Jackson's blend of his trademark intimidating cadence while delivering hilarious one-liners is most welcomed, and brings back the nostalgia and echoes of his past Tarantino film roles.
Meanwhile, Django's transformation from slave to deadly gunman isn't as well documented as I would have hoped.
After a few rifle and pistol rounds, Schultz explains Django is purely a natural with a firearm, and that will have to do.
For a revenge picture, these details become less important.
Foxx plays a very memorable gunslinger and brings more than enough dramatic tension when Django's patience is tested and elicits cheers while dishing out punishment in the most unsympathetic fashion.
The four men, Foxx, Waltz, DiCaprio, and Jackson dominate the picture with excellent performances, and Waltz - who rightfully won the 2013 Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe - should win Oscar gold later this month. In classic Tarantino style, however, they aren't the only men to offer surprises.
When a director finds the unexpected "I Got a Name" by Jim Croce as a pitch-perfect background piece while Django and Schultz ride across beautiful snow-capped mountain countrysides, surely, lots of remarkable moments of cinematic disbelief await the audience.
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