Quentin Tarantino has never been shy to talk about work from other filmmakers. Years ago, he used to release a best and worst of the year list, which included a very condescending “nice try” list.
Those lists are always another fascinating look at Tarantino, the man — what he enjoys and doesn’t. He stopped releasing those lists years ago, but recently, he talked about his second favorite movie of the last decade, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, and a movie that didn’t impress him nearly as much, James Gray’s Ad Astra.
Dunkirk is QT’s No. 2 Draft Pick
I had an interesting experience with it the first couple of times. The first time I saw it, I don’t know what I was thinking the first time. I just dealt with the spectacle of it all. I couldn’t deal with anything else but the spectacle of it all. I liked the movie, but the spectacle almost numbed me to the experience. I don’t think I felt anything emotional. I was awed by it. But I didn’t know what I was awed by. … It wasn’t until the third time that I could see past the spectacle and into the people the story is about. I finally could see through the trees a little bit.
In Dunkirk, which is Nolan’s leanest and most emotional work, all the emotion is in the close-ups. The drama is in Kenneth Branagh’s character’s face when he realizes he’s likely about to die, he closes his eyes, and accepts it, as he stands strong for a fight he believes in.
The humanity is so tangible in Dunkirk among all the high-flying spectacle. Experiencing that movie in Imax, audiences know exactly what those characters are feeling because of their eyes and what they say.
Nothing Doesn’t Work
Any problem that’s plagued Nolan’s past work, including stories that are more bloated than epic and a noticeable lack of great female characters, is nowhere in sight in Dunkirk. It is the filmmaker at his best with all his strengths on display. Tarantino agrees:
Oftentimes, you see a film where the style is about the adrenaline of it. The style is an immersive experience, but by the third or fourth viewing you get past the style and you realize the magician’s tricks. In the case of ‘Dunkirk,’ it rewards Nolan’s efforts to see it more. There’s a point, by mid movie, he can’t do it wrong. … It’s a symphony. Nothing doesn’t work.
Nolan and Tarantino have great respect for one another. Once, Nolan even hosted a Q & A with Tarantino for The Hateful Eight. They have a history together, and they’re both two titans in the industry who’ve stuck to film in the digital age.
Tarantino is No Ad Astra Fan
Quentin Tarantino has less kind of things to say about last year’s contemplative and brutal space epic, Ad Astra, a movie he enjoyed but was confused by:
“In the whole second half of [the movie], I don’t know why anything is happen. We’re just supposed to agree with them about everything that they say, but I don’t know why this is working or why that is working; why a mutiny on a ship that happened 15 years ago is now sending surges that has killed 40,000 people. We just go with it because they tell us that’s what’s happening.”
“What you respond to in that movie is they took the entire structure of Apocalypse Now. I mean, exactly … I enjoyed watching Ad Astra, it was a very pretty movie and I loved Brad in it, but I didn’t understand why things were happening. Nolan doesn’t really tell us anything that’s going on in Dunkirk, but I have a sense of what’s happening.”
It’s true, the plot specifics of Ad Astra are a bit murky, but in that instance, it doesn’t matter. It’s a movie more about mood and emotion anyway. Some will find it easier than others to give themselves over to the experience and, yes, overlook a set up that doesn’t clearly define an element or two. But at the end of the day, it’s a movie about emotional stakes, not that the world is on the verge of destruction.
It’s fitting for Brad Pitt’s character to focus on the mission and himself rather than what’s happening on Earth; his mind is on his father, nothing else.