With “Inglourious Basterds,” “Kill Bill,” and even “Death Proof” all featuring score-settling plots, one could justifiably be tired of Quentin Tarantino, whose “Django Unchained” is yet another hyper-stylized revenge fantasy. But, nevertheless, one simple fact remains: A year with a Tarantino flick is a good year for movies, as so few directors fill the screen with such a giddy love of the medium. “Django” takes a hot minute to get moving, but once it accelerates, you’re deep inside a familiar world of verbose, violent bliss, whose creator rarely fails to leave an indelible mark.
Riffing on slavery in the same way “Basterds” skewered Nazi Germany, “Django” is a work of sensationalistic revisionist history, merged with homage to the spaghetti-western tradition from which it pulls its name. The film stars Jamie Foxx as the titular freed slave, and Christoph Waltz as the bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, who helps to rescue Django’s wife (Kerry Washington) from brutal plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
As one would hope and expect, the movie’s wild pieces come together with great cohesion, all the while offering singularly gonzo social commentary (a bit about early Klansmen’s hoods seems bound for the quotable canon, while Candie’s speech about slave phrenology is draped with the filmmaker’s trademark brilliance). Lensed by Robert Richardson, “Django” is also home to some of the year’s best imagery, like a blood-stained cotton field made beautiful in all its picturesque symbolism.
The film’s best asset may just be its bevy of great performances, which Tarantino has long excelled at coaching out of his actors. With his effortless cool, Foxx proves perfect for the lead, and Washington’s fine work in few scenes caps off a banner year for the actress. But the show-stealers are DiCaprio, who breathes fire as a grade-A villain, and Samuel L. Jackson, whose fascinating and riveting turn as Stephen, Candie’s Uncle-Tom-like confidant, is easily his best performance since working with Tarantino on “Pulp Fiction.” Literally darkened in his transformation as a complex, indoctrinated traitor, Jackson emerges the MVP of this mad treatise on race relations.
Three reels out of four
Now playing in area theaters
Tim Burton may have been off his game with the much-maligned “Dark Shadows,” but he found some sweet redemption this year with the animated “Frankenweenie,” an expansion of the director’s own 1984 short.
Flecked with bits of everything from “Pet Sematary” to “Frankenstein,” the black-and-white, stop-motion feature is a small valentine to horror-movie tropes, all the while serving as a charming spin on the boy-and-his-dog tale.
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