Inglourious Basterds ★★★★½

On his best days - and I freely admit he has awful ones. It's what happens when you blow a chuck of your Kill Bill budget on blow and Chinese hookers - watching a Quentin Tarantino movie is like going out to a seven-course gourmet dinner with someone who both understands and deeply appreciates food. Not a chef, who could be judgey or unable to leave work at home; not a food snob, who, regardless of what the salad is, will share his very strong opinions on kale; just someone who fucking loves to eat. His enthusiasm will be infectious. As you work your way through each dish, he'll tell you its origins and variants and why those combinations of flavor work so well, and why, he, personally, loves this iteration of it. When you're with a man like that, someone possessed not only of so much love but so much reverence for the context and history of the thing he loves, your experience of that thing becomes richer, and more wonderful, and more fun. He makes you understand why it's magic without taking the magic away.

Which is all a very long way of saying that Inglourious Basterds is a movie about movies - about the power of cinema, about its history, about why we love the kinds of characters and stories that we love, about how film informs how we see the world - even as it's a funny, fantastical Nazi revenge yarn. Don't think for one fucking second that Christoph Waltz's Colonel Hans Landa doesn't see his interview with the LaPadites as worthy of Leone Widescreen, or that Brad Pitt's Lieutenant Aldo Raine doesn't deliver "And I want my scalps!," the exact fucking way Wayne would, if the Code had let him. Diane Kruger isn't quite Dietrich, and Fassbender sure ain't Hitchcock, but they both evoke traditions that informed 40s Hollywood while getting to be way more bloody and uninhibited than their namesakes. Then there's Melanie Laurent's Jew-in-hiding Shoshanna, who is perhaps Tarantino's conduit to modern cinephilia's damaged nostalgia. She dresses like a bombshell and gets to light one, too.

Of course betwixt and between all that is a shit-tonne of ultraviolence, timed to be as hilarious as possible even if the visual is graphic enough to be disquieting - Tarantino's known for a discordant combination of sound and image, but here he succeeds masterfully at juxtaposing meaning and tone. If anything gives us permission to laugh at pain it is visiting horror upon Nazis. But Tarantino complicates that, too. Daniel Bruhl's hero Nazi and the film about him sniping masses of faceless Americans is it's own sort of variation in a minor key, of Pitt's happy guerrillas capturing yet another hapless soldat. There's also Shoshanna's and Landa's plots, which ramp up so much dread between the two of them that what actually ends up going down in a basement bar or ritzy theater premiere is cathartic.

Then there's the ending of the film, which, y'all, is perfect. And Tarantino knows it. Some take that as arrogance, and I do think it takes arrogance to make a movie like Inglourious Basterds. But the last shot is as full of appreciative wonder as the first one, integrating this film with all its reference points and the director's body of work. I can't help agreeing with Pitt's assessment of Tarantino, either. This might be his masterpiece.