10. SAMUEL L. JACKSON GOES VERY OLD SCHOOL
Sam has killed it (literally) in Tarantino flicks before -- remember the way he broke our concentration in "Pulp Fiction"? But his performance in "Django" is another beast entirely: as Stephen the house slave, Jackson ages himself by at least a decade and strips himself of his natural cool. It's a brave performance that lacks the flashy soliloquies of his co-stars' characters but remains vital to the film's overall success.
9. SPAGHETTI WESTERNS GET A FACELIFT
"Django Unchained" is partially an homage to "Django," a 1966 film that starred Franco Nero and redefined the Spaghetti Western genre. Although Tarantino's latest is set mostly in Mississippi, the film honors the Italian-bred Western, with a gun-slinging outlaw hero in Foxx taking names and forging his own illustrious legacy. "I like evoking the 'Django' title for what it means to Spaghetti Westerns and that mythology," Tarantino says. Fun fact: Nero makes a cameo in "Django" after originally being cast as one of the main characters.
8. DON JOHNSON & JONAH HILL CRACK WISE
Who would have thought that a 2012 film would contain Mr. "Miami Vice," the authoritative Don Johnson, and "Superbad" star Jonah Hill sharing a slapstick scene -- much less a Quentin Tarantino film? We won't spoil the details, but let's just say that a new buddy comedy idea just germinated from a particular "Django" highlight.
7. THE SOUNDTRACK SINGS -- THANKS, ROZAY
Tarantino's soundtracks are always as uniquely stylized as his films, and much like his "Kill Bill" collection of music, which featured J-pop and RZA rhymes, the "Django Unchained" soundtrack opens its arms to all dissimilar genres. Along with Jim Croce and Ennio Morricone tunes comes a new smattering of R&B and hip-hop, including tracks by John Legend, Anthony Hamilton and Rick Ross; the Maybach head's "100 Black Coffins" was co-written by Jamie Foxx and somehow works in a movie set in the 19th century.
6. THE EVOLUTION OF CHRISTOPH WALTZ
After the German-Austrian actor popped eyes and became a household name (kind of) when he won an Academy Award for his role of the gloriously sinister Hans Landa in "Inglorious Basterds." Since then, Waltz has starred in a handful of forgettable U.S. films ("The Green Hornet," "Water For Elephants") but had yet to find his rhythm until reuniting with Tarantino for "Django Unchained." As Dr. King Schulz, the bounty hunter that helps give the titular character his killing stripes and motivation for salvation, Waltz soars by inverting his verbosity and morphing into a crowd-pleasing supporting character. As long as he keeps sticking with Tarantino, Waltz could forge a fantastic career.
5. THE SHOOTOUT
Don't worry -- we won't spoil any details. But more blood might be spilled in one scene of "Django Unchained" than in the climactic Tokyo nightclub scene in "Kill Bill Vol. 1." A Western wouldn't be complete without a grand shootout, and Tarantino engineers one for the ages.
4. THE TARANTINO TALK
Quentin Tarantino flick uniformly feature dialogue that feels at once vibrant and true to the respective time period. "Django Unchained" is no different, and even in its most brutal sequences, the film finds its footing within its crackling exchanges that break up the action. Watch out for a supremely tense extended sequence that elongates the feeling of dread from the bar scene in "Inglorious Basterds" -- as a business transaction is calmly hashed out, the knot in the viewer's stomach grows, and one dreads that a pistol will be unholstered in order to take down our hero. "Django Unchained" shines because its quiet words can be just as gut-punching as a sawed-off shotgun.
3. LEONARDO DICAPRIO'S GRAND OL' TIME
Does anyone remember when, a few years after "Titanic" and around the time of Leonardo DiCaprio's offbeat follow-up "The Beach," the young actor's future was more than a little uncertain? Since then, the 38-year-old has been uncanny with his project choices, opting to work with proven directors like Steven Spielberg ("Catch Me If You Can"), Martin Scorcese ("Gangs of New York," "The Aviator," "The Departed"), Christopher Nolan ("Inception"), and now Quentin Tarantino. As Calvin Candie, the vicious plantation owner in possession of Django's wife, DiCaprio is essentially unleashed -- he is given ample room to deliver gaudy exclamations and murderous rants, all while flaunting an accent that would make the keenest Southern belle blush. Whether or not DiCaprio finally wins an Oscar for the role remains to be seen, but either way, the superstar is having a ton of fun here.
2. THE HISTORY LESSON
There are moments in "Django Unchained" that are absolutely unbearable to witness -- stark reminders of the ugliness of slavery and the brutality which governed our country not so long ago. Tarantino has never shied away from subject matter that is less than savory -- witness the massacre of a hiding Jewish family at the beginning of "Inglorious Basterds" -- and he pulls no punches here, as he stacks the deck against his freed-slave hero simply by being faithful to history. Like "Basterds," "Django Unchained" abides by a type of "historical revenge" narrative by allowing the oppressed to wreck havoc on the oppressor; but unlike "Basterds," this film feels more truthful to its times by capturing the unruly energy of the pre-Civil War Deep South. In a sense, Tarantino's latest is a great companion piece to the recently released "Lincoln," since it provides a bloody context for what exactly that president was fighting for.
1. THE QUINTESSENTIAL LOVE STORY
What's at the heart of "Django Unchained"? It's not action-packed mayhem, or Leonardo DiCaprio's fancy outfits, or even a Jonah Hill cameo. Rather, "Django" is defined by the bond between Django (Jamie Foxx) and his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), hopelessly in love and tragically separated through the slave trade. Django and Broomhilda's romance is marked by little shared screen time and only flecks of dialogue, but Foxx and Washington convince the audience that their love is steeped in history, even as the world around them is crumbling spectacularly. Tarantino has explored the unstoppable impetus that love creates in earlier films, most memorably as The Bride slashes her way toward her daughter in "Kill Bill," but never with this much clarity and trust in his actors. In "Django Unchained," the great Jamie Foxx is less of a cold-blooded killer than a man whose blood runs cold because he misses his wife -- and with that in mind, we'll gladly root for him to win.