If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.
As many good reviews as I had heard of Inglorious Basterds before sitting down to watch it, I still wondered if there were too many factors working against it at least in the battle for my enjoyment. At over two and a half hours, would it be too long? Would the majority of the lines being spoken in French or German with English subtitles be a drag? Would the violence be too much? Not only did the movie overcome each of these potential pratfalls, I daresay it actually used each to its advantage on its way to standing out as one of he honest to gosh best films I've seen in quite awhile. I didn't notice the length because I was enjoying myself so much, the language switches allowed some actors to work greater levels of depth into their characters and the violence was used in such a way that it both conveyed importance and was just a nice adrenaline kick never used just for its own sake. I've always somewhat ambivalent or at least only quietly enthusiastic about Quentin Tarantino's work as a filmmaker, but with this piece I totally *got* why folks place him a level above. From the eclectic music choices (I love in particular Bowie's "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" as pump-up jam) to the constant movement of the camera angle and flourishes such as the title chapter cards, it's a smash job from the directorial end while the screenplay skillfully threaded a huge cast and disparate plot threads into a killer tapestry of kick ass. There was nary a scene not dripping with tension where I didn't cringe every time a character reached in their pocket or picked up a pen for fear of what was coming next, and yet at the same time the whole thing was just tremendous fun.
Christoph Waltz as the antagonistic Hans Landa is the talk of awards season for his breakout performance, and it's well-earned from scene one. Waltz more than anybody utilizes the rotation of languages I referred to earlier as he speaks four throughout the film (German, French, English and Italian) and utilizes each shift to completely alter his demeanor, effectively becoming a new character literally with each sentence. He is charming in the smarmiest of ways, terrifying in his unshakeable efficiency, and an absolute creep who you want to see get his but fear will get away with it all because he's that damn good--it's a tour de force. I was actually a bit concerned going in that Brad Pitt was just going to coast on the novelty of his name and a funny accent, but damn, the man knows exactly which buttons to push and really does bring every dramatic tool available to the table as he inhabits his Nazi-hating Aldo Raine. Pitt is a pleasure to watch at work and made me want to cheer; he really is one of the best of this generation and it's not said enough. Aside from the dueling leads, I thought Melanie Laurent was especially brilliant as the sole surviving Jewish victim of one of Landa's massacres, pulling off tortured, irritated and dangerously sexy all in one. Michael Fassbender is also a treat as a smooth-talking and smarmy Brit who gets not nearly enough screentime. Eli Roth, Diane Kruger and the rest of the ensemble were all good, but more in an "as advertised" kind of way (Roth has some great moments though).
At the end of the day though, it's really Tarantino's ball and he runs it straight into the endzone (though he credits the film being able to succeed at all in large part to Waltz, and I can totally see that, as the character is crucial and not many actors, even good ones, could have pulled it off like he did). If I was down on the movie about anything, it's that I did want to see more of the Basterds in action, building their legend, but I suppose that's something of a backhanded compliment as it just means I would have gladly watched another hour.