We currently sit on the eve of a glorious celebration: the continued legend of one man having turned his life over to the human race in order to give us something we do not deserve. His persecution in light of this sacrifice is oft-discussed and challenged but history constantly reminds us that his undeserved public shaming will always take a back seat to the life he led and the stories and joy he was able to bring to the world. I am, of course, speaking of Quentin Tarantino and his beautiful dearth of filmic heaven. This Christmas, we receive yet another movie from the famous auteur with The Hateful Eight. Before we all bask in the glory of his new Western, let’s take a look back at Mr. Tarantino’s storied career and do what us internet-age folk with attention spans the length of Mr. Blonde’s rational thought do best: RANK HIS MOVIES!
Note: This list is legal and binding and shall never be disputed for there is no other logical explanation to refute the opinions listed below. I am counting only Tarantino’s feature length films he directed starting with Reservoir Dogs and am also approaching the Kill Bill films as separate entries. Let’s get started, shall we?
8) Death Proof
The funny thing about Death Proof is that it’s Tarantino making a “bad” movie on purpose. Billed as the second feature in the duology, Grindhouse, Death Proof is exactly the movie Tarantino wanted to make. Often, when directors make bad films, we can chalk it up to the intentions not matching up to the final product. In this case, Tarantino was purposefully making his version of a grindhouse movie. Where the general public was mistaken was believing that Robert Rodriguez’s entry, Planet Terror, actually embodied what it meant to be “grindhouse”. Planet Terror is to grindhouse cinema as every Die Hard sequel is to Die Hard. It really, really wants to be this one thing, but just isn’t. The key to a grindhouse film, which Tarantino understood very well, is that they’re often quite shambling and even boring. Death Proof follows a lackadaisical pace and tells two very long stories with plenty of shag to spare. Now, I think this is all still lovely material, but it is very much a trial to get through. His cast is phenomenal with Kurt Russell (about to star in The Hateful Eight) giving a chilling and darkly comedic performance amidst plenty of deliciously hokey material. This being someone’s worst movie is a miracle indeed.
7) Jackie Brown
Jackie Brown had the deep misfortune of following the masterpiece that was Pulp Fiction. Tarantino had just won an Oscar for his Pulp Fiction screenplay while also shifting the paradigm for modern storytelling. Audiences were stunned to see the director follow that up with a lengthy LA neo-noir following a hardworking flight attendant (Pam Grier) trying to evade and outwit a gun-runner (Samuel L. Jackson), a federal agent (Michael Keaton) and an ex-con (Robert De Niro) with the help of an aging bail-bondsmen (Robert Forster) in order to secure half-a-million dollars. This 70s throwback featured all of the wit and talent of Tarantino’s former work but was admittedly not as watchable as those films. It absolutely works, it just doesn’t scream like the best of his movies. Its greatest achievement is making a whole new generation fall in love with the beautiful and amazing Pam Grier. Also, bonus points for Chris Tucker.
6) Kill Bill Vol. 1
With Kill Bill Vol. 1, we begin to step into the realm of masterpiece with each Tarantino entry henceforth on this list. I consider Kill Bill Vol. 1 separate from Vol. 2 because they are both such clearly different movies. Sure, one is the extension and conclusion of the other, but Tarantino smartly knew that the ebbs and flows of his story don’t fit simply all within the same genre. Kill Bill Vol. 1 is arguably his most watchable movie and also represents his ascent into the national codex. People knew who Tarantino was before Kill Bill but they adored him after. Working within the framework of a martial-arts film, Vol. 1 presents the ferocious plight of The Bride (Uma Thurman) as she seeks revenge against the gang of killers which left her for dead on her wedding day. The action is tight and furious and the music, designed by Wu Tang Clan genius RZA, has implanted itself into the national consciousness like none of Tarantino’s other movies. The perfect kinetics of Vol. 1‘s action is unfortunately bested by the perfect storytelling and catharsis of…
5) Kill Bill Vol. 2
It wouldn’t be right to separate these movies in an overall discussion but the Kill Bill films are different enough in goals and style that they need to be separate in terms of the quality of result. Kill Bill Vol. 2 is genius in that it doesn’t try to be a movie it isn’t. The story of The Bride and her retribution doesn’t track as solely a martial-arts action show. As the film quotes Star Trek, “revenge is a dish best served cold”, Vol. 2 leans into Spaghetti Western territory in order to tell the conclusion. We get to see where The Bride came from and how her tortured past is deserving of a slow, twisted revenge tale. Her final encounter with the nominal Bill is a classic sequence that highlights Tarantino at his best in terms of storytelling and character work. Still, each of these films represent only one half of an excellent story.
4) Reservoir Dogs
It will be an eternal debate as to which movie is Tarantino’s most important film. I’d argue that Reservoir Dogs more than deserves that title. His first feature directorial effort presented a movie so cool, so different, that it completely redefined what it meant to be independent cinema. Telling the story, out of chronological order, of a jewelry store heist gone wrong, Reservoir Dogs cemented Tarantino’s famous pop culture-based dialogue and musical choices as a thing of astounding cool. Mr. Blonde’s (Michael Madsen) torture of a police officer is likely Tarantino’s most famous scene and will be forever aped as the paramount of psychotic badassery. If this list were solely about which movie caused the biggest shift in cinema, Reservoir Dogs would probably be number one.
3) Django Unchained
This movie almost topped this list. Django Unchained is Tarantino’s most assured piece of filmmaking. It takes head on what is probably America’s biggest black eye and gives us a hero set on righting injustice through the filter of true love. This is Tarantino’s greatest love story and it also serves as a brutal reminder of what atrocities this country and humans in general are capable of under the guise of societal norms. This revenge Western is amazingly stylish and represents the best of Tarantino’s use of anachronisms when it comes to music and tone. Its world bursts at the seams with colorful characters and features all-time performances by Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio. I’ve found myself coming back to this film more than any other in Tarantino’s filmography undoubtedly because of the straightforward nature of the story and themes. It’s about a good man taking back what’s his and making right all he can in spite of a horrific situation, all told with astounding confidence and rhythm.
2) Pulp Fiction
It is because of the sheer genius of Tarantino’s filmography that Pulp Fiction will likely always be his second best film. This is absolutely no dishonor. Pulp Fiction is the tantamount Tarantino film which cemented his voice which was established in Reservoir Dogs. This film created the stigma amongst actors that working with Tarantino was like a career resurrection. Tarantino notably cast John Travolta in the lead role when no one else wanted to give the middle-aged actor the light of day. It wasn’t so much about giving “aging” actors another shot but rather Tarantino knowing exactly what he’s a fan of and knowing perfectly how to use actors at his disposal. John Travolta represented “cool” unlike any actor before him and Tarantino knew how to bring that back to the forefront. Pulp Fiction is a benchmark for all of cinema with scenes and beats that have transcended film and have rooted themselves within our culture for those who have never and maybe will never see the actual film. However, being the most important film a director makes doesn’t mean that film will be the best a director makes.
1) Inglourious Basterds
In a career full of masterpieces, Inglourious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino’s greatest achievement. It takes the absolute best of each of his directorial charms and turns them each up to 11, creating a rich cinematic tapestry that gets better and better with each viewing. Inglourious Basterds is a pure celebration of cinema while also being a very drastic bit of revisionist history. Told through Tarantino’s signature chapter style, the movie presents three different stories coming together to shape each other’s fate during Hitler’s WWII reign. Unlike the way history ultimately resolved, Tarantino places the power back within the hands of the persecuted as Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine leads a band of Jewish soldiers through Germany on a Nazi hunting mission. Lt. Raine ultimately ends up on a collision course with Shosanna (Melanie Laurent), a French Jew who narrowly escaped the clutches of the famed Jew Hunter, Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), as a young girl. The resulting climax is the perfect resolution and catharsis of a world absolutely stymied by the evil purported by one man. The fact that the art of film stands at the forefront of this revolution is icing on the cake.
My favorite thing about Quentin Tarantino is that this list could change drastically with each movie he makes and releases. He is on record for wanting to retire before he hits a denouement in quality but the fact that he is batting 1.000 with each film he has released gives us no reason to believe that decline is eminent.
Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, The Hateful Eight, opens in limited release on Christmas day. I can’t wait to worship at this particular altar on the holiest of holy days.