8. Death Proof
Perhaps not surprisingly, Death Proof opens this list as the least enjoyable Quentin Tarantino film. That is not to say that it is a bad film but it struggles when held in comparison to the director's other more ambitious works.
Released in 2007 as a double-bill film alongside his friend Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, the film pays homage to the gritty exploitation films that Tarantino grew up watching. Tarantino succeeds in what he sets out to achieve, creating a thrilling horror like experience with some exciting scenes largely thanks to great performances from Kurt Russell and Zoe Ball, Uma Thurman’s stunt double for Kill Bill.
Death Proof manages to be entertaining enough in its tale of two halves to keep your interest until the end, but not to become a timeless classic. It is a real shame that the film was not presented and distributed in the way Tarantino intended on a wider scale, as a double feature jam-packed with bonus trailers and extra scenes to give an authentic “grindhouse” experience.
7. Django Unchained
The first Tarantino film that I was able to enjoy at its time of release, Django Unchained finally saw Quentin Tarantino create a flat-out Western after many previous efforts that borrowed from and incorporated elements and tropes from the genre.
In what develops into a buddy film, the highly entertaining duo of Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz set off to rescue Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the evil plantation owner Calvin Candie, with Leonardo DiCaprio giving a chilling performance in his role.
Django is full of Tarantino’s trademark style, and Kill Bill aside, is probably the closest one of his films comes to resembling a comic book. With over the top violence, humour and a romantic storyline at the heart, I do not think it is going too far to say that this Tarantino’s most “feel good” film. At times Tarantino does seem to indulge himself a little too much with style over substance, with a number of scenes either running too long or seeming superfluous but these are only minor complaints in a film that is firmly up there as one of the best of the decade so far.
6. Jackie Brown
It is often said that Jackie Brown is Tarantino’s most under-appreciated film, it is a difficult statement to disagree with and is probably more of a reflection of the strength of his work on the whole rather than an indicator of the film's quality. After exploding on to the scene with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, audiences can be forgiven for not expecting a more subdued and mature film based on an Elmore Leonard novel.
The film might not be packed with as many exhilarating moments as some of his other works, but it makes up for that in its carefully constructed layered storytelling that creates a suspenseful tale with truly fascinating characters.
Once again Tarantino combines a number of influences, not just merging the original novel with his directorial style but also embodying the spirit of various eras and genres such as Seventies blaxploitation films and gritty crime thrillers from that decade.
The casting of the film is absolutely spot on with Pam Grier fiercely portraying the titular character and Robert Forster opposite her carefully portraying a caring lonely man who has grown tired of his everyday life and longs for an escape. Outside of this we have the always outstanding Samuel L. Jackson and the legendary Robert De Niro who gives a hilarious laidback performance as Jackson’s stoner criminal accomplice.
Jackie Brown remains the only feature film where Tarantino has based his screenplay on another writer, but he has toyed with the idea of directing a film taking place based on other original sources, from James Bond to more recently Star Trek. It will be interesting to see if anything materialises as he potentially moves towards the end of his career.
5. Reservoir Dogs
My introduction to Tarantino, I remember seeking out the film at a young age after hearing about the famous “ear cutting” scene. Prior to watching this I had pretty much no interest in films except for what I watched casually on TV. Reservoir Dogs was the film that made me realised the importance of directors. Each scene is the result of a director’s vision, the cuts, the music, the script; all the elements can be combined to create results that are a unique result of somebody’s vision.
Tarantino’s first film introduces us to everything that we now come to associate and love about the director: his unique storytelling devices, his use of violence, his sense of humour, his fantastic taste in music, the list goes on. The fantastic performances in the film help carry the suspenseful plot that flies by with the film having a relatively short running time for the director.
I hope that this film serves as a starting point for others to become interested in films, as it did with me. I have lost count of how many times I have seen the film, including on the big screen, and I am sure many others can say the same.
4. The Hateful Eight
After the success of Django Unchained, it was fantastic to see Tarantino head straight back to the Western genre to create another superb film, his most under-appreciated in my eyes.
Like Jackie Brown, I think it suffered slightly from audience expectations going in to it. After the action packed frenetic Django, they might have been expecting more of the same yet this film could not be further from that. Its plot feels more like something that his been written by Agatha Christie, a slow burning chamber room drama where layers upon layers are added to each other. From the films introduction we do not know who to trust, nobody seems who they say they are except John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
Building from his excellent work in the Eighties classic The Thing, Tarantino collaborates with Ennio Morricone whose score really adds a chilling death-like feeling to the proceedings. Told in Tarantino’s usual chapter like approach, this film really feels like a novel that can be split into distinct parts, with significant events bookending them and providing huge twists to shape the tale.
What I most enjoy about the film is the relationship between the characters, in particular between those of Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins. Released to the backdrop of modern day racial tensions in the USA, in particular with police, the film works undoubtedly a commentary on the social issues surrounding the country at this time.
Tarantino reminds us of the burdens and expectations of society, of the different roles people play and the responsibilities they have. Without revealing any spoilers, I think that the film contains Tarantino’s most touching, poignant ending. A truly mature piece of work that I feel could be ranked even higher on this list.
3. Kill Bill
Released in two parts, Tarantino envisioned the film is a greater whole and like Death Proof I think it is a shame that we did not get to enjoy a wide cinematic release of “the whole bloody affair”.
Both parts are unbound with creativity in a bloody tale of revenge that has just about everything. Volume One is more of an action based film. Once we are introduced to the Bride and her mission the film then moves towards one of Tarantino’s greatest orchestrated scenes - a thrilling showdown at the House of the Blue Leaves where we see him draw from his Asian action film influences to create unforgettable results full of unbelievable stunt-work and practical effects.
After the breathtaking finale of the first part we are then thrown in to a more relaxed second part, which is my preferred volume of the film as we delve deeper into the characters background and motivations, crafting interesting multidimensional characters that allow us to connect with the Bride’s cathartic journey. The pieces that were missing and the questions that we had are now answered, making the ending feel bittersweet in its subdued human fashion.
2. Inglourious Basterds
Before Django, Tarantino’s first venture into alternative historical storytelling started with this film, taking events from the second World War and using them for the platform for another blood-soaked tale of revenge.
The film combines multiple storylines that feel like they belong in different films, one following Melanie Laurent’s character who opens the film escaping from the Nazis, and one of Brad Pitt’s band of Nazi killers collecting Nazi scalps.
In what might be Tarantino’s most suspenseful scene, as the film opens we are introduced to the horrifyingly unsettling villain of Hans Landa, the excellent Christoph Waltz who interrogates a French farmer he suspects of harbouring Jewish people. The suspense never gives up from there on in, with each scene with Landa verging on the edge of immediate danger for all those involved.
Tarantino manages to balance all the cinematic emotions, including a huge dose of comedy with a delicate subject matter, managing to make the experience feel fulfilling and true despite its ridiculousness.
1. Pulp Fiction
There are many reasons why this is often regarded as Tarantino’s best film, and even after numerous rewatches it is a film that manages to retain its freshness, feel inventive and still manage to be shocking and hilarious.
Building on the work of his debut film Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction is more ambitious, combining multiple converging storylines in non-linear fashion. This unpredictability allows the film not to rely on plot but rather the collection of moments that in themselves make for cinematic magic.
Tarantino regards that masterful Rio Bravo as one of his favourite films, and although far from being a Western its Howard Hawks other thematic elements that are replicated such as the bravado between the male characters in what is essentially a three-hour long hangout film.
It is no surprise that audiences continue to discover and love this cinematic masterpiece, the perfect combination of great performances, a killer soundtrack, laugh out loud dialogue and a one-of-a-kind cinematic feeling that seeps out of every frame. A film that that has inspired many imitators but could never be replicated.
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