I was never a huge fan of Tarantino. Something, most likely jealousy, told me to resist. He got a lucky break, I surmised. As time went on, we all discovered that break was well deserved. He’s one of the top 5 directors of our time. He’s never made a bad film, and he’s made two (almost three) incredible classics. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is the icing on the cake for me. So good is that film it is the impetus for a retrospective, before what is supposed to be the last film of his career. I am pretty sure most of those reading will not agree with my number 1, or even my number 9. That’s okay though. Let me know your own list or thoughts in the comments.
Reservoir Dogs – 1992
Starring Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Edwin Bunker, Steven Wright, Kirk Baltz
Favorite Scene The restaurant conversations that bookend the film are delightful.
Review It’s his simplest story, and the one he sliced up more than any other. It’s because of this film I have a framed copy of Gerry Rafferty’s City to City on the wall in my office. The soundtrack has some of the greatest music of the 70’s. Seeing Madsen’s Mr. Blonde dancing around carrying a blade to Stealers Wheel “Stuck In the Middle with You” is an indelible memory. Especially effective is Steven Wright as the completely mellow DJ, to contrast the chaotic scenery. Some of the cursing seems inappropriate, especially the use of the n-word. Obviously some key people later give Quentin a pass on the word, and that’s good. He’s given one of our best actors (Samuel L. Jackson) some of the best roles of his career. If he didn’t see the intent behind the use, he never would have worked for Tarantino. Plum roles for Buscemi, Madsen, Penn and Lawrence Tierney. Keitel is good as the crook with a heart so big it obscures his vision. Testing the limits on the amount of blood that can be spilled from one person, Tarantino shows a clarity of vision that most filmmakers never exhibit.
(***1/2 out of *****)
Ranking Number 8 of 9
Pulp Fiction – 1994
Starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros, Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Christopher Walken, Bruce Willis
Favorite Scene So many to choose from, but I would have to go with The Wolf and his plan to clean up the back seat mishap. The way he works the other Jackson, Travolta and Tarantino is sublime.
Review This one was a surprise. Everything about the story works, except for the way it’s ordered. There is one major issue that’s always kept the film from perfection is how the climax is robbed of its power (and an Oscar for Jackson) by editing. Since we know Vincent Vega (Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Jackson) coming back from the restaurant robbery alive and well. Just like that, no more surprise. It doesn’t matter that Jackson gives the best speech in a film filled with magnificent speeches, we know what he doesn’t. He’s going to survive. Even so, the film is so watchable with so many incredible moments. There are no miscues by any actor with any line, This is the real introduction to the Tarantino universe. If you are reading this, you’ve seen the movie. There is nothing more that needs to be said.
(****1/2 out of *****)
Ranking Number 3 of 9
Jackie Brown – 1997
Starring Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Robert DeNiro
Favorite Scene The incredible forthright cool of Max Cherry being brought to a tremble by Jackie Brown is one of my favorite cinematic memories.
Review Here (***** out of *****)
Ranking Number 1 of 9
Kill Bill Volume 1 – 2003
Starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks
Favorite Scene Anything with Lucy Liu, but let’s just go with the way she handles a dissenter.
Kill Bill Volume 2 – 2004
Starring Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks
Favorite Scene I loved the training sequences, replete with the wild mustache stroking and embarrassment for Thurman’s Bride, Beatrix Kiddo. The best scene is the final showdown. It’s the subtle ending to a film that laughs at subtle.
Review Let’s just narrow both films into the one they really are and go from there. The best thing the film has going for it is Uma, who is going for it, both physically and emotionally. The action scenes for both films go full gonzo, right until the end, when, quite perfectly, the tone shifts. Could they have narrowed it down into one movie? They could, at the very least chopped the manga section covering Liu’s childhood to just a line or two. It doesn’t bother me, though. I like everything as it is, even if it isn’t Tarantino’s best. It’s still better than most films released at the time.
(****1/2 out of *****)
Ranking Number 5 of 9
Grindhouse: Death Proof – 2007
Starring Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoë Bell
Favorite Scene Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich almost added Pete Townshend? What the -?
Review Death Proof may just be Tarantino’s most seductive movie. The whole thing plays like a Penthouse letter to a different time. Women were freer than ever. They were also more objectified. The young ladies in this film have their hope, promise and good times…until they run into the prehistoric buzzsaw Mike McKay, a stunt double with a car made to kill. The film recalls when drive in theaters were home to films played to a point where they were threadbare. The film jumps and blips hilariously. Even more is the editing done in the most unprofessional way. Tarantino straddles the line between lechery and complete understanding of the internal workings of his female cast. If the women are loose, the men are cluelessly juvenile. Except for Russell’s Stuntman Mike. His menace is repulsive and brutally sexy. He’s everything the others are not for better, or mostly worse. As wonderful as the slow build for the first act, the last act is over the top and bonkos. It’s a brutal delight standing taller in the viewer’s memory than it probably should.
(**** out of *****)
Ranking Number 7 of 9
Inglorious Basterds – 2009
Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger, Mélanie Laurent
Favorite Scene Landa’s fate is arrived at in a delicious manner, it’s the appropriate final shot of the film.
Review It’s one of the least relevant films of his career, but it’s got style. A group of American soldiers, most of Jewish descent, marauding western Europe hunting Nazis for scalps. A Jewish woman who escaped The Jew Hunter (Waltz) Hans Landa owns a theater where the Nazi party decides to premiere their latest propaganda piece. Hitler, Goebbels and the rest of the leadership will be there. Both the Basterds (as the Americans are called) and our Jewish heroine are determined to end the war here. Waltz burst on the scene with this film, winning an Oscar for his horrific, brilliant opportunist. No one else in this story, including Pitt, stands out. This is perhaps due to the fact that there’s as much dialogue as in any Quentin film, only 2/3 of it is in French and German with subtitles. It’s one of the hardest films to watch, because we spend most of our time reading.
(***1/2 out of *****)
Ranking Number 9 of 9
Django Unchained – 2012
Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, Michael Parks, Don Johnson
Favorite Scene The tension of the dinner scene is precipitated by some of Jackson’s finest work.
Review Here (**** out of *****)
Ranking Number 6 of 9
Hateful Eight – 2015
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, James Parks, Channing Tatum
Favorite Scene Channing in a box.
Review Here (****1/2 out of *****)
Ranking Number 4 of 9
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – 2019
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino
Favorite Scene Cliff Booth soberly kicking ass at the Spahn Ranch or serving up a dinner on a laced cigarette. Either way he’s incredibly fun to watch.
Review Here (***** out of *****)
Ranking Number 2 of 9