Quentin Tarantino’s is perhaps the most celebrated filmmaker to arise in the last 25 years. It is insane to think that someone with so much caliber and pristine only has nine films under their belt. That number may appear low considering the fact his debut feature was in 1992, however Tarantino has written and been involved numerous pulp movies including “True Romance”, “Natural Born Killers”, and “From Dusk Till Dawn”. He has also co-directed the anthology comedy “Four Rooms”, has acted in many films outside of his own, and he is one of the last celebrity directors that we have left.
With his latest masterpiece “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, his most self-reflexive work to date, we find Tarantino once again bring out his auteur traits as he plays great tribute to cinema, merging great character depth for each of his characters proves Tarantino still has what it takes to make a truly great film. As Hollywood and the film industry continues to change, Tarantino uses gloss, flash and exuberance in the first half as it builds to a climatic finale in the second to show the Old conservative Hollywood battling against the ever changing and new generation. There is many guesses on what Tarantino’s 10th and “final” film will be? A “Star Trek” film”? “Kill Bill Vol. 3”, or will just intertwine everything in the Tarantino universe and make one big Tarantino marvel movie?
Regardless of what Tarantino does next, one can’t deny just how impressive and brilliant his filmography is. Even inferior Tarantino films are superior than most films that come out today. It is very difficult to rank all of Tarantino’s films, however the challenge was meant, and this is how I would rank the following Tarantino films, and yes I consider both “Kill Bills” separate films, since both films were released in separate years.
1. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Anybody who says this isn’t Tarantino’s greatest film is in denial. Okay its all subjective, but as much as I love the character depth in his more mature films like “Jackie Brown” and “Kill Bill Vol. 2”, You can’t deny how masterfully written, directed, acted, and overall crafted “Pulp Fiction” is. The film truly defined cinema in the 1990’s as Tarantino completely subverted the filmic tense of cinema in terms of structure, dialogue, pacing and rhythm. It was and will always remain a landmark and revolutionary part of cinema that helped get many other small indie films off upon the aftermath of its release. “Pulp Fiction” will go onto to be celebrated for another 25 years.
2. Jackie Brown (1997)
Terribly under valued upon its original release, “Jackie Brown” was released just 3 years after the release of “Pulp Fiction, and even critics and audiences at the time went with bigger expectations of explosive violence and more lurid material. What they got instead was Tarantino’s most understated film to date, that also happens to be his least violent, that holds some of this strongest characterizations and pathos to date. Jackie Brown’s performances are also some of the greatest that has has pulled off, its baffling how Pam Grier wasn’t awarded or even nominated for an Oscar that year, Samuel L. Jackson was mesmerizing as Ordell Robbie, and Robert Forster delivered the most tender and heartfelt performance out of any Tarantino character as Max Cherry. Based on the novel “Rum Punch” by Elmore Leonard, and while “Jackie Brown” often doesn’t come up in conversation when you first bring up Tarantino, out of all of his films this one holds up extremely well. It may not be as lurid or as graphic as his other films, however it is his most humane work to date in which Tarantino would revisit with “Kill Bill Vol. 2” and now “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”.
3. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)
What started as saga of homages, extreme violence, and pure adrenaline exhilaration in “Kill Bill Vol. 1” that was released in October of 2003, ended something more restrained, ironic, and indeed more humane in April of 2004. What we got was one film, separated in two volumes that made both of my top ten lists that year. From the astonishing Pai Mei origin story, to the ironically tender and heartbreaking exchange between Bill, Beatrix Kiddo, and her daughter BB, “Kill Bill Vol. 2” brought great emotional depth that ended as a humane story. It was a brilliant and unexpected direction for Tarantino that defied expectations for the viewer. While being the more emotional part in the second half, Its not to say Volume lacks the exuberance of the first half, the showdown between Beatrix and Ellle Driver is some of the greatest fight choreography in recent memory, and the burred alive sequence still feels harrowing.
4. Inglorious Basterds (2004)
Tarantino’s most epic film to date, and certainly its the film he’s having the most fun with as he puts all of his knowledge of old war movies that becomes a multi-layer film that speaks the cinematic language of movies that always stays true to adventure and war movies. Tarantino brings all of his commonalities on the table that consist of graphic violence, sharp dialogue, with an overthrow ode to cinema as a whole. The result feels more grandiose than ever before, and this is perhaps Tarantino’s most technically impressive film and polished to date that holds many great set-pieces, great artistry, and memorable characters.
5. Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood (2019)
Just like all of Tarantino’s films, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is currently generating polarizing reactions where people are projecting their own ideology into the movies. You heard it all so far, “violent against women”, “its a right-wing revenge fantasy”, “Tarantino is just a irrelevant white man making a movie about a irrelevant white man”, “he disrespects Bruce Lee”, and yet you can rewind back to just 22 years ago and hear Spike Lee complain Tarantino dropping the “n word” numerous times in “Jackie Brown”. Just as the previous gripes, the controversies will mostly vanish, and this film will continue to live on to being a great cinematic treasure. One can’t ignore that this is possibly Tarantino’s most personal film to date and its certainly his honest about an artist reaching a point of fading away and being irrelevant. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are a dynamic duo, and as Tarantino is now 56 years old who will soon be a father and family man, this is certainly Tarantino’s most mature film to date.
6. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
After the success of “Pulp Fiction”, and the rental success of “Jackie Brown”, Tarantino was given a much bigger budget (still only $30 million), and he was able to pull off wonders and make the action movie he always wanted to make or even see. This was the film where Tarantino just put all his favorite kung-fu movie references openly out in the table, and basically told his detractors to deal with the fact that he is a post-modernist filmmaker that believes cinema should recycle, or rather re-invent all the great imagery that came before it. This is perhaps Tarantino’s most breezy and well-paced film to date, as the Bride is introduces her revenge on the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad led by Bill (David Carradine) is amplified with great energy and vibrancy that it its certainly one of the greatest action movies in cinematic history.
7. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Tarantino’s feature film debut remains a timeless masterpiece that is still appreciated, discussed, and championed today. It arrived in a bizarre time where it was rare for a film director to also be the solo writer of their own work. He instantly proved himself to be a remarkable talent, being both a writer and director. It was the film that showed how criminals can talk about the mundane, and Tarantino proved that characters can just talk, but the dialogue in “Reservoir Dogs” always gives the viewer great insights into who these characters really are. The performances by Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, and Steve Buscemi are all first-rate, and as Tarantino is now making expensiveness gory films about social issues as he did with “Django Unchained”, and to an extent “The Hateful Eight”, its always fascinating to go back and watch what Tarantino could pull off with little money, and to see where his roots are that are a verisimilitude of spontaneity, tension building, and exhilaration.
8. The Hateful Eight (2015)
Bypassing the traditional tributes of Hollywood westerns during the Gold Age of movies, “The Hateful Eight” plays out more like an Italian giallo horror film done in glorious 70mm. By using the extreme close-up of hands of a mystery man, a whodunit suspense structure, an atmospheric synth score by the great Ennio Morricone, stylized lighting setups along with a brilliant mix of tension building, “The Hateful Eight” is up there with “Jackie Brown” as being his most underappreciated. It is no mistake that Morricone’s score is a rehash from unused work in John Carpenters “The Thing”, the film is very much like a western version of “The Thing”, even sharing the same lead actor of Kurt Russell, with a claustrophobic and confined setting where the film takes place in mainly just a haberdashery cabin. With all the blood shed, great suspense, shootouts, and tension building this is Tarantino’s call for unity in 2015, as political and social issues were at a high, and sadly in 2019 they have only gotten worse. One can’t deny the unexpected poignancy found in the last moments in the film, as two dying men from completely different races, ideologies, cultures, and backgrounds come together in a tender moment as they spend the last moments of life together. This was easily one of the best films of 2015, a year that was plagued by many lesser films like “The Martian”, “Bridge of Spies”, and “Spotlight” that stole the attention from this masterfully made movie.
9. Django Unchained (2012)
Despite being Tarantino’s most commercially successful film to date that won him another Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, “Django Unchained” almost misfired in a big way. With a borderline painful final 30 minutes that featured Tarantino acting in a very bad Aussie accent, that also consisted of some of the laziest set-pieces in its climatic showdown of Tarantino’s career that should have been his best, along with awful visual gags, with obvious spaghetti Western movie tropes was still largely anchored thanks mainly to a brilliant and mutli-layered performances by Jamie Foxx, Christophe Waltz, Samuel L.Jackson, and a brilliantly sinister Leonardo DiCaprio. The film is also very blunt on the horrors of slavery that most movies in America cinema are afraid to tap into. Not perfect Tarantino film by no means, but still a very memorable one.
10. Death Proof (2007)
Part of an experiment with his close friend, colleague, and collaborator Robert Rodriguez, who directed “Planet Terror” that was featured right before their horror double-feature “Grindhouse”, that was released in the spring of 2007 where you actually got to see 2 movies for the price of 1. “Death Proof” is indeed an overstuffed movie that should have been scaled back by 20 mins or so. Still, one can’t deny the grindhouse spirit that is layered throughout it. Anchored by great editing by the late Sally Menke, “Death Proof” is Tarantino’s respectful tribute to many drive-in movies like “Vanishing Point”, “Death Race 2000”, “Hooper”, and even Sam Peckinpah’s “Convoy”. Using artificial scratch prints in the film, missing film reels, with never missing the pure exploitation, this is Tarantino holding the most fetishism. It is complete cinematic masturbatory, even with meandering girl talk dialogue, and an overlong running time, “Death Proof” overall still succeeds thanks mainly to the impressive vehicle stunt work by Zoe Well (who also stars). Sally Manke’s editing was also the glue that held it together, and the second half of the cat-and-mouse between Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) chasing down a group of young women in tight- shirts proves Tarantino is perfectly capable of just being a skillful genre director that doesn’t always have to put great depth into his movies.
Other memorable Tarantino creative involvements
True Romance (1993) (Written by)
Natural Born Killers (1994) (Story By)
Four Rooms (1995) (Co-Director, Co-Writer) (Director, Writer Segment– “The Man From Hollywood”
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) (Written by)
Memorable Tarantino supporting performances
Reservoir Dogs (1992) (d. Quentin Tarantino)
Sleep with Me (1994) (d. Rory Kelly)
Somebody to Love (1994) (d. Alexander Rockwell)
Pulp Fiction (1994) (d. Quentin Tarantino)
Destiny Turns on the Radio (1995) (d. Jack Baran)
Desperado (1995) (d. Robert Rodriguez)
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) (d. Robert Rodriguez)
Girl 6 (1996) (d. Spike Lee)