With the release of Quentin Tarantino's newest (and, if the auteur is to be believed, penultimate) film, Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood, it's time once again to talk about the director, and the films he's given us so far.
Quentin Tarantino is a joyfully unique voice in film. A Tarantino film builds a new world each time, never apologizing for perceived logistical flaws, twists of fate, or even, occasionally, complete rewritings of world history. His films are paradoxical; utterly unique and filled to the brim with homages to the endless supply of features he's fed on throughout his life.
Here's a caveat before we begin: I don't think there is a "bad" Quentin Tarantino movie, so please do not email me about the films near the bottom—or even middle—of this list. I treasure them all because, even at their least successful, they are Tarantino movies, and that alone has proven enough to propel even the more dreary concepts into works worth watching and rewatching.
10. Death Proof
One half of the Grindhouse double feature, next to Robert Rodriquez's underrated genre mash-up Planet Terror, this is easily Tarantino at his breeziest, clocking in at 113 minutes, which is positively brief for the dude who loves nothing more than sitting two of his characters down at a table and letting them talk about whatever for up to 45 minutes. Death Proof suffers no delusions of grandeur and its final moments count as one of his very best endings. Still, this is not ambitious or particularly fastidious filmmaking. QT's gotta put his own feet up sometimes, y'know.
9. Django Unchained
The hyper-stylized, over-acted world of Django Unchained never fully gelled for me, nor has its liberal use of the n-word, necessity be damned, really been successfully defended. Jaime Foxx gets to have fun, but for a movie about black pain, it's Leonardo DiCaprio who Tarantino gives the most to do. A good film hamstrung by a couple of suspect choices.
8. Kill Bill: Volume 2
Is Kill Bill one movie, or two? The debate will rage on forever, and my take is: I don't care, and have little interest in watching a 5-hour anything ever, so I'm gonna go ahead and call it two movies. This is perhaps a little unfair to Volume 2, which suffers as a second half/sequel/whatever due to its predecessor's more propulsive and playful tone, and its nosedive into uncharacteristic self-seriousness at the end. All the same, it's a wonderful continuation of Uma Thurman's Bride character, and the perfect way to end her story.
7. Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
In the words of GQ critic Scott Meslow, "Tarantino has built his filmography on a platform of cinephilia, remixing and referencing elements from all his favorite movies to make new ones. Now, he’s cut out the middleman and made a whole movie about Hollywood itself, set in an idealized and lovingly recreated version of Los Angeles circa 1969. If you’re content to luxuriate in it, you might have a good time too. But you shouldn’t expect anything more than that."
6. The Hateful Eight
Tarantino is at his absolute best when he's letting great actors just sit around and talk to each other, an ever-building tension slowly seeping into the movie through the edges of the frame. This is The Hateful Eight almost in its entirety, which puts a band of strangers in a remote cabin during a snowstorm and slowly peels back deception after deception. Stolen identities, covert murders, poisoned coffee: this could easily be staged as a play and suffer very little for it. This is also, it should be mentioned, Tarantino's nastiest movie, with an ending that's for sure unpalatable, but in keeping with the titular hateful actions of our eight.
5. Reservoir Dogs
A heist movie without a heist, an all-star male cast that undercuts cinematic machismo at every turn. Reservoir Dogs discourse often gets bogged down under the film's more trivial moments: The torture scene to "Stuck in the Middle With You," for one, and the vapid "who shot Eddie?" debate for another. As Reservoir Dogs made very clear in not showing us the ill-fated robbery itself, it's the moments in between the moments that make a good story.
4. Pulp Fiction
We can all agree, without hyperbole, that Pulp Fiction changed cinema with its playful non-linear storytelling; the many, many catchphrases it contributed to pop culture pretty much immediately after release; its utter lack of loyalty to the "survival" of its main or more likable characters. This was Tarantino's statement of intent, a true introduction to the man who could magically, simultaneously subvert and celebrate movies for the rest of his career.
3. Jackie Brown
It's great to see Quentin having fun, and that's exactly what Jackie Brown is. Unfairly and reductively labeled as a response to the "blaxploitation" genre, this film takes as much from classic comedy capers as far back as the '50s as it did Shaft. Pam Grier is an exceptional get and one of the best collaborates for the filmmaker in his entire body of work.
2. Kill Bill: Volume 1
A playful and brutal take on the hero's journey, Kill Bill: Volume 1 is pure serotonin cinema. Uma Thurman gives the performance of her lifetime, imbuing The Bride with vulnerability, determination, and rage. The soundtrack is killer, and Tarantino's forays into Eastern filmmaking (including, in one sequence, anime) come off more successfully than any of his other lovingly appropriated pastiches. This is simply one of the best action films ever made.
1. Inglourious Basterds
"I think this might just be my masterpiece," is the final spoken line in Inglourious Basterds, spoken directly into the camera. It's a fantastic piece of meta hubris from the director and, what's more, entirely accurate. Inglourious Basterds is outrageous, violent, funny, and meticulously acted. It feels like Christoph Waltz has been around forever, but it was his Colonel Hans Landa just ten years ago that introduced him to the masses in one of the best opening sequences in all of movie history. Hell, they even got a good scene out of Eli Roth. Not even Eli Roth has been able to do that. A triumph.