Earlier this week, I talked about a Quentin Tarantino movie, The Hateful Eight, in the “My Favorite Movies,” segment. I figured why not stick with the theme, and make this week’s rankings article about the Quentin Tarantino verse.
Tarantino has a very distinct style. He is one of those directors where you can tell a movie is his, after watching only five minutes. Almost all of his movies are about an anti-hero out for revenge, there is usually some type of bounty hunter or two, tons of stylized violence. His movies also always feel like love letters to the medium of film, and to the specific genre, they fall into. There are tons of dialogue-heavy scenes in his movies, but they are all undercut by heavy tension, making them funny, yet deeply uncomfortable.
Tarantino has directed eight films, as long as you count Kill Bill Volume One and Two as a single movie, which Tarantino does, so I shall as well. This leaves out some of his other work, such as From Dusk Till Dawn which he wrote and acted in. Only the movies where he was the man behind the camera, count on this list.
Just a note before we start, Tarantino was doing connected film universes before it was popular. All of his movies connect in some way.
8. Death Proof
Every person’s rankings of the Tarantino-verse will be different, except for what they rank 1, and what they rank 8. Pretty much everyone would put Death Proof here at 8. Not to say Death Proof is bad, but it is intentionally campy. Death Proof was Tarintino’s homage to the 70’s B-movie. It is a slasher film, crossed with a muscle car chase movie, and exploitation movies.
The best part of the movie is Kurt Russell’s character, Mike. Mike is a stunt car driver, who drives a car called Death Proof. His car is specifically designed to protect the driver in crashes, so he uses the car to hunt down and kill women by crashing into them. He is a great antagonist. He is a loathsome human being, but also so much charm.
The movie does have some problems though. I can forgive the hokiness because that is intentional. But the dialogue was surprisingly weak, especially considering the fact that dialogue is usually his strength. Whereas in his other movies he can have mundane dialogue that is still interesting and tense, here the mundane dialogue is usually just exposition dumps and is not undercut with tension.
To be fair, this is what dialogue would usually be like in the movies Death Proof pays homage to, but Tarantino should have found a way to take that old trope
7. Inglorious Basterds
Inglourious Basterds may not be my favorite Tarantino film, but it may have my favorite scene in a Tarantino movie. The opening scene, with Christoph Waltz’s character Hans Landa interrogating the dairy farmer, is cinema perfection. It was rife with tension, and is in my mind, the best opening to a movie ever, or at least up there.
The movie also ends in great fashion. The cinema scene is fantastic, and the interludes with Hans Landa and Brad Pitt’s character Aldo Raine are great as well. The movie ending with Aldo marking Hans as a Nazi for life, despite accepting his truth, was a great ending.
The problem I have with the movie is the middle section. The middle of the movie is not bad, but it is often slow. Scenes linger for a bit too long. I still liked these scenes but pitted against his other movies, where even the slow scenes feel tense, it doesn’t quite stand up.
It would be hard to talk about this movie without the violence. All Tarantino movies are violent, but this one seemed to celebrate that violence. What people miss though, is how this is the point? The movie is a statement about how we celebrate violence in movies. I mean in the movie, it literally shows you Germans celebrating an overly violent movie that is mostly just made of a Nazi shooting American soldiers, and we are expected to think less of those German characters while watching a movie about Americans killing Nazi’s.
Overall, I enjoy this movie, but I still think it is one of the least great movies Tarantino has made.
6. Django Unchained
One thing I will say is Django has the best soundtrack of any Tarantino Movie. His movies are always full of great music, but every single song in Django gets stuck in my head every time I watch it.
Django is immensely entertaining. The action is great, the acting is great, and it can be very funny. As far as narratives go, it is not his most intriguing work, but the action, comedy, and dialogue make up for that.
I love Samuel L Jackson in this movie because he is playing a character we had never seen from him before. All of his characters in Tarantino films are great, but this is the character who is the most different. Jackson has said he took this role because he thought it would be a challenge. He plays a despicable character who uses his wits to manipulate people. Calvin Candy is the head of the Candy Land Ranch, but Samuel Jackson’s character Stephen is the real manager. Jackson stepped out of his comfort zone and knocked the role out of the park. Leo also stepped out of his comfort zone in this movie, playing a similarly awful person, and doing a fantastic job at it.
Christoph Waltz is amazing again. But that is also part of my issue. I think both Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained rely too heavily on the great performances Waltz plays. Not saying the movies would be bad without him, but the movie does slow down when he is not on screen. Not sure if that is just a testament to how good he is or a statement on the rest of the film, but it is something to think about.
Still, despite that, I really liked Django. It had fewer lows than Inglorious Basterds did, but didn’t have those great moments that Inglorious Basterds did either.
5. Jackie Brown
Jackie Brown often feels like the forgotten Tarantino movie. It has all of the things we love in these movies. Great acting, great characters, great dialogue. It is violent, has shocking deaths, and it has Samuel L. Jackson.
The movie revolves around the title character Jackie Brown, played by Pam Grier. She is a flight attendant but also smuggles in money for Black Market Dealer Ordell, played by Samuel L Jackson. Jackie is caught by the authorities and is put in a bad position. If she refuses to cooperate with the authorities, she will be put in jail, but if she cooperates, Ordell will kill her. So she hatches a plan to double-cross both sides and make away free with 500 thousand dollars of Ordell’s money. Like Pulp Fiction, the movie is broken into chapters, showing the same events from different perspectives.
Besides Grier and Jackson, the movie also features stars like Michael Keaton and Robert De Niro. I actually think this is one of De Niro’s better roles. He is kind of vulnerable in this movie. In most movies, he is usually the most dangerous person. But here, his character is full of self-doubt, and anxiety. It was really interesting to see De Niro out of his element.
So why does it not get the same recognition Tarantino’s other movies get? Perhaps because it came out early in his career, so he was not held with such high renown yet. But to be honest, I do not know why this is the case. For me, it is as good as any of the Tarintino films.
4. Reservoir Dogs
Tarantino’s first feature film, and still one of his best. It is tense, riveting, and funny. It has all the Tarintino trademarks.
It is his least polished movie. I mean the settings are limited and mostly uninteresting. Most of the movie takes place in an empty warehouse. But in a way, these limitations made the movie better. He didn’t have the crutch of being able to have these huge action scenes that he was able to do in Kill Bill, Inglorious Basterds, and Django Unchained. He doesn’t have the luxury to move the characters to different gorgeous settings. He is limited, which forced him to use the dialogue to lift the film up.
Reservoir Dogs is the story of a group of criminals who try to steal some diamonds. The job goes poorly, and they have to hide out in a warehouse while they figure out what went wrong. It is told from multiple angles of the different characters.
The most memorable scene is the infamous torture scene, where Michael Madsen’s character Mr.Yellow tortures a cop while the song Stuck in the Middle With You plays. It is disturbing, tense, and riveting.
I was invested throughout the entire movie, trying to figure out how the movie would play out. The payoff at the end, with the Mexican standoff, was extremely satisfying.
3. The Hateful Eight
You can read my full review of The Hateful Eight here.
2. Kill Bill
Kill Bill is probably the simplest Tarantino movie plot-wise. It is just about a woman, who survives an attempt on her life, and then proceeds to track down and kill all of her would be assailants, with her ex, Bill, being her final target. But despite it being so straightforward, it is still no less riveting as his other narratives.
It was his first movie with huge action set pieces. The scene at the end of volume 1, where The Bride, played by Uma Thurman, fights the Crazy 88, and then fights Lucy Liu’s character, is still probably the best action scene in a Tarantino movie.
Kill Bill at times feels like an anime come to life, but with better writing. There is actually an animated section in Volume One where we see the origins of Lucy Liu’s character. . It feels like an east meets west hybrid, with themes from spaghetti westerns, packed into the setting of a martial arts movie. The combo makes what I think is the best example of both genres.
The acting is great as usual, and I believe it is the best-directed movie he has made. it seems like it would be a much more challenging project than his other movies, and despite the high level of difficulty, he didn’t miss a beat.
Kill Bill could easily be number one on this list, but these final two movies are so close, it just came down to personal preference. Kill Bill is a near perfect movie.
1. Pulp Fiction
Whereas I said Kill Bill was Tarantino’s best work as a director, Pulp Fiction is his best work as a writer, and I am a sucker for great writing.
I really don’t know what to say about this movie. It is a cinema classic, and one of the best movies of all time. It has been talked about so much, that I am not sure if there is anything left for me to add to the movie.
Great acting, great story, great characters. Tons of memorable scenes and quotes. Like this, which may be one of Samuel L Jackson’s best on-screen moments.
People still debate about the meaning of scenes and events in this movie today. When a movie stays relevant for 25 years and is still the topic of discussion among filmgoers, you have succeeded. Pulp Fiction is fantastic. it is one of the few movies I am willing to give a perfect score to.