Quentin Tarantino is a legend, there’s really no question about it. It doesn’t matter how you feel about the man as a filmmaker. Like him or not, the man is cemented in cinema history. He fundamentally changed 90s cinema and brought a pop culture obsessed sensibility to movies. His movie may be the cinematic equivalent of a DJ mashup of other movies, they never feel derivative and work on their own. You will never feel like a Tarantino movie is lazy or anything but a passionate love letter that is totally Tarantino. Hilarious and violent as all hell, no one makes movies like him despite an entire industry coming up in his wake after his breakout success. He doesn’t crank movies out either. Over a span of 20 years, he made 7 movies. And coming upon his 23rd year directing movies, his 8th movie will be released. And in honor of The Hateful Eight’s release, it was high time to look back at his past work and rank them in order since I haven’t done that yet. On a personal note, Tarantino is one of my favorite filmmakers ever. This is gonna be a list of less great to next level genius. I will defend all of his movies, even the “lesser” ones. So let’s get down to it ramblers.
7. Death Proof (2007)
This is the weakest of the bunch because it is the only one where there is actual bad stuff in it. The next entry on here is gonna have elements that may not work completely, but aren’t necessarily bad. Here though he actually just whiffs with some elements. Mainly elements involving the first half of the movie, and even then only the parts without Kurt Russell. The movie is split into two parts, with each part focusing on a different group of girls. The girls in the second half are great. It’s those ones in the beginning that really sour the mood of it all, since they are horribly grating and just damn near unwatchable. It takes a while, but when Stuntman Mike (Russell) shows up, the movie comes roaring to life, even with these mewling women. Stuntman Mike is one of Tarantino’s best creations and is brought to vivid life by Russell. Charming and vicious and cowardly all rolled into one, it’s a magnetic performance. But the real crux of this movie is the ending, when Stuntman Mike attempts to ram the girls off the road which turns into a massive car chase. Filled with practical stunts at unholy speeds, it’s thrilling. And it’s also a very feminist movie, hiding under all the macho car bluster. But this was the movie that made people wonder if Tarantino had lost it, that time had finally caught up to him. It’s because that first half is so slow and uninteresting without Stuntman Mike, we all wondered if his heart was in it. Obviously now we know that it is. He’s owed a fuck up now and then and when this is considered your worst movie, you have a blessed career.
6. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
A movie that is filled with some of the highest of Tarantino’s many considerable highs, but sadly with some of the least successful material of his career. But at least this time out that material isn’t outright bad like the first half stuff in Death Proof. It just doesn’t connect at the level it surely wanted to. That less successful material is the stuff regarding Shoshanna, a young Jewish woman living in France who aims to enact revenge against the Nazi’s for killing her family years prior. It want’s to be much more emotional and impactful that it actually is. More wheel spinning and drawn out than it needs to be. Especially when the other, better material in the movie is played much quicker and less drawn out. The stuff that is highly successful, and that is the stuff with the titular Basterds. Hilarious, cartoonish and filled with the chewy dialogue and the brutally hilarious violence that we come to expect from Quentin. The cast here is great and totally on the right wavelength to fit perfectly into the Tarantino-verse. Brad Pitt is amazing as the totally over the top Aldo Raine and his band of merry assassins are great. But the real MVP here is Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa aka The Jew Hunter. Like an evil Sherlock Holmes, he’s a charming little bastard who talks the info out of anyone he sets his sights on. Anyone else wishes they could have this be a bottom tier movie in their filmography. The ending is superb and is one of the most gloriously historically revisionist movies ever made. Wild and one of a kind, only Tarantino can make a WWII movie like this.
5. Jackie Brown (1997)
Of all the movies in Tarantino’s oeuvre, this one stands in stark contrast to the rest for two reasons. It’s not a highly violent movie and it’s easily his most human movie. Low key and more interested in the humans at the center of the movie, it’s a big change of pace after his first two movies. But that’s bound to happen when he decided to adapt an Elmore Leonard story, forgoing an original script like his first two. This one is also a lot more plot heavy than his first two. Where Reservoir Dogs showed the aftermath of a heist, this one shows a robbery actually go down. But to really worry about the stakes of the robbery, we need to get to know everyone. Which leads to this being the most low key, character building movie he’s made. And the climax is even more reserved than his stage like debut. There’s also a set of ballsiness to the movie. Making what is essentially a blaxploitation movie with all the elite craft he brings to his B movies after being criticized for the use of nigger in Pulp Fiction. So for him to go into such a genre that would allow even more of that is funny. Now, the reason this movie is in the bottom half of his work is that it doesn’t have the iconic highs that the ones ahead of it would have, or even the movies below it. But unlike the movies below it, this is a movie that is hella consistent at a great level. Visually it’s a nice movie, with Quentin’s visuals style growing but still not at Kill Bill levels yet. The cast is superb, with amazing performances from Pam Grier and Robert Forster and Samuel L. Jackson at his most villainous. This is a human story about aged characters subtly falling in love, a woman taking his agency back and striking at the man responsible, and a cool as hell heist flick. What more can you want?
4. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
The movie that started it all and led us down the path that brought us to the much anticipated release of Quentin’s 8th movie. Not only did it launch Quentin into filmmaking icon and gave him the clout to go and make Pulp Fiction, but it helped fundamentally change cinema forever. 90s cinema was changed, doing to movies what Nirvana did for music. Indies became the thing. There was also the massive amount of Quentin Tarantino ripoffs, movies made by guys who tried so desperately to cash in on his success without realizing even 1/10th of what makes his work so special. But more than that, he brought the pop culture obsessive sensibility to filmmaking. Having characters talk about bullshit like music and movies to inform them as characters was groundbreaking at the time, way before Kevin Smith shat out the little amount of talent he had onto screens with Clerks. This was a signal of a changing time, this was the early warning sign of the earthquake that Pulp Fiction would create. All this preamble just highlights the effects of a fantastic movie, the kind of flick that many people would kill for it to be the culmination of a career. And this fucking mad man drops this as his debut. This pulls of the magic trick of being completely cinematic and very stage bound at the same time. A heist flick without the heist, showcasing the fallout instead. Watching the thieves deal with the aftermath and the tensions that brew when the idea of a snitch is brought up leads to some terrifically tense moments mixed in with some hilarious moments of pitch black comedy. It’s one hell of an introduction to the world, showcasing talents unseen before or since. Dialogue like no one’s heard before, totally unrealistic but somehow more realistic than some “verite” type movies. And while filmmakers had homaged or used elements from movies they loved from the past, no one had assembled a movie that was pretty much wall to wall homage. And yet, it’s a totally unique thing. One of a kind.
3. Kill Bill (2003-2004)
Yes, I know this is technically two movies. But technically, you can go fuck yourself because this is my list. And also it was filmed as one movie but split into two since Harvey Weinstein saw a better chance to recuperate his investment releasing it as two movies instead of one 4 1/2 hour kung fu action movie with a female lead. So, I get the impulse. And really, the split works. They feel like two different movies. One a samurai flick and the other a spaghetti westerns. This was Tarantino’s grand return after a 6 year absence. And in that time, he got fucking ambitious. Not that he made easy movies before, but they were small scale movies. This was a giant leap for him in the tech department, coming back with a giant action movie filled with crazy set pieces all done with practical effects. His visual eye had grown immensely too, with this being an (at the time) out of character visual marvel. Colors pop, the camera moves with immense precision and the staging is on point. And he’d never attempted such action before. Just some squibs on actors at points. This features decapitations, missing limbs, high falls, and all sorts of insanity. But as usual, he manages to balance the tricky act of keeping the stakes high but imbuing it with some tongue in cheek hilarity. And while Jackie Brown might be his most human film, this one packs the most emotional impact in any of his movies. Taking a revenge film and making it about motherhood and all it’s trials, he drops the emotional hammer at the end. Which leads to many complaints from the cinematically slow that he ends the movie with a whimper. But they miss the point of the ending being a more emotional journey for our Bride. Where the first movie has her fighting people she couldn’t give less of a fuck about, her bouts in the second flick are more emotional. And it lands. A big and wildly self indulgent movie that somehow ties everything all together to form a monumental movie that stands tall. Yet somehow, not his best movie.
2. Django Unchained (2012)
This was a tough one. Depending on my mood, this could very well be, in my mind, the best Tarantino movie. But I had to look into my soul (and at the tattoo on my right forearm) to decide what was number one. But this is a fantastic number 2! In a day and age where the western was seemingly dead and buried, Quentin finally indulges in the obvious western love he has always harbored to make a full on western. And he does it in the most Tarantino way. A big ole western starring a black man, tackling slavery in America. Can’t say he doesn’t make it easy for himself. By finally getting into his favorite genre, he makes the most consistently great movie in his career since Pulp Fiction. This is the most thematically hefty movie he’s made too. Only Kill Bill comes closest and that doesn’t have as much on the mind as this. The emotions don’t hit as hard as Kill Bill, but they come close. Telling the story of a man being pulled from the dregs and becoming a legend, overcoming the years of systemic disparagement and debasement to truly fulfill his potential. And his potential is that of the best damn killer of white folk in the land. It’s got a killer cast, as per usual with QT. But what it does have out of the ordinary is the first performance by Leonardo DiCaprio that shows off a wide range he had not shown prior. And it’s got the best performance of Sam Jacksons career as the head house nigger for the villain. Jamie Foxx is great as the titular Django and Christoph Waltz may best himself in the role of King Schultz. Of all the movies in his filmography, this one has the most hilarious violence in his work. The squibs go off like they’ve got a pound of jelly in each of them, making the thing feel like the cartoonish western he’s going for. But since he’s dealing with slavery, he doesn’t make that a cartoon. All the cartoonish violence happens to white people getting gunned down. When black people are hurt, it’s brutal and unflinching. He doesn’t make slavery a joke or exploitative the way some would like to say he did. He shows the harshness of the time and uses it to tell a power fantasy, in the same vein of Inglourious Basterds. By telling such a fictitious story with elements of reality in it, this shows us how hard it actually was and what the slaves at the time wish they could have done. And it has some fascinating politics regarding slavery, as shown with Sam Jacksons role. The dialogue he has here may be the best he’s done ever. It’s that on point. The action is great and thrilling and hilarious. For all the love he gets for his music choices, this may be his best use of it from old scores to anachronistic uses of rap songs. He came to fucking win this time and he wasn’t taking any prisoners. And he did. This is a fucking masterpiece and only goes to show what a talent he is that this is only his second best movie.
1. Pulp Fiction (1994)
If Reservoir Dogs was the movie that signaled Tarantino as a talent to keep an eye on, this one was the movie that solidified his status as a new master. No one was like him. He was just a masterful storyteller and this anthology of stories set in the crime world of LA that intersect but don’t really tell an overarching story shows that off. He builds excellent characters that don’t fall into easy categories and are totally enthralling to watch. His dialogue is out of this world here, like a pop culture nerd version of Mamet. It’s vulgar poetry that can rope in the masses and the cineastes all at once. He assembled a great cast and wrung career best performances from most of them, helping to revive John Travoltas career in the process. I mean, there really isn’t much to say about this movie other than it’s perfection lies in watching it. You get absorbed in the world that he builds and it’s fantastic. You get lulled in by the poetry on display and you laugh/cringe at the violence on display. All I can add to the conversation is that this was the movie that kicked my ass into writer mode. After this, I needed to write and my desire to get into the film industry started. I have a tattoo on my right forearm that is a reference to this movie. A $60 dollar poster made by Mondo is hanging in my room as I type this. My love for this can’t be understated. It’s a momentous movie and even without the massive impact it left in it’s wake, this would be his best movie.