Is it cheap to do Tarantino the week after his new film drops in wide release so that we boost our numbers? Yeah, sure. Is it cheap of Tarantino to rely on big names, nostalgia, and killer soundtracks to draw people in? Yup. But the question is…does it work?
You bet your sweet ass it does.
This week we’re sticking Quentin Tarantino in the hot seat, ranking his films on a scale of personal preference. That’s right, overall quality doesn’t mean anything here. What really matters is how much I enjoy them. You probably heard we ain’t in the critically aligned business. We in the business of rankin’ filmographies and cousin…business is a-boomin’!
Forgive me the indulgent quote. Actually, don’t, I got to feel like Brad Pitt for a few seconds. Let’s get down to business.
Death Proof : “Oof” would be a rather rough way to describe this one, but I’d be hard-pressed to talk about it any other way. I first saw this as part of the wondrous Grindhouse double-feature back when I was in college. The theatrical experience left me more interested in the film than I would come to be, and it speaks to the experience of what Tarantino can do on the big screen when he’s motivated. This seemed like fun to the few of us that saw it on release, and I rode that high for a while until seeing it later on DVD. From then on out I realized it was sort of…boring. I know Tarantino did that on purpose, but his later grindhouse-esque offerings were just a lot more fun. This is kind of a slog, no question about it. There are great moments, but the whole is a misfire.
The Hateful Eight : I have a lot of weird issues with this one. Is it kind of entertaining? Yeah. Is it fun in spots? Sure. But is it also 3 hours long, with lengthy spots of over-written dialogue that just doesn’t keep me involved? Sure as shit. With an all-star cast and music to die for, this appallingly bland epic just missed the mark. There’s a good film here, maybe even a classic, but it would require a master editor to dig down and find it. There were a lot of gimmicks surrounding this one, from the IMAX 70mm prints to the showings that featured an old-school intermission, but those weren’t enough to create a master film. Rather, they disguised a mediocre effort from a master filmmaker.
Django Unchained : I for sure thought this would be a fantastic film. Sam Jackson? A Tarantino staple, and always delivers a good performance. But adding Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx to the cast was a stroke of genius, and I felt for sure that pairing that with Chrisoph Waltz would make a hit. Financially it was, but the film itself was an overlong mess that just didn’t work for me. There’s not a bad performance in the bunch and the visuals are astounding, but it’s yet another lengthy mess that left me checking my watch on more than one occasion.
Jackie Brown : From here on I’ll stop bitching, I promise. Jackie Brown is a wildly entertaining riff on the blaxploitation films of the 1960’s, and Tarantino has seen enough of them to be joyously unhinged with this one. Rampant ridiculousness, snappy dialogue, and a clear vision make this one of his fun later offerings. Audacious, wild, and goofier than it needed to be, this is one of his fanbase’s more beloved entries and it rightfully deserves that spot.
Reservoir Dogs : Very few films can make a dance scene that features torture into a fun moment in cinema history. This classic heist film cemented the deranged fans of Tarantino’s bloody style and made his name. I saw this at midnight with friends and it made the experience into something special, leaving me wanting more. Few of his films are this much fun, the glorious renditions of gross horror cinema managing to delight and disturb in all of the best ways.
Kill Bill [2003-2004]: It’s one film, at least according to Tarantino himself. Uma Thurman rocks this role, her blood-quest of vengeance deliberately violent and beautiful all at once. Tarantino left a lot of people full of jokes about fire hoses full of blood, and they were accurate descriptions at the time. The jokes didn’t quite grasp the concept of the film though, all of an homage to Lady Snowblood and the violent B-movie cinema of his youth, and as an adult, I got it in a fit of wild realization. It’s a cruel film and an uncomfortable bit of storytelling, but it hits home in the most fun ways as Tarantino gleefully indulges in his fetishes of blood, glitchy cinema, and bare feet.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…: I’m so torn on this one. It’s currently duking it out with Pulp Fiction in the ring for the number 2 spot on my roster. We’ll see how this shakes out after the dust has settled on everything, but this is currently an all-timer for me. DiCaprio and Pitt are pitch-perfect, and Margot Robbie is one of the sweetest things I’ve seen on film this year. Tarantino has delivered a loving homage to 60’s Hollywood history without it feeling like a jerk-off session between him and other devotees, a film reveling in the sights and sounds and feelings of an era long forgotten. It’s a masterpiece of cinema and it stands today as one of the director’s best.
Pulp Fiction : I’d say the style of the ’90s could be defined by this one. Tarantino dropped this one us 25 years ago and it is often hailed as his best film. It’s not quite my personal favorite, but it’s close. Royales with cheese, gimp suits, katanas, every weird element that he loves about trash cinema is included to great effect and it’s carved out his place as a voice to pay attention to. Uma Thurman dancing, Bruce Willis desperate and confused, even Sam Jackson in that apartment scene, all of these have become classic moments of the modern era and the film holds up to this day.
Inglourious Basterds : Sure, is this an odd pick? A bit, considering I placed it above Pulp Fiction, but the heart wants what it wants. Tarantino’s WWII epic is smaller and yet grander than anything else he’s ever done. It’s meandering yet focused, precise and broad. He plays with history in a daring way. Some reduced his treatment of the final confrontation with the Third Reich as in poor taste, but I’d counter and say that it was wish fulfillment for many that live in the shadow of what came before. There’s not a bad performance in the bunch, from Mike Meyers to Christoph Waltz and Brad Pitt, and every moment feels targeted. I found the intro to be labored until I saw its conclusion, at which point I realized I was tense and sweating. That feeling sticks with you the rest of the runtime, and it makes this a near-perfect film deserving of its legacy.
That’s my Tarantino ranking. What’s yours? You on the page with me, or do you have a few notes for my list? Let me know!