You know you’re getting at least two of three things going into a Quentin Tarantino movie: generous servings of grade-A baller dialogue, lots of blood, and, seven times out of nine, Samuel L. Jackson in some capacity or other. Nine written and directed films strong into 2019, the big Q.T. has dipped his toes (and affinity for them) into nearly every genre in the cinematic game, boasting not a single dud to his name yet.
With such an array of excellence, it’s pretty much guaranteed there’s at least one film of his out there for everyone, and bouncing dependently from each person’s taste, certain pieces will speak more to some than others. As such, a ranking list of his filmography is, to say the least, an arbitrary task, but to catch up to twenty-seven years of prestige talent, here’s a ranked review of every film belonging to the silver-tongued screenwriter, the pastiche pro, the grindhouse grandmaster, Quentin Tarantino.
If I could pick Tarantino’s brain over any one of his movies, my mind would immediately flock towards his all-in homage to grindhouse cinema, Death Proof. An intentionally shoddy construction paying tribute to the sleazily hyperviolent, hypersexualized exploitation genre, Death Proof has a real WTF factor that goes on to challenge even those familiar with the grindhouse style, and it’s hilariously left up in the air if there’s any actual substance to extrapolate from it as well. And while featuring the great Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, it’s a delightfully upbeat Zoë Bell that ends up stealing the show…playing herself, whatever that’s about.
There’s a lot to like, but not really love about Death Proof and its roguish eccentricities as it ultimately comes out lopsided in its story, characters, and even style. The quintessential bouts of extended Tarantino dialogue get a little tiring in this particular piece, which, at just under two hours, still feels too long as a whole. Additionally, the split two-part narrative leaves something to be desired in both halves, and though the hashed flick is made to be purposefully bad (Tarantino has gone so far as to proclaim it so himself), there’s another film of his that follows the same pulpy style while delivering the goods exponentially better.
The first and most memorable thing out about Jackie Brown is Samuel L. Jackson’s wicked hairdo and goatee pair. It’s indescribable. Otherwise, this film, a loose adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, probably fits in the least with the director’s established style and filmography while still managing to package in all his signature quirks.
Everything about Jackie Brown is comparatively restrained except for the—you guessed it—unique cast of characters featured in many, many scenes of extended dialogue. While well made, the film overall feels a little too long and too slow for its own good, particularly for the exposition-heavy first half. Still, once the ball finally gets rolling and the double-crossing schemes start pulling real tension into the coolly kept narrative, the film shines, with a low-key Pam Grier in the spotlight.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Unlike pretty much every other one of Tarantino’s films, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood doesn’t quite coalesce as a sum of its narrative parts. The 60’s era story has bits and pieces of fascinating material peripherally revolving around the Manson Family murders (admirably enough handled given the minefield of touchy material beyond even the tragedy itself), and, per usual, individual scenes are great on their own.
But whether it’s intentional or not, the superficiality of the Hollywood portion of the story doesn’t feel like it has a real point to it save for a skin-deep theme praising the behind-the-scenes of the film industry which, ironically, is reinforced as the superb supporting cast completely overshadows the top-billed DiCaprio and Pitt.
A forebearer of many great things to come, Tarantino’s brash coming-out party, Reservoir Dogs, is a barrage of one-hundred and forty minutes of raw, unfiltered dialogue. A lot of minute detail goes into informing the film’s characters through their winding stories and the resulting punchlines, but save for one awesomely head-scratching Madonna-related anecdotal analysis, neither the dialogue nor most of the characters themselves actually end up doing that much for me.
The hit or miss bag of scoundrels get tedious and a little self-indulgent, personally, and the casual foul language characteristic of Tarantino comes out a little too rotten in this particular instance and context. The acting’s all good to great, with Tim Roth’s weird performance going all in as the best of them, it’s just the characters themselves that vary in interest as the movie skips between them. Regardless, the drama and mystery crackling between the gang before and after their scheme is enough to keep the film going at a compelling pace, increasingly snowballing into a high-hitting third act and conclusion.
The Hateful Eight
A stage production in cinematic clothing, The Hateful Eight thrives off the enclosing pressure of its tense, chilly atmosphere. The sensory palpability of the impending blizzard outside Minnie’s haberdashery sneakily creeps its way into the oppressive feel of the film, which already squeezes an unsettlingly vulnerable ambiance from the ticking Mexican standoff aggressively itching to erupt by the minute.
It’s a real slow burn dependent on nearly three hours (over if you can catch the extended cut on Netflix) of non-stop dialogue, but the actors more than back the film up with the whipping focus and suspense the central mystery within the narrative requires. Samuel L. Jackson again carries the film with sharp, cutting monologues very well contending for Tarantino’s best, and the rest of the star-studded cast including Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, and a wicked Jennifer Jason Leigh mostly hold their own.
But as its title suggests, The Hateful Eight demands one to come in with a relatively thick skin, as Tarantino pushes towards an off-putting, mean-spirited tone that gets especially abrasive towards its conclusion.
Basterds houses one of the best casts assembled by Tarantino with a scene chewing, spankingly star-spangled Brad Pitt and a deservedly Oscar-winning performance from Christoph Waltz in the forefront. It’s a crime neither Mélanie Laurent nor Diane Kruger received recognition for their immense contributions to the film, especially Laurent, who beautifully ties the film together with a vulnerable, but empowered performance contending for the top acting spot of any Tarantino film.
The masterful control Tarantino demonstrates over the tense push and pull of every scene in Inglorious Basterds also places the revenge war fantasy not just amongst the best of his work, but of any film of the 2000’s. Chameleonically borrowing from European cinema while harmoniously blending in the director’s own eccentric flairs, the film takes its time with slow, deliberate escalations that turn out equally rewarding catharses, sometimes emotionally panging, other times deliciously gratifying.
Whether it’s delivering some of the most frenetic and emotional scenes of the director’s filmography or blisteringly spattering walls with juicy, juicy gushes of gore, Django Unchained is hands down Tarantino’s most consistently satisfying movie. The inspired mashing of an old-school Western (set on the opposite coast) with blaxploitation snazz clicks immediately, and though the depiction of slavery might border on good taste, its ultimately empowering, viciously vengeful angle wins out in the end thanks to Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, and the rest of the great cast’s affectingly weighty performances.
Tarantino’s craftsmanship is a clean quality sweep across the board, but it’s only in Pulp Fiction where he manages to kick it up a notch and engage genuine substance with his coined stylistic pursuits. The characters are iconic, the excellent soundtrack seamlessly mixes into the film while never becoming a music video, and the marvelous, revolutionary script only gets better as the nonlinear narrative progresses and clicks together into place.
Pulp Fiction is endlessly quotable, but the film’s real treat lays in its exploration of a scummy, villainous underworld and the perpetual impossibility of its inhabitants’ attempts to escape from it. The brilliant, hilarious writing pinning freak accidents against purported signs of fate is surprisingly thought-provoking, and for the first, but certainly not last time, Samuel L. Jackson ties this Tarantino film together with one of the best performances of his career.
Save for a finale that doesn’t quite feel like it sticks the landing set up by the rest of the film, every single scene in the Kill Bill double feature (it was shot as one film but works well enough both ways) is exquisitely crafted from the bottom up. The gorgeous cinematography lusciously complements the glorious martial arts choreography now stamped into film history, and the immersive buildup to the explosive set pieces showcases Tarantino’s directorial genius at its best.
But the real special touch to the film comes from its loving sendup of martial arts and exploitation cinema with a spaghetti western tang. Kill Bill is a wonderfully cheesy movie sporting the ability to seamlessly juggle cheeky, self-aware riffs with a legitimately engrossing journey of cold-blooded revenge carried by the honed, steely gaze of a very game Uma Thurman.
Agree? Disagree? What are your favorite Quentin Tarantino films? For more ranking lists and reviews of the latest films and television shows, like, share, and subscribe to Sandia Film Journal.