Why Every Tarantino Movie Is The Best Tarantino Movie

first_img On Luke Perry and ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’Watch These Movies Before ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Let’s consider for a moment that there is no definitive ranking of the films of writer/director/auteur weirdo, Quentin Tarantino. Let’s consider for a moment that even the most opinionated diehards of his would likely admit, however begrudgingly, that their ranking of his filmography changes regularly. Let’s consider for a moment that any given Tarantino film could easily be considered his best any day of the week. And let’s consider for a moment how incredibly rare a feat this is.Martin Scorsese is a titan of cinema but nobody is going to argue that Hugo is better than Raging Bull. There are few directors more influential to the medium than Steven Spielberg, but Spielberg’s filmography contains just as many Ready Player Ones as it does Jaws. It even applies just as well to musicians’ discographies or seasons of great TV shows (up until Ye Kanye West was the rare musician for whom you could make the same argument). A director’s career can ebb and flow and still remain revelatory. But it does make it all the more impressive when their quality control is so meticulous that there’s a fair argument for every film being their best.I’m going to lay out those arguments. I’m not going to tell you which one is my favorite or which one is the one I consider to be the best unless I change my mind halfway through writing this. I’m also going to lay out a brief counterargument for each because while every one of Tarantino’s films could be considered his best, there’s almost always an argument for why said film is actually his worst.(Note: This will not include an argument for Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood on account of the fact that, as of writing this, I have yet to see it.)Reservoir DogsSo frequently you hear artists talk about what they poured into their first major work, their first real shot at doing what they love, and how they put so much into it because they weren’t sure they were ever going to get a chance to make another book or movie or album. And Reservoir Dogs definitely falls under that kitchen sink effort umbrella, but sets itself apart from the rest in the utter confidence with which it does so. As recently as this week Tarantino went on the record about how nervous he was to make his debut film but you wouldn’t guess it from watching it. I can’t think of another film that has all of the effort that only comes with rampant desperation and yet all the confidence of someone who knows they’re not going anywhere. It’s an energy that he’s never matched throughout the rest of his career.There’s also something to be said for its leanness. The simple premise of a heist gone wrong and everything going to hell once the surviving thieves meet up at the rendezvous gives way to a crisp, mean 99-minute run time that passes in a flash. Tarantino movies begin to have lengthier run times almost immediately after Dogs and there’s something to be said for all of the good the stripped-down story and tight length brings out in his storytelling.COUNTERPOINT: Aside from the fact that his following films only got more bold and more innovative (and the fact that his bigger budgets allowed for more daring experimentation, better tech, and bigger scopes), there are few things that can bog down a Tarantino movie like Tarantino’s acting. He’s literally the first character we hear speak in this movie and the monologue he delivers — the now-infamous spiel about Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” — is unbearable to listen to in 2019. It starts the movie out on such a sour note that it actually takes it a little while to recover.Stream Reservoir Dogs on Amazon Prime VideoPulp FictionThe only thing better than seeing Pulp Fiction for the first time is seeing Pulp Fiction for the seventh time and picking up on all the details you missed the other six times you saw it. It spawned a litany of imitators and yet two decades down the line there’s still nothing like it. Pulp Fiction is such a singular vision, such a genuinely bizarre movie, that the fact that Tarantino pulled it off at all is evidence enough that it’s his best film. It features some of the greatest dialogue of all time, one of the all-time great screen pairings in Vince Vega and Mia (I truly can’t think of a screen couple that can rival their chemistry), and a nonlinear narrative that would fall apart in the hands of a less skilled filmmaker. Instead everything clicks perfectly, creating a story that functions as a perfect circle and dares to ask big questions about life, death, and morality through the lives we watch play out in its dirty underworld. The diner scene that functions as the film’s emotional climax is an all-timer. Most of the actors have never been better. I could go on and on. Pulp Fiction is Tarantino’s best movie by a mile.COUNTERPOINT: The previous point regarding Tarantino appearing in his own movies applies here as well — in fact, it’s worse in Pulp Fiction. There’s also the Gimp scene, which plays as far more problematic today than it likely did in 1994.Stream Pulp Fiction on NetflixJackie BrownIt’s the thinking man’s Tarantino movie. In the wake of Pulp Fiction setting the film industry on fire Quentin Tarantino could have made anything he wanted to. Instead of going for broke with a wildly ambitious epic, he took the opposite route and made a stripped-down character piece about people coming to grips with the fact that they’re growing older.So frequently directors will claim scenes or entire films are “love letters” to movies, stars, or moments they love. While much of Tarantino’s career is comprised of these very love letters, there’s something far more subversive at play with Jackie Brown functioning as his love letter to blaxploitation icon Pam Grier. Rather than write a thinly-veiled stand-in for one of her iconic characters, Tarantino instead channels his fandom into writing and directing Grier into the performance of a lifetime, both disarmingly warm and unmistakably powerful. It’s Tarantino’s most mature film and, like its characters aspire to do, only gets better with age.COUNTERPOINT: Jackie Brown isn’t exactly a thriller. It’s a long, quiet movie and at times very much feels its length. And in a filmography filled with some of the most iconic scenes and dialogue of all time, it seems to lack a bit in that department.Stream Jackie Brown on Amazon Prime VideoKill Bill Vol. 1Vengeance is a constant presence in Tarantino movies. Characters who are wronged proceed to extract brutal, bloody comeuppance on those who wronged them. Karma is one of the unwritten laws of his strange little cinematic universe. What goes around will always come around. In Kill Bill Vol. 1, The Bride comes around.It’s not that his previous films aren’t visual splendors in their own right but with KB1 Tarantino is dead-set on showing his audience things that they have never seen before in a movie. From the anime segments to the hard cut to black and white in the midst of the film’s legendary climactic battle, he seems to break every single conceivable rule of action movies throughout the film.It doesn’t stop with those abrupt flourishes. Vol. 1 is as aggressive and violent as any ultra-macho action romp but features few male characters who serve as anything other than tertiary at best. At worst (lookin’ at you, Buck), they’re worms squirming under the boots of the three women around whom the film revolves. Bill’s presence is felt throughout but he’s largely offscreen. This one is all about The Bride, O-Ren Ishii, and Vernita Green. From The Bride’s technicolor yellow jumpsuit to her showdown against the Crazy 88s to the note-perfect cliffhanger, Kill Bill Vol. 1 is Tarantino redefining the action movie for the 21st century.COUNTERPOINT: Because Kill Bill ended up being split into two movies, there’s an extent to which Vol. 1 feels incomplete, and not in the traditional sense of a film that ends with a To Be Continued. It’s also the beginning of the Tarantino Homage phase and because of that sometimes feels more imitation of its influences like Lady Snowblood than its own thing.Stream Kill Bill Vol. 1 on Amazon Prime VideoKill Bill Vol. 2Not only is Vol. 2 better than Vol. 1, it’s better than the rest of Tarantino’s movies. Where the first riffs on martial arts classics, the second is a far more quiet, meditative look at vengeance as an idea versus vengeance as an actuality. It’s classic Tarantino genre fusion, simultaneously carrying over the martial arts influence of its predecessor and injecting it with a full syringe of American western.Despite being literally less bloody than the first film in the saga, Kill Bill Vol. 2 feels far more brutal. It’s an emotionally taxing film to watch, forcing the viewer to relive every moment of pain The Bride had to experience to become the warrior she is today — and every bit of pain she has to experience in order to complete her quest for revenge. There’s a lingering melancholy across the film, one that touches everyone — not just The Bride. Michael Madsen’s Budd is especially a revelation, a once-mighty assassin who now wastes away in a trailer, his boss at the local strip club regularly berating him, and his ever-present cowboy hat covering a growing bald spot. When he tells his brother, “That woman deserves her revenge. And we deserve to die,” they’re the words of a man resigned to the fate he knows is coming, even if he’ll fight like hell to stop it.And then there’s the ending — no knock-down drag-out sword fight, no karate exhibition. Just a long talk between ex-lovers, a single deadly move, and Bill’s short walk to greet death. It’s perfect, as is the moment after when The Bride, finally having exacted the vengeance she so long craved, can only collapse and weep, both for the loss she’s experienced and for the realization that finding something new to live for will be harder than she realized.COUNTERPOINT: It feels somewhat disjointed in comparison to its predecessor and never reaches the visual or kinetic splendor the first seemed to promise. While some may admire how meticulous it is in getting where it’s going, it’s hard to blame others for feeling that it’s an ultimately boring follow-up to one of the most exciting movies of all time.Stream Kill Bill Vol. 2 on Amazon Prime VideoDeath ProofThere was this one Friday night in high school when I was 15 years old where I sat down in my basement at like, midnight to watch this movie a friend of mine had recommended because I’d never seen a movie made by this guy named Quentin Tarantino so I put the DVD in and sat back on the couch and watched the movie unfold and about half an hour into the movie I realized that pretty much nothing in terms of plot had happened in the movie and that I didn’t care at all; that I was so fully invested in the characters on the screen and what was going on; and this weird, skeevy old stuntman that seemed to be stalking them throughout Austin, Texas; that it didn’t matter at all that hardly anything had happened, that the simple, elegant flow of dialogue flowing from the lips of these imaginary people had ensnared me in a way a movie never had; and in that moment I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life, that I wanted to write words that made people feel as completely and totally lost in a moment of fiction as I was in that basement that night.Tarantino is, for all his talents, a child of exploitation cinema. Death Proof is him operating on home turf, playing in the genre that made him and elevating it as he does it. It is a masterful turn and contains what might be the best Kurt Russell performance of all time.COUNTERPOINT: There are many reasons Death Proof largely isn’t considered to be among Tarantino’s best works, much less his single finest. I don’t particularly care about any of them.Stream Death Proof on Amazon Prime VideoInglourious BasterdsWhen a character who was at one point going to be played by the director of the film looks directly into the camera and says, “I think this just might be my masterpiece,” perhaps we should listen to them.Inglourious Basterds is, after all, a masterpiece, both of Tarantino’s career and of cinema in general. This beautiful, sprawling World War II epic sees Tarantino evoke cinematic romanticism for the first time in his career without sacrificing the wry humor and copious blood and guts that made him such an iconoclast to begin with. It’s nearly three hours long and I still wish it were twice its length. He so immaculately builds this world and the characters in it that you just want to spend more time in it. His Paris is the Paris Instagram influencers lust for. His Basterds are the coolest kids on the block, and we don’t even learn half of their names. Brad Pitt does the greatest work of his lengthy career and Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Daniel Bruhl, and Melanie Laurent turn in literal star-making performances. And ultimately, none of this matters, because all you need to do to convince someone Inglourious Basterds is the best Tarantino movie is show them the bar scene.COUNTERPOINT: When a character who was at one point going to be played by the director of the film looks directly into the camera and says, “I think this just might be my masterpiece” perhaps something is being overcompensated for. The film is exceedingly long and tackles subject matter that Tarantino had no right to touch to begin with.Stream Inglourious Basterds on NetflixDjango UnchainedRevenge isn’t fun. Revenge is exhausting, both physically and emotionally, and comes in fits and bursts. The road to the catharsis it brings is inevitably longer and more laborious than the catharsis itself. It’s a brutal business. Django Unchained is, appropriately, a brutal movie.Charm has always been key to Tarantino’s appeal. Even a literal Nazi in Inglourious Basterds is disarmingly affable at times. Django Unchained ups the ante established by Basterds by tackling a topic just as taboo and horrid — slavery — but shows surprising restraint when it comes to charm. The film is full of repulsive characters meant to terrify, not bemuse, and it’s at times hard to watch because of this. And shouldn’t it be? A revenge movie set against the backdrop of American slavery shouldn’t be fun. It should make you uncomfortable. And there’s no Tarantino movie that will make you queasier than Django Unchained.COUNTERPOINT: This is a movie Tarantino had no right to make to begin with, and he especially didn’t have the right to make a version of it in which he plays a racist Australian who drops the n-word what feels like 7,000 times.Stream Django Unchained on Amazon Prime VideoThe Hateful EightDespite a recurring theme of vengeance, Tarantino’s movies are all ultimately about identity. They’re full of people pretending to be other people, people who create legends around themselves as protective cocoons of sorts and then look at what happens when those cocoons are punctured. The distance between a character’s fiction and a character’s reality and what lies between the two is the meat of every Tarantino movie and The Hateful Eight is his ultimate thesis statement on the subject.In a sense it’s a spiritual sequel to Reservoir Dogs: a group of bad people are trapped in an isolated location. At least one of them isn’t who they say they are. What follows is the result of a series of lies and bluffs, of people pretending they’re holding better cards than they are. When those bluffs get called, there’s hell to pay. It’s a meditation on how powerful a good story can be and how powerless you are once it’s been stripped away, told with some of the most beautiful photography of Tarantino’s career.For nearly three hours a group of our finest actors sit in a room and talk. Sometimes they shoot guns. By the end each of their ugly truths laid bare for all to see. It’s everything every Tarantino movie has aspired to be. The Hateful Eight is the only one that manages to fully follow through on those aspirations.COUNTERPOINT: It’s a self-indulgent, three-hour mess that hardly seems to go anywhere and likely should have just been a stage play. It also made a big hubbub about its utilization of 70mm film only to waste it on a bunch of interior shots of a log cabin.Stream The Hateful Eight on NetflixMore on Geek.com:Vintage Shelf: Oscar Got It Right ‘In the Heat of the Night’Vintage Shelf: There’s More to ‘The Hunger’ Than Just Sex, Vampires, and BowieA Friendly Reminder That ‘The Lion King’ Is One of the Best Movies Ever Stay on targetlast_img read more