Ranking the works of Quentin Tarantino
A ranking of editor Ellis Barthorpe's favourite Quentin Tarantino features.
Quentin Tarantino is one of the most-renowned auteurs of all time. From westerns to wartime epics he's tackled a range of exciting genres, pulling influence from his incredible knowledge of film and TV from his childhood and beyond. I am obsessed with the director. The first film of his that I recall watching was the cult classic, Pulp Fiction. It provided a whole new meaning to film for me; just the non-linear narrative alone extended a mountain of opportunities in storytelling, that I have tried to insert into my own work.
For this ranking I have considered every feature that has been both directed and written by Mr Tarantino. Now, this treads into some dangerous territory as often the Kill Bill films are classed as one film, and Quentin himself has said this is how the films are intended, though I disagree with this entirely*. Therefore, this is a ranking from 10 to 1.
*I see the two Kill Bill films as entirely different pieces of cinema. Just due to their genre, style and pacing. The first is an action-packed, martial arts epic with both animated and film noir segments cementing the disturbingly gruesome picture. Whilst the second is a character driven western using seamless dialogue to build its climax. Through its use of music, shot choices and mise-en-scene the second volume establishes a western feel, and tarnishes it with complementing costumes. The choice to split the two films was definitely a good one, and the first volume's cliffhanger enforces that.
10. Death Proof
2007 - slasher / exploitation / thriller
It's worth noting that even tenth place on this list is still a masterpiece in my opinion. The attention to detail that went in behind the scenes on this film is just incredible. Tarantino's knowledge of old cop shows and Australian cinema fuelled his interest in the genre. You'd never guess that this film was made in 2007 either; on first glance you'd be forgiven for assuming this came from the 70's. Tarantino created this grainy look full of irregular jump cuts by scratching the physical copy of the tape, a risk that paid off (though I'm sure he had a back-up).
My qualm with this film is the unnatural feel of the dialogue. Tarantino is so clever with his writing but this one seems to fall short. It introduces two groups of female characters and all of them are given room to show-off, but the dialogue just isn't interesting enough to keep an audience hooked.
It also seems so far-fetched and grotesque that it has no relevance or morals. Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) is pure evil and is almost mapped as a horror villain, but as we are given very little character detail it is difficult to understand him as a compelling villain.
Staggolee - Pacific gas & electric
Down in Mexico - The Coasters
Hold Tight! - Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich
9. Kill Bill, vol.2
2004 - action / revenge / western
From the opening, beautifully truthful shot between The Bride (Uma Thurman) and Bill (David Carradine) to the final piece of verbal conflict between the same two characters, this film screams western. You have an aid to the protagonist in Pai Mei (Gordon Liu) with two minor villains for her to defeat before the final boss fight to close the movie. This film seems to hint at Tarantino's future in the western genre.
This film is far too long which makes it much slower than the first. Although I enjoy the plot, it was almost better when we had no backstory to the characters. Don't get me wrong Carradine and Thurman are excellent in this volume and it's a shame that I lose interest towards the eventual end, because the two deserve all credit.
The Chase - Clinic
Sunny road to Salina - Christophe
Malagueña Salerosa - Chingon
8. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
2019 - comedy / drama
This is a love letter to Hollywood. So many genres of film and TV have been included to help Tarantino to thank Hollywood and the world around it in the most loving way. Both Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are sensational in this picture. They hit every single comedic beat and their chemistry on screen is electric, it's incredible that this is their first appearance together in front of the camera.
Once upon a time...in Hollywood as with the previous entry to the list, is far too long and it's easy to lose interest in the documentary/narration section. But the actors are so incredible that you can learn to let these little imperfections slide.
It is one of the best looking films I've ever feasted my eyes on and the final shot is filled with so much hope. I especially love how history was changed here with the directional choice of keeping Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) alive. She was such a presence throughout, not only because of Robbie's beautiful performance but also because you know that in the end, this is going to end badly for her. By choosing the conclusion that Tarantino chose, the audience's expectations are subverted and an element of surprise is still there, which always should be in a picture by this auteur. He brings back his long, continuos shots, uses music to the best of his ability and lets his actors show off.
Mrs Robinson - Simon & Garfunkel
Good Thing - Paul Revere & The Raiders
Don't chase me around - Robert Corff
7. The Hateful Eight
2015 - western / thriller / mystery
Opening with the longest shot...I think ever, The Hateful Eight is a clear example of Quentin Tarantino reusing his incredible pool of actors in the best way. Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Walter Goggins, Bruce Dern & Zoe Bell have all appeared in previous Tarantino films. And all of them are given their time to shine here as are the new additions including Jennifer Jason Leigh and Channing Tatum.
Tarantino makes his characters so clever, so that an audience can never guess what's going to happen next. Major Marquis Warren is so intelligent in this film and an incredibly powerful character for Jackson to sink his teeth into. He is the centrepoint of every scene without even trying.
Although I enjoy the development that is given to the characters, it could be a much quicker process and a part of me would have been very thankful if it was.
The Silent Night moment is such a simple use of music, yet so effective. It adds such a cold yet calming tension that brings in the next act of the western feature. The late Ennio Morricone's score is exceptional in this also; just the tone that the film needed.
Apple blossom - The White Stripes
Jim Jones at Bottany Bay - performed by Jennifer Jason Leigh
Now you're all alone - David Hess
6. Inglourious Basterds
2009 - war / action
Two words...Christoph Waltz. He absolutely owns this film and to think it's his feature film debut is insane. This breakout role as Officer Hans Landa is exceptional and his performance in the opening scene alone is so impressively acted.
I don't find the fluidity of character building as impressive in this one and it is the film that I think showcases Tarantino as an auteur in the slightest way.
Melane Laurent as Shoshanna is great; one example of many in which Tarantino is shown writing strong, powerful and vengeful female characters. She is a badass!
This has such a triumphant ending, it might even be my favourite conclusion to a Tarantino film and the long scenes that transpire before it build up so well to this finale. The bar scene in particular lets the actors run with the script and really 'chew the scenery'.
Il Mercenario (Ripresa) - Ennio Morricone
The Surrender (La Resa) - Ennio Morricone
Cat People - David Bowie
5. Kill Bill, vol.1
2003 - martial arts / action / revenge
The stunts in this film are truly unmatchable. The opening fight between Uma Thurman and Vivica A. Fox is so brilliantly performed and so well choreographed that you're thrown straight into the combat and straight into the revenge narrative. Uma Thurman has such an incredible energy from start to finish that is so reflective of her genre. She clearly did her research here and it massively pays off.
The animation section splits up an excruciatingly hard scene to endure as The Bride tries to wiggle her toe. It's such an interesting creative direction but again, it is Tarantino showing off his knowledge and love for all pop culture. The whole picture is a perfect homage to martial arts films in which Tarantino takes the blood splattering to another level.
Battle without honour or humanity - HOTEI
Nobody but me - The Human Beinz
Don't let me be misunderstood - Santa Esmerelda
4. Jackie Brown
1998 - crime / Blaxploitation
It's become clear to me when compiling my list that I clearly love the crime films of Tarantino's filmography. Although the way that it's shot isn't as aesthetically pleasing as the two films that came before it, it contains the most true, realistic dialogue. The screenplay is built of well written, overlapping conversations of interruption.
The cast are exceptionally subtle, which is aided by Tarantino's notoriously long shots. Pam Grier as Jackie Brown is one of the best female characters in movie history. She is so strong-minded and cool and plays the male characters off eachother with ease. The black soul soundtrack that goes with this Blaxploitation film works so well. It's also a shambles that this film only received one Oscar nomination (but that's a discussion for another day).
Across 110th street - Bobby Womack
Who is he? (And what is he to you?) - Bill Withers
Street Life - Randy Crawford
3. Django Unchained
2012 - Blaxploitation / Western
I'd like to start by digressing on a technicality. Django Unchained does follow the genre stereotypes of the western genre however it is technically speaking, an Eastern. It spends the majority of the film on the East Coast of America so is not the classic setting for Western classics.
Nitpicking aside, Django Unchained is a masterpiece full of career-defining performances, note perfect cinematography and brilliant dialogue. There are so many metaphorical symbols of freedom and slavery throughout, the most noteworthy of which is in the opening scene when Django (Jamie Foxx) removes the blanket draped over his shoulders in a dramatic movement. The blue suit that Django wears is another symbol of freedom; And I think this is so clever as it creates a shocking reaction from the audience which would have been received whenever somebody saw a black man on a horse, in a 19th century America.
Leonardo DiCaprio is chewing the scenery to his fullest potential here and the way that Tarantino lets him explore the space shows such a good director-actor dynamic. Samuel L.Jackson reinvents himself here yet again and is a sensation, as is Christoph Waltz in his second Tarantino appearance.
His name is King - Luis Bacalov
Ain't no grave - Johnny Cash
Trinity: Titoli - Annibale E I Cantori Moderni
2. Reservoir Dogs
1992 - cult / crime
The ominous title created so much speculation and no real explanation has ever been given, yet still it's iconic. The cast are electric throughout and the fact that we stay with them in the warehouse for the large majority of the film is a real testament to the actors and the plot that they are given to play with.
I love Steve Buscemi. I love Harvey Keitel. I love Michael Madsen. And I love Tim Roth.
And I think if anyone was to ask me of my favourite roles played by the above actors, my answer for each would be their performances in these films.
The ear-removal scene featuring Mr Blonde (Madsen) and the tied up police officer is my favourite movie scene of all time. It is so brilliantly performed and the use of music juxtaposes the violence so well. The way that the camera follows Mr Blonde out to the car and we stay with him completely is so menacing in a joyful kind of way. I don't know maybe I'm just sick but I think it's exceptional.
Little Green Bag - George Baker Selection
Hooked on a feeling - Blue Suede
Stuck in the middle with you - Steelers Wheel
1. Pulp Fiction
1994 - crime / dark comedy
Filled with dark comedy genius and monologues of pure joy, Pulp Fiction is undoubtedly one of the suavest films of all time. John Travolta as the giddy Vincent Vega is so eye-catching. It's impossible to not love him, and the panic that drips from him in the scene with Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) is so good. The fact that he messes up his lines in that scene and Tarantino decided to let the moment remain is just another example of the director noticing his actors' genius.
The continuos shots are not at all forced and Samuel L. Jackson steals every scene imaginable. His Ezekiel monologue is one of the best performed movie scenes of all time and his relationship with Vega is so well established in literally minutes.
The exquisite close-ups of drug abuse are so truthful and Thurman's face twitches and squints so well along with the telling shots.
Enigma codes, non-linear narrative and so many quotes...this film is a must-watch for everyone!
Girl, you'll be a woman soon - Urge Overkill
Let's stay together - Al Green
You never can tell - Chuck Berry
So that concludes our Tarantino ranking. All the tracks chosen are in one large playlist I've created called Tarantino's Jukebox. It can be found on Spotify; go and listen or download if you wish. Plus, on the podcast talkabout with Ellis & Gwilym we discuss the films in greater depth. Using a list compiled by our avid listeners. Go give that a listen and make sure to follow the podcast.