I've been a movie enthusiast my whole life and been writing movie reviews for over 14 years.
Since 90s poster child for independent cinema Quentin Tarantino dropped his 9th movie Once Upon a Time In Hollywood July 2019, let’s take a look back at the past 27 years and the 9 movies he's directed so far.
You’ve probably seen some of these dozens of times once upon a time, but it’s probably been a while since you’ve revisited them. Love them or hate them, I’m sure you’ll agree that after you see one of Tarantino’s films, you’ll wonder what other older movies he’s stolen from. Yet it always ends up being something totally original.
So put up your freshly painted toenails and hope Tarantino doesn’t retire when he completes his 10th movie. But if he does, I guess it’s cool he retires on such a nice round number.
Please read this list as if Samuel L. Jackson were yelling every motherfluffin’ line in your ear. I think Tarantino would want it that way.
1) Pulp Fiction
You knew this was going to be the top pick. Even after 25 years, Pulp Fiction still retains its freshness. If anything, it seems to have gotten better with age. If you were around when Pulp blitzed cinema back in 1994, you might not remember all the wannabes that came after it. Why? Because they were all poor imitations of an authentic original. It's still a crime that it lost the Best Picture Oscar to Forrest Gump (ugh). But Pulp still stands the test of time while Forrest is down in the basement with the Gimp somewhere. It’s almost unfair that everything Tarantino does will be compared to Pulp. Almost.
"If I'm curt with you it's because time is a factor. I think fast, I talk fast and I need you guys to act fast if you wanna get out of this. So, pretty please... with sugar on top. Clean the f***ing car."
There are so many to choose from. Howard Hawks once said that a good movie has three good scenes and no bad ones. Pulp Fiction has many good ones, and even if some of them drag (looking at you Butch and Fabienne), there aren’t really any bad ones. But if I had to choose (and I do because I’m the one making this list), I’d have to go with Mia OD’ing. That needle never looked and felt bigger on a movie screen. Because it happens so relatively early in the movie, you’re holding your breath because Tarantino has set everything up so subtly and perfectly. It’s the first time during the movie you’re really caught off guard. It won’t be the last.
Or maybe it’s Jules first interrogating Brett.
Or maybe it’s Butch choosing his favorite weapon. Never mind. It's just too hard.
Jules Winnfield – That was easy.
"That's right. I killed your master. And now I'm gonna kill you too, with your own sword, no less, which in the very immediate future, will become... my sword."
"Bitch, you don't have a future."
2) Kill Bill- The Whole Bloody Affair
For four glorious hours, you’re treated to grind-house cinema with a studio budget. Is it excessive? Yes. Does it all work? Mostly. Do you care? Not really. By the end of the saga, you kind of feel for Bill even though he deserves what he gets. The Bride’s tearful release in one of the movie’s final shots matches yours, if only in your heart.
The Bride and Elle’s down-and-dirty fight in a trailer. “Gross,” Elle says. You agree, but you still want it to go on.
Bill. He is so well written that you don’t realize what little screen time he actually has. He is impeccably played by the late David Carradine. However, every time I see Bill, I wonder what Tarantino’s original choice Warren Beatty would have done with the role.
"You know somethin', Utivich? I think this just might be my masterpiece!"
3) Inglourious Basterds
Yes, we know Brad Pitt’s not really in it and his character is probably the 4th most important to the story. It’s got Nazis getting killed. A lot of Nazis getting killed and the audiences gets to revel in it, way back in 2009 when we all agreed Nazis were terrible. We didn’t even mind the subtitles.
I want to say the bloody history-bending climax, but that wouldn’t be the truth. The very best scene is the first one introducing us to the story and to Hans Landa. It’s no disrespect to say that nothing after the first scene reaches the initial tension you feel in those initial 20 minutes. It may be Tarantino’s best written scene.
There’s a reason Christoph Walz won Best Supporting Actor and it wasn’t even close. Hans Landa is one of cinema’s greatest villains, and even though you hate Landa, you still kind of admire him. He’s the smartest person in the room, in the scene, in the movie. Like Bill, he gets what he deserves.
"[laughs]... You shoot me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize."
4) Reservoir Dogs
The one that Wes Craven walked out of. From Madonna and her penis in the opening scene to the dogs doing the slo-mo walk copied by every other movie. Tarantino’s debut was indelible. Love it or hate it, after you saw Dogs, you remembered it long afterward. Sure, it doesn’t have any female characters, but it was his first movie. Back then we didn’t know how he was really into female feet.
Do I really even need to say? Even if you hadn’t seen Dogs in years, you remember the one that still sticks in your head. You might have closed your eyes during some of it. Mr. Blonde dancing. Stuck in the middle with you. Gasoline. Even an end to the scene you never saw coming. Stuck in the middle of all of us.
Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange. Only because he got to play an actual arc while the others pretty much stood in the path of bullets. He’s acting throughout the movie, except when he isn’t. Admit it, the final scene with Harvey Keitel is more touching than you give it credit for in your memory.
I believe it's the job of an actor - and I say actor, not actress because the word actress is nonsensical - it's the actor's job to avoid impediments to their performance. It's the actor's job to strive for one hundred percent effectiveness. Naturally, we never succeed, but it's the pursuit..that's meaningful.
5) Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
The megastar pairing of Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in one of the best onscreen friendships of the 2010s anchor Tarantino’s most melancholy movie. More contemplative than you’d expect, but that’s as surprising as some of the violence and dialogue you’ve been used to over the years. Yes, you feel the running time, but after the fairy-tale credits roll, you forgive most of the digressions from linear story. You’ve heard this before, but multiple viewings enrich the experience.
Cliff Booth at the Spahn Ranch. From the moment Cliff steps onto the ranch, the viewer is hooked with uncertainty. One of the scariest sequences of 2019, and you’re grateful for the cathartic violence. Who knew Dakota Fanning could be so…off?
Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth. More of a second lead than a supporting actor, Pitt gets the funnier scenes while DiCaprio gets to do the heavy lifting acting-wise. Though DiCaprio is wonderful, It’s Pitt you remember most, especially after your initial viewing.
Buy Once Upon A Time in Hollywood Now!
Dr. King Schultz
"How do you like the bounty hunting business?"
"Kill white people and get paid for it? What's not to like?"
6) Django Unchained
The final 45 minutes, though still exhilarating, feel like Tarantino’s spinning his wheels. You don’t mind it too much because you’ve identified and believed every moment of Jamie Foxx from a beaten-down slave to the horsey-riding, wife-saving badass Django becomes. Nazis and slavery get what’s coming to them, even if it’s only in the movies. We’re happier for it. Oh yeah, and we get to see Leo DiCaprio play a slaveowner. Life is great.
Watch the Trailer!
When Calvin and Stephen realize what Django and King Schulz are up to. First, it’s just fun to watch Sam Jackson and DiCaprio act together. Second, they’re both such unlikable (and smart) characters we’re genuinely worried for Django and Hilde after this scene.
There’s a reason Christoph Walz won Best Supporting Actor. Though he’s made a career this past decade of playing bad guys, it was rewarding to see Walz play shades of gray as the dentist turned bounty hunter. There’s a palpable letdown after Schulz makes his exit. His absence is felt, sometimes to the detriment of the movie.
"AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherf****r in the room, accept no substitutes."
7) Jackie Brown
Scrutinized after being “The follow-up to Pulp Fiction”, Jackie Brown is about as far from Pulp as you’d like it to be, and it’s not a lesser movie because of it. A 165-minute character study of a middle-aged black woman may not be the first thing you’d associate with Tarantino, but Jackie is the perfect marriage of Tarantino and Elmore Leonard’s source material. Yes, it’s long, but you love all of the characters. Even if you hate them.
Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson) and Beaumont (Chris Tucker) argue over trunk space and getting chicken and waffles. I remember LOL-ing when I saw the end of this scene in theaters before LOL-ing was a thing. It has the exact amount of screen time Chris Tucker should get in every movie.
Jackie Brown. Duh. Pam Grier’s best work ever and Tarantino’s gift to her is her gift to the audience. She may be beaten down by life at times, but never underestimate her. Those that do end up paying the price.
"So how'd you become a stuntman?"
"I learned it from my brother... Stuntman Bob."
8) Death Proof
The beginning of Tarantino’s stop-and-start movies. Meaning this film has a lot of dialogue, sometimes too much, and closes with the best car chase of the first decade of the 2000s. Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike is such a wonderful hammy villain who met his match with some of the most colorful (in terms of race, wardrobe design, and language) women he was unlucky enough to want to kill. The first two acts do drag, but it’s well worth the wait.
The car chase. It’s the only part of the movie you still remember.
Zoe Bell’s, um, Zoe. Well written, perfectly played by the former stuntwoman. Tarantino uses her physicality perfectly and she has one of the funniest lines in all of Tarantino’s films (“I’m okay”).
John 'The Hangman' Ruth
"One of them fellas'll kill everybody in here..."
9) The Hateful Eight
The more you think of it as a play Tarantino filmed, the less problematic it is. It’s a three-hour movie when two would have more than sufficed. It’s the only Tarantino movie where you’re actively looking at your watching hoping something meaningful will happen and then another 7-minute dialogue scene occurs. You don’t hate it, but it’s the Tarantino film you never watch over and over.
Major Marquis Warren explaining to Bruce Dern exactly what Dern’s son was willing to do to stay alive. The Wolf would approve. It’s the only stretch of extended dialogue when the audience is fully engaged and not hoping for something violent to occur.
There’s a reason Jennifer Jason Leigh was nominated for her turn as Daisy Domergue. The lone woman in a haberdashery full of men who wouldn’t blink an eye at killing her. Daisy is established as dangerous; Leigh’s performance exceeds your expectations at times.
Be sure to vote for your favorite Tarantino film. We’ll see where Once Upon a Time in Hollywood fits into this list in July.
Buy The Quentin Tarantino Collection Here!
© 2019 Noel Penaflor
Jennifer Jorgenson on July 27, 2019:
Well I'll keep an eye out for your update!
Noel Penaflor (author) from California on July 26, 2019:
I did see it, but I'd need to view it again for a proper placing. I don't know if it's 2 or 3.
Jennifer Jorgenson on July 26, 2019:
Great article! Have you had a chance to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? Im curious to see where you'll place it.