I've been a movie enthusiast my whole life and been writing movie reviews for over 15 years.
Quentin Tarantino dropped his 9th movie, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, in July 2019. Since QT was the poster child for '90s independent cinema, let’s look back at the past 27 years and the 9 films he's directed.
I'm sure you've seen these movies dozens of times, but it’s probably been a while since you revisited them. Love him or hate him, Tarantino knows homage, so you’ll wonder what movies he’s stealing from as he turns old sequences in 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 (1994)
2. Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair (2003-04)
3. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
4. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
5. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)
6. Django Unchained (2012)
7. Jackie Brown (1997)
8. Death Proof (2007)
9. The Hateful Eight (2015)
1) Pulp Fiction (1994)
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 (Samuel L. Jackson): That was easy.
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2) Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair (2003-04)
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.
"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."
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 (David Carradine): 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.
3) Inglourious Basterds (2009)
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.
"You know somethin', Utivich? I think this just might be my masterpiece!"
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.
Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz): There’s a reason Christoph Waltz 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.
4) Reservoir Dogs (1992)
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.
"[laughs]... You shoot me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize."
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.
Mr. Orange (Tim Roth): 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.
5) Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)
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.
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 100% effectiveness. Naturally, we never succeed, but it's the pursuit that's meaningful.
Cliff Booth at 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?
Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt): 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.
6) Django Unchained (2012)
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.
Dr. King Schultz
"How do you like the bounty hunting business?"
"Kill white people and get paid for it? What's not to like?"
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.
Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz): There’s a reason Christoph Waltz won Best Supporting Actor. Though he’s made a career this past decade of playing bad guys, it was rewarding to see Waltz play shades of gray as the dentist turned bounty hunter. There’s a palpable letdown after Schultz makes his exit. His absence is felt, sometimes to the detriment of the movie.
7) Jackie Brown (1997)
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.
"AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherf****r in the room, accept no substitutes."
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 (Pam Grier): 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.
8) Death Proof (2007)
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 wonderfully hammy villain, who meets his match with some of the most colorful women—in terms of race, wardrobe design, and language—he was unlucky enough to want to kill. The first two acts drag, but it’s worth the wait.
"So how'd you become a stuntman?"
"I learned it from my brother... Stuntman Bob."
The car chase. It’s the only part of the movie you still remember.
Zoe (Zoë Bell): 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”).
9) The Hateful Eight (2015)
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.
John 'The Hangman' Ruth
"One of them fellas'll kill everybody in here..."
Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) explaining to General Sanford "Sandy" Smithers (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.
However, because there's no way I could link to that video without major filters, here's a similar scene with Jackson showing why he's the baddest MFer in the Tarantino cinematic universe.
Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh): 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.
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© 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.