With the release of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood this week in America and August 14th in the UK, I thought it was time to highlight some of the best films from one of the greatest directors working to date. Everyone has heard of Quentin Tarantino, and what makes him special is not only the fact that he has a signature style of directing, but also that he cares about the quality of every film he makes. Some people argue that he has the highest quality of catalogue of films, purely because he knows what he’s doing and has focused on directing only nine films to this day. What do our fellow film bloggers and fans think are his best pieces of work? I asked, and they responded.
It only seemed fitting that the second edition of The Ultimate Choice belonged to Quentin Tarantino.
Chosen by Chris Watt: Twitter
As fits go, Quentin Tarantino’s least talked about picture, Jackie Brown, is a tailored suit. An adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, Jackie Brown is many things, but at its heart it’s a character drama, albeit with a crime thriller edge, Leonard’s gift of plotting married perfectly to Tarantino’s ear for the dialogue of such nefarious characters as the gun runners, drug dealers, bail bondsmen and Chris Tuckers of LA’s criminal underworld.
A film about a woman in a desperate situation, but by no means a desperate woman, Pam Grier’s casting, in the title role, recalls her blaxploitation roots, but Tarantino is interested in the reality of this woman’s existence, this picture certainly the best rebuff to those who called him out at Cannes this year, after dealing a curt response to a female journalist’s questioning of his use of women in his pictures.
If Tarantino is guilty of any crime in the cinematic hand book, it’s in the belief that simply paying homage to genre is enough. His earlier pictures are tight crime dramas, plotted with precision, whereas much of his later work is lacking in pace, content to give us a vibe instead of a story. I’m looking at you, Death Proof. Jackie Brown is a fascinating example of a film that has its cake and shoots it. It is slow, yet compelling, utilising its first act to introduce our characters through a series of hang out moments, that seem superfluous, but are, in fact, driving the plot forward.
That the film also manages to hit an emotional note of resonance is telling. Tarantino has never since managed to move his audience in quite the way he does with Jackie Brown, the affection for the characters clearly awakening something inside him that much of his later work lacks: heart.
In the end, for all the violence and death in his pictures, Jackie Brown presents a far more terrifying prospect; the fear of being left behind, redundant, forgotten. Thankfully, not a fate that could ever face this film.
Chosen by Hannah at Pages, Places, and Plates: Blog | Twitter
I’m a big lover of Tarantino films, but for me there will always be one that stands out above the rest. This one particular film inspired a love of cinema for me and even set me down the path of going to university to study Film Production (which I dropped out of as I had different career plans, however my love of film still stays the same). Tarantino’s best film for me is without a doubt Reservoir Dogs.
Reservoir Dogs was one of the first proper adult films I watched when I was at school, with my Dad. He is also a massive movie fan and had always kept a list in his mind of truly phenomenal films from his days that I needed to watch. Reservoir Dogs is what he started with, and we continued to watch all sorts of incredible films from then on, such as The Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather trilogy.
The thing with Reservoir Dogs in my eyes is that it’s truly a masterpiece – the characters, despite us not knowing their names, are developed so well throughout and brilliantly acted; the dialogue is witty and executed perfectly. I love the whole concept of the plot… A classic whodunnit but with a twist, and unusually featuring a heist that we never actually see. It’s also full of believable and entertaining gore, and hands-down has the best torture scene I’ve ever witnessed due to the unconventional way it’s delivered.
Being one of Tarantino’s earlier films, created back when he was fresh and with a limited budget, it’s interesting to see how it paved the way for later titles such as Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained. It’s simple, without all the flash and excess than you might expect from him nowadays, but to me it’s a film that every Tarantino fan needs to watch If they want to truly appreciate his work.
Also chosen by KC: Twitter
I still consider Reservoir Dogs my favourite Tarantino movie. It’s all about the way you tell a story and the way he chose to tell this one blew me away. Leaving out the heist in a heist movie was a bold and clever choice. I love the claustrophobia of the single location and the paranoia of who the rat is.
When everything is stripped down like this, it’s all about the dialogue. The first time hearing Tarantino dialogue is impossible to forget, especially in this film when it’s so vicious and colourful. The use of music as well: that title sequence is so exciting, and the torture sequence so horrible. In the end I love it because few things are more entertaining than men being awful to each other and ending up dead on a warehouse floor!
Also chosen by Tariq Nazir: Twitter
So, my favourite Tarantino movie? Well… before I tell you, I have a little confession to make: I don’t
actually like Quentin Tarantino (as a filmmaker). I know, I know, but listen, just hear me out, ok; I do
actually have a favourite Tarantino film, one that I enjoy very much and can watch through to the
end every time it’s on, quoting all the memorable lines from all my favourite scenes.
And, yes, I’ll agree that when he first burst on to the scene back in 1992 with the seminal Reservoir
Dogs, it came as a breath of fresh air, with his particular method of storytelling, the loquacious
dialogue and unexpected, eclectic soundtrack, and, of course, the gleefully overt cussing,
embellishing the super-styled violence, all of which have since become his trademark and all of
which were rightly hailed as genius devices at the time, granting said film the prestigious moniker of
‘Greatest Independent Film of all Time’ by Empire magazine.
Wow. Ok. Great, so what’s your problem, I hear you ask. Well here’s my problem; I kind of feel like
he peaked with ‘Dogs’. Yeah, Pulp Fiction was good, I like it very much. Jackie Brown… meh. Death
proof? Please. And then two mediocre films, elevated by individual standout performances from the
supremely talented Christopher Waltz, with the King Fu crayon drawing that is Kill Bill slapped in
between. And by this stage, I refuse to even acknowledge the final farce in this fading filmography,
which was lifted only by the sweetest and most poignant piece of music Mr T has ever employed, in
my humble opinion.
Alas, what once was edgy, refreshing, and eclectic is now pure caricature, heavy handed and
predictable. It’s oft-argued by his fans, that his amalgam and appropriation of filmic genres, his use
of iconic motifs is homage to all the good and the great that has gone before. And I would agree if
only we could attribute depth, subtlety and a deft touch to Tarantino too, but those are skills either
beyond his repertoire or, more likely, his inclination. So, my retort is that he offers nothing more
now than kitsch, gaudy pastiche, piled high by the shovel load. I am a heavy admirer of his character-
centric plots, but the characters themselves? Bombastic and eccentric, they’re carved straight out of
cheese. It all leaves for a very superficial experience for me, and any seemingly political or ethical
undertones are merely gilding rather than any real substance of weight or impact.
But enough! If you’re still reading by this point, bravo friend, and welcome to my choice of favourite
Tarantino film; and if you hadn’t guessed already then you clearly just jumped straight here.
Nevertheless; Reservoir Dogs! Funded by the sale of his script to True Romance, (which he was later
asked to write the screenplay for, and his influence there is clear and obvious) ‘Dogs’ is a heist movie
with a difference. Usually in this genre, the assembly of the gang, followed by the meticulous build
up and planning of the heist itself, make up the bulk of a regular heist movie, with the heist itself
acting as the central pivot for the plot, but in truth, almost rendered inconsequential as we go
through the motions and watch the crazy one in the gang help unravel the plan. And Tarantino
obviously recognised this and quite masterfully, I will say, rearranges this whole concept, showing us
instead the preamble before the heist, and the fallout after, without losing any of the interest,
intrigue or jeopardy. It is famously said that Reservoir Dogs is Tarantino’s take on Ringo Lams’ Hong
Kong heist movie, City on Fire. And yes, having seen both, there are parallels. But I will defend
Tarantino on this count, Reservoir Dogs offers a much fresher, richer take, with the final fate of the
gang painted with delicious irony, City on Fire is a much more regular and staid affair.
Chosen by The Friendly Film Fan: Blog | Twitter
When people talk of Quentin Tarantino and all the movie’s he’s known for, most would reference something like Pulp Fiction or Inglorious Bastards as hallmarks of the director’s immense talent both behind the camera and on the page; even Reservoir Dogs is a masterclass in single-location storytelling. These are considered his Magnum’ Opus’s, his Crème de la Crèmes, his. There is one film, however, that stands tall above the rest as being not only what I believe is his best and somehow most restrained work to date, but one of the singular most important in the modern era, particularly wherein it concerns today’s political landscape, and that film is Django Unchained.
There are more than a few reasons to love Django, chief among them in most minds being the unexpectedly brilliant performances from the most talented of people in the most unlikely of roles. Washington, without much screen-time, captivates and commands the room around her; we understand why Django would want to rescue her, and we understand what’s at stake when the vicious Calvin Candy has her by the throat with a hammer at her head. Foxx, though the lead and thus having more screen-time than anyone, managed to take Django from a down-on-his-luck slave transaction to one of the most badass characters in Tarantino’s entire canon on the strength of his conviction in the role alone, which is not an easy thing to do by a long shot, even with top billing.
The most impressive of the performances, however, belongs to none other than my favorite actor of all time, Mr. Leonardo DiCaprio. I knew he’d be good, and Tarantino would give him buckets to work with in his script and direction, but DiCaprio’s turn as an out-and-out villain (considering it was hist first time playing one) is only surpassed by his Wolf of Wall Street performances that released just one year later. In this movie, he reminds everyone not only that he is the real deal, but why he became such a big deal in the first place.
My chief reason to love Django Unchained, though, behind the dialogue and direction, performances and music, and everything else there is to love about it, is what it managed to do with its central character by feeding an escapist fantasy fueled by black liberation and a keen sense of poetic justice. We won’t get into the nuances of whether or not white writers/directors have enough wherewithal or understanding of what it means to be black in the United States in order to properly tell black stories (that’s another article for another time), but the fact remains that, along with Spike Lee’s 2018 hit BlacKkKlansman, Django Unchained embodies something that almost none of his other movies do for most of their black characters: triumph and victory. Quentin Tarantino sends a message that because the system is so corrupt, and loaded against the black man’s struggle, the only way to truly achieve liberation is to fight for it, destroying the system that was in place before, and not only do the marginalized need to be the ones to lead that fight, they deserve to be the ones to take that system down in the end, and we deserve to let them. Above all else, that is the legacy of Django Unchained and that is why I consider it Tarantino’s best and most important film to date.
(This response has been shortened, you can read the full text over on The Friendly Film Fan.
Also chosen by Through The Silver Screen: Blog | Twitter
Revenge is something QT definitely likes to explore in his films, it’s with a Western backdrop as a freed slave teams up with a bounty hunter to save his wife from an evil plantation owner. Django Unchained is for me the funniest film that Tarantino has made thus far, there’s so many scenes that are just absolutely hysterical, most notably the KKK scene. Tarantino films are notorious for the violence, and in this film, it’s perhaps the most stylized that has ever been depicted in a QT film. The action is extremely exciting to watch, and that shootout in the third act is, an enthralling piece of film-making. Jamie Foxx is terrific as Django, as he goes from timid slave to ultimate badass. Though it was a very different role for Christoph Waltz, he pulled it off superbly and bagged himself another Oscar. So often we see Leo DiCaprio as the good guy, so to see him play a truly horrible human being was refreshing. And bold claim coming at you, Sam Jackson’s performance as the sycophantic slave Stephen is, I think, maybe his best ever performance and should have got him his second Oscar nomination.
I got a lot of fantastic responses this time around, so thank you to everyone that took their time to be a part of this post. Stay tuned for the next edition of The Ultimate Choice next month, where we look at our favourite Tom Hanks films.
Do you agree with your fellow film fans? Perhaps you prefer Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill? Let me know what your favourite Tarantino film is, and let’s have a discussion.