New Quentin Tarantino movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is about to hit Australian theatres.
Lauded by critics and embraced by audiences, expectations here are high.
Tarantino is regarded as one of the last true celebrity directors, with good reason.
Can you tell me who directed Forrest Gump, which won the best picture Oscar for 1994? No?
What about The Shawshank Redemption, regarded by some as the best picture that year?
How about Pulp Fiction, which many critics claim was robbed after its 1994 Palme d’Or victory? I thought so.
With due respect to Robert Zemeckis and Frank Darabont, they are simply not in the same league.
Much of Tarantino’s celebrity relies on notoriety.
He is accused of fetishising violence (his latest film is based around actor Sharon Tate’s gruesome murder).
He is accused of misogyny (again, his latest film is based around Tate’s gruesome murder).
Violence is a huge part of Tarantino’s work (misogyny is not) but plenty of directors splatter blood throughout their films, few of whom have made a fraction of the contribution Tarantino has to cinema.
Like fellow ‘gore auteur’ Martin Scorsese, what distinguishes Tarantino from lesser players are the scenes that come between the violence.
His work is an extension of a long tradition, beginning with Homer’s Iliad and maturing in the Westerns of John Ford and Howard Hawks, where the point of the narrative is not the violence itself, but how violent men talk to and interact with one another both in moments of stress and moments of reflection.
So, if that doesn’t sound like your kind of royale with cheese, stay away from Tarantino’s movies.
How do Tarantino’s movies stack up against each other? Here goes, from ‘worst’ to best.
9. Death Proof
Originally presented as part of the Grindhouse double feature, Death Proof is universally recognised as Tarantino’s most inconsequential work. We know it’s a minor work because no one lays claim to it being his best unlike…
8. Jackie Brown
Contrarians will bail you up and explain why this is Tarantino’s best film. It isn’t but it’s beautifully performed, particularly by Pam Grier and Samuel L Jackson, and – atypically for Tarantino – features a bittersweet finale.
7. The Hateful Eight (2015)
Tarantino’s longest film has its detractors. Still, a faux spaghetti-Western chamber piece in an isolated wintry setting is an irresistible formula. Supercharged performances by Jackson, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and a moody Ennio Morricone score, make almost three tense hours fly by like a bullet.
5 & 6. Kill Bill Vol 1 (2003) & 2 (2004)
Kill Bill 1 has the edge because of the glorious set pieces where Uma Thurman’s Bride battles Vernita Green, the Crazy 88 and O-Ren Ishii. But Volume 2 has her fighting Elle Driver in a caravan with a runaway black mamba, so it’s a close-run thing.
4. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Tarantino’s incendiary debut remains among his top tier. The haberdashery, the sunglasses, the ‘70s soundtrack, banter in the diner, the disrupted narrative all became the director’s trademarks.
3. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
One of three films for which Tarantino was Oscar nominated, here he’s at the top of his craft rewriting history to stage the assassination of Nazi leaders, including the biggest, by Jewish commandos. Christoph Waltz stole the show as the malevolent SS Colonel Hans Landa, receiving his first Oscar to boot.
2. Django Unchained (2012)
Waltz and Tarantino won second Oscars for this Western in which freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) sets out to rescue his wife from a sadistic Mississippi plantation baron. As the bounty hunter who assists Django, Waltz is so good he manages to overshadow a magnificently vile performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as the brutal Calvin Candie. Sterling work by Jackson as Candie’s scheming slave Stephen.
1. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Pulp Fiction launched Tarantino’s career, winning an Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA for his screenplay and the Palme d’Or at Cannes. From Vincent’s and Jules’ murderous raid on Brett’s slacker gang to their diner showdown with Honey Bunny and Pumpkin, not a moment is wasted. Relaunched John Travolta’s career, only for him to crash it again, and did the same for Jackson, who hasn’t looked back.