I must admit, I was more than a little apprehensive when it came to publishing this list due to the very noticeable absence of cult favourite Pulp Fiction from my top four; **cue screaming, yelling, and throwing of rotten vegetables**. Even though Pulp Fiction may be responsible for cementing Tarantino’s status as one of the most well-known auteurs in modern times, I honestly do not believe that it can be considered his best work.
I can certainly appreciate why Pulp Fiction is so popular; who doesn’t love watching Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta debate fast food? And Christopher Walken’s monologue on safeguarding a watch between his butt cheeks throughout the war never gets old, no matter how many times you hear it. The opening scene in which Pumpkin and Honey Bunny (aka Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer) discuss the perks of robbing a restaurant is bloody excellent, but although the film contains lots of great individual elements, I personally don’t think the film as a whole is as strong as those I have listed in the top four below.
1. Reservoir Dogs. 1992.
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi & Chris Penn
At the dawn of the nineties, Quentin Tarantino was merely a passionate film fanatic working in a video store, until he penned his first feature film; True Romance. Tarantino sold this screenplay (which would later be directed by Tony Scott and released in 1993), and used the proceeds to fund his directorial debut Reservoir Dogs; a crime drama about the aftermath of a heist gone wrong.
This film is jam packed with stylistic choices that have gone on to be considered classic Tarantino techniques. The non-linear narrative, dialogue heavy scenes, innovative use of music (most notably the use of Stealers Wheel’s Stuck In The Middle With You during a scene where a policeman is tortured), and the inclusion of bloody violence throughout Reservoir Dogs is quintessential Quentin. This style has become his trademark, and it is present in almost all of his other works, including his CSI television special. Reservoir Dogs is one of my all time favourite films due to the calibre of the script, and the epic cast that fires on all cylinders.
In between takes on the set of Pulp Fiction, Uma Thurman and Tarantino would engage in creative discussions in relation to a character they called “The Bride,” and this became the premise for the Kill Bill films.
This two part film is an action-packed, emotional rollercoaster that follows The Bride (Uma Thurman) on her “roaring rampage of revenge” against the man who attempted to murder her – yep, you guessed it – Bill (David Carradine), and his team of assassins, the Deadly Viper Squad. This fierce heroine goes to hell and back to fulfil her mission, and it is fantastic to see a female character display such emotional and physical strength whilst also maintaining her femininity.
What makes Kill Bill so effective is its ability to seamlessly switch between multiple genres; it goes from being a Samurai/Kung Fu film, then it has a moment in the style of film noir, then it goes on to be a Western for a bit, and at one point there is even a scene depicted in anime. On paper you would not think it would be possible to borrow from so many genres in just one film (well, technically two, but you know what I mean), and yet somehow Tarantino pulls it off. Everything in this film is heightened; from the music, to the direction, to the stylised violence, and I absolutely love every bit of it.
Possibly one of the least talked about Tarantino films of all time, Death Proof revolves around two separate female friendship groups that each encounter ex Hollywood stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) who drives a purpose built stunt vehicle that he uses to murder pretty and unsuspecting girls, until one day, he meets his match.
I hope no one is frothing at the mouth or shrieking at their screen right now because I included such a little known Tarantino film in my top 4. Death Proof is a quiet achiever that will never reach the sort of fame that some of his other films enjoy, but nevertheless, it really does deserve to be on this list. It’s such a unique film, even for Tarantino, as it depicts women in a way that we have never really seen them on film before, or at least not in relatively mainstream cinema. There’s a crude reality to the characters that is both refreshing, and a little confronting at times, but the truth is, there are a lot of women like that out there. Overall the film is really just a bunch of girls sitting around talking before a final, wild car chase with Kurt Russell’s character, but in its simplicity it is brilliant, and very entertaining.
4. Django Unchained. 2012.
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L Jackson
So this is the awkward moment where I admit that I was far more moved by Django Unchained than I was by this year’s Academy Award Best Picture winner 12 Years A Slave…
It’s the 19th century in the south of the USA, and Django (Jamie Foxx) is just another African American man living in slavery, until German bounty hunter Dr King Schulz (Christoph Waltz) frees him, and assists him to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) who has become imprisoned by plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
There is a harrowing scene in this film where Kerry Washington is whipped by white slave owners; she screams out in torment, and her flesh melts off her back as she is whipped over and over again… sound familiar? Almost the exact same scene takes place in 12 Years A Slave, except Lupita Nyong’o is the one under the whip, and no disrespect to Lupita, or to the film’s director, Steve McQueen, but I did not emotionally connect to 12 Years A Slave at all. On the other hand, I was horrified by a scene in Django where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character goads two slaves to fight one another to the death with nothing but their bare hands. I was shocked over and over again by similarly violent scenes throughout this film, whereas 12 Years A Slave failed to provoke anything from me, and this is partly why Django has found its way into my top four.
Christoph Waltz is outstanding as the eloquent and witty bounty hunter, DiCaprio is surprisingly good at being utterly detestable, and Samuel L Jackson is an absolute riot in this film, which manages to strike a perfect balance between its dramatic and affecting scenes, and those of tremendous comedic value.