Over the weekend I wrote out a memory of watching Pulp Fiction six times at the movies.
There’s a line in there about how it’s not even my favourite of Quentin Tarantino’s movies. But of course, it was at the time. Easy enough, it was only his second feature. And I was on board right away, watching Reservoir Dogs when it was released to video – I think my brother had seen it at a film festival and came back from the big smoke with news of it. We gathered around as a family to learn from him.
Funnily enough, one of my favourite QT movies didn’t grab me immediately. When I first saw Jackie Brown – in a sneak preview – I was a tiny bit disappointed. I guess that can happen when you’ve seen the movie made ahead of it six times on the big screen, right?
Anyway, I posted this wee memory of Pulp and was promptly messaged a bunch of times asking me what my actual favourite Tarantino film is. And, yeah, I’ve seen them all and I like at least something about all of them. But I’m not sure my list is like your list. Or the lists you read from time to time (ie: ahead of the release of any new movie from Q). So I thought I’d have a go at ranking them worst to best. Reminder, I don’t flat out hate any of them. They all have something to recommend about them. But here goes.
10. Inglourious Basterds – from the stupid spelling to the crawling length of it, this film lost me on impact. A shame, because the first 25 minutes is about the best thing Tarantino has ever shot. The angles, the tension, the set-up – all, erm, ‘glourious’. After that, nah. I just got so bored. Great soundtrack, but. Then again, that’s – always – a given.
9. Django Unchained– also too long. Way, way too long. And too silly. But again, it has some amazing set-pieces, some terrific music and it carries, or is carried by, some superb performances. It just lost me in the same way that Basterds did. Too self-consciously cartoonish and pleased with itself.
8. Death Proof – this is QT showing us his workbook. This is a journal entry of a movie. All his films are love-letters to the cinema that has inspired him. (That might be true of many filmmakers but it’s so overt with Quentin). So I loved the grime-feel and look and flow of this movie, inconsequential though it is. It’s lesser Quentin. Sure. Obviously. And still a little too long given it’s essentially one half of a double-feature. Trimmed to Reservoir-length you’d have a winner
7. Kill Bill: Volume 1 – like a sharper, better Death Proof – this is also a big scrapbook-showcase. And it felt excellent watching it for the first time. And okay rewatching it. But as you might already be guessing, and as you’ll see with the second half of the list, I prefer the Tarantino films where some actual heart is on display.
6. The Hateful Eight– I don’t know anyone that even likes this film. And plenty of people talked proudly of skipping it. And I’ll look like a hypocrite here – since I bemoaned the length of some of his other films, and yet this one is not only the longest but also the slowest. However, I just loved the big, slow-crawl feel of this. A big screen experience for sure. I went alone and lapped this up. It felt the most like a stage play of any of his films. And that suited me just fine at the time. Also: Morricone soundtrack. (Actual score). Ding!
5. Pulp Fiction – told you it wasn’t even my favourite. Loved it at the time. Loved it a little too much possibly. And so, it feels the most dated, the most self-conscious, the most pleased with itself, and it’s also the most imitated (structure, narrative flow, multiple points of view/stories). I still loved it very much and it had such impact. But of all his films it’s the time/place one for me. I can never get back the feeling of watching this in the mid-90s. In a cinema. In a group.
4. Reservoir Dogs – for a Billy Joel amount (The Longest Time!) this was my number one, or second on the list. Since it started everything. And since I saw it before any of the others, didn’t have to search back for it after Pulp. It’s taut and low-budget charming and it has humour and tension, and its soundtrack is still influencing movie soundtracks. But I’m also too sick of it now to list it at one or two.
3. Kill Bill: Volume 2 – not often a sequel beats the original. But this is a special kind of sequel, in that it’s part two, a continuation, a second half. And it’s where the heart of the film lies. It’s long, complicated and it’s not always the Tarantino film to watch – for flow and vibe and feelgood escapism. But it is one of the best examples of ‘heart’ in his filmmaking. This movie has a lot in it and a lot to it. And shows that only Tarantino really knew how to get the goods from Michael Madsen.
2. Jackie Brown– I like it when a second screening of something really introduces you to the magic. This is a classic example. First watch I was upset that it wasn’t Pulp Fiction Two. Subsequent viewings remind me that’s the very best thing about this film. It’s also the very best example of Tarantino channelling all that he loved about 70s cinema into something of his own. Huge heart in this film. Charismatic performances from two leads that were basically forgotten – and forged decent comebacks from this – and one of the all-time greatest compilation soundtracks (no real score as such, just soul bangers).
1. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – I don’t understand why anyone didn’t like this. This to me is perfection. It is everything that QT has always been aiming for – his own truth, utter absurdity, and lashings of both. He is the kid in class that wants to spray-paint his tag across the face of the Mona Lisa. But only after doing all of his homework. Maybe not the homework the teacher prescribed. But certainly, the homework he deemed important.
So that’s my list. The films Tarantino directed. For the record I love True Romance and feel like it could be my favourite – and wonder how Tarantino would have directed that (nothing wrong with the way it was made, just curious). And though both he and Oliver Stone have had goes at disowning the final product, I was also a huge fan of Natural Born Killers. But they’re both in that 90s space (with Pulp and Reservoir). I wonder how I’d feel about them now. (To the rewatch list!)
What would your Quentin Tarantino list of favourites be? How would you rank them worst to best?