Rating Tarantino

If you were in your twenties in the 1990’s, odds are you were a Quentin Tarantino fan.  That decade saw the former video store clerk/porn theatre usher explode onto the scene with raw, independent films that captured the attention of a generation.

Tarantino’s subsequent works saw the inevitable addition of funding, which allowed the filmmaker to add more detail (and gimmicks) to his works.

Here’s my list of his best:

1.  Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Just as Pulp Fiction was released in theatres, I got the opportunity to see a midnight showing of this gritty classic at the university theatre.  I returned the next night to see it again.  Led by veteran Harvey Keitel, this ‘heist-gone-wrong’ tale is so stripped of excess and so raw that it captivates you while making you feel a sense of unease about what is still to come.  Delving into the background of the important players (who only know each other by ‘Mr. Orange, Mr. White, etc.), Reservoir Dogs is the ultimate starting point for any QT novice.  One caution, however: you’ll never hear ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ the same way again.

2. Jackie Brown (1997)

Again, this work is devoid of the plethora of gimmicks found in his later work.  This adaptation of Elmore Leonard's 1992 novel Rum Punch pays homage to Blaxploitation flicks of the early 1970’s, and features the incomparable Pam Grier as a flight attendant for a second-rate airline who supplements her income by smuggling money across the U.S./Mexican border for Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), an L.A.-based gun seller.  Naturally, there are plot twists, awesome characters (Robert Forster is perfect as bail bondsman Max Cherry), and a supporting cast that adds the right layers to the story.  Though not as popular as many of Tarantino’s other efforts, Jackie Brown is essential to any QT collection and is perhaps his most underappreciated release.

3. Pulp Fiction (1994)

The film that launched Tarantino into the stratosphere, and rightfully so.  Eclectic and stylish, this story blended cool with grit, all built on the foundation of one of the most famous soundtracks of all time.  The pairing of Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta was masterful, and the story pure genius.  Initial viewings proved confusing (didn’t Vincent Vega die?), but that is what ‘pulp fiction’ is.  Brilliant and iconic, Pulp Fiction stands at the top of the list for many Tarantino fans.  And you got to love the Christopher Walken ‘Gold Watch’ monologue.

4. Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) / Inglourious Basterds (2009)

I just couldn’t decide which one to include, so I went with this.  In Kill Bill: Volume 1, Tarantino takes us into the realm of old martial arts films with the story of a ‘Bride’ out for revenge.  Uma Thurman takes the reigns and does an excellent job in her role.  After failing to kill her, members of the ‘Deadly Viper Assassination Squad’ find themselves targeted one by one, as the Bride works her way towards her ultimate goal: to kill Bill.  The letdown? Kill Bill: Volume 2.

Inglourious Basterds represents perhaps the best example of Tarantino’s reputation for iconic opening scenes.  The Reservoir Dogs debate over the meaning of Madonna’s Like a Virgin is a classic, but nothing compares to the building of tension between Christoph Waltz’s SS colonel Hans Landa and French dairy farmer Perrier La Padite (Denis Ménochet).  Absolutely chilling.  The rest of the film is damn good, but doesn’t quite match the intensity of its beginning.

Speaking of chilling, of note is Waltz’s Landa.  His portrayal of the sociopathic Nazi is unforgettable.

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