“If you’re gonna compare a Hanzo sword, you compare it to every other sword ever made that wasn’t made by Hattori Hanzo.”
When Quentin Tarantino wrote the above line for Kill Bill (or what would eventually be bisected into Kill Bill, Vol. 2), it very eloquently summed up the problem with discussing Tarantino and his movies.
At that point in time, Tarantino had done what no writer-director had managed, be they Woody Allen, Wes Anderson, or Orson Welles: he’d made five perfect films in a row. Moreover, he’d only made five movies by that point, and they were all 5-star films.
Even today, after his streak has slipped and his career lacks the lustrous sheen it still had a decade ago, he’s one of the toughest directors to bring up in comparison to other directors (because he so boldly does his own thing every time, even when flopping), let along when discussing which Tarantino work is best.
When it comes to his worst, though, there’s a pretty unanimous consensus…
9. DEATH PROOF (2007)
Tarantino’s self-taught video-store crash-course film-school allowed him to learn myriad skilled techniques from great movies, but like an indiscriminate sponge, he also absorbed bad habits from the awful movies. Nowhere is that most evident than in Death Proof, his half of the Grindhouse double-bill he released in 2007 with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. It’s meticulously faithful to the junky grindhouse pulp of the ‘70s — but accurately recreating a genre that was, by its very nature, bad only served to ultimately make a faithfully bad movie.
8. DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
Don’t misunderstand Django Unchained’s placement at #8. When a director makes six 5-star movies and two 4½-star ones, it results in the cruel placement of a fantastic movie in second-lowest slot. After visiting the ‘70s in 2007 and the ‘40s in 2009, Tarantino jumped all the way back to the 1850s for his anachronistically clever revenge thriller about a freed slave hunting down the sadistic plantation owner who has his wife. Leonardo DiCaprio gives one his greatest scenery-chewing performances and Christoph Waltz steals the movie out from Jamie Foxx’s lead, but Tarantino’s ending lasts a good 30 minutes too long.
7. THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)
Read The Apple Box’s review of The Hateful Eight here!
6. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)
When it comes to anachronisms, there’s making pop culture references before their actual time and then there’s literally changing the end of World War II. Only Tarantino would have the guts to rewrite an entire war, framed within the story of two plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler — one of a young, Jewish woman running a French cinema and one of a team of Jewish-American soldiers. While Inglourious Basterds was a return to form for Tarantino after Death Proof, the real story was the startlingly impressive, Oscar-winning turn from Christoph Waltz as the most charming psychopath since Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs.
5. JACKIE BROWN (1997)
When Tarantino’s follow-up to Pulp Fiction wasn’t Pulp Fiction, the public was quick to label Jackie Brown bad. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is Jackie Brown the best of the myriad Elmore Leonard adaptations (which include Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and 3:10 to Yuma), it’s one of the best crime thrillers of the ‘90s. Featuring most of the cast of Pulp Fiction, along with new additions Robert De Niro, Michael Keaton, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, and the Oscar-nominated Pam Grier. You don’t need to know your Coffy from your Cleopatra Jones to appreciate Tarantino’s brilliant love letter to ‘70s blaxploitation.
4. KILL BILL, VOL. 2 (2004)
What Kill Bill, Vol. 1 is for Eastern cinema, Kill Bill, Vol. 2 is for Western cinema. Trading in geta for cowboy boots, the back half of Tarantino’s revenge opus doesn’t have the same electric energy as its beginning but has even richer dialogue (and some of Tarantino’s finest monologues). It’s a movie that plays much better on its second viewing than on its first, as Tarantino bravely teases the audience for a climax he never intends to deliver, but it’s a wholly satisfying close to a tale never meant to be told in two parts in the first place.
3. RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
Of all the single-location tales in cinema that feel like they should have been plays, few are as gripping as Tarantino’s gut-punch debut. Blending movie influences as diverse as Rashomon, 12 Angry Men, and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, his tale of a bank heist gone wrong brilliantly refrains from ever showing you the botched robbery, taking place immediately afterward as those still alive turn on each other, and peppered with various flashbacks that show how the doomed plan came together. Tarantino’s eagerness is bursting in every shot, sequence, and performance here, and while he’d do even better with his next movie, Reservoir Dogs still remains one of the most impressive debuts in modern cinema.
2. KILL BILL, VOL. 1 (2003)
After audiences unfairly criticized Tarantino for daring to follow Pulp Fiction up with Jackie Brown, he took a six-year absence before returning with what would have been his most epic movie: a four-hour revenge story of an assassin left for dead by her own team and the rampage that ensues when she survives and awakens. Miramax forced Tarantino to cut the story in half, which leaves Kill Bill, Vol. 1 without a conclusive ending — although it does still feature a bonkers climax at the House of Blue Leaves, and the greatest movie cliffhanger since the Back to the Future trilogy. It’s basically a perfect movie, and purely #2 on this list because #1 could only be…
1. PULP FICTION (1994)
What can be said about Pulp Fiction that hasn’t been said over the last two decades? Yes, it brought the independent film movement in the mid-‘90s into the mainstream. Yes, it resurrected the careers of John Travolta and Christopher Walken, while also launching the careers of Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman. Yes, it made Quentin Tarantino one of the few directors to ever become a household name. Yes, it’s undoubtedly the most influential movie of the last quarter-century. Pulp Fiction is the Citizen Kane of its generation of movies: not only is it flawless on a technical level, but its cinematic inventiveness changed film as an entire medium. The movies belonging to that pantheon are few indeed, but Pulp Fiction is that bold and timeless a piece of work.