So I have finally reached the end of my Tarantino quest. Some time last year, I made a promise to myself that I would see Django Unchained, and if I liked it, would go back and get all of Tarantino’s filmography (films he directed that is). I liked it, so in March I started up “Tarantino Tuesday” to accomplish my self-appointed mission, and I’m happy to say that I’ve finally completed it! I’ve watched every film Tarantino’s directed, and I’ve liked all of them. I’m an official fan now, and nobody can tell me otherwise (well, I suppose they could, but I wouldn’t listen to them).
Tarantino’s a very distinctive filmmaker. He’s known for his soundtracks, his witty and profane dialogue, his references to older films that are usually really obscure, the outrageous violence, and revenge themes. His films are not always praised because of these things, but more often than not they are, if only for the fact that they are well-made and clever (most of the time).
Most of his films involve revenge. I would say that his first three (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown) are the only ones that don’t. That doesn’t mean he can’t have the rest of the elements though. I’m not a big fan or revenge as a principle or a solution to societal or personal problems, but Tarantino makes some compelling cases for it. I found this most persuasive in Kill Bill, surprisingly. I think this is mostly because he doesn’t offer it up as a solution, just as norm in their assassin culture. Everyone knew they were going to die at some point; they knew people were going to come after them for what they did. Also, I sympathized with The Bride a lot because the reason for revenge was all concentrated on her. It got personal.
Not to say that I didn’t find it compelling in Django and Basterds. Tarantino draws on the guilt we all have due to past events, on a big scale. It makes me feel better on some level to know that we can go back into history and manipulate it. Obviously not literally, but in art this means a lot. I don’t think it disrespects history, because most people are sensible enough to know that none of these things actually happened. It gives us a chance to feel like we are on the right side of history for a change, instead of feeling guilty about all the stuff that went down with the Holocaust and slavery, we can feel like we’re avenging the wrongs that were suffered. We can’t do this in real life, which is probably a good thing, so why not do it through art? (Make art, not war guys.)
It’s interesting to note that though his most frequent theme is revenge, his most famous film, Pulp Fiction, doesn’t really incorporate it. The way I see Pulp Fiction is that Tarantino piles on the tragedy in the first and second parts, and then brings a light in the tunnel at the end of the film with Jules’ redemption. Though it sounds much more positive and socially redeeming than constant revenge, I found Pulp Fiction to be the most soul-crushing of all of Tarantino’s movies, and then the most uplifting. I can’t figure out what he’s going to do next, whether it’s Kill Bill Vol. 3, another history/revenge type thing, British spy type thing (I’ve heard all of these at some point, but they’re just speculation as far as I know), or whatever it may be, I’ll definitely go to see it. I’d prefer it wasn’t revenge, just for variety’s sake, but regardless I’ll be there.
So until then, I’ll rank all of the films that Tarantino has made so far. It’s kind of futile because I’ll just have to update it later when he makes more films, assuming that happens which it should, but I watched all these movies and made it into a big thing so I have to rank them now. And because I’ve started down this path, I’m going to do a bunch of other Tarantino-related rankings as well. They’ll be coming soon, but for now we have my rankings of Tarantino’s eight films.
Ranking the films (click on the posters for links to my original reviews):
Coming in at number eight is….
Starring: Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, and Rosario Dawson
I didn’t really make a secret out of the fact that I thought Death Proof was the worst film out of Tarantino’s filmography, and I think this is widely accepted as such, so this doesn’t really come as a surprise. With Tarantino, I think there’s a pretty solid consensus with his worst and best film, and the real debate is in the middle. I had fun with Death Proof, but I’ll admit is was pointless fun. I did not learn anything substantial from this movie, but I was totally fine with it. I really liked Zoe Bell’s character, the soundtrack, and the final car chase. Tarantino’s just having fun here, but I’m still happy to be along for the ride.
Coming in at number seven is….
Starring: Uma Thurman, Vivica A. Fox, and Lucy Liu
Kill Bill Vol. 1 is another fun movie. It’s not pointless, but until Vol. 2 comes along it might just as well be. It moves a lot faster than Death Proof, and the fight scenes are more engrossing than the car chases and crashes. Another plus for this movie is the Star Trek references; I’m a big fan. It’s more of an introductory film; it sets a lot of things in motion that won’t be fully played out until Vol. 2. As such, you can go along for the revenge ride without worrying too much. This one may be a bit more fun to just sit and watch, but the next one is where the emotion is.
Coming in at number six is….
Starring: Pam Grier, Samuel L Jackson, Robert Forster, and Robert De Niro
Jackie Brown is a more understated and less Tarantinoan Tarantino film. While this might be a problem for some, and indeed, it is the main reason it keeps it from being higher on the list, I really appreciated him reigning himself in a bit on this one. You can definitely still tell it’s his film though, no doubt about it. I love the title character, how she seems to be down and out but ends up winning in the end. I love the underplayed romance between Jackie and Max, and there are a lot of funny lines in this film. My biggest complaint is actually how De Niro is underused in this one. It’s De Niro and Tarantino; I wanted something more out of that. Other than that, it’s a real solid film. It’s long, but keeps you interested the whole time.
Coming in at number five is….
Starring: Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, and Steve Buscemi
Reservoir Dogs is Tarantino’s first film, and he already knows what he’s doing. He puts a great cast together and creates a heist gone wrong film with a great seventies feel. The soundtrack is one of the best, and the same goes for the hero. It’s far lower budget than his other films, which is understandable since it was his first. This is not a problem when taking it on it’s own terms, but I gotta have some way to narrow it down, right? The torture scene is legendary, and the ending is just as intense. He plays with the time frame here like he’s been doing it forever. But after all, he’s just getting started.
Coming in at number four is…
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L Jackson
This is where things get difficult. I really don’t know if I’m making the right call here; I could very well like this movie more than Kill Bill Vol. 2, but I’m just not prepared to commit myself I guess. This may even be my number two. I have a feeling I’m going to be shuffling these around next time Tarantino comes out with a film. For now I’m going with this though. Django is too dang long; I still think that. Not as vehemently as I did the first time around, but still. I really like the relationship between Django and Schultz; it’s fascinating from a social and historical standpoint as well as an emotional one. Something I couldn’t comment on the first time around is the romance though, and I think the love story here is really simplistic. Not bad necessarily, especially with all the other stuff you have going on here, but kind of like De Niro in Jackie Brown, I know Tarantino can give us more.
Coming in at number three is…
Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, and Daryl Hannah
Like I said before, this is really uncertain territory here, but I’m going with it for the time being. Vol. 2 is very satisfying, because she finally gets her revenge. It’s also very bittersweet though, because you get to hear the other side of the story. There’s a brief time in there where I just wanted everyone to get a long, but I was still fairly pleased with how everything turned out. I don’t think it has as many problems as Django has, but to be fair Tarantino is tackling a much easier story here. Do I honor ambition or achievement? It’s a hard call.
Coming in at number two is…
Starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, and Melanie Laurent
I’m more certain that this is actually my number two, but I’m still not one hundred percent. I really love this movie though, and I’ll admit Hans Landa is the main reason why. Also Fassbender’s character. For some reason, I’ve been wanting to rewatch this one more than the rest, so that ought to count for something. I still can’t handle the end though, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to. This is the first film where Tarantino tackles the rewriting history thing, and I think it’s a lot more straightforward here than in Django. I don’t know if that makes it better necessarily, but easier to digest from my standpoint anyway.
Coming in at number one….
Starring: Samuel L Jackson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, and Bruce Willis
I originally had kind of mixed feelings about Pulp Fiction, but as it went along I grew to love it. The last part was really what did it. There may be more ups and downs here, but the triumph at the end makes it all so much better. Jules Winnfield is now one of my favorite characters, and his arc is (sounds corny I know, but it’s true) really inspiring. My rankings for spots two through four might be messed up, but I got number one down pretty well I think.
So that’s that. I have a lot more Tarantino related rankings coming up on Wednesday on Thursday of this week, but for now I just have the films. It’s not perfect; at some point you just have to go with your gut even though you’re not one hundred percent sure. My number two through four spots are kind of uncertain, but the rest are solid I think. Any disagreements? Let me hear it; I’m ready.
It’s been a great ride through QT’s filmography, and though I’m not quite done yet I’m nearing the finish with the rest of the ranking I’m going to do. I can’t say how glad I am I did this. These are really good films, and I’m grateful to have this knowledge of them now. I can’t really say with any amount of confidence who my favorite director of all time is at this moment, but when the time comes Tarantino’s name will be in the discussion.