With the release of his new film, “The Hateful Eight,” it is time to look upon the illustrious career of one of the world’s most beloved and unconventional film directors, Quentin Tarantino. Since the 1990s, Tarantino has taken what most of us think of traditional cinema and flipped it on its head, using his unique style of writing and direction that often contains heavy swearing, pop culture referencing dialogue, tons of gore, distinct cinematography, and over-the-top situations, to make some of the most well-known and memorable movies of all time. And now with his filmography possibly coming to an end (the director has stated that he only plans to make 10 movies with “The Hateful Eight” being his eighth), it is time to see which of Tarantino’s work truly stands out from the crowd.
- Reservoir Dogs (1992)
One of the most influential and beloved independent films of all time, “Reservoir Dogs” is Quentin Tarantino’s directorial debut and still holds up as one of his best, even after 20 years. Following the story of a group of well-dressed criminals who perform a diamond heist, the audience, as well as our group of criminals, must figure out who is “the rat” who called the police on them during the crime. The movie’s strongest point is in its execution. Due to a small budget of a little over $1 million, Tarantino had to get creative in how he would present the story and its situations. Fortunately, he achieves this by not actually showing some of the events that occur and allowing the audience to make a picture in their heads on how it all went down while balancing it with some snappy dialogue, engaging characters, and simplistic sequences that range from darkly comedic to gut-wrenchingly tense.
- Inglorious Basterds (2009)
While it may not be one of Tarantino’s most recognizable films to the general public, to fans and critics alike, this dark comedy war masterpiece is one of the director’s finest works. Taking place in France during WWII, “Basterds” concerns a group of American Jews known as The Basterds whose main goal is to end the reign of the Nazis by hunting down as many as they can and slaughtering them one by one. The team soon makes an ultimate plan to take down the Nazis once and for all when a German propaganda movie premiere takes place in a cinema full of Nazis, including the infamous Adolf Hitler, himself. There is also a side story of a Jewish girl named Shosanna who owns the cinema and is also planning to burn down the entire theater with every Nazi in it in order to get bloody revenge for the murder of her family. Perfectly over-the-top and delectably written, the film took Tarantino 10 years to write. The director considers it his magnum opus, and with good reason. Outside of the spicy writing and pop culture heavy dialogue, the film is brilliantly acted with Brad Pitt leading the team as the head of the Basterds as Lt. Aldo “Apache” Raine, Eli Roth as the hot-headed, cocky Sergeant Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz, Melanie Laurent as the fire-eyed Shosanna Dreyfus, and too many others to name. However, the stand-out performance belongs to none other than the film’s main antagonist, Colonel Hans Landa, portrayed to perfection by the outstanding Christoph Waltz, who would go on to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as the cold-hearted and calculating Jew hunter. With a heaping amount of action and insane over-the-top hijinks, “Inglorious Basterds” serves up one of Tarantino’s most energetic and fun offerings to date.
- Kill Bill (2003-2004)
One of the most acclaimed action films of the 2000s, the “Kill Bill” saga is a tale of love, loss, and cold-stone revenge. Split into two volumes, the story follows The Bride, who, after being left for dead at her wedding rehearsal and having her fiancée, friends, and unborn child killed, comes out of a four year coma and goes on a bloody rampage to take down each member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. The Bride was formerly a part of the group responsible for committing the murders and the action all leads up to her confronting the infamous Bill. Possibly Tarantino’s most inspired work, the film contains elements from several genres from spaghetti westerns to 1970s kung-fu action and even blaxploitation movies, yet still has plenty of the charm and trademarks that are distinctly those of a Tarantino fun fest. What doesn’t this movie have? We get action sequences that are fun, creative, over-the-top, and well-choreographed, dialogue that builds tension and cleverly delivers exposition, some killer performances, particularly by Uma Thurman who plays The Bride, Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii, and David Carradine as Bill, and one of the most recognizable and beautiful scores in film history. With all of this, and so much more, “Kill Bill” makes for one killer time (no pun intended).
- Django Unchained (2012)
Considered by many to be one of the best films of the 2010s so far, Tarantino dives into straight up Spaghetti western territory with this blood-splattered masterpiece. Taking place two years before the Civil War, a former slave named Django Freeman, is freed by the German bounty hunter, Dr. King Schlutz, to go and hunt down three bandits who only Django is able to recognize. The duo then go on a quest to free Django’s enslaved wife from the sinister Calvin Candie and from there, we have one of the most exciting, hilarious, and gripping tales the director has ever fleshed out on the screen. Tarantino’s most expensive film to date, the movie has possibly the best look to any of his work, with absolutely stunning cinematography that truly helps captures the mood of the settings and gives the film a particular stylization never quite achieved in any of his other work. But like any good Tarantino film, there is definitely plenty of substance to go with the style. The screenplay is extremely well-written (winning Tarantino’s second Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay) with dialogue that will send shivers up your spine every time you watch it. Tarantino is challenging himself by placing the story in a setting with no pop culture references to make, and succeeds by cleverly writing characters who perfectly capture the personalities of people at the time, while still making their personalities distinct and memorable. However, these characters would be nothing without the insanely extraordinary performances given by just about everyone involved, from Jamie Foxx’s silent yet extremely badass portrayal of the titular character, Leonardo DiCaprio as the grotesquely disgusting and psychotic slave owner, Calvin Candie, and Samuel L. Jackson who plays possibly the most unique role in the film as a slave owned by Candie named Stephen, who possibly turns out to be more sick and cruel than any character in the movie. However, the star who steals the show, yet again, is Christoph Waltz, in another Oscar-winning performance as Dr. King Schultz, the charismatic and calculating bounty hunter who always has something up his sleeve and constantly gets the duo out of trouble in several creative and hilarious ways. “Django Unchained” is truly a fun-filled and entertaining joy ride with plenty of blood, action, dark humor and terrific performances, all worthy of the title a modern-day classic.
- Pulp Fiction (1994)
The movie that changed the concept of storytelling, characters, and screenwriting forever, “Pulp Fiction” is not only considered to Quentin Tarantino’s best work but is widely considered to be one of the best films ever made. Told in a cleverly executed non-linear style, the film follows the lives of several characters including a couple of hitmen (played by Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta), a cocaine-sniffing woman (played by Uma Thurman), a restaurant-robbing couple (played by Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer), and an on-the-run boxer (played by Bruce Willis), who are all connected to the mysterious and powerful crime boss, Marcellus Wallace. While sounding simple and rather bland, the film is anything but, as it gives us the ultimate character-driven story. The characters truly make this movie and are all executed with a greater sense of realism and grit than most other Tarantino characters, and the film is directed and written with a somewhat more mature tone than most of Tarantino’s other works, earning the director his first Academy Award for Original Screenplay. The performances are fun to watch and memorable, with Samuel L. Jackson stealing the show as our favorite bible-spewing and burger loving hitman, Jules Winnfield along with other charismatic and entertaining performances given by John Travolta as Vincent Vega and, my personal favorite character in the film, Uma Thurman as the fun-loving and extremely spunky Mia Wallace. The movie is also executed in possibly the best use of a non-linear style for any film, keeping the audience interested in piecing together each part to make the story complete. It also contains some of the most memorable scenes and quotes in movie history, from Jules’ aggressive interrogation of Brett to the robbery in the café to the “Bonnie situation” where Jules and Vincent must figure out how to get rid of a body to the single greatest twist dance scene ever and so much more. With writing, direction, acting, and execution that no movie has ever, or will ever likely, match, “Pulp Fiction” is the movie that made Tarantino’s name one among the legends of cinema.