Worst to Best
Quentin Tarantino Movies

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6 The Hateful
Eight (2015)

The Hateful Eight secures a relatively low position not because it's a bad film, but because it suffers from the law of depreciating returns. There's still much to like here, and Quentin is still capable of crafting left-field dialogue choices like "You seem to have a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to hats". But, as the concept originally started out as a novel sequel to Django Unchained, it can seem a little familiar.
     The set-up is strong, not to say bold: the majority of the 167 minute runtime is in a single location, with the pace never flagging. But once the intricate set up has been revealed, the resolution is surprisingly pedestrian. There's also a slight "greatest hits" about the whole venture, from Samuel L Jackson getting his show-stealing monologues, down to an overt fascination with female violence and overuse of racial insults. Of this latter issue, then it's notable that other races enter the movie without any racial slurs applied against them, only Jackson receiving yet more variations on the N word. Such selective prejudices, and modern speech patterns, do suggest that Tarantino uses the word not for historical accuracy, but because it's "cool".

5 Django

Tarantino's most commercially successful film, with a box office haul of $425.4 million. However, the picture also contained his largest budget of $100 million, so it can't compete with the returns from Pulp Fiction, breaking $200 million on just an $8.5m production investment. It perhaps speaks of the indulgence of Tarantino at this stage in his career that Pulp Fiction - a film which contained three separate interlinked stories - was over ten minutes shorter than this straightforward, linear narrative tale. That, and the fact that he gives himself a role as an "Australian" slave trader.
     One frequent and valid criticism of Tarantino's work is that he often has nothing to say, and that his movies exist purely as entertainments. This is especially notable here, where the very emotive subject of slavery, including whippings, is placed in the context of a Blaxploitation revenge fantasy, complete with pop songs. Unlike Inglourious Basterds, which attempted to rewrite history with some wit and invention, this is far too straightforward a depiction to be anything other than offensive.
     Adding to this is the use of the N-word more than a hundred times (39 of its usages by Jamie Foxx and Samuel L Jackson), a worryingly recurring motif by Tarantino, who indulges in such matters without due consideration. A film-maker with an obsession with films, it seems nothing matters outside of the cinema screen, with the director noting in an interview with Vulture.com, that controversy was there to inspire him, as "it always ends up being gasoline to my fire."

4 Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Tarantino's professional debut often feels like an aberration in hindsight. While containing grandstanding monologues, pop culture referencing and easter egg connections with Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs essentially tells a story with no excess. Coming in at just 95 minutes, although the dialogue is trademark verbose, it's also semi-realistic, as opposed to hyper-realistic.
     Tarantino always likes to play games with intertextual referencing, and, while connections between this film and Kubrick's 1956 heist movie The Killing are mild, it's almost undeniable that certain scenes and situations are lifted from the 1987 gangster film City On Fire. While the 10 minute semi-serious short Who Do You Think You're Fooling? perhaps exaggerates, for comic effect, the "lifts" from the Cantonese movie, it's extremely unlikely that Tarantino had never seen it, with most of the "homages", to put it politely, occurring in the final act. The film isn't, as some suggest, a "scene by scene" remake, and it's the dialogue - a little clunkier and more functional than in later Tarantino scripts - that make it stand out. The only real sore point is that Tarantino isn't on record as admitting this particular act of magpie artistry, blurring the difference between sly steal and intentional homage.
     There is a slightly bleak, nihilistic tone to the film, with lives counting for nothing, and the whole enterprise, while well put together, is the director's "coldest" film, lacking true connection or warmth. This said, a story about a botched robbery that leads to multiple murders isn't intended to be a calming venture, so this is criticising the film what it isn't, rather than what it actually is.
     Perhaps the only real misstep is Quentin casting himself as the minor "Dog", Mr. Brown. However, it could have been worse... he originally wanted to play Steve Buscemi's role of Mr. Pink, before Harvey Keitel, who became co-producer, expressed reluctance. Tarantino is a very good, probably even great, writer and film director. But as an actor he threatens to derail every one of his movies whenever he appears in them, and seemingly doesn't realise that in Pulp Fiction it's his acting, not the taste of the coffee. In an astonishing lack of self-awareness, Quentin tells a tale of saying to Buscemi that he had to "take" the part from him, to deliver an audition so good it would eclipse Tarantino's own acting... surely one of the labours of Hercules.

3 Jackie Brown (1997)

If there's one word that's not in Tarantino's lexicon, it's restraint. Jackie Brown, based on the Elmore Leonard novel "Rum Punch", bucks this trend by offering a slow-paced treatise on the nature of growing old. Out of the main cast, three of the four players were nearing or in their 50s, and ruminations of lives unfulfilled is what fills the screentime. Robert DeNiro is largely wasted in a non-showy role, and Samuel L. Jackson's final line to him seems drenched with self-aware poignancy: "What the fuck happened to you, man? Your ass used to be beautiful." However, it's worth remembering that this was just a couple of years on from Heat and Casino and his long slide into forgettable movies like Dirty Grandpa was yet to begin.
     As a much-anticipated follow up to Pulp Fiction, this was a daring film for Tarantino to make, and, in many senses, his best, certainly his most adult. It's a picture that takes time to reflect, and the tricksy time-bending is discarded, save for one money switch sequence that briefly gets shown from three points of view. It's also his least violent film, one that has shootings happen largely off screen, and acknowledges that violence is a part of the world it inhabits, rather than revelling in it for its own sake.

2 Inglourious
Basterds (2009)

An alternate history feature whereby a gang of Jews get to assassinate Hitler, this is a spectacular return to form, one cockily acknowledged by Brad Pitt's knowing final line of dialogue: "I think this just might be my masterpiece." Supporting actor Christoph Waltz had been in the industry for over thirty years, largely in German films, but his breakout Hollywood role here saw him win an Oscar, a feat he repeated with Django Unchained. Waltz manages to make a Nazi officer amusing throughout, and even in the moments where you can see the payoff coming - such as the Italian sequence - his comic timing rewards.
     One thing that can't be denied about Quentin Tarantino is how much he genuinely loves movies. It's to his credit here that he's able to get mainstream audiences to sit through a film that includes extended sequences of subtitled French, German and Italian dialogue, a fine way to introduce foreign language cinema to an audience that perhaps wouldn't normally chose to watch it.
     Another of his great strengths is the use of suspense. This isn't Hitchcockian suspense, where we'll be aware a murder weapon is in the room, or a body in a trunk, but the knowledge that every extended dialogue sequence is a prelude to an outbreak of violence. It's a common trope of the director's, and in some of his other works - most notably the ones that are lower in this ranking - it can feel loose and indulgent. But Inglourious Basterds has a tautness to the script, wherein all the characters are playing games with one another, their verbal exchanges almost a dance, as one character knows information that the other tries to conceal, and toys with them to illicit a confession.

1 Pulp Fiction (1994)

The ultimate Tarantino experience, from the self-indulgent pop culture referencing, the most time-bending narrative he ever did, and the heavily "written", deliberately artificial dialogue. This is the film that truly elevated him into popular culture, and the years that followed saw a glut of homages and cheap knock-offs.
     As this article is only here to look back over Tarantino as director, it hasn't looked at any of the films which he wrote and sold for others to direct earlier in his career. So Tarantino's True Romance (1993, directed by Tony Scott and would have ranked highly in this list) is skipped, along with the less successful Natural Born Killers (1994, directed and heavily rewritten by Oliver Stone and a team of writers) and From Dusk Till Dawn, the fun 1996 vampire tale which his friend Robert Rodriguez directed and Quentin acted in. This discussion of his writing work is particularly relevant here, as Pulp Fiction is the one where another writer, Roger Avary, is credited. How much involvement Avary actually had, and whether he was involved in other early Tarantino movies, is open to debate. Certainly, while Avary never went on to achieve the same level of success as his old partner, it can be argued that Tarantino also never reached the same peaks after their split.
     Pulp Fiction is almost exclusively the reason why this article has taken so long to be completed: it's far easier to critique something than explain why something is so admired. Pulp Fiction is the one with the clever time-bending, the 1950s restaurant, the too-quotable dialogue, the awkwardly inappropriate gimp sequence and a heart-starting needle scene. It might not be especially deep, but it's a film so good it rewards rewatching. Cockily stylish and self-consciously post-modern, it's the small budget indie movie that brought in over 25 times its budget and forever put Tarantino on the map.

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