ST. LOUIS — No one packs a film with intent and purpose like Quentin Tarantino. Since his debut in 1992, he's only made nine films. Well, ten films technically, but we will get to that later in this column.
With Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood out this month, it's a good time to look back at the Knoxville, Tennessee native's body of work that should count among Hollywood's finest creators as top tier. Why? Tarantino hasn't made a bad film yet. If you look at this list and wonder why a film is at the bottom, don't think it's due to the fact that the quality is purely remote. It's simply the least of Tarantino's films. Think of it as looking at a line of filet mignons and pointing at the one with the least amount of red.
He doesn't phone one in, take a paycheck, or make a film that looks like it was born next to a warm can of sprite. Let's pop the hood and see how the bodies are arranged in this movie trunk.
10) Jackie Brown
Once again, don't think of this as a put-down. Think of this as a film not living up well next to the others. Point blank, I didn't love Pam Greer's character in the film. She wasn't an interesting protagonist. The good stuff was Robert Forster as aging romantic bonds clerk, the interplay between Robert De Niro and Samuel L. Jackson, and hilarious turns from Michael Keaton and Dennis Farina. I personally wanted to strangle Bridget Fonda's character. Overall, the film was uneven, couldn't decide on a mood, and tried too hard to be cool.
9) Django Unchained
Trim an hour off this thing and it's a masterpiece. The middle hour is so drawn out, boring, and quite frankly, sleep-inducing. When they get to Leonardo DiCaprio's psycho slave owner's ranch, the film truly picks up and becomes a riot. Before then, it's bloat city up in this cinematic oven. Sometimes, a film doesn't have to be three hours.
8) Death Proof
I call this a Red Bull of a film. Quick, surging, and worthwhile for the running time while being fairly forgettable after the credits begin. Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, terrorizing women with his car until he runs into three ladies who mean business, including the maverick, Zoe Bell. It's a wild ride and quite fun. Lean and mean with the running time.
7) Hateful Eight
The dialogue zings, but the pacing zags terribly here. The cast is deliciously violent with their actions and words, but parts of this film just feel overstuffed and slow moving. I get that stories have to boil, but I was so ready for Channing Tatum to show up and start pulling the trigger. This is some of Jackson's best work, though. And Jennifer Jason Leigh was terrific.
6) Kill Bill: Volume 1
Yes, I am separating the two volumes. No offense to Tarantino, who sliced them into two parts yet tried to stitch them back together years later. The first part is all set up, showing you how Uma Thurman's avenging Beatrix came to be in her current dilemma: trying to kill her husband and all his associates. The film's comic book feel and raging dialogue speaks to Tarantino's strengths as a filmmaking artist, but the overall product pales in comparison to its dynamic second half and finale.
5) Inglorious Basterds
Here's a film full of great moments and scenes, but overall one that is imperfect. Brad Pitt is a hoot and Christoph Waltz steals the film as a quietly malicious SS officer, but like Hateful and Django, this one could have used some trimming. The two scenes to never forget are the French farmhouse interrogation and the tavern showdown between the Basterds and the German officers. This is a very good movie, so don't take the midway placing as a true hindering on its quality.
4) Reservoir Dogs
Arguably Tarantino's best script, this debut stands the test of time as a heart-racing yet meditative odyssey into the mind of a band of criminals who have been infiltrated by a cop yet don't even know it. Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth drive the engine, but Michael Madsen and Steve Buscemi steal the show. Madsen's Mr. Blonde stands as one of cinema's most sadistic bad guys, and no "Chicago Fire" can hold this very funny and very gory tale from holding up.
3) Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
It took two viewings to properly digest all the flavors that Tarantino was serving in his latest, but this heartfelt and rather relaxed ode to Old Hollywood is a near-masterpiece. There's so much to savor here: the soulful camaraderie between DiCaprio's Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth, who have been snake-bit by an unforgiving industry; Pitt's effortless portrayal of a dying breed; the wickedly classy production design; the re-wiring of history of the finale. This is Tarantino's most personal film and one of his most philosophical. I'll see this hypnotic movie blend again very soon.
Side Note: Oddly enough, Russell and Bell play spouses here, after playing enemies in Death Proof. Nice one, Quentin.
2) Kill Bill: Volume 2
David Carradine's amazing speech, where he compares Thurman's avenger to Superman/Clark Kent, is reason enough to place high on this list-and stand among the best scenes of all time. Overall, though, this second part was a rocking rush of a film from start to finish. The snakes, the coffin, the kid, and the final showdown. Four hours deserves a payoff, and this film brought it.
1) Pulp Fiction
A pure masterpiece. A film where Tarantino's writing and directing merged into one smooth lane of filmmaking. Bruce Willis' best work, John Travolta's comeback rage, and still Jackson's finest hour. This was a film that dozens of filmmakers tried to copy for the next 20 years. You left wanting more of these characters and felt bad when they were taken out. The cast was tremendous, all the way down to Eric Stoltz's drug dealer and Amanda Plummer's crazy diner robber. 25 years later, it holds up strong. Go watch it.
No, Four Rooms doesn't count because it was only part of a film's construction. He wrote From Dusk Til Dawn and True Romance (sits next to Dogs as his best script), so they don't count.
You won't find a bad movie on his resume, the mark of a creator who knew exactly what he was doing and had goals. If his Star Trek film is the last film, he'll go out on a bold and very high note.
Now, go watch some movies. I command you.