Friday, January 8, 2016

Sidebar: A quick ranking of Quentin Tarantino's films

The Hateful Eight is quoted in the poster as QT's eight film.  It obviously discounts any of the films he wrote the script for but didn't direct (From Dusk 'Til Dawn, Natural Born Killers, and True Romance) and it seems to ignore Four Rooms since that was an anthology, as well as counting Kill Bill as one movie (since it was the Weinstein's decision to split it in twain).

So let's list them all out in my preferred order (with any of his written or anthology efforts getting a .5 ranking where they fall)

1. Pulp Fiction (1994)
The film that spawned a thousand imitators that couldn't even come close.  Still utterly unique, a masterful blend of 1930's noir, 70's pastiche and 90's "extreme", with a soundtrack that made soundtracks cool again and a script I still regularly quote from.

2. Kill Bill (2003/2004)

Surprisingly, for as much as I love it, I don't own a copy.  I'm still waiting for the two halves to be joined as the director intended.  Back in the mid-1990's, in part championed by QT, America was introduced to Jackie Chan, John Woo, wuxia and the whole genre of "Asian Action".  Adopting aspects of those film styles into his own common formula, QT created a unique but potent Americanization of the genre tropes packed into an epic Western-style revenge fantasy

3. Django Unchained (2012)
QT had been dabbling with western tropes for some time, with Kill Bill and even From Dusk 'Til Dawn, but this is his first.  But as much as it toys with Western tropes, it goes on further to pull from the near-forgotten slavery subgenre of 70's Blacksploitation pictures, delving deep into America's incredibly racist past (reflecting somewhat on its still very racist present), and providing an incredible catharsis for that seemingly perpetually percolating (and justified) angst.

4. Inglorious Basterds (2009)
 Yet another part of QT's "revenge" cycle, this time the director tackles World War II as a band of Jewish soldiers make a mission out of revenge attacks on the Nazis.  It's his most visually stunning film to date, and full of incredible peaks of tension.  It notably toys with reality with its denouement but is all the more satisfying for it.

5. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Basically the template for all QT films to come... great soundtrack, out-of-step dialogue, shocking violence all within a normally well-tread subgenre.   As a teenager this was, next to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, one of the first word-of-mouth experiences where more and more people started talking about it.  I didn't see it until after Pulp Fiction, but then I saw it *right* after Pulp Fiction.

6. Jackie Brown (1997)
Based on an Elmore Leonard novel, if this doesn't rank as high in QT's oeuvre it's not for lack of being an excellent film, but more to do with not being the purest QT movie of the bunch.  As a result of being an adaptation it loses some of the more famous QT elements, and winds up a bit more of a steeping experience than a roiling boil of one.

 - 6.5 - From Dusk 'Til Dawn (1996)
 This was the first collaboration between QT and Robert Rodriguez, two very different directors sharing an eerily sympatico mindset.  Rodriguez's fast and loose style shouldn't compliment QT's meticulousness as much as it does here, and it works incredibly well.  A two act film that starts out as a Cape Fear-style dramatic thriller and winds up a schlocky, bloody monster movie with an incredibly game cast who navigate the transition perfectly.  It's a fun ride, but feels kind of low brow compared to most of QTs output (staging much of the film in a Mexican strip club will do that).

7. The Hateful Eight (2015)
 As mentioned in my review it's not a bad movie by any stretch, but it's not as focused nor as rewarding or outright enjoyable as most of QT's earlier efforts.  The second act starts to run out of steam when it should be revving up towards the finish. 

 - 7.5 - True Romance (1993)
Director Tony Scott does an excellent job of making a Tony Scott film out of a QT script.  Had this been a QT directed feature it would likely rank a few more notches higher on the rankings.  It's a tremendously enjoyable movie, but I can see the cast being somewhat different, the soundtrack being quite different, and the look of it in a 1970's style instead of Scott's neon-'90's aesthetic.

8. Death Proof (2007)
I don't want to say this is QT's worst film, so let's just say it's not his best.  As part of his unprofitable Grindhouse double-feature experience with Robert Rodriguez, Death Proof feels like the one-note endeavour that it's actually meant to be.  It's a 70's schlock movie done through QT's lens, focusing on the 70's fascination with muscle cars as machines of murder.  The delicious table flipping makes this a film a worthwhile watch every time, but as far as QT's pictures go, this is just the thinnest entry, such that one could often forget it was even there.

 - 8.5 - Four Rooms (1995)
An anthology of four loosely connected films set in a single hotel, QT's entry comes in after shorts from Robert Rodriguez, Allison Anders, and Alexandre Rockwell.  Something in general just doesn't work about this anthology, whether it's the setting that's holding its storytellers back or Tim Roth's virtually intolerable bellhop as the connecting thread, I can't say.  QT's entry feels kind of tossed off, as an example of the kind of dialogue writing he can do in his sleep (and still be more impressive than almost every other screenwriter out there), but it does have an experimental charm, as if QT pushed himself into making something quickly (and doesn't care for it).

nil - Natural Born Killers (1994)
Both Tony Scott and Robert Rodriguez both managed to direct QT scripts and make the films their own, but in doing so showed that they understood the script they were shooting.  It's evident Oliver Stone went into Natural Born Killers assuming he understood it, and came out so far off the mark producing one of the most distasteful, aggravating, and unwatchable films of the 90's.  Where it's supposed to be a commentary on the preoccupation with violence in the media, it simply becomes a celebration of violence in the media.  It's attempts at creative flourishes create a headache-inducing, manic picture that seems to aim to sicken its audience if not through its misguided storytelling than its ugly, awful aesthetic.  Just one of the worst experiences I've ever had in the theatre.