7. Kill Bill: Volume 2
Kill Bill: Volume 1 gets all the love, and it’s not right. Uma Thurman is a vengeful god in each. One movie or two, it doesn’t matter. They’re both great. They lovingly lay their heads on each other’s shoulders like endearing twins. This doesn’t mean they’re alike. Twins come in unidentical shapes and sizes. Both revel in the likes of their foremost inspiration—Lady Snowblood, its sequel, and the samurai genre as a whole—but Vol. 2 gets to take a more varied approach. It’s more calculated, more diverse in expression, more mature.
Seminal bloodbaths are traded for emotional conversations, yet Tarantino doesn’t sacrifice the ferocious action-violence that crowned Vol. 1. Little things like the black and white Golden Age Hollywood opening credits seep in and paint a broader stroke of Tarantino’s filmic nostalgia across the industry. And hell, it’s the only Kill Bill in which Bill is killed! How right that it comes at the literal hand of The Bride via Pai Mei’s five-point palm exploding heart technique. To disown Kill Bill Vol. 2 is to disown Kill Bill altogether. We might’ve bought tickets to two films, but they shared a soul from the beginning. (Luke Hicks)
6. Reservoir Dogs
Reservoir Dogs had an uncommonly long rehearsal period. Almost four weeks. As Harvey Keitel tells it, Tarantino originally thought about mounting the script as a play. I’m partial to films that remind me of stage plays. Films with economic stories, a focus on character, and dialogue that flows like a brook. Reservoir Dogs feels this way to me: contained, lean, and crackling. It’s a heist movie that isn’t really about the heist. We’re here to dig our nails into the aftermath of a screwed up stick-up; to watch a bunch of boys bleed and spit all over each other in a warehouse pointing all manner of guns and fingers.
The dying star about which the film turns is the notion that contrary to Keitel’s assurances to a squealing, backseat Tim Roth: not everyone in this gang is a fucking tough guy. They’re bluffers in over their heads with a heck of a lot to lose and heads too hot to bring their freight train to a slow. More than the sum of its mayhem, Reservoir Dogs tells of the best-laid-plans of hot shit men tripping over themselves to be noir heroes. The film has a palpable, contagious, and unapologetic enthusiasm that Tarantino has yet to recapture, perhaps, one suspects, because of the debut of it all. It’s bottled lightning. The “Greatest Independent Film of all Time.” And I don’t know about you, but I’d go over 12% for that. (Meg Shields)
5. Once Upon a Time In… Hollywood
“Baby, baby, baby, you’re out of time” imparts the voice of Mick Jagger as the sun sets over another day in Los Angeles. So begins the third act of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood. The Rolling Stones song has an especially mournful quality in Tarantino’s love letter to a bygone era. The 1960s are coming to a close and many people, including actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), are grappling with what that means. DiCaprio and Pitt are as good as they’ve ever been and some of the strongest points of the film feature subtle moments that cement our understanding of their characters’ affection for one another (think of the two sitting down to watch TV and comment on an episode Rick stars in — it’s a scene as endearing as they come).
As wonderful as DiCaprio and Pitt are, however, the star of the film and the dazzling heart of its story is Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate. Tarantino’s depiction of Sharon, coupled with the fact that Robbie plays her with a joie de vivre that bursts off the screen, is what truly elevates this film to a level of greatness. Our knowledge of Tate’s tragic death brings with it a sense of sorrow, but by allowing us to see her as a person and not a murder victim, Tarantino brings a plurality to our understanding of Sharon Tate that hasn’t existed in the last fifty years. I don’t think Tarantino has gone soft — he still has the same penchant for violent set-pieces — but he has found a certain sentimentality that sets this film apart from his oeuvre.
More than any of Tarantino’s other historical films, Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood is a melancholic and wistful imagining of a time and place that isn’t our own. His surprisingly thoughtful character constructions and his palpable affection for the time period provides the film with a sense of realism — or at least the closest Tarantino comes to realism. Either way, one gets the impression that this is probably the most nostalgia we’ll ever see from the filmmaker and it’s rather infectious. The 161-minute runtime somehow doesn’t feel like enough time spent with these characters in this world. We wish we could stay there longer; I imagine Tarantino does as well. Too bad we’re out of time. (Anna Swanson)
4. Kill Bill: Volume 1
Like many directors, Quentin Tarantino is often inspired and influenced by the films he grew up watching. In a way, Tarantino’s work is his way of showing his love for the array of movies that made him who he is as a director. Kill Bill Vol. 1, his fourth feature film and arguably his best work, is a film that defined his filmography for many fans. Originally intended to be a single film before being split into the first of two volumes, Kill Bill Vol. 1 is a love letter to the cinema of old. Paying homage to martial arts films, Spaghetti Westerns, Asian cinema, blaxploitation, Samurai cinema, and the animation medium, this is a Tarantino fantasy world come to life.
Ambushed by her former team of elite assassins on her wedding day, the driving force of Kill Bill‘s lead character, The Bride (Uma Thurman), is a motive not foreign to Tarantino films: Revenge. But what separates Vol. 1 from the rest of Tarantino’s revenge-themed work is the size of the spectacle. The Kill Bill series has the best action and fight choreography amongst his work, and with editing by the late Sally Menke and fight choreography by Yuen Woo-ping, best known for his work on Drunken Master, The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it is easy to see why. The Bride vs. The Crazy 88 is one of the most memorable scenes Tarantino has ever directed and the biggest homage to the films that inspired him. This action scene is so ambitious that it could easily be a stand-alone short movie, incorporating some of the best elements of Asian Cinema including Lone Wolf & Cub, Tokyo Drifter, Sanjuro, The Streetfighter, and Lady Snowblood. When the dust settles and the whole bloody affair of Tarantino’s filmography concludes, Kill Bill Vol. 1 will be hailed by the film audience as his action masterpiece. (Carl Broughton)