That most unique and curious of phenomena is upon us once more: a new Quentin Tarantino film. As The Hateful Eight hits cinemas nationwide, it seems like as a good a time as any to cast our eyes back over the man’s career so far and debate which of his films to date is worthy of being called his best.
For this task we have assembled three of our writers – Maddie Joint, Phil W. Bayles and Tom Bond – to fight the case for their favourite Tarantino film, with Patrick Taylor on moderator duties. Enjoy!
Phil: Inglourious Basterds is basically the purest Tarantino to date. There are elements of everything that makes him unique, but it’s all so much more refined. It’s like his career was leading up to that film.
It’s his best writing, the best performances, and (getting a bit meta) it’s like his love letter to cinema.
Maddie: For me, Jackie Brown is just the most nuanced and skilled film Tarantino has made – everything else that is great in his other films is topped by an equivalent in Jackie Brown. Jackie is cooler than the Bride, she’s more interesting and complex than any other character he’s made, the relationship between her and the detective is so real and adorable. It’s just so much more grown-up than his other films.
Tom: Both fantastic films, but only one Tarantino film changed the face of cinema, and that’s Pulp Fiction. Reservoir Dogs may have unleashed the unique QT mind onto the world, but Pulp Fiction is the film that he will truly be remembered by.
Only a mind like Tarantino’s could pull together such scattershot threads of life and death in LA and turn them into an epic tale full of so many instantly iconic moments.
Maddie: For having such a solid style I’m actually impressed by how different his films truly are; I think we’ve all ruled out Kill Bill for being too silly, but it is still pretty excellent – like the silliness is the style – and Reservoir Dogs is basically just his bottle episode. I think that Basterds is another offshoot that’s very interesting but doesn’t sum him up; it’s a weird experiment that he pulls off quite well but doesn’t have a lovely gritty world in the same way, and Pulp Fiction is, I feel, his Love Actually: it may be iconic, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best.
Phil: It’s funny, but I think that his iconic films ARE his best. Jackie Brown is a great film, but it doesn’t feel like a Tarantino film. If that makes sense?
Patrick: So do we think there’s a difference between the film which most epitomises him, and his best?
Phil: I don’t think there is, no. Tarantino is at his best when he leans into his style – the fast dialogue, the liberal borrowing of other cinematic elements… That’s the essence of him.
Tom: I’d say his style is pretty consistent. He has his hallmarks: verbose and entertaining small talk, extreme violence. All of those are present to some degree in all his films. The thing is, aside from Pulp Fiction and snippets of Kill Bill, he doesn’t really innovate that much. He just does what he does very well. I love Pulp Fiction because it has all the classic QT ingredients, but it does something fresh with them.
Maddie: I’d say Jackie Brown has aged, in that it almost feels like a period piece, but in a very realistic way. In Basterds I love the shock of when they actually kill Hitler, but it was almost distracting thinking ‘well I know they’re not going to kill Hitler because that’s not how it happened!’
Tom: I am a fan of Jackie Brown. It’s definitely the black sheep of the family in that it doesn’t really feel like it was made by Tarantino. It’s a lot calmer, a lot more measured, a lot more human really.
Pam Grier and Robert Forster are both sensational in it. Their relationship is what powers the film. De Niro and Jackson are minor diversions. All that said and done though, it’s a little forgettable. Something you definitely can’t say about any other film he’s made.
Maddie: No waaaaay. I mean, it doesn’t smack you round the face every twenty seconds but it’s got so much more style and skill. I think it feels like the only one of his films that someone else couldn’t have made. Jackie Brown has a real sense of being grounded in the ’70s and those exploitation detective films but jerked into a morality we can connect with. It may not be the most Tarantino, but it’s his best-constructed and best-shot narrative. The actors are given so much room to just be their characters.
I think after that point it’s like a kid throwing ideas at the screen that don’t necessarily serve a narrative.
Tom: I don’t think you’d be able to pick Jackie Brown out of a lineup as a Tarantino film. And that’s not a slight. It’s a great film; it just doesn’t feel like him. I think he has definitely become more ambitious. The greatest moments in Kill Bill, Inglourious, Django, are all better than most of Jackie Brown.
Maddie: I last watched Jackie Brown five years ago and it still sticks with me. Showing the same scene from three different angles in the finale is so memorable, but it never feels like a gimmick – more an intentional need to tell the story well.
Jackie Brown isn’t about moments, though it has them, because it builds so amazingly to that final scene. Its best moments are possibly less agreeable so I think it gets shot down a bit. It’s not carving a swastika into a Nazi or blowing up a white slaver, it’s De Niro losing his rag in a parking lot ’cause he can’t find his car. It’s so brutal that you can’t enjoy the ultraviolence in the same way you do in his other films, but the moments are still there and I think they end up meaning more.
Patrick: Is that almost it, the others are comprised of moments? Whereas Jackie Brown is a complete film?
Tom: It feels that way a little Patrick, but I think it’s just because those certain moments have become so iconic. Take just Pulp Fiction: you’ve got the dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, the sex dungeon scene, Jules quoting Ezekiel 25:17, “Oh man, I just shot Marvin in the face”… I really could go on. But the rest of the film surrounding those moments is equally superb. Look before the dance contest and you’ve got the brilliant ‘I hate awkward silences’ conversation. Look after Marvin gets shot in the face and you’ve got the scene-stealing arrival of Winston Wolfe. If Pulp Fiction is just a film of moments, then there are a hell of a lot of them to choose from.
Phil: I’d argue the same about Inglourious Basterds. It’s a film full of moments, sure, but they’re so perfectly constructed.
I would rank the farm scene as the greatest thing Tarantino has ever done. It’s perfectly written, perfectly paced, and what can be said about Christoph Waltz that hasn’t already been said?
And what’s amazing is the amount of variety in all the scenes when you consider how similar they are in setup. The scene in the bar, the tension of the theatre, it’s all variations on ‘Hans Landa knows more than he’s letting on’ but the tension never ever lets up. Few people could carry that off over such a long period of time.
Tom: I think one thing worth noting is that Tarantino has improved immeasurably as a writer over the years. The final hour of Django is a masterpiece of raw tension (barring Tarantino’s own appearance).
Maddie: That’s really interesting Tom, ’cause I think the last hour of Django really meanders.
Tom: Really? I’m thinking of pretty much the point where they all arrive at Candieland onwards. The stakes are so high, and the various hidden identities and motivations all unfold so excruciatingly well. The final bloodbath is a bit divisive, but I don’t think you can argue with the quality in the preceding scenes.
Phil: Waltz knocks it out of the park. It’s so measured, so calm. Like Christopher Lee as Dracula, a clear visage with this monster lurking underneath.
And I think using Germany and France as settings in Basterds highlights the universality of Tarantino’s writing.
Maddie: I actually love Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill too, when she’s blind and she’s literally rage incarnate.
Tom: Waltz had a good run. Should have retired after Django. Yes, please let’s talk about Kill Bill, because that was nearly my choice.
Phil: It should have been a single film. I love both, don’t get me wrong, but apart from the final scenes with Bill there’s not enough to Vol. 2 to warrant it being a full-fledged sequel.
Maddie: I prefer Vol. 2 but I feel like it’s for the same reasons we’ve been debating around Jackie Brown – other than the dreadful ending it’s a more adult film. I do love Vol. 1, it just feels a little messy sometimes (in more ways than one).
Tom: I think that’s its problem. The quality over two films is a tad patchy, but as a whole it’s magnificent. There’s proof in the fact I struggled to decide which I would have chosen. But I think the Bride is his best creation. The whole logline of her story is just genius. A pregnant assassin left for dead on her wedding day. It sounds a little ridiculous written down like that but Tarantino and Uma Thurman really sell it.
You feel the force of her vengeance like a hurricane and you’re willing her to get the justice she deserves every step of the way.
Phil: And isn’t that just Tarantino in a nutshell? Nobody else could make such a silly premise work, but he creates one of the most awesome female characters in cinematic history.
Maddie: I do think a lot of credit goes to Thurman there, she just forces this weird foot fetish character into a human shape that’s phenomenal. But the rage is this thread that runs right through the film and keeps it together. That’s almost why it falls apart so quickly – the second she finds out her daughter is alive some of that rage dies and it’s like the wind dies for the film.
Phil: I think that your answer to the question “What is your favourite Tarantino movie?” relies on your answer to the question “How do you define Quentin Tarantino as a director?”
To me, he’s a director who first and foremost loves cinema. And that’s why I love Inglourious Basterds so much. It’s a great piece of film in its own right, but it’s also a film about the power of cinema as a propaganda tool and a force for good. And, again, Christoph Waltz.
Maddie: Personally, I think your favourite depends on your favourite of Tarantino’s three branches: his ultraviolences; his alternate histories; and what are really his gangster movies, maybe you’d call them ‘crime films’. I would still say that Jackie Brown doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. It combines a great female heroine, a woman of colour no less, and a great story, with interesting storytelling techniques and weird moments of comedy around the violence, and the best love story he’s ever told. It’s got my heart with it.
Tom: Tarantino is a rare beast. He’s a consistently excellent filmmaker with a writing voice and a directing style like no other. I love all his films, but for me Pulp Fiction is still the height of his genius. Even aside from the game-changing structural hijinks, the entertainment value is unparalleled. It’s got instantly iconic characters like Jules and Vincent, alongside Mrs Mia Wallace, Butch and Ringo.
It also feels like there’s a point to the film, unlike some of his other works. His message is about how thin the line between life and death is, how one wrong turning or a five-second delay could save or lose you your life. And he delivers that slightly preachy message in the most incredibly entertaining way possible. Most filmmakers would kill to have made five minutes of Pulp Fiction. He made the whole thing.
That concludes our debate on Quentin Tarantino’s best film. What do you think? Have your say in the comments below.