Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of the post. But first, this week's question:
Q: In honor of this week's release of "Django Unchained," what is Quentin Tarantino's best film?
The critics' answers:
"For Quentin Tarantino's best — well, best or not, my favorite is still 'Jackie Brown;' interestingly, I spoke to Samuel L. Jackson recently and it's his favorite too ('It's about adults') and the one QT film he'd choose, even over 'Pulp Fiction,' to put in his own best-of box. But interestingly, I don't think it's Tarantino's favorite; all the films he's made since then have been much more pop-culture driven (and, I'd argue, more about other movies than about people)."
"I honestly think it may be 'Django Unchained' (although comparing Tarantino films is like comparing apples with afros to samurai sword-wielding oranges). Having so much of his canon dusted in Western influence (and even scored by Ennio Morricone), seeing Tarantino now be able to unholster his love for this genre is akin to watching Jackson Pollock slop calculated paint strokes all over a canvas — if that paint was blood, his paint brush was Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz, and his canvas was the Old West."
"In 'Django Unchained,' Tarantino doesn't stop with parody and reaches an unprecedented emotional depth. With his best film by far, he shows splendid maturation as a filmmaker, challenges himself and the audience, and goes where films such as 'Lincoln' fear to tread. Spielberg does not want to shock, whereas Tarantino lifts the dusty veils leading up to the bloodiest period in history on American soil. The movie's comedic exaggerations, and the gallons of spilled red (so clearly not blood as though to illustrate the famous Godard quote) deliver us to serious issues on violence, a half deleted past, the nature of torture, and an uncomfortable place where prejudice meets boredom, indifference equals terror and enjoyment of the unspeakable reigns supreme."
"I have a 'reverse 'Star Trek'' rule when it comes to QT. Not counting his segments in 'Four Rooms' and 'Sin City,' the odd-numbered ones are the best: 'Reservoir Dogs,' 'Jackie Brown,' 'Kill Bill 2,' 'Inglourious Basterds' — while the even-numbered ones have a tendency to be overblown and full of themselves: 'Pulp Fiction,' 'Kill Bill 1,' 'Death Proof,' Django Unchained.' It's like he regularly has to get the excess out of his system so he can do a more personal story next. Right now I'm going to say 'Inglourious Basterds' is the best — it captures the art of interrogation so well, has plenty of humor, and its nods to film history aren't so gratuitous that they take you out of the story (see: 'Zatoichi' reference in 'Death Proof')."
"'Jackie Brown.' Accept no substitutes."
"'Pulp Fiction.' I suppose this is the most clichéd choice, but I think it’s the closest Tarantino has come to perfection. I find that his recent films rely too heavily on making his influences aggressively obvious, even movies I greatly enjoyed, like 'Inglourious Basterds' and 'Django Unchained.' 'Pulp Fiction' is referential to Tarantino’s favorite films and songs, and is plenty indulgent, yet it’s never felt distracting. Each sequence is thrilling, witty, and intelligent, offering a modern, darkly comic take on some of the oldest B-movie genres, from the boxing picture to gangster sagas. And, as I’m sure many people will make specific mention of his work in 'Django Unchained,' there’s no underrating Samuel L. Jackson’s complex performance here. Jules Winnfield is Tarantino’s greatest character, a fully formed individual given fascinating life by Jackson. His work, coupled with the memorable dialogue and set-pieces, help make 'Pulp Fiction' Tarantino’s best."
"'Jackie Brown' is easily Tarantino's best and the last film of his that I actually liked, although I've yet to see 'Django Unchained.' The relationship between Jackie Brown and Max Cherry and the way that's left was something rather special and I hope he gets back to making films of that quality again soon."
"'Jackie Brown,' without hesitation."
"Quentin Tarantino hasn't made a bad film. While I believe he is still getting better and better with each film ('Django Unchained' is pretty great), his best has to be 'Inglourious Basterds.' From the masterful interweaving stories, captivating dialogue in no less than 4 different languages and phenomenal performances led by Christoph Waltz, it really is Tarantino at his finest. Brad Pitt's Aldo Raine may have put it best with the final cheeky line in the film, this may just be Tarantino's masterpiece."
"Well it could be 'Django Unchained,' but I'd have to see it to know, and I haven't. So my uneasy answer is 'Jackie Brown' — uneasy because I've only seen it once, and not that recently (I've seen the 'Kill Bill's and 'Pulp Fiction' twice, the others once). Basically my thought is that Quentin Tarantino is one of the few people working in American film (mainstream or independent, it's all the same) willing to directly, forthrightly talk about race relations in this country — i.e., acknowledge that they exist, have a history, and are coded in ways that people are often afraid to talk about (because talking about race in America frequently leads to someone getting upset in 30 seconds or less). The moment that's haunted me is towards the end, when Samuel L. Jackson gets into Robert Forster's car and is surprised that he's got a Delfonics tape. 'I didn't know you liked the Delfonics,' he says (i.e., I didn't expect you as an old white person to listen to this music from my background). 'Yeah, they're pretty good,' Forster responds (withholding the information that until he fell in love with Pam Grier, who loves the Delfonics, this music was totally alien to him). That's a synopsis of racial miscommunication in eleven words! And it goes without saying that even without all this stuff, it's a fantastic film full of good jokes, riveting set-pieces and tempered badassery. I really must watch it again soon."
"'Pulp Fiction' is easily his most accomplished work, but I'd have to say I enjoy 'Inglourious Basterds' the most. On the other end of the spectrum, 'Death Proof' is not only his worst film, but one of the worst of that year. And you're not asking, but worst cameo? You can see it in theaters December 25th."
"I should throw some love towards 'Death Proof,' which is so not QT's worst, despite what he says. But if I'm honest, it's still 'Pulp Fiction,' the movie that ruined my life by convincing me at a young age that movies were a good thing to obsess over professionally."
"'Inglorious Basterds' is his masterpiece."
"This is an interesting question because Tarantino is one of the few filmmakers with a genuine game-changer on his hands. 'Pulp Fiction' is not only the definitive motion picture of the 1990s, it also permanently changed the way movies about lowlife criminals look and sound (as evidenced by seemingly hundreds of pale imitations). For that reason, my instinct says that 'Pulp Fiction' is the obvious answer. But you know what? The Tarantino movie I always come back to is 'Jackie Brown.' It has the same time-bending structure and snappy dialogue as 'Pulp,' yet it also contains a super-sweet love story between Pam Grier and Robert Forster. Emotionality is not something one usually equates with Tarantino. With 'Jackie,' he showed a surprising ability to deliver some heart amid the action and cult film references. As excellent as his subsequent pictures were, he never brought to them the same emotional depth that made Jackie Brown so touching. And, as if that weren't enough, how awesome is his use of Bobby Womack's 'Across 110th Street,' one of the all-time great soul songs?"
"I happen to think that a case could be made for 'Inglourious Basterds,' but I do believe that Quentin Tarantino's best film is 'Pulp Fiction.' The first time I saw the film, I was in shock. It broke all the rules and yet felt like it was the kind of movie I'd been waiting my whole life to see. It's one of my five favorite films of all time, and I'm sure I won't be alone here in ranking it as Tarantino's best. It's certainly his most important, if nothing else."
"'Pulp Fiction.' It's more playful and less constrained by budgetary limitations than 'Reservoir Dogs,' and the dialogue isn't quite as cokey and excessive as it was in parts of 'Inglorious.' It's the movie that put him on the map for a reason. But 'Django Unchained' might be his funniest."
"It certainly ain't 'Django,' which is maybe the most unfeeling and shallow depiction of slavery I've ever seen outside of a straight-up exploitation picture. I'm amazed how many critics are giving it a free ride. And it's not that I'm uncomfortable with its blunt depiction of racial abuse — I'm uncomfortable with its jokey, puerile approach to racial abuse. Spike Lee has it right; it's disrespectful, and it relies way too much on Tarantino's white-guy privilege. His best film, I think, is 'Inglourious Basterds.' Though it, too, is a semi-jokey payback fantasy, it doesn't feel the need to show Jews being dehumanized for 'transgressive' kicks in every other scene. The emphasis is on the Jewish resistance effort, and unlike 'Django' it features characters with a degree of agency. I'd go on about how much I liked 'Basterds,' but to be honest I'm too disgusted with Tarantino right now to feel like singing his praises."
"For me, 'Pulp Fiction' will always be Tarantino's 'Citizen Kane.' The cultural impact that film had at the time of its release was astounding, and almost twenty years later, it still remains a thrilling and spellbinding piece of work."
"Still holding a torch for 'Pulp Fiction' here: filled with iconic words and images and culturally a changer of games. But there's something very pure about 'Death Proof,' which I think has been overlooked because it was stuffed in the grab bag of 'Grindhouse.' ('Jackie Brown,' at this point, seems dangerously near being overrated as underrated, which is a whole 'nother thing….)"
"It sounds cliché but I'll say 'Pulp Fiction.' It was so groundbreaking in its day and it's still so influential — sexy and stylish and cool but also weirdly hilarious and uncomfortably dark."
"'Inglourious Basterds.' Just an amazing high-wire act. 'Django''s (relative) failures show just how much of an amazing magic trick that was."
"Hands down, 'Jackie Brown.' The flair is there, but so is — gasp — a sense of humanity (something that's also surprisingly prevalent in 'Django Unchained')."
"Though I, like most of the world I'm sure, derive endless pleasure from re-watching 'Pulp Fiction,' I think the 'Kill Bill' films represent the finest distillation of Tarantino's ethos — his only work that successfully combines outlandish cartoon violence, nonstop homages and wild action set-pieces with some very real, very grounded human emotions. The Bride's final encounter with Bill is the most emotionally resonant scene of Tarantino's career, and may be the most touching moment of any action film this decade."
"While I loved 'Django,' I still feel 'Pulp Fiction' is Tarantino's best. That's one of those movies I get sucked into immediately and discover new things every time. The same may hold true for 'Django;' only time will tell that."
"It's 'Pulp Fiction.' Anyone who tells you that the film is meaningless or it's only cool for its own sake hasn't actually really considered how that film operates. I'll just point to the video essay I did with Matt Zoller Seitz here, and leave it at that."
"I'm not a fan of Tarantino; 'Pulp Fiction' was vastly overrated, and 'Inglourious Basterds' was intolerable for me. So I'd say 'Reservoir Dogs,' though I can also sit through 'Jackie Brown.'"
"'Inglourious Basterds' in a walk. And I love all the other ones!"
"'Pulp Fiction' is his most emblematic film. Everything you can think of when you think of Tarantino is in that movie, codified in that movie, emblazoned onto the celluloid, a document to stand the test of time. It was THE cool of the '90s, delivered at the halfway mark of the decade it would define, and may remain my favorite of his films. There was a time when I would watch it once a day, sometimes twice on weekends. It is, for me, a movie that does everything I want a movie to do and more."
"'Pulp Fiction' remains his most accomplished work. To this day, the film bubbles with a kind of energy that's unique to Tarantino. Whether it's his zestful twisting of time and space, his contradictory yet strangely noble sense of moralism, or his ability to make the minuscule seem grandiose, 'Pulp Fiction' (and the rest of his oeuvre, for that matter) seems to me a film that only he could have directed."
"'Reservoir Dogs' beats out 'Inglorious Basterds' on nostalgia points for me. It had the good luck to come out when I was a freshman at Tisch and you can't underestimate how much of a great unifier this film was. It was beloved by both the Hollywood-fed lowbrows as well as the Cahiers du Cinema-quoting snoots. That first Friday night screening at Village 7 was a veritable who's who of future boldfaced personages and if I were a different sort of gent I'd be dropping names all over your nice clean survey. 'Reservoir Dogs' is, also, a helluva picture — extremely innovative in its language, framing and attitude. Yes, you can have a field day sleuthing out the sources that 'inspired' Tarantino, but it still comes together quite well. The masses maybe didn't get hip to Tarantino 'til 'Pulp Fiction,' but the other filmmakers, the myriad who aped him, got their starting gun with 'Reservoir Dogs.'"
"I was one of the rare people who had lost faith in Tarantino after 'Kill Bill' and 'Death Proof.' It seemed he had slipped entirely into a self indulgent quest of cleverness and inside jokes, the films themselves a near afterthought. Then came 'Inglorious Basterds.' Not only Tarantino's best, it's one of the more impressive movies of the last few years. A perfect combination of a damn fine narrative mixed with that, ummm, Tarantino-ness, 'Inglorious Basterds' managed to win this guy over despite walking into the theater with more than a handful of snark. And my snark is not something to be taken lightly. Well done Mr. Tarantino."
"It's become trendy to cite 'Jackie Brown' as QT's best film, but I'm old enough to remember the genuine indifference many felt for it after getting their feet wet with 'Pulp Fiction' (I lived through the same thing when I was going gaga for the at-the-time dismissed 'Lebowski,' after 'Fargo' left me just a wee bit cold). I think that film is still his most heartfelt and genuine, and contains a stunningly effective love story told in a mature, delightful way. The fact that De Niro gives one of his best performances and that's not even the most memorable part of the film illustrates the effectiveness of the flick. And, oh those delicious tracking shots. Plus, while I now know 'Reservoir Dogs' as a mildly flawed yet charming homage to a number of other films I hadn't heard of at the time, seeing that in a theatre helped changed my entire outlook of how I could respond to cinema. I have vivid memories of leaving the screening and immediately seeking out the soundtrack at a local music store (remember those?) — it had to be special ordered to Canada, as local distributors didn't think this little arthouse flick warranted distribution of the tunes up here. Oooka chakaa, indeed."
"I think this might just be my masterpiece," Lt. Aldo Raine says to a fellow Jewish U.S. soldier at the very end of 'Inglourious Basterds.' Quentin Tarantino may have intended that as a brutal cold-joke punchline, but I seriously think this epic about violent World War II epics is Tarantino's finest hour. Other films of his — I'm thinking especially of 'Jackie Brown' and 'Kill Bill Vol. 2' — may carry a warmer emotional charge, but 'Basterds' is his boldest (and still is, even in light of 'Django Unchained') deconstruction of the kind of disreputable genre movies he loves, one that also breaks down easy distinctions of 'good' and 'evil' in order to stage a subversive dialectic about the ethics of revenge in wartime. The apocalyptic movie-theater conflagration that marks its climax is Tarantino's most awe-inspiring expression yet of the immortalizing and annihilating qualities of cinema."
"'Pulp Fiction.' It's one of those rare works where the medium can be measured by what came before and after it. I'm not certain that there has been a more influential film in my lifetime."
"I know better than to say 'No one else will pick this,' since you always get a wide variety of answers here, but I'm sure I'll be in the minority by picking 'Death Proof.' It's the one movie where I feel like his periodic pacing problems are justified (he's paying homage to grindhouse movies), and I think the dialogue between both sets of female friends really crackles in an interesting way. And Zoe Bell playing Ship's Mast with crazy Kurt Russell in hot pursuit? One of the greatest car chase sequences ever made."
"'Pulp Fiction,' obviously. How can anyone say otherwise?"
"This might be the toughest Criticwire Survey question I've had to answer to date, and that's because asking a Tarantino fan to pick their favorite of his films is like asking a parent to tell you which of their children they love the most (which is a bit messed up). But after some serious going back and forth and with the proverbial gun to my head, I've got to give the nod to 'Pulp Fiction.' First off, it's not just one great film, but three great films rolled into one package. Each of those stories being told is filled with fully realized characters who themselves could easily branch off into their own side stories and it's hard to look at any second of the finished film and say, 'This part didn't work for me' or 'That character didn't intrigue me a great deal.' From the easily quotable and brilliant script to its bizarre yet engaging set of tales, 'Pulp Fiction' grabs your attention from the moment two guys are just talking about fast food in a car on their way to job and doesn't let it go until they walk out of a diner having shared another similar conversation. Their lives have changed by the end of the film, and with 'Pulp Fiction' being your introduction to all things Tarantino, so has yours. Tarantino has come close to matching the greatness of 'Pulp Fiction' on a couple of occasions, but I have to pick the one that set such a high bar for excellence in the first place as his very best."
"I haven't seen 'Django Unchained' yet, but I'd still say 'Pulp Fiction.' His formal style continues to evolve, but 'Pulp Fiction' to this day reads like a manifesto for his combination of quotation, homage and brazenly original virtuosity."
"'Inglourious Basterds' has to be my favorite, with 'Reservoir Dogs' a close second. 'Inglourious Basterds' was the first and currently only Tarantino film that I have seen in the cinema, apt given that the film is very much a celebration of its powers. Seeing this film for the second time remains one the most memorable and enjoyable cinema going experiences of my life. The genius of this film lies in the extended scenes of dialogue, where tension is expertly constructed and then defused in short, bloody, bursts of violence. Tarantino's bravest and craziest, this is a film that perfectly symbolizes his strengths as a writer, director, and storyteller. In the shape of Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa, it may also contain the best performance within a Tarantino film. The film closes with the line, 'This might just be my masterpiece…' something I completely agree with Mr. Tarantino."
"'Jackie Brown' and 'Death Proof' show off the more critical side to Tarantino's loving genre homages, but 'Inglourious Basterds' stands as his best work to date. Honing his diversionary, long-winded dialogue into artfully suspenseful battles of wits, QT makes scenes that should demolish narrative momentum into crucial, gripping plot advancements. And for a film that delights in indulging the fantasy of killing Hitler, Tarantino demonstrates remarkable restraint in his violence, mostly conserving it to short, nightmarish bursts before going all out in the climax. By ending one holocaust with his own, however, Tarantino deftly puts his own giddy sense of vengeance under the microscope. Apropos of its Nazi focus, 'Basterds' does not so much close the book on the exhausted subject of WWII as burn it, and its depiction of the 'good guys' becoming mass murderers and suicide bombers in a quest for justice tips its hat to more contemporary American conflicts."
"Even though his films are so different they're nearly incomparable, Tarantino's best work to date (yes, including 'Django') is without a doubt 'Inglourious Basterds.' Like all QT films the writing speaks for itself, but here it simply sings. It's razor sharp, almost hypnotic and just commands your attention yet there's usually a playful undertone that keeps it from feeling pretentious. Not only was his screenplay whip-smart but through some cosmic alchemy was able to assemble the incredibly talented eclectic ensemble of Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Laurent, Michael Fassbender etc. to pull off his supremely well-crafted writing. Additionally he pulled one helluva performance out of Brad Pitt and that's got to count for something. While there's immense joy and beauty in revisiting any QT film again and again, nothing hits the high notes on repeat viewings like this period piece/revisionist history lesson better know as the good old 'Ingluorious Basterds.'"
"Quentin Tarantino's best film is the obvious one. I am simply shocked that anyone would say anything but 'Pulp Fiction' which I regard as one of the top 25 films of all-time. On any given day, my recall has vivid flashbacks to any number of scenes. It breathes within me. I'm more street smart because of it."
"I'll probably catch some heat for this, but bring it on: Tarantino's best movie is 'Jackie Brown.' It's packed with Tarantino hallmarks — colorful characters, shocking violence, Sam Jackson with amazing hair — but it never bogs down or feels like an experiment in scene-setting or alternate histories. Chalk it up to the source material, but this is one of the few times Tarantino's had an actual story to work with and not just a collection of ideas or set pieces. The cast is killer, too, anchored by a powerful Pam Grier and the wonderful Robert Forster."
"I really love 'Pulp Fiction' and 'Reservoir Dogs,' but I'd have to go with 'Django Unchained.' It has everything you want or need from a Tarantino film. It has plenty of violence, humor, sex, and social/historic commentary. Fun, fun, fun."
"Tarantino is one of the few filmmakers whose every movie (save maybe for 'Death Proof' — and I LOVE 'Death Proof') is his best movie — at least while I'm watching it. I'm inclined to say 'Inglourious Basterds,' but then I remember how much I love 'Jackie Brown.' And every time I watch both volumes of 'Kill Bill' consecutively, I become convinced that that is his best movie, and the one that feels the most like the sum total of all his influences and obsessions (taken separately, I don't think either volume is in the running for best). Plenty of people can't stand Tarantino. I get it, even though I totally do not get it. He's a filmmaker whose every choice just works for me. I can't possibly pick a 'best.'"
"While 'Pulp Fiction' is certainly his most impactful, now that I'm the same age Tarantino was when it was released, I think 'Jackie Brown' is not only his best movie but a kind of miracle. It's assembled masterfully, with pacing that hits a perfect grace note on the border between deliberate and slow, and down to the last extra beautifully acted. I'm amazed and frankly a bit pissed that someone my age made a movie this great, but if Jackie Brown has taught me anything it's that in 20+ years I have a chance to be as cool as Max Cherry, so there's that at least."
"'Inglourious Basterds' is the perfect fusion of the pop culture riffing that Tarantino is known for and 'legitimate' drama, for want of a better term. While 'Django Unchained' is yet to reach these shores, I get the feeling that Tarantino's latest follows suit. I'm very fond of Mr. Tarantino's work, and it's been interesting to view it thoroughly as a complete oeuvre and retrospective entity thanks to the recent 'Tarantino XX' Blu-ray collection."
"Just as Nas will probably never make a better album than 'Illmatic,' Tarantino is unlikely to top the perfect storm that is 'Pulp Fiction.' Though it took me a while to appreciate the former, my initial viewing of the latter remains a watershed moment in my movie-watching history. Tarantino showed an impressionable 15-year-old what films were capable of in terms of language and narrative structure, and the masterpiece continues to wow me today."
"'Jackie Brown,' with 'Inglourious Basterds' a quirky second."
"Though it took me a lot longer than most to arrive at the consensus opinion — I used to take the Tarantino-hater position that 'Jackie Brown' represented his best work — I now agree with nearly everyone else that his best is in fact 'Pulp Fiction.' Boring, I know. More interesting, perhaps, is the question of the director's second best, and for that I would nominate 'Kill Bill: Volume 2.'"
The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on December 24, 2012: