The uncontestedly audacious Quentin Tarantino is riding as high as ever after his most recent film, “Django Unchained,” opened big with audiences and critics alike and eventually earned him his second Academy Award (for Best Original Screenplay). Growing up an obsessive film fan, the acclaimed director has channeled his passion into his art, creating a voice, a style and a personality that’s second-to-none among contemporary moviemakers.
His operatic, chaotic playfulness with neo-noir and spaghetti western classics suggests a new kind of discipline, one that has wowed the film community since his early days. His structural marvel “Pulp Fiction” won the Palme d’Or over two decades ago, while expectations for his upcoming “The Hateful Eight” are through the roof.
Below, check out our picks for the auteur’s five best films (so far).
“Reservoir Dogs” (1992)
It’s hard to imagine a more auspicious or impressive directorial debut than Tarantino’s “Resevoir Dogs.” Ostensibly, it’s a sufficient Tarantino primer: the thing is stuffed with pop culture references, gory violence, structural oddities and marvelous banter. But it is also, in its own right, a fantastic film. Taking place after a horribly-failed jeweley heist attempt, the movie focuses on the criminals left over who began to suspect one another of working undercover for the cops. It’s a great showcase for a collection of Tarantino regulars including Harvey Keitel, while Steve Buscemi nearly steals the whole thing as the enigmatic Mr. Pink.
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“Pulp Fiction” (1994)
Tarantino’s undisputed, Oscar-winning classic is one of contemporary cinema’s most beloved and respected films. With iconic imagery (What is in that suitcase?), ridiculously quotable dialogue and a brilliantly-twisty structure that leaves any unsuspecting viewer in awe, “Pulp Fiction” launched as a phenomenon and hasn’t slowed since. Blending neo-noir crime and brilliantly dry comedy, the film begins as four separate crime vignettes and gradually builds to one hell of a climax. Tarantino won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for the movie, which also scored nods for Picture and Director, and was the recipient of the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
“Jackie Brown” (1997)
Though characteristically overloaded and reference-heavy, there’s a wistful maturity to “Jackie Brown” that allows it to stand out in Tarantino’s eclectic filmography. The film, playing off of blaixploitation films of the 1970s and casting one of its most famed stars, Pam Grier, in the lead role, follows a flight attendant as she becomes embroiled in a high-stakes crime plot. In revitalizing the careers of both Grier and Robert Forrester, who gives an Oscar-nominated perormanced as bondsman Max Cherry, “Jackie Brown” authentically and humanely explores the pitfalls of middle-age within an absurdist and heightened structure. Samuel L. Jackson won an acting prize at the Berlin International Film Festival for his performance in the movie.
“Kill Bill: Vol. 2” (2004)
Though technically the second part of one long martial arts epic, “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” puts the franchise in perspective and confidently relies less on action sequences and more on Tarantino’s signature dialogue. Uma Thurman’s legendary performance as “The Bride” comes into clearer focus in “Vol. 2,” as the way that she so effortlessly fits into Tarantino’s tonal template — ranging from parody to homage, and all as its own, independent creation — is a sight to behold. The expertly-choreographed film concludes the “Kill Bill” saga with a spectacular closing sequence, and wound up making $150 million worldwide on a relatively small budget of $30 million.
“Django Unchained” (2012)
Tarantino’s last film, “Django Unchained,” is (as is typical for the director) part homage and part subversion, not to mention an inventive reimagining of the spaghetti Western. Set in the Deep South during the antebellum era, the film centers on Django (Jaime Foxx), an African-American slave. He teams with Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter posing as a traveling dentist who buys him and then promises freedom in exchange for his help in collecting a large bounty. The movie is stuffed with visual and narrative references, but it’s also a stylish, gory period piece in its own right. Tarantino’s inventive original screenplay and Waltz’s scene-stealing supporting performance both went on to win Academy Awards.