1. Breakfast Diner – Reservoir Dogs
Quentin Tarantino must be riding on a high right now. After a week in which he’s seen Django Unchained become his most lucrative film, won a Golden Globe for writing the screenplay and laid the smack down on Krishnan Guru-Murthy, you would suspect that he’s pretty pleased with himself as a film-maker and an object of controversy. But it’s not like he’s ever had any trouble on those fronts.
From the release his debut feature, Reservoir Dogs, he’s always been recognised as one of America’s most important cinematic voice. In fact, the very first scene opens up with Tarantino’s actual voice telling a group of men in a diner why Madonna’s Like a Virgin is all about penises. As his camera continually swoops around table, the conversation between these be-suited tough guys switches to tipping etiquette (Mr Pink is not a fan).
This seemingly trivial banter became the first of Tarantino’s trademarks, effortlessly establishing character in a way rarely seen on film. This style of dialogue has often been imitated by others, but rarely bettered.
2. “I shot Marvin in the face” – Pulp FictionPulp Fiction was only Tarantino’s second film, but it was the one that cemented his status as the coolest cat in Hollywood. It’s so positively full of memorable lines and characters that we had to limit ourselves to just picking three scenes. First of all is this unexpected shocker: after surviving a shootout on a routine pick-up, Jules and Vincent (Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta) get into a bit of a theological debate in the car. In the back seat, their informant is still pretty shaken up at having witnessed a bunch of murders. In fact, you could say that he was losing his head over it. [raises eyebrow and smirks]
3. Butch vs. Vincent Vega – Pulp FictionThe stars of the Look Who’s Talking movies unite on the screen for the first time in this brief scene. When boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) wins a match he was meant to throw, he incurs the wrath of Marcellus Wallace, a big-time mobster who had a lot of money riding on the fight. Against his better instincts, Butch heads back to his apartment to pick up his father’s watch, only to find something unexpected in the toilet.
4. How It Went Down – Jackie BrownConsidered by most to be Tarantino’s most mature film, Jackie Brown is also the only movie in his canon to be an adaptation of an existing story. Loosely based on Elmore Leonard’s crime novel Rum Punch, it sees Pam Grier’s titular air hostess running a scam that requires her to outsmart both the Feds and a pair of hardened criminals (Samuel L Jackson and Robert De Niro). In a virtuoso piece of scripting, Tarantino depicts the final hustle from multiple angles by replaying the con from the perspective of various characters.
5. Lend Me Your Ear – Reservoir Dogs After a jewel heist goes wrong, the gang reconvene at an abandoned warehouse where they arrive at the conclusion that there’s a police mole within their group. Luckily, Mr Blonde (Michael Madsen) has brought a uniformed cop to the party: a poor family man who’s about to learn a thing or two about ‘advanced interrogation’.
Whenever Tarantino is accused of glorifying violence in his films (as he was in the Channel 4 interview), his critics usually zero-in on this particular scene as an example. When a group of teenagers in Liverpool tortured and killed another boy in 2009, reports suggested that they re-enacted this sequence at one point. Although it’s logically flawed to suggest that Reservoir Dogs drove these kids to commit murder, the incident does highlight how things that are cool in movies would often be horrifying if thought about in real life terms.
6. The Watch – Pulp Fiction As the Vietnam veteran Captain Koons, Christopher Walken turns up at the house of a young Butch Coolidge. He’s brought a watch that belonged to Butch’s father, a GI who died a POW camp. Returning the watch to the young boy, Cap. Koons tells him of the great pains taken to keep it safe from their captors. It’s a scene that only lasts a few minutes, but Walken’s unique delivery has turned it into a classic.
7. The Jew Hunter – Inglourious BasterdsIn his long-gestated WWII revenge fantasy, Tarantino created perhaps one his most intriguing characters in Col. Hans Landa of the SS (Christoph Waltz). A cultured man of many charms, he is multi-lingual and endlessly fascinated with American turns of phrase. In the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds, he casually interrogates a French dairy farmer and puts to work his skills as the notorious ‘Jew Hunter’.
Waltz went on to win an Academy Award for this performance, leading on to a new career in Hollywood and his latest role in Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
8. House of the Blue Leaves – Kill Bill: Vol. 1In an explicit homage to Shaw Brothers martial arts films and American exploitation cinema, Tarantino abandoned the intimate world of the Los Angeles criminal fraternity that played home to his early movies. Kill Bill Vol 1 was in many ways QT doing a big action picture — full of meticulously choreographed fights scenes and utilising entire oceans of fake blood. Ask people what the most memorable scene in Kill Bill is and 8 out of 10 cats will tell you that it’s this one: The Bride’s big massacre at The House of the Blue Leaves.
9. Across 110th Street – Jackie BrownAs a writer and director, Tarantino is many things: a film historian capable of finding influence from decades of movies, a man with a golden ear for great soundtracks and a writer of cool and unique dialogue. But the one thing he has never been accused of is being sentimental in any way. Most of his protagonists tend to tough guys or in the case of Kill Bill, a ruthless woman who might as well be one of the boys. But in the character of Jackie Brown, he managed to find a different dimension to his writing by tapping into a middle-aged air hostess caught in the middle of a dangerous game played by powerful men.
In the film’s final movement, Jackie has beaten Ordell and the Feds and she’s escaped with all the money. At this point, all that’s left for her is to go and get her man (Robert Forster’s hangdog bail bondsman, Max Cherry). But after the briefest of kisses, she disappears into the sunset with Bobby Womack playing the car stereo.
This shot directly riffs on the ending of 1967’s The Graduate, where Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross escape from her wedding and run on to the back of a bus only find their elation slowly erode into uncertainly. (In fact, Jackie Brown’s title sequence is also an homage to the Graduate’s first scene) In the last shot of Tarantino’s film, we focus on Pam Greer’s face as she starts to fight back the tears. For QT, it’s a rare emotional moment and the perfect ending to an incredible movie.
10. Parlour Games – Inglourious Basterds In perhaps the best standalone scene of the film, we see Michael Fassbender’s British spy Archie Hicox and German ‘Basterd’ Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) attend a rendezvous with fellow spy Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), a famous German film actress. What was intended as a simple meet-up in a French tavern turns into a right saga when the drinking hole turns out to be packed German soldiers. It’s an incredibly tense sequence that ranks as one of the best spy scenes of all time.
Four Rooms: Back when Robert Rodriguez and Tarantino were riding a high as the kings of independent cinema, they devised this 4-part anthology film starring Tim Roth as an overwhelmed bell hop in a hotel full of weirdos. Tarantino’s segment is perhaps the strongest of the four segments but it suffers from a grating performance by the director himself. Also, the entire premise of the scene is an open rip-off/homage to an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, so it can’t really claim any points on originality.
Death Proof: The only comprehensively bad film in Tarantino’s canon. Some people disagree but they are wrong: it is utter rubbish.
With the cinematic release of Django Unchained (out in cinemas now), Tarantino has been receiving some of his career’s best critical notices. Were we to re-write this feature next week, we wouldn’t bet against there being a few big changes. He’s mentioned in interviews that he intends to retire from directing before he ages into irrelevancy but for the sake of cinephiles across the world, let’s hope he has at least another decade in him.