“I have loved movies as the number one thing in my life so long that I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t”
Our In Focus series examines some of cinema’s most beloved directors, highlighting some of the ingredients that make up their signature style, as well as showcase our top-picks of their best films. To start, it’s hard to look past one of the most influential contemporary filmmakers currently working (and who recently celebrated their 57th birthday), Quentin Tarantino.
Here are our highlights on what makes Tarantino so unique and our top three picks from his illustrious 28-year body of work.
Tarantino’s impeccable ear for music has been a cornerstone throughout his career and famously seen him work without an original composition for the vast majority of films (The Hateful Eight the only exception with an original Morricone score). Most iconically, his best use of music wonderfully juxtaposes scenes, adding another layer and unexpected energy – such as the use of “Stuck in the Middle with You” in his violent first-film, Reservoir Dogs; or You Keep Me Hangin’ On in his last (and slightly less violent), Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. Tarantino has confessed this marrying of music to film is his first creative step, listening to records to find the film’s personality before writing.
Many have tried to mimic but none can do Tarantino signature dialogue better than the man himself. A technique that can cripple other films, Tarantino uses dialogue to reveal character rather than action, but these revelations, although seemingly arbitrary, add a layer of revelation or complexity to characters’ actions throughout the film. His dialogue commonly builds an unrelenting escalation of tension that often climaxes with a thunderous display of violence, best exemplified in the rotating camera during Mr Orange’s bathroom story in Reservoir Dogs, the climax scene in Kill Bill: Volume 2, or the opening interrogation in Inglorious Basterds. But in contrast, his dialogue can be a place where we simply experience the world through the lens of a character, something as simple as Mr. Pink’s philosophy on why he doesn’t tip. But again, it’s never arbitrary, even the famous tipping scene reveals character (go back and watch and see how the conversation ensues. Spoilers – Mr. Pink ends up tipping!).
Tarantino has resurrected several actors whose careers had seemingly faded into obscurity. The most famous example being an out of favour John Travolta cast as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction. Tarantino fought hard against the studio to cast the out of work actor and now ironically, it’s arguable the role couldn’t have been played by anyone else. Pam Greer & Robert Forster also saw a return to favour in Jackie Brown and David Carradine came back to life as the infamous Bill in Kill Bill: Volume 1 & 2.
Here are our top three films recommendations that we believe embody the spirit of Tarantino at his most Tarantino-esque:
Top 3 Films:
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
The latest and 9th film in Tarantino’s catalogue, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, tempers Tarantino’s provocative impulses with a clarity of his matured skills. The story follows the former star of a western TV series, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (deserving Oscar winner Brad Pitt), as they struggle to make it in a changing Hollywood they feel they don’t belong to anymore. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is Tarantino’s magnum opus, a love letter to old-school-cool Hollywood and the films that still influence us today. It’s also down-right hilarious yet morally complicated (did Cliff Booth really kill is wife?), and features one of the best soundtracks of recent years (of course it does!). It’s a world you don’t just watch, you hang out in.
Jackie Brown (1995)
Tarantino’s only non-original work – an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s 1995 “Rum Punch” – Jackie Brown stars Pam Greir as the titular character, a flight stewardess who works for ruthless arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L Jackson). After being caught by ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and cop Mark Dargus (Michael Bowen) for trying to smuggle money in the country for Ordell, Jackie pits Ordell and the cops against each other as every character tries to out-wit one another in this suspenseful heist-thriller. Following the immeasurable success of Pulp Fiction, Tarantino moved away from the natural progression of making a bigger budgeted feature film and focused on his passions, delivering a film that may not have been as commercially successful as his previous, but instead showed the world that he would maintain his unique integrity. His underrated masterpiece uses non-linear structure, witty, irreverent underworld characters and (once-again) a timeless soundtrack.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Undoubtedly one of the most influential American films of the 1990s, Pulp Fiction is a melting pot of post-modern neo-noir, black comedy and pop-culture touchstones that have foreshadowed Tarantino’s incredible career. Pulp Fiction always manages to be atop any list of all-time great films and will continue to be studied, analyzed and heralded as one of the most influential contributions to contemporary American cinema. The film intertwines three stories, following two hitmen, their underworld king-pin boss and a Boxer who is straight out of a 1940s b-grade film who navigate the ambiguity of their morality. Pulp Fiction showcases every trademark of the filmmaker and interestingly, remains the most accessible to an audience unfamiliar with his work. There is so much already written about this absolute masterpiece, all we can simply say is if you haven’t seen it… you probably should.
The most enjoyable aspect of a Tarantino film is experiencing what Tarantino loves himself. His work is so uniquely alike to him because he unashamedly delivers everything he loves and wants in a film, and why it’s been impossible to mimic him. Of course, and he would attest to this, his films are best experienced with an audience, which is why they continue to be played in theatres all over the world and will be for decades to come.