Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Scene one: Our first pick from Quentin Tarantino’s seismic reinvention of the heist film is Michael Madsen’s devilish jig set to ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’. He cuts some rug and then cuts off the ear of unfortunate cop Marvin. It’s the embodiment of Tarantino’s gifted ear for a pop song paired with, naturally, a little razor-sharp violence.
Scene two: Steve Buscemi’s Mr Pink mounts such a good argument for not tipping waitresses that by the end of his rant, Mr Orange (Tim Roth) wants his dollar back. But his success is short-lived; the minute the big boss demands his contribution, Mr Pink relents, albeit with a sheepish ‘normally I would never do this’.
True Romance (1993)
Tarantino is best understood as a screenwriter. Even when his scripts are directed by others, his pop-culture-saturated sensibility shines through. The hilariously tense chat between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper about the ethnic make-up of Sicilians is perhaps the moment that crystallised the term ‘Tarantino-esque’.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Scene one: A key movie of the ’90s, Pulp Fiction needs no introduction. As with Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, it dazzles you with humour while smuggling in serious cinephilia. We love the moment from the dance floor at Jack Rabbit Slim’s where John Travolta and Uma Thurman twist to triumph in the dance competition, Tarantino simultaneously reviving Travolta’s career and showing off his favourite leading lady.
Scene two: Never has QT stretched his viewers’ nerves so taught as the moment Travolta stabs his boss’s wife in the heart with an adrenaline shot when she ODs. Sweaty palms all round, indeed.
Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
QT both wrote the screenplay and starred in this unhinged action/horror. By far the most bizarre moment is when it switches gear from a moody violent crime movie into a kitschy splatfest, as it’s revealed the bar George Clooney, Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis are drinking in is populated by vampires.
Jackie Brown (1997)
A major evolution for the director, this post-modern blaxploitation movie (starring the still-vital Pam Grier and Robert Forster) anchored Tarantino’s cultural riffing to a beautifully blooming romance. The final kiss is steeped in a thick cloud of tension – from the moment Grier moves in, it takes eight seconds until there’s a provocative nose-rub, and three seconds more until their lips at last meet. Hot stuff.
Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)
This is a filmmaker who won’t let you forget that he loves movies – a whole library of trashy treasures. With Kill Bill, Tarantino’s two-part martial arts epic, he settles into a supercharged action-genre groove – some might say defiantly – after Jackie Brown. Uma Thurman’s vengeful Bride is a stunning force of nature at the House of Blue Leaves, where she single-handedly dispatches with O Ren Ishii’s Crazy 88 after a toe-tapping set by the 5,6,7,8s.
Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004)
In possibly the greatest training montage ever, Beatrix struggles buckets of water up hundreds of steps and reduces her knuckles to a crimson, fleshy mess trying to punch through a thick block of wood; all the while über-martial arts master Pai Mei smugly swishes his beard and treats Beatrix to the odd whack on the head with his staff.
Death Proof (2007)
Tarantino’s tribute to muscle cars and ’70s slasher films might not have been critically well-received, but there’s a real sense of satisfaction when, in the final scene, three ass-kicking females beat odious serial stalker/killer Kurt Russell to a bloody pulp.
QT: He’s lost it
When Tarantino first appeared he was a wiry, nervy enfant terrible. But now, with nothing left to prove, he’s sinking into middle-aged bloat. Kill Bill had enough plot and ideas for a really good two-hour movie, but flopped out into four hours of navel-gazing padding. Death Proof was a 45-minute episode of The Twilight Zone stretched to an hour-and-a- half of foot fetishism and tiresome dialogue. And now we’ve got the two-and-a-half-hour Inglourious Basterds. Will it be as tight as his early stuff? I’m not holding my breath.
James Wilkinson, Music and Nightlife editor
QT: Still got it
Even a below par Tarantino movie is streets ahead of your average Hollywood fare. This is a man who produced two thrilling modern classics (Reservoir Dogs; Pulp Fiction) in just two years. Most don’t manage one in a lifetime. Even Death Proof, his most coolly received work, has moments of greatness, with the same wicked humour, exhilarating action and unshakeable sense of fun that permeates everything he does. Even if Inglourious Basterds ain’t great, you can bet there’s at least one moment in it that outshines everything else you’ve seen this year.
Laura Chubb, Film editor