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The art of cool

Ranking Tarantino's films as his latest movie, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, hits theatres

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/7/2019 (459 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Mr. White: "I need you cool… are you cool?"
Mr. Pink: "I am cool."
— Reservoir Dogs, 1992

 

The subject of being cool comes up a lot in Quentin Tarantino’s films. In Pulp Fiction, Jules tells Pumpkin and Honey Bunny that they’re all going to be like three little Fonzies.

"...And what’s Fonzie like? He’s cool."

Tarantino's latest offers up revisionist tale of golden age of Hollywood

Click to Expand
Leonardo DiCaprio is Rick Dalton, a self-doubting actor who made his name in a 1950s TV western but whose star is fading. (Andrew Cooper / Sony-Columbia Pictures)						</p>
Leonardo DiCaprio is Rick Dalton, a self-doubting actor who made his name in a 1950s TV western but whose star is fading. (Andrew Cooper / Sony-Columbia Pictures)

Posted: 26/07/2019 12:48 PM

Funny, sad, perversely nostalgic, Quentin Tarantino’s obsessive ode to a lost Hollywood era is packed with visual verve, pop-culture riffs and cineaste pleasures.

Tarantino’s ninth film, set in Los Angeles in the months leading up to the 1969 Manson Family murders of Sharon Tate and her house guests, mostly avoids the provocative filmmaker’s worst instincts. With its melancholic tone and committed performances, it even gets close to some grown-up-human-being-type emotion. This is Tarantino’s most feeling film since Jackie Brown.

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During the opening scene of From Dusk till Dawn, Seth points his gun and says, "Everybody be cool… YOU, be cool."

And in True Romance, Alabama lovingly scrawls the words "you’re so cool" on a napkin for Clarence, over and over again.

That’s how Quentin Tarantino does things. Everything about his movies is effortlessly cool. The way the characters talk, the way they behave, the way they dress, the way the story unfolds, the soundtrack, the camera angles, the constant references to pop culture, the endless Easter eggs and the shared universe between films, not to mention the over-the-top stylistic violence.

And it’s that utter coolness that has made him the most admired, influential and controversial writer-director of this generation. He revolutionized the idea of non-linear storytelling, laid the groundwork for self-aware homage films and opened the floodgates for countless copycats.

There are several big things to note about his hotly anticipated upcoming film Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. It’s the first full-length movie to feature Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt together. It’s the final on-screen appearance for Luke Perry.

And it may very well be Tarantino’s penultimate movie — he has long said he was going to direct 10 films and retire. And if you count the Kill Bill movies as one (which he does), this one will be his ninth. He did add an addendum to that though, saying retirement would come after 10 films or by the time he turns 60. He’s 56.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood has been shrouded in mystery. Even the trailers don’t really tell you much about the plot, but damn, if it doesn’t look cool. All we really know is that it involves a fading actor (DiCaprio), his loyal stuntman (Pitt) and a vague connection to Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and the Manson Family murders in Los Angeles in 1969.

The film received a seven-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival — 25 years to the day from when Pulp Fiction screened there in 1994 and, ultimately, went on to win the prestigious Palme d’Or.

Where will Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood stack up compared to his other movies? We’ll find out this weekend, but for now, let’s take a look back at all his other works.

For the purposes of this list, we’re including any full-length feature films that Tarantino has written and/or directed. Therefore, his segment, The Man From Hollywood in the anthology film Four Rooms, for example, does not count (although it’s arguably the best part of that otherwise messy movie).

12. Death Proof (2007)

Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan

THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY</p><p>Kurt Russell stars as Stuntman Mike in Death Proof.</p>

THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY

Kurt Russell stars as Stuntman Mike in Death Proof.

Originally released as one-half of the Grindhouse double feature (alongside longtime friend and collaborator Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror), Death Proof is a hybrid slasher/car chase movie. Think Psycho, but instead of a knife, the killer uses his car as the weapon.

Sounds intriguing, but this is easily Tarantino’s weakest film, something he has actually acknowledged. As a novelty and an homage to violent exploitation films, it’s passable, but none of the dialogue really pops, and none of the characters — save for maybe Stuntman Mike and Butterfly — are particularly likable or memorable.

But bad Tarantino is kind of like bad pizza: it’s still halfway enjoyable.

Standout scenes: The lap dance, the car chases/crashes.

Standout songs: Down in Mexico by the Coasters, Chick Habit by April March

Fun Fact: Sylvester Stallone and Mickey Rourke were both originally tapped to play Stuntman Mike, the role that ultimately went to Kurt Russell.

 

11. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Directed by: Robert Rodriguez

Starring: George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Cheech Marin, Fred Williamson, Salma Hayek

This was actually the first script Tarantino ever got paid to write back in the late-1980s (he got a whopping $1,500). It sat on the shelf for several years though, before finally being produced.

Most people love half of the movie and hate the other. It all depends on whether you prefer the gritty, Gecko Brothers on-the-run crime spree of the first act, or the over-the-top goofy gore of the vampire-infested second act.

Standout scenes: The tense opening shootout in the convenience store, the border crossing sequence, and Salma Hayek’s snake dance.

Standout songs: Dark Night by The Blasters

Fun Fact: The character of Sheriff Earl McGraw (Michael Parks) also turns up in both Grindhouse films (Death Proof and Planet Terror), as well as in Kill Bill Volume 1.

 

10. Natural Born Killers (1994)

Story by: Quentin Tarantino

Directed by: Oliver Stone

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr, Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, Rodney Dangerfield

WARNER BROS.</p><p>Woody Harrelson (left) and Juliette Lewis in Natural Born Killers.</p>

WARNER BROS.

Woody Harrelson (left) and Juliette Lewis in Natural Born Killers.

Frequently labelled the most controversial movie of the ‘90s, Tarantino has emphatically disowned this film, saying he despised all the changes Stone made to his script, which is why he ended up taking only a story credit rather than a full screenplay credit (although he allegedly warmed to it slightly after Johnny Cash told him he was a fan of the film).

It’s a bit of a time capsule now — an early tagline read, "A bold new look at a country seduced by fame, obsessed with crime and consumed by the media," which could very well be a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Mickey and Mallory’s cross-country rampage has definite Tarantino undertones, but this is obviously much more of an Oliver Stone movie, which is probably why "the message" is constantly being beaten over the audience’s heads.

One can only imagine how it would have turned out had Tarantino directed it himself.

Standout scenes: The opening diner sequence, Mickey and Mallory getting married, Wayne’s interview with Mickey, the prison riot/escape. Note: The entire "I Love Mallory" segment, which tends to be incredibly polarizing, was not at all in Tarantino’s original script.

Standout songs: The Future by Leonard Cohen, Something I Can Never Have by Nine Inch Nails

Fun Fact: Coca-Cola executives approved their product placement in the film before fully understanding its plot. How they didn’t clue in based on the title alone is a bit of a mystery, but needless to say, they were none too pleased to see their iconic polar bear commercial hand-in-hand with a pair of serial murderers run amuck.

 

9. Jackie Brown (1997)

Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker

Pam Grier is the namesake in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, based on Elmore Leonard's novel Rum Punch.

Pam Grier is the namesake in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, based on Elmore Leonard's novel Rum Punch.

Adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch, Jackie Brown was the first and (so far) only one of Tarantino’s films to be based off of other source material. It was also in the unfortunate position of having to follow the perfection of Pulp Fiction.

While several Tarantino hallmarks are here — shady criminals, guns, drugs, money, double-crosses — and the characters and performances are genuinely mesmerizing, one can’t help but notice this film is a lot slower, less violent and much more restrained than his other works.

Some will argue it’s that carefully measured nuance that makes the movie great, others will yawn at its slow-burning sophistication.

Standout scenes: Ordell getting Beaumont in the trunk, the multiple-perspective money drop at the mall, Louis shooting Melanie, Jackie and Max sharing a tender moment.

Standout songs: Across 110th Street by Bobby Womack and Peace, Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) by The Delfonics

Fun Fact: Michael Keaton plays the character of FBI agent Ray Nicolette in both Jackie Brown and Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight (another Elmore Leonard adaptation), something Tarantino actually campaigned for, despite the films being released by different companies.

 

8. The Hateful Eight (2015)

Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern

ANDREW COOPER / THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY</p><p>Kurt Russell (left), Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bruce Dern in The Hateful Eight.</p>

ANDREW COOPER / THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY

Kurt Russell (left), Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bruce Dern in The Hateful Eight.

An unconventional western epic that unfolds like a game of Clue, the mostly single-setting of The Hateful Eight feels very much like a stage play.

There is a lot of talking in this movie, with every seedy character delivering multiple dramatic monologues that would have probably fallen flat with a lesser writer/director.

But instead, it’s entirely enthralling as the tension ramps up in the first two-thirds of the film before erupting into bloody chaos in the final act.

Standout scenes: Meeting the key players on the stagecoach, anything involving the Lincoln Letter, Marquis antagonizing Gen. Sandy Smithers.

Standout songs: Not entirely applicable here, since this is the first Tarantino film to feature an original score, composed by Ennio Morricone. However, Apple Blossom by The White Stripes is used to great effect during the stage coach scene.

Fun Fact: While this was the sixth Tarantino-related film that Samuel L. Jackson appeared in, it was the first in which he received top billing.

 

7. Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)

Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine

Originally intended to be one long movie and later split in two, it’s been well documented over the years that this fairly simple revenge tale liberally borrows from of a whole laundry list of similar-genre films.

But it’s done with so much style, enthusiasm and finesse that nobody seems to care, and in the process, Tarantino has created one of the most iconic heroines of our time in Uma Thurman’s the Bride.

The characters are magnetic, the action is outrageous and the setup for Volume 2 leaves us salivating for more.

Standout scenes: The Bride’s opening fight with Vernita, Buck the demented hospital worker, O-Ren Ishii’s animated back story, the Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves

Standout songs: Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) by Nancy Sinatra, The Lonely Shepherd by James Last & Zamfir, Battle Without Honor or Humanity by Tomoyasu Hotei, Woo Hoo by the 5.6.7.8’s

Fun Fact: The MPAA demanded Tarantino edit down the fight scene at the House of Blue Leaves due to the extreme amount of blood and violence. Instead, he just switched it to black and white, which they approved. In the Japanese release of the film though, that scene remains in colour.

 

6. Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004)

Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Gordon Liu

While Tarantino actually considers them to be one film, it’s worth talking about them separately because they are quite different, particularly in tone and pacing.

Volume 1 has infinitely more action, while Volume 2 is certainly slower and talkier. However, Volume 2 gets the edge mainly because the characters of Budd, Elle, Pai Mei and Bill are far more interesting than most of those found in Volume 1 (save for perhaps Hattori Hanzo), and their sassy back-and-forth dialogue is captivatingly quotable.

Standout scenes: Budd burying the Bride alive, Elle surprising Budd with a Black Mamba in his trailer, training with Pai Mei, the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.

Standout songs: Goodnight Moon by Shivaree, A Satisfied Mind by Johnny Cash, The Chase by Alan Reeves, Phil Steele and Phillip Brigham

Fun Fact: The original plan for Pai Mei was to have him speaking in Cantonese, and Tarantino was going to put his own voice in over top in English, a nod to poorly dubbed kung fu movies.

 

5. Django Unchained (2012)

Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, Michael Parks, Don Johnson

ANDREW COOPER / THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY</p><p>Christophe Waltz (left) and Jamir Foxx in Django Unchained.</p>

ANDREW COOPER / THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY

Christophe Waltz (left) and Jamir Foxx in Django Unchained.

In a long line of controversial films, this is one of Tarantino’s most controversial (anything involving race and slavery was bound to be). It’s also his biggest-budget movie ($100 million), and his biggest box-office success ($425 million worldwide).

Django’s journey from slave to superhero is magnificent, Schultz’s smart-talking schemes are brilliant, and Candie’s villainy is truly vile. It’s brutally violent (you sometimes wonder if Tarantino actually knows how much blood is in the human body) and twistedly funny.

And while Christoph Waltz is every ounce as good here as he was in Inglourious Basterds (he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for both), this is probably the movie that should have won Leonardo DiCaprio his Academy Award.

Standout scenes: Schultz meeting Django (and killing the Specks), taking out the Brittle Brothers, Big Daddy and the Klansmen arguing about the eye holes in the hoods, the dinner scene, the shootouts at Candyland.

Standout songs: Django by Rocky Roberts & Luis Bacalov, Who Did That to You? by John Legend, I Got a Name by Jim Croce, Too Old to Die Young by Brother Dege, Unchained (The Payback/Untouchable) by James Brown & 2Pac.

Fun Fact: The character of Django was originally written with the idea that Samuel L. Jackson would play him. It was mutually decided though, that he was too old for the part, and instead was given the role of Steven. The part was then offered to Will Smith, who foolishly turned it down because he didn’t believe Django was the true main character of the story.

 

4. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen

Regularly referred to as the greatest independent film of all time, few people saw this seminal crime masterpiece when it first came out (most discovered it after the success of Pulp Fiction).

This out-of-chronological order tale of a botched robbery (which we never actually see), is gritty, unpredictable, darkly funny and has style to spare. Reservoir Dogs was like the blueprint for everything Tarantino would create in the decades to come.

Standout scenes: The opening diner discussion about Madonna and tipping, Mr. Blonde’s maniacal dance routine while torturing Marvin, the commode story, the Mexican standoff.

Standout songs: Little Green Bag by The George Baker Selection, Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Swede, Stuck in the Middle with You by Stealers Wheel, Coconut by Harry Nilsson.

Fun Fact: Famed horror writer/director Wes Craven, the man behind A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, and Scream, couldn’t handle the infamous ear-slicing torture scene and walked out of the theatre, which Tarantino relished.

 

3. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger, Mélanie Laurent

THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY</p><p>Eli Roth (left) and Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds.</p>

THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY

Eli Roth (left) and Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds.

There are few films that teem with tension and constant dread, but then somehow drift into unexpected hilarity the way Inglourious Basterds does.

This unconventional Second World War saga follows Brad Pitt’s charismatic Lt. Aldo Raine and his band of merry misfits as they wreak havoc all over Nazi Germany, gradually working their way up to Hitler.

Christoph Waltz’s turn as Col. Hans Landa, a.k.a. "the Jew Hunter," is easily one of the best villains of the 21st century. And when Lt. Raine carves the swastika into Landa’s forehead at the end of the film and states "I think this might just be my masterpiece," you can’t help but wonder if Tarantino was thinking the same thing when he completed the movie.

And he’s close, but we’re not quite there yet.

Standout scenes: The French farmhouse interrogation, Lt. Aldo Raine wants his scalps, Hugo Stiglitz’s introduction, the strudel scene, the wickedly intense basement bar meeting and pretty much every scene involving Christoph Waltz.

Standout songs: Cat People (Putting Out Fire) by David Bowie.

Fun Fact: Tarantino has stated that the opening French farmhouse scene where Landa is interrogating Monsieur LaPadite about the Jewish family hiding under his floorboards is his all-time favourite scene that he’s ever written. Although before this, he always used to say it was the Sicilian scene from True Romance, which brings us to our next entry…

 

2. True Romance (1993)

Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Directed by: Tony Scott

Starring: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Michael Rapaport, Saul Rubinek, Bronson Pinchot

WARNER BROS.</p><p>Christian Slater (left) and Patricia Arquette in True Romance.</p>

WARNER BROS.

Christian Slater (left) and Patricia Arquette in True Romance.

This is a testament to just how great a writer Tarantino is. He didn’t even direct it, but it’s his movie through and through. Other than putting things in chronological order and keeping Clarence alive at the end, Tony Scott remained incredibly loyal to Tarantino’s original script.

And the cast? Staggering. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are a darling couple and have a genuine sexy chemistry as Clarence and Alabama. Gary Oldman has very little screen time, but manages to make Drexl the pimp one of the most notoriously sleazy bad guys of the ‘90s.

And the Sicilian Scene, with the powerhouse combo of Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper, is one of those rare scenes you can watch over and over again and never be tired of.

True Romance is, at several points, shockingly violent, but at its core, it’s a love story, and it’s a categorically beautiful one at that.

Standout scenes: Virtually everything; there are no throwaways here, but in particular, the opening conversation about Elvis, Clarence and Alabama at the movies, Clarence confronting Drexl, the Sicilian Scene, Virgil confronting Alabama, Clarence talking to himself (and Elvis) in the mirror, the Mexican standoff (clearly a staple in Tarantino films) and the final shootout in the hotel.

Standout songs: Graceland by Charlie Sexton, I Want Your Body by Nymphomania, Two Hearts by Chris Isaak, Viens Mallika Sous Le Dome Edais from Lakmé by Léo Delibes, You’re So Cool by Hans Zimmer.

Fun Fact: True Romance and Natural Born Killers were originally conceived as one movie. Tarantino and his former video store co-worker and writing partner Roger Avary (who also wrote the basis of the Gold Watch segment for Pulp Fiction) put together a script for something called The Open Road.

The idea was that Clarence was working on a screenplay during his road trip from Detroit to Los Angeles, and Natural Born Killers would have been the movie within the movie. It would have ended up being a five hour-long film though, so The Open Road was eventually split up into two separate scripts.

 

1. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros, Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Christopher Walken, Bruce Willis

Could anything else take the top spot? Except for the first couple of entries, every movie on this list is amazing in its own way, but this one clearly stands out as the Big Kahuna Burger of them all.

Everything about Pulp Fiction is exhilaratingly clever and infinitely quotable. This is a film that revels in its lurid charm. From Jules and Vincent arguing about foot massages, to Mia’s heroin overdose and adrenaline shot revival, to Butch and Marsellus’s unexpected surprise at the pawn shop — every character, every scene, every speech is packed with verbal dynamite.

It’s also overflowing with items that evoke immediate recognition: the Royale with Cheese, Ezekiel 25:17, the $5 milkshake, the gold watch, the briefcase interior we’re never shown.

Pulp Fiction instantly propelled Tarantino into the upper echelon of A-list directors, it revitalized the careers of John Travolta and Bruce Willis, and it spawned a whole new subgenre of crime films (would movies like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Go and Smokin’ Aces exist without it?).

It’s also one of those magical films that, every time you revisit it, you see something you hadn’t noticed before.

Standout scenes: All of them. Pick a scene, any scene. They’re all perfect.

Standout songs: Misirlou by Dick Dale and His Del-Tones, Jungle Boogie by Kool & The Gang, Son of a Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield, You Never Can Tell by Chuck Berry, Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon by Urge Overkill, Flowers on the Wall by the Statler Brothers.

Fun Fact: So what was in the briefcase? A popular fan theory is that it’s Marsellus’s soul, which is why it glows, why everyone who sees it is awestruck and why the combination is 666. Essentially, he sold his soul to the devil, and now he’s trying to get it back.

It’s also supposed to tie in to the band-aid on the back of his head. Allegedly that’s where the devil removes your soul. In reality, Ving Rhames had cut himself shaving before the shoot, and Tarantino liked the look, so he went with it.

Another theory claims the briefcase contains the diamonds from the heist in Reservoir Dogs.

A third theory is that it’s Elvis’s gold suit from True Romance.

Tarantino has long said it’s "whatever the viewer wants it to be." Quite literally, it was a lightbulb hooked up to a battery. Cool.

Steve Adams is a Winnipeg radio announcer, freelance writer and Quentin Tarantino super-nerd.

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