Quentin Tarantino is an American filmmaker known for his episodic and nonlinear storytelling, his heavy reliance on dialogue, his heavy reliance on violence and a general influence from sixties and seventies entertainment. He is also one of the most consistently entertaining directors in Hollywood. My Top 100 Films list is constantly changing but the majority of his films have been on it at some point. I’ve seen all of them and I like every single one. Their consistent quality makes it difficult to single any of them out, but I will say that I personally enjoyed Django Unchained the most. A slave getting revenge on a slave owner is the kind of thing that going to the movies is all about.
Quentin Tarantino was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1963. He was the only child of actor and producer parents. He was even named after Burt Reynolds’ character from Gunsmoke Quint Asper. He moved around a lot as a kid due to family issues such as his parents’ divorce, but one constant in his life was his love for movies, a love that was encouraged by the adults in his life who allowed him to see adult-oriented movies like Carnal Knowledge and Deliverance.
He dropped out of high school and obtained several jobs, including usher at a porn theater and eventually video store clerk. Tarantino was such a movie buff that he encouraged customers to rent many obscure but great films. Tarantino was self-taught as a filmmaker. His education was watching movies. This may be why he stands out so much from other filmmakers and has such a distinct and recognizable style.
Film producer Lawrence Bender met Tarantino at a Hollywood party and encouraged him to write a screenplay. His first attempt was, to the surprise of no one who knows him, a ’70s-inspired exploitation action film, but it went nowhere. His first film was My Best Friend’s Birthday (1987), the screenplay of which later formed the basis for the feature film True Romance.
In addition, he got his foot in the door as a production assistant and even attended acting classes, which is where he met some of his future collaborators, including the man who would help him produce My Best Friend’s Birthday. As he tried to make a career for himself as a filmmaker, he got acting gigs on the side, including a role in an episode of the fourth season of NBC sitcom The Golden Girls in 1988 as an Elvis impersonator. A sentence that is truly bizarre to read about the man who would go on to direct movies like Pulp Fiction. Tarantino would often act in his own movies.
He first got a paid writing gig in the early nineties when Robert Kurtzman hired him to write action horror film From Dusk Till Dawn, which would end up being directed by Robert Rodriguez and released in 1996, long after Tarantino had already hit it big in the film industry.
The first film that made everyone stand up and take notice of Tarantino’s talent as a director was his feature film directorial debut Reservoir Dogs (1992), a neo-noir heist film starring Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Edward Bunker and Tarantino himself as diamond thieves whose planned jewelry heist goes terribly wrong. The movie is told in a nonlinear way, depicting the events taking place before and after the heist. The film is a dialogue-driven masterpiece that largely takes place in one room. It set the tone for future Tarantino films and was an immediate hit when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Tarantino had success selling scripts for films like True Romance and Natural Born Killers, but the more creative control Tarantino had over the films themselves, the better his scripts would turn out, and as Reservoir Dogs had proved, Tarantino was an outstanding director as well as writer. In fact, Reservoir Dogs was so good that he was offered numerous chances to direct films like Speed and Men in Black, but he turned them all down to make his own movies. He made the right choice because his next film would catapult him to stardom.
Pulp Fiction (1994) tells the stories of several criminals in L.A., including two hit men named Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield played by John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson (in a career-defining role), the crime boss who hires Vincent and Jules named Marsellus Wallace played by Ving Rhames, Butch Coolidge an aging boxer played by Bruce Willis who deceives Marsellus by throwing a fight in exchange for payment and takes off with the money, and Marsellus’ wife Mia Wallace played by Uma Thurman.
Pulp Fiction won critical acclaim and was a commercial success. It’s not hard to see why since it’s one of the most interesting and original films of 1994. The dialogue between the characters was by far the most entertaining thing about the movie and it even won Tarantino the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. He also got an Oscar nomination for Best Director and the film was nominated for Best Picture. It lost to Tom Hanks crowdpleaser Forrest Gump but the Cannes Film Festival honored it with the Palmes d’Or.
He followed Pulp Fiction up with the film Jackie Brown (1997), an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch. The film was an homage to the blaxploitation films of the seventies and it starred Pam Grier, who was an actor in many of those films including most famously Foxy Brown, Coffy and The Big Bird Cage. Grier got a career boost from this movie, the first to win her accolades and nominations from organizations like SAG, the NAACP Image Awards and the Golden Globes. The film, which also starred Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro, was also very entertaining. Leonard even called it his favorite screen adaptation of any of his novels.
The next two films Tarantino would write and direct would be Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004). The two films tell a single story about a woman played by Uma Thurman known as the Bride, who swears revenge on a team of assassins after they attempt to kill her and her unborn child. The films star Lucy Liu, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah and Vivica A. Fox as the assassins and David Carradine as their leader Bill.
Tarantino and Thurman had actually developed the plot for this film during the making of Pulp Fiction. Tarantino had originally planned the two films as a single film but the script was too long for one movie. It was an homage to spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation, martial arts films and Japanese anime. The scene where Thurman battles the yakuza in Tokyo may be the most violent thing Tarantino ever filmed and the choreography is equally jaw-dropping.
In between his own films, Tarantino directed a segment of the horror double feature Grindhouse (2007). While Robert Rodriguez directed the zombie thriller Planet Terror, Tarantino directed Death Proof, which was about a group of young women being targeted by a misogynistic psychopathic stuntman played by Kurt Russell. Grindhouse had more success when they released Planet Terror and Death Proof separately on home video and internationally, but both films won praise from critics and are satisfyingly terrifying entertainment.
The next film Tarantino would direct would be Inglourious Basterds (2009), which he originally wanted to make immediately after Jackie Brown but it would take a decade before he was satisfied with the script. The film starred Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger and Mélanie Laurent in her Hollywood debut. The film was revisionist history that followed the story of Jewish-American guerilla soldiers in Nazi-occupied France during World War II and their plot to assassinate the Nazi leadership. It was pure Tarantino fantasy but it was once again a huge success with audiences and critics and received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture.
My favorite of Tarantino’s films was Django Unchained (2012) starring Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. Django is another stylish tribute to spaghetti westerns, this one set in the 1850s south and following a former slave who tracks down the plantation owner who owns his wife and plans to get her back.
Tarantino had intended for Django Unchained to be a slave story that didn’t focus on the heavy issue of slavery like Roots but instead used the Deep South and slavery as the seed for what is essentially a revenge story, and it is supremely satisfying. It is the first western I’ve ever watched that was seen through the point of view of a slave and definitely the first one where (spoiler alert) a slave blows up a plantation.
Tarantino won an Oscar for his screenplay and the film was nominated for Best Picture.
His next film The Hateful Eight (2015) would be another western. It told the story of eight strangers (Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern) who seek refuge from a blizzard in a stagecoach lodge.
The film was inspired by episodes of western TV shows like Bonanza and The Virginian which often used a trope where outlaws would hold the lead characters hostage and your perspective on some characters would change as certain things about their past would be revealed but sometimes you also didn’t know who to trust. Tarantino created a film about bad guys stuck in a room without good guys, gave them all guns and wrote a story about the violent results. Its reviews were generally favorable but it is not as sharp as his previous work. This is the first Tarantino film where I felt the violence bordered on gratuitous.
Next up for Tarantino was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) set in 1969 and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a fading western TV star and Brad Pitt as his former stunt double and friend. It told the story of how they got involved in the lives of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and the Manson family before the tragic murders. Like Inglourious Basterds, it is an alternate history version of a true story. Reviews have been positive and it has received a long standing ovation at Cannes. It was the first Quentin Tarantino film I had ever seen on the big screen. Bucket list item checked.
Tarantino had previously stated that he would retire from directing after ten movies. Which means there is a possibility that whatever he directs after Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will be the last film he ever directs.
I don’t know what he will decide to do, but in the past he has expressed interest in adapting Bret Easton Ellis’s 1985 novel Less Than Zero, collaborating with J.J. Abrams on a Star Trek film and even filming Kill Bill: Volume 3, so who knows.
I find it hard to believe that a film geek like Tarantino would ever retire from making movies, but on the other hand, he has done more than enough to earn retirement. He is one of the only directors I trust so much that I will literally watch anything he directs. Not even indie favorites of mine like Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith, Wes Anderson and Spike Lee have earned that distinction.
What is it about Quentin Tarantino that I love so much? It’s not the endless cursing or the hardcore violence. It has always been the writing. It is the most essential ingredient of any film, and Tarantino insures that it is never butchered because he always writes and directs his own movies. He is a director with a clear vision and a clear idea of what is entertaining, and despite his reputation, it is not katanas and explosions. It is making you fall in love with the character wielding the katana so that it is all the more satisfying when they chop off the enemy’s head. I don’t know what kind of mind comes up with the ideas for these movies, but the resulting films have given me endless joy.