I recently saw The Hateful Eight, the eighth film by one of my favourite directors, Quentin Tarantino. I’ll need to see it again, but I think I can safely include it in ranking his films.
The Hateful Eight
ince its release, The Hateful Eight has been controversial, as all Tarantino pictures usually are at first. I’ve heard that it’s Tarantino’s most violent (it’s not); that it’s treatment of its only female character is somehow deplorable (it really isn’t); that the N-word is grossly overused (its use is definitely discomfiting, but that’s obviously the aim.) In short, its release has been very much like every other Tarantino film.
Also, like every Tarantino film since Jackie Brown, I left the film with mixed emotions. I anxiously await Tarantino films with such high expectations, or perhaps more accurately, such preconceived notions, that it takes a while to reconcile the expected vs. the delivered before I can truly rate the movie.
I can say this was very much the case with The Hateful Eight as well. The difference though, is that after watching a few of his other films, even in the period of uncertainty when I’m quite sure how I felt about them, I could point to more scenes, or bits of dialogue, or characters that I was generally over-the-moon about than I can with The Hateful Eight.
Samuel L. Jackson was phenomenal, to start. He always is, really, but it was great to see him finally in something worthy of his services. Walton Goggins, also put in a hell of a performance, but that’s really where things sort of drop off. Jennifer Jason Leigh is quite good, even borderline great, but doesn’t have much to do until the third act. I was excited to see Tim Roth in a QT film again, but it turned out that not only was his role very obviously written for Christoph Waltz, but then Roth took to adopting a Waltz impression for most of the film.
Michael Madsen was great, as always in QT’s universe, but wasn’t given nearly enough to do, either. Kurt Russel, in an absolutely pivotal role shows only flashes of being really good and more time than not looking just a touch out of step with the rhythm of the movie. Channing Tatum’s inclusion was odd as well1 — he doesn’t have nearly enough gravitas as an actor to hang with this crew and felt like he was trying to punch a class or two above his weight.
These are my initial thoughts. I still definitely need to see the film again, it should be noted that I was also quite down on Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained after first seeing them too2. Part of the reason I wanted to sit down and collect my thoughts before a second and third viewing was I want to see just how much my feelings can change, or whether my initial reactions will hold true.
Tarantino’s Films, Ranked
et me start by saying that along with The Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Woody Allen, Michael Mann, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh and Martin Scorsese3, Quentin Tarantino is one of my favourite directors making movies today. I love all of his movies. In fact, of all the directors I listed, he may have the tightest filmography of them all. When I came out of The Hateful Eight, part of my trying to gauge how I felt about it was comparing it within the Tarantino canon. Here’s what I came up with, from least favourite to most favourite:
DEATH PROOF (2007)
Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino’s worst movie, but, to borrow a simile, that’s like saying going 12-4 and winning the Super Bowl is worse than going 15-1 and winning the Super Bowl. Death Proof is also not a typical movie: it’s obviously, explicitly made as homage to the kind of double-bill grindhouse classics QT (and Planet Terror’s director Robert Rodriguez) grew up watching. It’s filmed in that aesthetic, with that kind of acting, with that kind of story. If you’re willing to buy in and enjoy the ride (excuse the pun,) Death Proof is actually a lot of fun and a damn good movie. Far better than its beleaguered reputation.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)
So, here it is, The Hateful Eight. I think in the end I feel like Tarantino maybe tried to do too much here. The movie is supposedly a cross between a western and an Agatha Christie-style whodunit. The problem is in the execution: there really isn’t enough time spent examining the mystery, and when it’s finally revealed, it seems it wasn’t all that important anyways. By trying to be two things, it ended up being neither, really. The flashes of brilliance in The Hateful Eight really are brilliant though, and Samuel L. Jackson being given a heavy workload from QT is as good as it gets.
KILL BILL: VOLUME 1 (2003)
Kill Bill: Volume 1 is a lot of fun. Tarantino at his most over-the-top, ultraviolent best. Uma Thurman in what is undoubtedly her signature performance as an assassin trying to leave her band of killers-for-hire in favour of a life of suburban normalcy. Her mentor and former lover, played by David Carradine, spitefully decides he’d rather have her dead. After he and his assassins leave Thurman’s character for dead, Volume 1 is her recovery and her confronting the first two of the people responsible for her attack.
KILL BILL: VOLUME 2 (2004)
Where Kill Bill: Volume 1 is all bluster and flash, Kill Bill: Volume 2 is far more patiently paced. There’s still plenty of action as Uma Thurman takes out the remaining members of the group of assassins she once belonged to that tried to kill her, but the dialogue in Volume 2 is what sets it apart. This is where the truly elite Tarantino films start.
DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
Django Unchained is a revenge flick set in the antebellum South and tells the story of a German bounty hunter, played expertly by Christoph Waltz, who buys, frees and partners with the titular slave Django, played by Jamie Foxx. Foxx’s Django agrees to help Waltz’s bounty hunter in exchange for help in rescuing his still-enslaved wife, played by the magnificent Kerri Washington. Despite Foxx never quite feeling like a QT troupe member, he plays the role quite well. Waltz is once again incredible and seems as born to play Tarantino roles as Samuel L. Jackson does. Leonardo DiCaprio plays villainous plantation owner Calvin Candie in what I would describe as a gleeful performance. The cast (which also includes Samuel L. Jackson4 and Walton Goggins) is fantastic from top-to-bottom in this film that Tarantino described as Roots, if it had ended the way we all wanted it to end.
RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
Reservior Dogs put Tarantino on the map, and it carries plenty of nostalgic weight because it changed and influenced American cinema so heavily. What more needs to be said about this movie that hasn’t been said in the last 20+ years? It was our first look at Tarantino’s incredible dialogue with stand-out conversations revolving around the meaning of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” whether waitresses deserve to be tipped, and the undeniability of Pam Grier’s sexiness. The lasting image is of course Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde dancing to Stealer’s Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You” while torturing a chair-bound cop with a straight razor.
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)
Inglourious Basterds features no fewer than two of the greatest scenes Quentin Tarantino has ever written5, which is saying something. Basterds, like Django, is a historically-set revenge movie where Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raines leads am elite group of Jewish Allied guerrilla soldiers behind enemy lines. It was also Christoph Waltz’s introduction to an American audience, and what an introduction it is. Waltz absolutely steals the show, immediately propelling himself into the Tarantino Hall of Fame. Brad Pitt’s performance is great as Raines and contributes much of the movie’s darkly comedic moments. Mélanie Laurent plays an escaped Jew who, through her cinema ownership, finds herself fortuitously placed to host the hugely important premiere of a new nazi propaganda film that will be attended by the top-level nazi brass. Both Laurent’s character and the Basterds have, unbeknownst to one other, hatched a plan for the premiere. Inglourious Basterds is such a fantastic film because when Tarantino is at his best, the darkness or violence in his films have an underpinning of humour or glee or playfulness. Inglourious Basterds has all of those traits in spades.
JACKIE BROWN (1997)
After the huge success of Pulp Fiction, expectations and anticipation were through the roof for Tarantino’s next picture. Jackie Brown was the first of many Zigs Tarantino would make when audiences expected him to Zag. Whereas Pulp Fiction was loaded with stars crammed into an ensemble, Jackie Brown is a testament to trusting aged and forgotten, but no less talented, actors with unbelievably rich material. The movie has a wonderfully convoluted plot, Pam Grier, Robert Forster and Michael Keaton are all excellent while Robert De Niro in an under-the-radar performance is unbelievably good. Again, as always, Samuel L. Jackson steals the show. Jackie Brown is oh-so-close to being my favourite Tarantino film.
PULP FICTION (1994)
There’s a certain segment of the internet out there that will try to tell you that either Pulp Fiction isn’t Tarantino’s best movie, or even more unacceptable, that Pulp Fiction hasn’t aged well. They’re both ridiculous statements. And just wrong. Pulp Fiction is an incredible movie, filled with great performances by great actors reading some of Tarantino’s best lines. I’m not going to break down the plot for you — if you’ve never seen Pulp Fiction you should shut your computer down now and go do that and you and I can be friends again as soon as you’re finished. It’s Samuel L. Jackson’s greatest possible role. I love movies, and while I can never choose a single favourite, I usually respond to the question by saying that if I could only ever watch one movie for the rest of my life, it would probably be Pulp Fiction. What greater a compliment could there possibly be?
He’s listed in the opening credits, so don’t accuse me of spoilers here.↩
This is relatively speaking, of course, I’ve yet to see a Tarantino film I didn’t immediately rate more highly than approximately 80% of all other movies.↩
I’m almost certainly missing some others, here.↩
One being the opening scene featuring Christoph Waltz’s “the Jew hunter” Hans Landa interrogating a French dairy farmer about harboring Jews in the midst of WWII. And the other being the tavern scene where two members of the Basterds accompany an Allied spy to meet with a German mole while trying to pass for SS officers.↩