(1992, 99 minutes)
"I'm standing there drenched in panic. All these sheriffs looking at me, and they know, man."
Tarantino’s 1992 debut film made little splash at the box office, but it was praised by critics and eventually developed a huge cult following thanks to the popular success of his 1994 follow-up feature, Pulp Fiction. It currently holds a 96% approval rating on aggregate review site RottenTomatoes and was named "Greatest Independent Film of all Time" by Empire magazine. Though far more raw and less polished than his later movies, Reservoir Dogs contains many of the essential elements of his unique style of filmmaking : over-the-top violence, deadpan humor, classic music, naturalistic dialogue, pop culture references, and a non-linear storyline.
Ostensibly a heist movie, we never actually see the heist go down on screen, only the humorous build-up to it and the frantic, paranoid, bloody aftermath of it. As the movie opens, the organizer of the heist, Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney), and his son, "Nice Guy" Eddie (Chris Penn), are having breakfast with the team of six men they have assembled for the heist: Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker), Mr. Brown (Tarantino), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel). After leaving the diner, the plot jumps forward in time to after the heist, with the surviving members of the crew arguing over the way the job went down and whether or not one of them might be a cop because of how quickly the police arrived on the scene. Accusations fly and so do body parts as the team members turn on one another. Be prepared: you may never be able to listen to Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You” without cringing again.
(1994, 154 minutes)
"You feel that sting, big boy, huh? That's pride f***in' with you!"
Widely considered the most influential movie of the 1990s, Pulp Fiction won the prestigious Palme d’Or when it premiered at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival and went on to receive seven Academy Award Nominations, including Best Picture, with Tarantino and co-writer Roger Avary taking home the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Made for just $8 million, Tarantino’s sophomore effort grossed more than $200 million at the box office. The success of the movie reignited John Travolta’s career and crowned Samuel L. Jackson the baddest mofo in cinema. Tarantino so enjoyed working with Uma Thurman that the two began planning their next collaboration while Pulp Fiction was still filming (see Kill Bill: Vol. 1, below). All three actors received Academy Award nominations for their roles in the movie.
Pulp Fiction, named for the inexpensive fiction magazines published on cheap the cheap wood pulp paper during first half of the 20th Century, is a non-linear story structured around three distinct, but interrelated, storylines: Travolta’s character, contract killer Vincent Vega, is the lead character of the first story, which involves the recovery of a briefcase containing a mysterious, priceless object for his boss, a notorious gangster named Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames); Bruce Willis leads the second story as Butch Coolidge, a professional boxer in the twilight of his career who is targeted for termination by Wallace after refusing to take a dive in a fight; Jackson leads the third story as Jules Winnfield, another hitman in Wallace’s employ and Vega’s partner until he has an epiphany and decides to give up the life of crime.
The story unfolds in seven narrative sequences and you’ll probably get a little confused upon first viewing the movie, but the characters and situations are so engrossing, humorous and violent and that you won’t have time to try to stitch it all together until the credits are rolling.
(2003, 111 minutes)
"Revenge is a dish best served cold."
Like the buckets of blood used in the making of this two-part revenge epic, Tarantino’s love of Asian cinema seeps through nearly every frame of Kill Bill. The story is primarily based on the 1973 Japanese revenge film Lady Snowblood, but it contains numerous references to other Asian movies and even includes a cameo by one of the kings of Japanese chanbara (“sword fighting movies”), Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba. It also pays homage to the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone, which Tarantino would revisit 9 years later with Django Unchained. Initially, Kill Bill was intended to be one movie, but with a running time of over four hours, Tarantino decided to split it into two movies. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 debuted at #1 at the box office, taking in $22 million to become Tarantino’s highest-grossing opener to date.
The movie opens with a pregnant woman (Uma Thurman) lying in a pool of blood in the chapel where she was to be married. “The Bride” tells the out-of-frame Bill (David Carradine) that the baby is his, but he shoots her in the head anyway. Instead of dying, however, she falls into a coma that lasts four years. When she wakes from her coma, the Bride discovers that she is no longer pregnant and about to fall victim to a rapist who preys on coma patients. Despite atrophied muscles, the Bride’s years of training to be an assassin allow her to stop the rapist and escape and she vows to “kill Bill” and the rest of her former teammates in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad: O-Ren Ishii, a.k.a. Cottonmouth (Lucy Liu); Vernita Green, a.k.a. Copperhead (Vivica Fox); Elle Driver, a.k.a. California Mountain Snake (Daryl Hannah); and, Budd a.k.a. Sidewinder (Michael Madsen).
Though it really is one long movie cut in half, you don’t need to watch the second movie to enjoy the first (and, we would go over our eight-hour limit if we asked you to watch both). But, after seeing the lengths the Bride will go to get her revenge, you probably will want to anyway.
(2009, 153 minutes)
"Nazi ain't got no humanity. They're the foot soldiers of a Jew-hatin', mass murderin' maniac and they need to be dee-stroyed."
Tarantino began work on Inglourious Basterds back in 1998, but moved on to film Kill Bill and then Death Proof when he couldn’t come up with a satisfying ending for the movie. Just as Kill Bill celebrates everything Tarantino loves about Asian cinema, Basterds shows his love for gritty war movies. It premiered at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival in competition for the Palme d'Or and received an extended standing ovation from the audience. It is Tarantino’s most successful movie to date, opening to the tune of $38 million on its way to a $321 million worldwide gross. Basterds was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and Christoph Waltz, new to American cinema, took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Inglourious Basterds opens in 1941, at a French dairy where Nazi “Jew Hunter” Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), is conducting a search. He discovers that the dairy farmer has been hiding a Jewish family and orders them killed, but ends up allowing the family’s teenage daughter Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) to escape. Three years later, Shosanna runs a theater in Paris under an assumed name. When a famous German sniper takes a liking to her and decides to hold the premiere of the new Nazi propaganda movie based his exploits, Shosanna, a.k.a. Emmanuelle Mimieux, realizes that the Nazi-packed theater will afford her the perfect opportunity to avenge the deaths of her loved ones. Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt)
and the "Basterds," an elite force of eight Jewish-American soldiers who operate behind enemy lines, learn of the premiere and see it as an opportunity to end the war in one fell swoop and make plans to infiltrate the theater so that they can blow it up with Hitler inside.
The pace of Basterds is much slower and the plot more linear than most of Tarantino’s previous films, but it contains the same eclectic dialogue, interesting characters, and aestheticized violence that characterize his movies, plus the added bonus of watching plenty of goose-stepping, hatemongering Nazis get their just desserts. "That's a Bingo!"
The list of movies above will give you a much greater understanding of Tarantino's "Cinema of Cool" style of filmmaking and open your eyes to the influence his movies have had on not just the film industry, but pop culture in general. We wish we could go back and experience what it felt like to watch Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill and Inglorious Basterds again for the first time. You're in for a wild ride!