"I don't believe in elitism. I don't think the audience is this dumb person lower than me. I am the audience." -- Quentin Tarantino
This week, actor David Carradine passed away. To me he was best known for his wonderful work as Caine in Kung Fu, but most recently he starred in Quentin Tarantino's two Kill Bill movies. Quentin is one of my favorite auteur filmmakers. Among his many skills is his ability to take great actors from the past whom society might think have past their peak and cast them in great roles, rejuvenating their careers. While Carradine had a long, admirable career, Quentin put him back in the spotlight. It was a brilliant role that will long be remembered. Carradine might be gone, but his work lives on, immortalized on the big and small screens.
Thinking of Carradine made me think of Tarantino and his movies. Here is how I rank them, from my favorite to my least favorite. I only considered his movies, so I didn't rate television episodes that he directed, such as ER and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. I also didn't rank movies for which he wrote the screenplay but didn't direct, i.e., True Romance, Natural Born Killers, or From Dusk Till Dawn. Quentin is also an actor, but I didn't consider movies in which he performed that he didn't direct, like Desperado. I also didn't count films like Sin City in which Quentin allegedly directed some scenes.
So here we go...
1. Pulp Fiction -- This is Quentin Tarantino's masterpiece. His edgy, nonlinear story starring Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Eric Stoltz, and Rosanna Arquette literally took the world by storm and changed the face of cinema. I remember seeing it for the first time at a special sneak preview weeks before its official public debut, not knowing what to expect, and the impact it had on me. Beyond the violence was a powerful matrix of tales about complex, multi-layered characters seeking redemption.
2. Reservoir Dogs -- Quentin's first film wasn't as earth-shaking as Pulp Fiction but it was almost as masterful. Critics accused it of glorifying violence and amorality, but at its heart this is a morality play about good versus evil, trust versus betrayal. This has all the trademarks of Tarantino's better films: symbolism, excellent dialogue, shocking plot twists, non-linear narratives, jarring but poignant violence, and memorable characters (in this case Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, and Chris Penn.)
3. Kill Bill: Volume 2 -- The second part of Tarantino's Kill Bill duo was, in my opinion, even better than the first. Featuring what was David Carradine's finest performance, this ranks as one of the best.
4. Kill Bill: Volume 1 -- Uma Thurman plays the nameless Bride obsessed with revenge for those who ruined her life. Quentin took his magnum opus and split it into two separate movies, each with its own feel, each working perfectly on their own. This first part was kinetic, over-the-top, full of adrenaline, mixing film styles but possessing a cohesive narrative that grips the audience and leaves them hanging in the end, begging for more but exhausted from the madcap ride they just witnessed on the screen.
5. Four Rooms -- This experimental film with four separate stories set in a hotel, written and directed by four separate directors, linked together by a Bellhop played by Tim Roth, was a fun diversion. My favorite segment was actually the one directed by Robert Rodriguez and starring Antonio Banderas, but Quentin Tarantino's quarter of the tale is pretty good too.
6. Jackie Brown -- Not one of Quentin's best, but still a decent movie with hints of brilliance at times. The extremely slow pace compared to his other films is probably the biggest flaw of the movie. The scenes with Samuel Jackson, when the pace picks up, are some of his finest. The acting, as always, is superb, with Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, and Robert DeNiro playing roles to remember. I only wish the story could have been a little stronger. It doesn't measure up to Quentin's other screenplays.
7. Grindhouse -- I was disappointed by this collaboration between Quentin and Robert Rodriguez, another favorite director of mine. Whereas in their previous movies, violence served a purpose to the plots' underlying themes and acted as a counterpoint to broader messages, in this case the violence was purposefully merciless and unforgiving. That was the movie makers' point, harking back to the drive-in movies of another time, but I expected more from Tarantino and Rodriguez than a simple genre rehash for shock value appeal.
I'm looking forward to Quentin's next movie, Inglourious Basterds, and wonder where it will rank in his filmography. In the meantime, we mourn the passing of David Carradine and hope he's now resting in peace.