2012 marks two occasions for Quentin Tarantino. First, tomorrow marks the release of Tarantino’s 8th feature, Django Unchained. Second, 2012 marks 20 years of Tarantino-directed films. His debut feature introduced what would become hallmarks of a Tarantino film: pop culture references, excessive profanity, violent crime, and a nonlinear storyline. One of my favorite Tarantino traits is his ability to take various old film styles and mix them up in a way that they feel fresh (and new to those not familiar with those styles). Another favorite trait would be long dialogue scenes. Each one feels like a mini-movie, and they never, ever hurt the story he’s telling. He has been accused of ripping off certain movies, but I feel he’s paying homages to those films (there’s a line between paying homage and directly ripping off, and he manages to stay in homage territory). The focus of this appreciation will be on the following films: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Death Proof, and Inglourious Basterds (1995’s Four Rooms is being left out because it is a terrible anthology film featuring segments directed by three others directors)
Tarantino first appeared on the scene at the Sundance Film Festival with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs. This directorial feature debut follows a group of thieves during the events that occur before and after a botched diamond heist. Featuring an ensemble cast that includes Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Lawrence Tierney, and even a cameo from Tarantino himself, this critically acclaimed film’s influences include 1952’s Kansas City Confidential and 1987’s City On Fire and introduced what would become the (previously-mentioned) hallmarks of a Tarantino film.
Tarantino’s follow-up would be 1994’s Pulp Fiction. This film connects the intersecting storylines of Los Angeles mobsters, fringe players, small-time criminals, and a mysterious briefcase. Featuring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Rosanna Arquette, Eric Stoltz, Maria De Medeiros, Christopher Walken, and Harvey Keitel, this critical and box office hit would garner Tarantino his only Oscar win (so far), which was for Best Original Screenplay (he was also nominated for Best Director).
Tarantino’s third film would be 1997’s Jackie Brown. Based on the novel “Rum Punch” by Elmore Leonard, this film focused on a female flight attendant who becomes a key figure in a plot between the ATF and a dangerous arms dealer. Featuring Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert DeNiro, Michael Keaton, Bridget Fonda, and Chris Tucker, this critically acclaimed film was Tarantino’s homage to 1970s blaxploitation films but wasn’t as big a box office hit as his previous film. It did manage to garner a Supporting Actor Oscar nod for Forster.
(To be concluded in: Quentin Tarantino: An Appreciation Part Two)