The eleven best scenes from Quentin Tarantino movies
"All you can do is pray for a quick death... which you ain't going to get"
Quentin Tarantino makes good movies. He also makes long movies. Movies that go off down wandering detours, or stop for extended monologues, or even the odd anime short film. There are those who think he’s got too self-indulgent, or needs a studio to reign him in. But those people, be damned. His shaggy dog style is part of what makes his work so enjoyable, and so unique, taking time to layer on the scenes that most filmmakers would have cut from the screenplay long before the cameras started rolling. Many of his greatest individual scenes almost work as stand-alone short films, perfectly crafted and formed and wholly enjoyable in their own right.
So, with QT’s latest film, the Tinseltown saga One Upon A Time In Hollywood due out in the UK next month, here are the eleven best scenes from Tarantino movies.
11: Pulp Fiction – The Watch Speech
Pulp Fiction is full of famous faces in either star-making turns or career-best performances. Yet arguably its most brilliant moment comes from an actor who appears on-screen for only four minutes, shot from basically just one angle.
Following the drama of Uma Thurman’s overdose, we are suddenly confronted by a close-up of the strange late-1950s, barely-animated kid’s show Clutch Cargo, putting us in the eyes of an as-yet-unknown young boy. And then enter Christopher Walken, possibly the freakiest actor of his generation, initially appearing to have been cast against type, talking to us directedly, via the child’s POV.
At first, it feels like he is telling a heroic story of the boy’s father, but suddenly it takes an unexpected dive into the scatological, with the reveal that the watch has been hidden in multiple people’s rectums. All the while, Walken plays it straight, with typical Walken intensity. It is a brilliant short film all on its own, delivering everything Quentin Tarantino does best – dazzling dialogue, incredible performances, and complete mastery of camerawork to grip the viewer from the first frame - in miniature form. Small enough to hide up your ass, if you will.
10: Kill Bill Vol 1 - The anime bit
Ok, technically, you could argue that this shouldn’t actually be on a list of best scenes directed by Quinten Tarantino, as this seven-minute segment is credited to Japanese animator Kazuto Nakazawa. But cutting to a full-on anime short in the middle of your big mainstream release is one of the most Quentin Tarantino things imaginable. Produced by Production I.G., the studio behind anime smashes like Ghost In The Shell and Attack On Titan, it would be wrong if Japanese animation was left out of a celebration of Asian cult cinema.
9: Inglourious Basterds – The opening interrogation
It takes guts to open your big Brad Pitt-starring World War II adventure with 20 minutes of pretty much just two characters talking. Especially when those two are French star Denis Ménochet and Austrian TV journeyman Christoph Waltz. But that is Quentin Tarantino’s genius. Straight away, we are introduced to Waltz’s 'Jew Hunter' Hans Landa and instantly we understand how terrifying, yet also chillingly charismatic he is. Tarantino racks up the tension with barely anything happening.
8: Kill Bill Vol 2 – Pai Mei’s training montage
Unlike the first instalment, Kill Bill Vol 2 does feel like a bit of a slog at times, lacking the energy of part one and bit obsessed with its own lore. However, it did give us an absolutely wonderful training montage, where martial arts master Pai Mei (played by real-life kung fu star Gordon Liu) teaches the Bride his Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique. The whole scene is a joyous parody of 1970s Shaw Bros kung-fu flicks, complete with cheesy zooms and rear-projection.
7: Pulp Fiction – "I want to dance"
Ok, so now this scene is probably best remembered for all the Halloween costumes it has inspired. But try to remember what this would have been like seeing it for the first time in 1994. When John Travolta was all washed up, and hadn’t danced since the 1970s. When Uma Thurman was still mostly an unknown, and that Chuck Berry song was something everyone had forgotten about. Watching it now, you forget all the parodies, all the bad recreations. Uma Thurman is still as effortlessly cool as she ever was. And Travolta is still a schlubby dork, but that is also kind of what makes it as well.
6: Reservoir Dogs - ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’
Juxtaposing extreme violence with an upbeat pop song is so, so tired these days, we know. It is no longer big or clever. But when a late-twenties Quentin Tarantino matched up Michael Madsen ripping off a cop's ear to Stealers Wheels’ 1973 hit (a “Dylanesque pop bubblegum favourite”, as Steven Wright’s sardonic DJ perfectly puts it), it was jaw-dropping – and instantly became the only thing people would think about in regards to the song for the rest of time. Obviously, the violence is terrifying but it is Madsen’s awful dance that makes it.
5: Death Proof – The chase
Originally released as part of the ill-fated Grindhouse double-bill experiment, alongside Robert Rodriguez’s far-superior Death Proof, it is pretty safe to say that Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino’s least regarded film by a long way. While the set-up isn’t without potential – Kurt Russell plays a serial killer stuntman who dispatches his victims by deliberately crashing while they’re in the passenger seat of his tricked out ride – it consists mostly of endless scenes of girls discussing 1970s car movies, a rare instance of Tarantino’s famous dialogue falling very flat.
However, the movie truly comes alive in the last ten minutes or so, delivering arguably the single most exciting sequence of his entire career. Real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell performs a jaw-dropping display riding on the bonnet of a speeding Dodge Charger on a country road when Russell attacks them. The tables are quickly turned however, with the Bell and her friends (Rosario Dawson and Traci Thoms) set off in pursuit. The impossibly-funky theme from obscure 1970s Euro-cop thriller Italia a Mano Armata blasts on the soundtrack, while the two cars burst through a cinema billboard onto a busy highway, almost as if the Quentin Tarantino movie has crashed into the real world. What follows is an utter gem of a car chase, one that's really spoken about as it is stuck at the end of a largely-turgid two-hour movie.
4: Inglourious Basterds –“Well, if this is it, old boy, I hope you don’t mind if I go out speaking the King’s?”
Knowing that he was already a master at creating multi-layered explosive dialogue set-pieces with multiple characters, Tarantino decided to make things that bit more difficult for himself by writing Inglourious Basterds in multiple languages. Barely hindered by this, the centrepiece bar scene, where Michael Fassbender’s undercover Royal Marine Lieutenant is slowly rumbled by a Gestapo officer, is absolutely thrilling despite the fact most of it just guys sitting down, talking. And the way Fassbender switches back to English is a masterclass in calm, collected coolness.
3: Jackie Brown - The killing of Beaumont
In some ways, the fate of Chris Tucker’s Beaumont in Jackie Brown is a crystallisation of Quentin Tarantino’s filmmaking style, beyond pop culture references and needle drops. Samuel L Jackson’s Ordell killing the informant by luring him into an abandoned lot in the trunk of his car, is both a plot point and a character moment, but it is the sort of thing that another filmmaker would convey in a thrity-second scene, or even just in dialogue. But this is Tarantino, the master of a shaggy detour that ends up being just as memorable as anything else in the movie.
2: Kill Bill Vol 1 - Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves
Kill Bill Vol 1 is Quentin Tarantino’s most lightweight and breezy film, being as it is really just the first half of the story. But it also might be his most purely enjoyable. Little more than a collection of really cool things from other movies Quinten wants to tell you about, it all comes together perfectly in the final showdown, where Uma Thurman takes on seemingly hundreds of O-Ren Ishii’s guards. Every element just drips cool. Thurman’s yellow Bruce Lee-inspired tracksuit. The Crazy 88s suits and Kato masks. The Yuen Woo-ping choreography. The girl from Battle Royale. The appearance of Japanese surf rock band The 220.127.116.11s. It all comes together as a deliriously entertaining piece of cinema.
1: Jackie Brown – Jackie and Max Cherry listen to The Delfonics
We can argue all day, but the correct answer to the question ‘What is the best Quentin Tarantino film?’ is, and always will be, Jackie Brown. It is his most human, most heartfelt movie, and maybe the only one where his characters actually feel like real people. Nowhere is this more evident than in this scene early in the film were bail bondsman Max Cherry visits Jackie, and he plays him ‘Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)’. They are two characters facing up to their obsolescence, and the paths not taken. Part of this is the casting – both Robert Forster and Pam Grier, considered to be on the scrapheap by Hollywood by 1997. But most of it is in the simple details. In Jackie Brown not being able to upgrade her vinyl to CDs, but also realising that she doesn’t really get new music anymore.
Quentin Tarantino characters normally reel off pop culture knowledge like they were a human Wikipedia. Here, Max has to ask who the record is. And the total of Max's analysis? One word: "Nice". No need for soliloquies about Madonna or Big Macs here. Just an old man quietly enjoying a song he has never heard before. It is beautiful.