Best Quentin Tarantino Scenes

Over the last quarter-century, Quentin Tarantino has managed to occupy a very unique spot within the American film industry. He’s one of only a handful of filmmakers who are as recognizable to people the world over as many movie stars. How many directors are known on a one-name basis, aside from Steven Spielberg? Tarantino is similarly popular, and that meteoric rise to fame started with the theatrical release of his second film, Pulp Fiction, unveiled 25 years ago this month to unsuspecting audiences in the United States.

In honor of Pulp Fiction’s 25th anniversary, we’re counting down the 20 best scenes in Tarantino’s films, including a couple from his summer-2019 release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. As with all lists, this ranking is legally binding and official, so let’s get into it.

20. Bagheads, Django Unchained

How do you make the Ku Klux Klan funny? Admittedly, Quentin Tarantino wasn’t the first filmmaker to ponder this question — if you go back and rewatch O Brother, Where Art Thou?, you’ll see Joel and Ethan Coen grappling with the same question and coming up with a scene that makes them inherently goofy by turning their rituals into something out of Busby Berkeley. Tarantino goes the route of Monty Python, as we watch some Klansmen, played by Don Johnson and Jonah Hill, among others, struggling with their masks in a way that renders them utterly pathetic and ridiculous. There’s plenty of historical revisionism in Django Unchained, but the way Tarantino turns the Klan into something akin to the Keystone Kops is akin to how Mel Brooks made a laughingstock out of the Nazis.

19. Changing hands, Jackie Brown

The key setpiece in Jackie Brown all involves money changing hands, and the various people overseeing this handoff, from criminals to the Feds. The eponymous flight attendant Jackie Brown is at the center of all of it, even though Tarantino unfolds the events through different versions of the same timeline. The tension is raised as we watch how associates of Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson) are involved, and how ATF Agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) is trying to make sure nothing too untoward goes down. It all takes place in a very non-flashy location, a mall, but Tarantino uses the camera in such a way to keep things tense and fast-paced even in such a nondescript locale. The enjoyment and entertainment value of Jackie Brown is a bit more low-key than with other Tarantino films, but this sequence is a high point.

18. Butch and Marsellus join forces, Pulp Fiction

One of the many charms of Pulp Fiction isn’t just that you’re watching multiple stories playing out over an unexpectedly twisty, thorny timeline. It’s that characters from one story end up appearing in another in surprising ways. Most of all, there’s Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), who hovers over the entire proceedings: his wife Mia (Uma Thurman) is the same woman hitman Vincent Vega (John Travolta) has to squire around town in one segment, and he’s the same gangster who gets mad at boxer Butch (Bruce Willis) for not throwing a match. But though he and Butch don’t see eye to eye, even after the two men stare each other down as Butch is trying to escape town, they end up working together in a most unusual situation: they’re held captive by some white-trash types at a weapon store before being sodomized. Butch and Marsellus are able to escape their bonds and bring down the pain — going “medieval” on the white trash — in a visceral, intense sequence that maintains Pulp Fiction’s bold tone.

17. Candieland shootout, Django Unchained

There’s always violence in a Quentin Tarantino film, and just like Inglourious Basterds, his 2012 epic Django Unchained wasn’t going to revel in the bleak cruelty of American slavery without giving the main character a chance to deliver just desserts to the enactors of that cruelty. The climax of the film, set in Candieland, the plantation owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), is full of violence and gore as Django (Jamie Foxx) returns without his German benefactor to get his wife back and kill whoever gets in his way. As thrilling as the finale of Basterds, Django ends with an orgy of violence that’s grimly satisfying as a way to rewrite the ugliness of American history.

16. House of Blue Leaves, Kill Bill, Vol. 1

The two Kill Bill movies (and yes, this writer does regret to inform you that he’s very much on the “There are two Kill Bill movies” train) balance Tarantino’s gift of gab with outrageous bloodletting, baked into the very premise. The Bride (Thurman) has to kill a lot of people before she can enact her revenge on Bill himself. In terms of bloodshed, there’s no scene with more of it that the extended climactic battle of Volume One, in which the Bride enters the House of Blue Leaves to fight off O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) and the Crazy 88, her elite team of yakuza. The fight is wild, comic, violent and as Grand Guignol as Tarantino’s violence ever gets. The two Kill Bill films have lots of death, but none as memorable as those here.

15. Final massacre, Inglourious Basterds

What would it have been like if Adolf Hitler and his fellow Nazis were all killed at the same time? What would have happened if Hitler didn’t get the chance to off himself in a bunker in 1945? The answer to these questions comes in the form of the last major setpiece of Inglourious Basterds. The fierce heroine Shoshana (Melanie Laurent) has, after escaping Hans Landa in the opening scene, reinvented herself as a moviehouse matron in Paris who has, by sheer fate, managed to score a hell of an event: a screening of a Nazi propaganda film attended by basically every major leader in the Third Reich, up to Hitler himself. She’s prepared to go out with a flash, setting fire to nitrate film prints; lucky for her, the eponymous American soldiers are prepared to take down the Nazis as well. Though the plans don’t go entirely as expected, the upshot is that lots of characters bite the big one here, in a scene that’s both gruesome and intentionally outlandish. Of course the scene’s not realistic: it’s a bloody fever-dream fantasy meant to give catharsis that the descendants of WWII victims never received.

14. Naturalistic as hell, Reservoir Dogs

You can never know for sure how much the characters in Tarantino films are telling the truth about themselves. To wit, the revelation in the second half of Reservoir Dogs that one of the unnamed criminals involved in the heist gone wrong isn’t a criminal at all: he’s an undercover cop. Mr. Orange, played by Tim Roth, is a young cop who, as we see in a lengthy flashback, is being taught the right way to successfully do his job undercover. Mr. Orange, as he learns, has to be a great actor because of how much he has to convince his criminal cohorts that he is who he says he is. In the end, he fools just about everybody, even after being shot; in fact, it’s precisely because he fools Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) that his fate is sealed, as the somewhat less ruthless Mr. White is shocked to his core that his potential protege was a double-crosser. The flashback scene stands out both because it reflects a Tarantino hallmark — character reversals — and because it ends up raising tension for what’s going on in the present.

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