13. Climactic car chase, Death Proof

It makes perfect sense that Death Proof culminates with a balls-to-the-wall car chase. The film’s ostensible lead character — at least based on screen time — is Stuntman Mike, a rugged-looking character played by Kurt Russell who is also a vicious killer. We watch him go to work in the first half of the film by murdering unsuspecting women, only for a new handful of his potential female victims to fight back in the second half. It’s all leading up to a chase wherein a female stuntperson (Zoe Bell) winds up leading the charge. This car chase is so great and so intense for one reason alone: it is always painfully clear that this is a real set of stunts, with actual cars and people being used. There’s no sense of CGI trickery, but always a death-defying air. Even before Stuntman Mike meets his end, when he and the women are driving against each other, it’s a breathless setpiece because of how real it all feels.

12. Playing a tavern game, Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds is set up in such a way that it’s really defined by lengthy setpieces more than an overall story. One of those setpieces is the height of dread, even though only a few characters live to tell the tale of what happened. A British soldier (Michael Fassbender, in one of his earliest breakout roles) has gone undercover to play a Nazi, along with one of the German members of the Basterds, in the hopes of getting a German actress (Diane Kruger) on their side in taking down the Third Reich. They meet up in a tavern to talk things over, where a group of real Nazis are hanging out and coerce them into a guessing game with suspenseful ulterior motives. The sequence goes on for a while, an endurance test as Tarantino stretches the tension as far as possible before it breaks and descends into bloodshed. It’s one of the great, indescribably sweaty and anxious scenes in his whole career.

11. A speech about a watch, Pulp Fiction

Christopher Walken is one of the great modern actors, with his off-kilter cadence and style of speaking coupled with a pair of unforgettably intense eyes. It makes sense that he’d find his way into a Tarantino film, but he’s admittedly got a small role in Pulp Fiction, one where he doesn’t interact with any of the other major performers. But his monologue as a military man bequeathing a gold watch to the son of his fallen comrade is hilariously unforgettable. The boy who receives the watch grows up to be a boxer played by Bruce Willis, holding the watch in high esteem because it was his old man’s, not because of where his old man held that watch during the Vietnam War. (Hint: in a place where the sun don’t shine.) Walken’s monologue is unexpected, ridiculous, and heartfelt, as Tarantino-esque as the rest of the film.

10. “Like a Virgin”, Reservoir Dogs

The opening scene of Quentin Tarantino’s debut film is a statement of purpose as much as any amount of violence in any of his films were. The scene features a handful of men sitting around a table at a diner talking about popular culture and the rights and wrongs of tipping waitstaff. All this occurs right before they go out to take part in a heist that will eventually kill most of them, despite their cocksure bravado. The back and forth between the men, including actors like Tarantino, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn, and others, is both hilarious and utterly mundane; they’re all well-spoken as they argue about Madonna’s music and social mores, even as they’re distracting themselves from the violent matter at hand. Tarantino’s characters would expand and grow over time, but the way they’re presented in this first film is the right way to view his baroquely loquacious bad guys.

9. Jack Rabbit Slim’s, Pulp Fiction

John Travolta’s career has had a lot of ups and downs, but one of the safest bets he’s ever made on screen has been to dance. Two of his biggest 70s-era successes, Saturday Night Fever and Grease, are as memorable for the vision of him strutting his stuff as they are for the stories around that image. Pulp Fiction largely has no need for flashy dance sequences, though it does have an incredible, needle-drop-laden soundtrack. During one segment at the 50s-throwback diner Jack Rabbit Slim’s, Travolta’s hitman Vincent Vega has brought Mia Wallace, the wife of his fearsome boss, for a night out, where she demands they dance on stage. The ensuing sequence reveals that Travolta still had the moves, as he shimmies and traces a peace sign across his face in an image that’s stuck around for 25 years, parodied to death. As unforgettable as Pulp Fiction is, it’s the dance that’s never been topped.

8. Rick Fucking Dalton, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Tarantino’s latest film brings together two of the biggest movie stars of the last 25 years, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. Both men have worked with Tarantino before, but not together. And by design, they’re not often on screen together. For one lengthy section, Pitt’s laconic stunt double is off on his own adventures while DiCaprio’s helplessly neurotic actor Rick Dalton is working as a day player on the pilot episode of a new TV Western. Rick’s big moment as the heavy is played almost entirely within the world of the show — it’s only when he biffs a line that Tarantino breaks the “reality” of what we’ve been watching. But then, Rick is able to turn things around after berating himself in his tiny trailer. He delivers a performance of such intensity that the young Method-actress girl working on the same episode whispers a heartfelt compliment, leading to him saying, to no one in particular, “Rick fucking Dalton.” It’s a wonderful, emotional scene compounded by DiCaprio’s unsurprisingly deep performance.

7. Royale with cheese, Pulp Fiction

Though Pulp Fiction isn’t Quentin Tarantino’s first film, or his first script, the second scene in Pulp Fiction is so memorable that it feels like it sets the tone for everything he’d write and direct afterwards. Two well-dressed men, Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield (Jackson) are driving along one morning in Los Angeles, talking about some important knowledge Vincent gained while traveling abroad. Specifically, they call a quarter pounder with cheese a “Royale with cheese” in France. The mundanity of this byplay is made funnier by how deadpan both Travolta and Jackson are, and by the eventual reveal that they’re hitmen about to bring the pain on some college-age schmucks. This is how they stay out of character. 

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