6. Jackie and Max say goodbye, Jackie Brown

Even now, as many denizens of Film Twitter have rallied around it, Jackie Brown is arguably the most underrated film in Quentin Tarantino’s filmography. It’s a rarity in his work, as it’s an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, and after the vitality of Pulp Fiction, it represented a more low-key story of criminals at an older age of their lives. That sense of a life fully lived is keenly felt in the finale of Jackie Brown, as the title character (played wonderfully by Pam Grier) and bail bondsman Max (Robert Forster) have one last reunion before parting ways. Jackie would love for Max to join her and the cash she’s absconded with, but Max wistfully has to turn down the appealing offer. Their goodbye scene has a level of maturity rarely seen in Tarantino’s other character relationships, brought incredibly to life by Grier and Forster. 

5. A conversation over a glass of milk, Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino’s 2009 epic Inglourious Basterds began a new chapter in his career, in which he used major points of American history for speculative fiction. The majority of this film feels (roughly speaking) like it could have taken place during the Allied effort in World War II before turning into a gleeful fantasy of what could have been had a handful of Americans stopped Adolf Hitler before his actual death in 1945. The opening of the film, though, sets the tone with an extended sequence steeped in suspense, as a French milk farmer is visited by the friendly and chatty Nazi Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, in an Oscar-winning, star-making performance), who already knows there’s a family of Jews hidden on the premises. The scene culminates in violence, as you might expect, but the lengthy buildup is what makes this one of Tarantino’s best: you know where it’s going, but not how it’s getting there.

once upon a time in hollywood clip

4. Back at the ranch, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has inspired a lot of debate surrounding both a number of its characters, including Brad Pitt’s laconic stuntman Cliff Booth, who figures in the film’s very best and most suspenseful sequence. In it, Booth and the flirtatious young hippie (Margaret Qualley) he keeps running into throughout L.A. make their way to the hippie’s makeshift home, the Spahn Ranch. The ranch is where old TV Westerns including Bounty Law, a show on which Booth and his friend Rick Dalton used to work, were filmed. Booth realizes that something’s amiss almost instantly, but of course, anyone with historical knowledge knows “amiss” is an understatement. The Spahn Ranch is where Charles Manson and his Helter Skelter followers laid their collective hat while inflicting murder and terror throughout Hollywood in 1969. Cliff doesn’t quite know how much danger he’s in, but his encounters with the hippies and the grouchy, senile Spahn (Bruce Dern) makes for an unbearably tense scene in which the fictional stuntman’s life is in more danger than he realizes. 

3. Stuck in the middle, Reservoir Dogs

The beginning of Quentin Tarantino’s capability to create scenes that make an indelible mark came midway through his debut, Reservoir Dogs. As in his later films, the timeline bounces around here as we watch a story of a crime gone wrong and the fallout among the code-named criminals involved. One of those criminals is Mr. Blonde, played by the ruthless Michael Madsen. Mr. Blonde (who turns out to be Vic Vega, the brother of Vincent from Pulp Fiction) is a mostly humorless tough who gets his sociopathic jollies by lacerating and torturing a cop who had the misfortune of being at the right place at the wrong time. As Mr. Blonde turns on the radio, and the Stealer’s Wheel song “Stuck in the Middle with You” plays, he dances around before slashing the cop’s ear off. Like the adrenaline-injection scene in Pulp Fiction, what makes this so terrifying is precisely that we don’t see the act of violence — we see the cop before and after the ear-cutting, not the act itself. 

2. Being the shepherd, Pulp Fiction

The opening of Pulp Fiction initially appears to be totally removed from the ensuing events. We meet a couple of low-class criminals, a romantically entwined pair played by Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer, eating breakfast in a diner. They talk about where the ideal robbery could take place, before realizing that we’re really watching them psych themselves up to rob said diner. Then, roughly two hours go by without Tarantino revisiting the diner or the characters…until the last scene, where Vincent and Jules, wearing loaner duds after Vincent accidentally kills a cohort of theirs, stop for breakfast of their own. The robbery is mostly completed — Jules calmly mediates the situation without any bloodshed, though he lets Roth and Plummer’s characters take most of the patrons’ wallets. Though, in the chronological timeline, this isn’t the end of the story, the way Jules has already achieved some kind of emotional catharsis translates into his final monologue, captured with Jackson’s genuinely moving performance. 

1. Ezekiel 25:17, Pulp Fiction

Samuel L. Jackson was an excellent, intensely focused actor long before his work as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction. His live-wire performance in the Spike Lee melodrama Jungle Fever as an emotionally wounded drug addict was so powerful that it inspired the Cannes Film Festival jury to award him Best Supporting Actor, a category they literally created to honor his work (and one they’ve never brought back). But as soon as he unleashed a Biblical monologue quoting Ezekiel 25:17 in the 1994 ensemble drama, Jackson became a star. Jules and Vincent Vega are at a low-down apartment to off some dudes who have welched on the dreaded Marsellus Wallace, after they acquire a mysterious briefcase. The run-up to the murder is Jules quoting Scripture, “with great vengeance and furious anger” until it’s time to lay down the bloody law. It’s a hell of a scene that cemented Jackson’s legendary status. 

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