1. Jackie Brown (1997)
I’ve put this first because it’s Tarantino’s most underrated, overlooked movie – a delightful thriller, strong on both plot and characterisation.
It’s a conscious homage to the ‘blaxploitation’ films of the 1970s, with Pam Grier taking the lead as a flight attendant who finds both the FBI and gun-runners on her tail. It boasts an outstanding cast that includes Robert de Niro, Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson (by this time a Tarantino regular).
It’s adapted from the novel Rum Punch by the great Elmore Leonard, and Tarantino captures his terse, almost throwaway dialogue perfectly. A total treat.
2. Pulp Fiction (1994)
The film that proved a game-changer for the 1990s, gleefully playing with chronology, packed with arresting, funny dialogue and demonstrating real verve and audacity.
These intertwined stories dealt with characters often relegated to minor roles: a pair of hitmen (Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta), a gangster’s wife with an eye for the gentlemen (Uma Thurman) and a guy who ‘cleans up’ the evidence of crime scenes (Harvey Keitel).
It’s almost impossibly entertaining, full of quotable one-liners – and the dance sequence with Travolta and Thurman is sheer bliss. It won the Palme d’Or in Cannes, confirming Tarantino as a world-class talent.
3. Reservoir Dogs (1991)
One of the greatest debuts by any film-maker, this proved a huge influence on a whole generation of younger directors. (Tarantino himself was only 27 when it was released.) It’s a great premise; a gang rob a jewellery store, it all goes badly wrong, and the survivors try to guess between themselves which one ratted to the cops.
Its brilliant, colourful dialogue is delivered with low-key humour. The black-suited gang and their strange codes and manners entered our culture, and remain an immediately recognisable part of it to this day. It felt as if Tarantino had created a whole world in a mere 99 minutes.
4. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
By this stage of his career, Tarantino had developed a taste for making longer films, which inevitably produced mixed results.
Inglourious Basterds, about a squad of Jewish-American soldiers intent on killing prominent Nazis in World War II certainly had its moments, notably a remarkably tense opening scene in a French farmhouse, with Christoph Waltz, a Nazi charged with hunting down the Jews, interrogating a farmer hiding fugitives.
A handful of other set-pieces are almost as memorable, and on the whole it’s more than worthwhile, but this strange revenge fantasy of Tarantino’s also drags in places.
5. Django Unchained (2014)
Tarantino has long indulged himself in playing with movie genres, a tendency which flowered with the two wildly overlong Kill Bill movies. In this often bloody epic, he riffs on spaghetti westerns, though the theme of black American slavery is the main subject matter.
Again, the formidable Waltz is the standout, playing a German bounty hunter who delivers Jamie Foxx from his slave chains. Waltz makes the brilliant first hour fly by before he disappears.
Notions of good taste quickly make an exit as Tarantino assembles his curious mish-mash of manically scattershot themes. Towards the end, it loses steam, especially during a drawn-out dinner-table scene presided over by Leonardo di Caprio as a plantation owner.