By Matt Singer | Criticwire December 24, 2012 at 10:05AM
Q: In honor of this week's release of "Django Unchained," what is Quentin Tarantino's best film?
The critics' answers:
"For Quentin Tarantino's best -- well, best or not, my favorite is still 'Jackie Brown;' interestingly, I spoke to Samuel L. Jackson recently and it's his favorite too ('It's about adults') and the one QT film he'd choose, even over 'Pulp Fiction,' to put in his own best-of box. But interestingly, I don't think it's Tarantino's favorite; all the films he's made since then have been much more pop-culture driven (and, I'd argue, more about other movies than about people)."
"I honestly think it may be 'Django Unchained' (although comparing Tarantino films is like comparing apples with afros to samurai sword-wielding oranges). Having so much of his canon dusted in Western influence (and even scored by Ennio Morricone), seeing Tarantino now be able to unholster his love for this genre is akin to watching Jackson Pollock slop calculated paint strokes all over a canvas -- if that paint was blood, his paint brush was Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz, and his canvas was the Old West."
"In 'Django Unchained,' Tarantino doesn't stop with parody and reaches an unprecedented emotional depth. With his best film by far, he shows splendid maturation as a filmmaker, challenges himself and the audience, and goes where films such as 'Lincoln' fear to tread. Spielberg does not want to shock, whereas Tarantino lifts the dusty veils leading up to the bloodiest period in history on American soil. The movie's comedic exaggerations, and the gallons of spilled red (so clearly not blood as though to illustrate the famous Godard quote) deliver us to serious issues on violence, a half deleted past, the nature of torture, and an uncomfortable place where prejudice meets boredom, indifference equals terror and enjoyment of the unspeakable reigns supreme."
"I have a 'reverse 'Star Trek'' rule when it comes to QT. Not counting his segments in 'Four Rooms' and 'Sin City,' the odd-numbered ones are the best: 'Reservoir Dogs,' 'Jackie Brown,' 'Kill Bill 2,' 'Inglourious Basterds' -- while the even-numbered ones have a tendency to be overblown and full of themselves: 'Pulp Fiction,' 'Kill Bill 1,' 'Death Proof,' Django Unchained.' It's like he regularly has to get the excess out of his system so he can do a more personal story next. Right now I'm going to say 'Inglourious Basterds' is the best -- it captures the art of interrogation so well, has plenty of humor, and its nods to film history aren't so gratuitous that they take you out of the story (see: 'Zatoichi' reference in 'Death Proof')."
"'Jackie Brown.' Accept no substitutes."
"'Pulp Fiction.' I suppose this is the most clichéd choice, but I think it’s the closest Tarantino has come to perfection. I find that his recent films rely too heavily on making his influences aggressively obvious, even movies I greatly enjoyed, like 'Inglourious Basterds' and 'Django Unchained.' 'Pulp Fiction' is referential to Tarantino’s favorite films and songs, and is plenty indulgent, yet it’s never felt distracting. Each sequence is thrilling, witty, and intelligent, offering a modern, darkly comic take on some of the oldest B-movie genres, from the boxing picture to gangster sagas. And, as I’m sure many people will make specific mention of his work in 'Django Unchained,' there’s no underrating Samuel L. Jackson’s complex performance here. Jules Winnfield is Tarantino’s greatest character, a fully formed individual given fascinating life by Jackson. His work, coupled with the memorable dialogue and set-pieces, help make 'Pulp Fiction' Tarantino’s best."
"'Jackie Brown' is easily Tarantino's best and the last film of his that I actually liked, although I've yet to see 'Django Unchained.' The relationship between Jackie Brown and Max Cherry and the way that's left was something rather special and I hope he gets back to making films of that quality again soon."
"'Jackie Brown,' without hesitation."
"Quentin Tarantino hasn't made a bad film. While I believe he is still getting better and better with each film ('Django Unchained' is pretty great), his best has to be 'Inglourious Basterds.' From the masterful interweaving stories, captivating dialogue in no less than 4 different languages and phenomenal performances led by Christoph Waltz, it really is Tarantino at his finest. Brad Pitt's Aldo Raine may have put it best with the final cheeky line in the film, this may just be Tarantino's masterpiece."
"Well it could be 'Django Unchained,' but I'd have to see it to know, and I haven't. So my uneasy answer is 'Jackie Brown' -- uneasy because I've only seen it once, and not that recently (I've seen the 'Kill Bill's and 'Pulp Fiction' twice, the others once). Basically my thought is that Quentin Tarantino is one of the few people working in American film (mainstream or independent, it's all the same) willing to directly, forthrightly talk about race relations in this country -- i.e., acknowledge that they exist, have a history, and are coded in ways that people are often afraid to talk about (because talking about race in America frequently leads to someone getting upset in 30 seconds or less). The moment that's haunted me is towards the end, when Samuel L. Jackson gets into Robert Forster's car and is surprised that he's got a Delfonics tape. 'I didn't know you liked the Delfonics,' he says (i.e., I didn't expect you as an old white person to listen to this music from my background). 'Yeah, they're pretty good,' Forster responds (withholding the information that until he fell in love with Pam Grier, who loves the Delfonics, this music was totally alien to him). That's a synopsis of racial miscommunication in eleven words! And it goes without saying that even without all this stuff, it's a fantastic film full of good jokes, riveting set-pieces and tempered badassery. I really must watch it again soon."
"'Pulp Fiction' is easily his most accomplished work, but I'd have to say I enjoy 'Inglourious Basterds' the most. On the other end of the spectrum, 'Death Proof' is not only his worst film, but one of the worst of that year. And you're not asking, but worst cameo? You can see it in theaters December 25th."
"I should throw some love towards 'Death Proof,' which is so not QT's worst, despite what he says. But if I'm honest, it's still 'Pulp Fiction,' the movie that ruined my life by convincing me at a young age that movies were a good thing to obsess over professionally."
"'Inglorious Basterds' is his masterpiece."
"This is an interesting question because Tarantino is one of the few filmmakers with a genuine game-changer on his hands. 'Pulp Fiction' is not only the definitive motion picture of the 1990s, it also permanently changed the way movies about lowlife criminals look and sound (as evidenced by seemingly hundreds of pale imitations). For that reason, my instinct says that 'Pulp Fiction' is the obvious answer. But you know what? The Tarantino movie I always come back to is 'Jackie Brown.' It has the same time-bending structure and snappy dialogue as 'Pulp,' yet it also contains a super-sweet love story between Pam Grier and Robert Forster. Emotionality is not something one usually equates with Tarantino. With 'Jackie,' he showed a surprising ability to deliver some heart amid the action and cult film references. As excellent as his subsequent pictures were, he never brought to them the same emotional depth that made Jackie Brown so touching. And, as if that weren't enough, how awesome is his use of Bobby Womack's 'Across 110th Street,' one of the all-time great soul songs?"
"I happen to think that a case could be made for 'Inglourious Basterds,' but I do believe that Quentin Tarantino's best film is 'Pulp Fiction.' The first time I saw the film, I was in shock. It broke all the rules and yet felt like it was the kind of movie I'd been waiting my whole life to see. It's one of my five favorite films of all time, and I'm sure I won't be alone here in ranking it as Tarantino's best. It's certainly his most important, if nothing else."
"'Pulp Fiction.' It's more playful and less constrained by budgetary limitations than 'Reservoir Dogs,' and the dialogue isn't quite as cokey and excessive as it was in parts of 'Inglorious.' It's the movie that put him on the map for a reason. But 'Django Unchained' might be his funniest."
"It certainly ain't 'Django,' which is maybe the most unfeeling and shallow depiction of slavery I've ever seen outside of a straight-up exploitation picture. I'm amazed how many critics are giving it a free ride. And it's not that I'm uncomfortable with its blunt depiction of racial abuse -- I'm uncomfortable with its jokey, puerile approach to racial abuse. Spike Lee has it right; it's disrespectful, and it relies way too much on Tarantino's white-guy privilege. His best film, I think, is 'Inglourious Basterds.' Though it, too, is a semi-jokey payback fantasy, it doesn't feel the need to show Jews being dehumanized for 'transgressive' kicks in every other scene. The emphasis is on the Jewish resistance effort, and unlike 'Django' it features characters with a degree of agency. I'd go on about how much I liked 'Basterds,' but to be honest I'm too disgusted with Tarantino right now to feel like singing his praises."
"For me, 'Pulp Fiction' will always be Tarantino's 'Citizen Kane.' The cultural impact that film had at the time of its release was astounding, and almost twenty years later, it still remains a thrilling and spellbinding piece of work."
"Still holding a torch for 'Pulp Fiction' here: filled with iconic words and images and culturally a changer of games. But there's something very pure about 'Death Proof,' which I think has been overlooked because it was stuffed in the grab bag of 'Grindhouse.' ('Jackie Brown,' at this point, seems dangerously near being overrated as underrated, which is a whole 'nother thing....)"
"It sounds cliché but I'll say 'Pulp Fiction.' It was so groundbreaking in its day and it's still so influential -- sexy and stylish and cool but also weirdly hilarious and uncomfortably dark."
"'Inglourious Basterds.' Just an amazing high-wire act. 'Django''s (relative) failures show just how much of an amazing magic trick that was."
"Hands down, 'Jackie Brown.' The flair is there, but so is -- gasp -- a sense of humanity (something that's also surprisingly prevalent in 'Django Unchained')."
"Though I, like most of the world I'm sure, derive endless pleasure from re-watching 'Pulp Fiction,' I think the 'Kill Bill' films represent the finest distillation of Tarantino's ethos -- his only work that successfully combines outlandish cartoon violence, nonstop homages and wild action set-pieces with some very real, very grounded human emotions. The Bride's final encounter with Bill is the most emotionally resonant scene of Tarantino's career, and may be the most touching moment of any action film this decade."
"While I loved 'Django,' I still feel 'Pulp Fiction' is Tarantino's best. That's one of those movies I get sucked into immediately and discover new things every time. The same may hold true for 'Django;' only time will tell that."
"It's 'Pulp Fiction.' Anyone who tells you that the film is meaningless or it's only cool for its own sake hasn't actually really considered how that film operates. I'll just point to the video essay I did with Matt Zoller Seitz here, and leave it at that."