Tuesday, March 27, 2007

TTT: Tarantino-Directed Performances

tuesday top ten: a weekly series for the list lover in you and the list maker in me


When Quentin Tarantino is away from the spotlight I forget how annoying he can be as a celebrity and I remember how much I love his work as a filmmaker. Recently he's popping up in TV spots bragging about Grindhouse and how he could keep making these films forever (yeah, right. Like you're prolific QT) so I thought I should honor his 44th birthday before I'm annoyed with him again. Let's celebrate something he does better than most but doesn't get enough credit for: directing actors.

The Ten Best Performances in Tarantino Films

10 I'm saving this one for someone in Grindhouse ... just in case. If there are no true keepers we'll give it to Jackie Brown

09 Bridget Fonda as "Melanie" in Jackie Brown (1997)
I could just as easily have said Pam Grier or Robert Forster but I must admit that it's the QT film that's fuzziest in my memory and my most vivid recall is of Fonda's lazy taunting blonde --so the spot goes to her. This film was the only time outside of Scandal (1988) when I had enormous faith in her potential as an actor. But doesn't it seem like Tarantino often finds what's best in any actor --no matter what rung they occupy on Hollywood's ladder?

08 David Carradine as "Bill" in Kill Bill, Vol 2 (2004)
I know that my beloved Warren Beatty is supposed to be a very intelligent man but turning down this role was sheer stupidity, wasn't it?

07 Tim Roth as "Mr. Orange" and...
06 Harvey Keitel as "Mr. White" in Reservoir Dogs (1992)
QT's debut caused an arthouse stir for it's simple visual punch (those suits), that scene (the ear), and its oft-imitated but never duplicated flair for supercharged popculture riffing dialogue. What's less remembered or commented on is that it was clear from his very first effort that Tarantino was a natural at getting the most out of casting and subsequent performances. These two acclaimed actors flesh out a complex relationship, particularly in the intense final sequences.



05 Daryl Hannah as "Elle Driver" in Kill Bill, Vol 1 & 2 (2003-2004)
Arguably my very favorite thing (among many) about the Kill Bill movies is the notepad that The Bride has written her enemies in. She crosses them out as she kills them. It's such a superb touch that the names are sized according to who she hates most. "Elle" is quite large and the performance will have to be too, if you're to understand the animosity. Hannah never disappoints in a bold strokes turn as this childish irredeemable villain --the Bride's blonde amazon evil twin. It's this routinely undervalued actress's best performance.

04 John Travolta as "Vincent Vega"
03 Samuel L Jackson as "Jules Winnfield" and...
02 Uma Thurman as "Mia Wallace" in Pulp Fiction (1994) With apologies to Bruce Willis who fills out the magic quartet of stars in this breakthrough film...just typing out all three character names made me desperately want to see this again.

01 Uma Thurman as "The Bride" in Kill Bill, Vol 1 & 2 (2003-2004)
If Uma's iconic black bobbed gangster's moll in Pulp Fiction weren't a rich enough contribution to the Tarantino filmography, she cements her place as his premiere onscreen collaborator with this exceptional high wire act: an Oscar worthy creation --better than any of the actual nominees in 2003 and one of the best of the decade (gold medal, fb 2003). Much has been made of the fact that Tarantino fetishizes Uma's large feet in all three --or two, depending on how you view the Kill Bill film(s) -- of their films together. But if you were directing her and she was giving this sure-to-be-legendary star turn, you'd be wise to kiss them, too.

May Tarantino never take another seven year break from moviemaking and may Thurman's little piggies continue to get lots of screen time.

tags: Uma Thurman, Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

Number 2 is surely Robert Forster & Pam Grier in Jackie Brown - they're subtle in a way nobody in a Tarantino movie ever was. So beautiful acting.

Jackie Brown is so underrated.

Anonymous said...

Oh, it's cal roth.

JA said...

Yeah, not to beat a neglected horse here, cuz I love all the performances you named, but man Nat, ya gotta go back and watch Jackie again. I love it about a thousand times more than Pulp Fiction - I do realize I'm in the minority here - but still, it's sooooooooo wonderful. It's such a sad, quiet movie - at least compared to everything else he's done - and it makes me angry when Tarantino devalues it himself. It's a wonderful, wonderful film; as much as I do adore the Kill Bill films, JB is my fave of his (though I'd probably agree with you on Uma's Bride as being the best single perf. in any of his films).

James of a Thousand Days said...

Something tells me that he won't like "Jackie Brown". I still can't believe that Pam Grier didn't even get a Oscar nod and lost the Golden Globe to Helen Hunt (retch)

NATHANIEL R said...

James, i did like Jackie Brown. It's just the one I remember least and the only one I saw but one time.

Edward Copeland said...

I'm pretty much in agreement with your choices if not your rankings, though I'd have to throw a shoutout to Harvey Keitel's brief appearance as the Wolf in Pulp Fiction, if only for the priceless reaction shot he gives after tasting the cup of coffee.

AdamWaldowski said...

I'll say what's already been said. Grier and Forster are too good to overlook in Jackie Brown. You have got to rewatch that.

Colin said...

Agreed, Tarantino is a genius with actors (except the one time he chose to cast himself in Pulp Fiction -- how cringeworthy). Instead of your choices from Kill Bill, though, my preferred ladies would be Lucy Liu and Kuriyama Chiaki. These two women had the advantage, like QT's build-up to Mia Wallace's entrance, of having us fall in love with them before they appear onscreen in real-time. When the characters are memorable from the script up, who needs "awards-worthy" mugging?

James of a Thousand Days said...

Nat,

Well I don't want to be the type of person to cram a movie down your throat.

After seeing the for a 2nd time (Jackie Brown), I would almost feel this is most mature project, I admit it is slightly slow compared to the other ones but the pacing works at least for me.

Maybe Tarantino's Best at least for me.

Michael Parsons said...

Tarantino got the best performance of Lucy Liu's career out of her. Very subtle layers and the final scene.
I just wish she would work more!

Anonymous said...

Oh my GAAAAD I'm devastated and utterly shellshocked that Pam Grier doesn't take #1 in this list!

Like...

...Oh my!

Rob

Anonymous said...

Oh, OK... now having reacted IMMEDIATELY, but now having read everyone else's feedback, I guess y'all had my back on the Jackie Brown loving!

Seriously, go and watch again - it sits at #2 for me behind Pulp, but for me that's like saying Meryl Streep sits behind Judi Dench.

Rob

adam k. said...

Wait, Rob, you love Meryl Streep less than Judi Dench?

Um, er...

Deborah said...

Let's see...I might very well place Robert Forster in JB at the top of my list; certainly near there. And DeNiro as well.

The first time I saw JB I thought, "Eh, good movie." I don't know why it didn't "catch" for me the first time, but the truth is, neither did Pulp Fiction. It was on second viewing that both blew my socks right out of the room.

Bruce Willis and John Travolta are my favorite PF performances. Just. Killer. (No pun intended.)

Anonymous said...

I LOVE Warren, too. And I think he made the right choice. He simply wasn't right for the part and I guess he could see that coming a mile away. I don't think his remark that it was a "David Carradine type of role" came out of the blue. Yep, he's smart.:)

newland said...

I think Robert Forster in Jackie Brown should be somewhere. Didn't like Bridget Fonda so much.

ivan l said...

I am a Tarantino fanatic (some would say nut), so I have to say this is one of my favorite posts of yours.

I would put Sam Jackson's Jules at the top of my list. No one speaks Tarantino like Sam.

I also would have ranked David Carradine's Bill a little higher. His character is so built up before we even see him, and he was so AMAZING. (That might be an interesting topic of discussion...characters with the best build up before they first show up on screen).

I would also throw some love Christopher Walken's way. His Captain Koon's monologue in Pulp Fiction is still my favorite movie monologue ever. Tarantino goes through recent American war history through just one family. And Chris' performance is just flawless.

And, I think the reason Tarantino gets amazing performances is because of his passion for what he does. He keeps his sets real loose. Check out David Carradine's "Kill Bill Diary". Its his diary from the shoot, and if you get past a lot of the personal stuff Carradine talks about, his insight on the making of the movie is great. He talks a lot about what its like working for Quentin. I also think he gets good performances because he writes amazing dialogue. Any actor would have to just salivate to speak those lines.

And, to jump on the band wagon, Jackie Brown definitely gets better with subsequent viewings. When I first saw it, I didn't like it. I was expecting another Pulp Fiction or Res Dogs...but after seeing it a second and third time I definitely see the brilliance there. It still ranks behind all his other movies on my list tho.

kokodee said...

No Pam Grier????

Kamikaze Camel said...

Yeah, I gotta join the chorus and say another viewing of Jackie Brown is a must. I covet Jackie Brown like no other Tarantino movie. It's a beautiful and moving film first and an elecric hand grenade second. So much power and force, but Grier and Forster's performance hold so much depth and sadness.

Grier would be my #1 performance and then Uma for KB. If I were to do awards for 1997 at the curren time then Grier, Jackson, Fonda, Forster, DeNiro and Keaton would all make my ballot (those last three all as supporting actor).

I really think it's Tarantino's finest moment. The long scene at the mall where the same event is seen from different points of view is pretty much one of my favourite movie moments ever. Jackie Brown is definitely in my top 10 of the '90s, too. Boo yah!

Kamikaze Camel said...

Aah, I'm gonna have to watch Jackie Brown again now but I have to go to work soon. Such is the power of Jackie Brown.

NATHANIEL R said...

oh yeah. oops. that mall scene all rashomony with the different perspectives. I do remember that being amazing. so that is a more vivid memory than Bridget Fonda. but i was so proud of her (girlfriend just doesn't seem to pop in most movies) in that movie that I wanted to list her.

jess said...

ivan - that brings up an interesting point, about character build-up. Bill was a hugely built-up character, and he didn't at all disappoint. How often does that happen? And what a risk...

mistyh92104 said...

Nat,

Do not feel sorry for mentioning Bridget Fonda.

Of the many, many wonderful things in "Jackie Brown", she stands out prominently for me, as does the lovely "Delfonics" table scene between Grier and Forster at her apartment the first night. Sublime.

I've defended "JB" for a decade now and I'm glad it's finally being recognized for the great thing that it is.

Anonymous said...

Adam K - yes, my Streep love is as deep as high as the mountains, but my Dench love is as deep as the seas.

Hmm.

I actually don't know what that means either. But I'd pick Judi over Meryl. I just have more experience of seeing the versatility outside a cinema - in theatre and on television. With Streep I'm just going on her admittedly awesome cinema CV. Oh, and Angels in America.

Oh, I hate picking. This is like Sophie's Choice all over again!

Rob

Ivan L said...

Jess, yea, when you really think about it, he was built up for months! You heard his voice in the first one, but that was it.

The mall scene is definitely brilliant. But it made me think of another favorite Jackie Brown moment. When Ordell puts Chris Tucker's character in the trunk and drives into that lot to shoot him. Just one camera shot with the music Ordell is listening to fading in the distance then reappearing as the car reappears into the frame. Brilliance!

steve said...

Pam Grier was totally robbed of an Oscar nod. Great that Forster was nominated. Fonda was really good too, but I think she's outshone by those other two (not to detract from her performance, however).

It's been a while since I've seen Reservoir Dogs, but I can't remember ever being disappointed by a performance in a Tarantino film. I guess Madsen in Kill Bill was pretty underwhelming. He just didn't have that spark that most Tarantino performers have.

JA said...

I'd never slight you for wanting to include Bridget Fonda, Nat - if I did, the boyfriend would sever my spine or something. I don't think a month goes by without him asking me where the hell she's gone to, and I have to explain that she's off being Danny Elfman's muse or whatever the hell she's doing. The boyfriend loves her. And she is terrific in JB; I, like Kamikaze, would've had pretty much the entire cast winning awards that year.

Anonymous said...

I agree - Uma Thurman deserved an Oscar for her Kill Bill performances.

I read somewhere that Michelle Pfeiffer gives an uncredited cameo in Grindhouse. Anyone know if this is true????

Anonymous said...

Nathaniel- I love your posts, but... Fonda over Grier AND Foster? Please find some time to see the movie again.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Fonda was a firecracker in Jackie Brown though. It's hard to deny that she was amazing (I don't). Her scene in the carpark with Robert DeNiro is priceless.

"Where's the car Louis?"

Just so amazing. Plus, it's got the best soundtrack to a Tarantino film as well. Randy Crawford, Minnie Ripperton, Delfonics, Bobby Womack, The Brothers Johnson, Bill Withers, hell even Pam Grier!

Guillermo said...

It's funny I read this post today. I was listening to Elvis Mitchell talking to QT as I was driving on the 101 today and the first thought I had was, "Just shut up QT." Great director, annoying person. I think I find QT annoying because he just loves the sound of his own voice...and geeeeeeez he really does love to hear himself talk.

NATHANIEL R said...

guillermo welcome. yeah it's probably the voice. it wouldn't be so bad if the talked less but since his films are so good. it's all good

Lake County said...

This list is SO SO SO wrong.

Sorry.

Pulp Fiction has got nothing on Jackie Brown. It's probably my least favorite of his films, and the acting doesn't start to compare to Robert and Grier in Jackie Brown.


----The Other Nat----