This list was originally published in 2007 prior to the release of Grindhouse... I'm reworking it to bring it up to date. The last time I made the list I left a spot open for "someone from Death Proof" assuming that Quentin Tarantino, who directs actors far better than most, would pull something great from someone therein. Though Kurt Russell made the most of his deadly wheels, the movie was a dud. There are some who don't share that opinion (Tarantino efforts always come with both acolytes and detractors) but for the first time I found very little joy in the writing... his fabled ear for stylized dialogue and instantly engaging idiosyncratic characters evaporated in a sea of endlessly banal conversations. Followed by non-stop action. That empty spot is easy to fill with Inglourious Basterds, which opens on Friday.
Runners Up: Pam Grier & Robert Forster in Jackie Brown and Mélanie Laurent as "Shoshanna" in Inglourious Basterds
10 Best Performances in Tarantino Films
10 Bridget Fonda as "Melanie" in Jackie Brown (1997)
I could just as easily have said Grier or Forster but it's the QT that's fuzziest for me. My most vivid recall is of Fonda's lazy taunting blonde --so she hits the ten spot. This was the only time outside of Scandal (1988) when I had enormous faith in her potential as an actor. Tarantino often finds what's best in any actor, no matter what rung they occupy on Hollywood's ladder.
09 David Carradine as "Bill" in Kill Bill, Vol 2 (2004)
RIP Grasshopper. 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?
08 Tim Roth as "Mr. Orange" and...
07 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.
06 Christoph Waltz as "Hans Landa" in Inglourious Basterds (2009)
This World War II riff doesn't it take itself too seriously. Or if it does, gleefully declaring itself a masterpiece or burning through celluloid, it's doubling as a pisstake. Waltz best captures the movie's self-delight with menacing confidence, squirrely wickedness and abruptly satisfying line deliveries. "BINGO!"
05 Daryl Hannah as "Elle Driver" in Kill Bill, Vol 1 & 2 (2003-2004)
Arguably my very favorite thing (among many) about this two-parter 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 this bold strokes turn as this childish irredeemable villain --the Bride's blonde amazon evil twin. It's this routinely undervalued actor'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. 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 star turn, you'd be wise to kiss them, too.
Tarantino took a break from Thurman's little piggies for Basterds, but rest assured that he always manages to shoehorn (har dee har har) his foot fetish into each new picture. He contorts himself again to spend ample time with Diane Kruger's feet in Inglourious Basterds. Yes, they get a plot point of their very own.