Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Recycled Experience: Tarantino Directed Performances

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

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.



Ryan said...

Because I fell in love with Daryl Hannah at the age of 6 when I first saw Roxanne, she's always held a special place with me. But I wasn't expecting her to deliver this, and I was blown away by her. Totally deserved a Supporting Actress nod in 2004.

Fernando Moss said...

Agree Ryan... Plus he should work again with Uma (always if ti's possible).

And watching the great Sigourney made me think "what could Tarantino and Sigweavie do together?"

Ryan said...

Indeed, because Uma does her best (and lately, pretty much her only good) work with him.

Chris Na Taraja said...

I actually got a kick out of DEATHPROOF. Who doesn't love that stunt woman begging to go for a joy ride, and the gals getting to kick ass!? GRINDHOUSE was a treat as a cinematic experience.

I wish they had released it on DVD as they presented it; a double feature with outrageous commercials. Maybe all that stuff is included, but I thought it was rude selling those flicks separately.

Chris Na Taraja said...

Cheeches pussy monologue from FROM DUSK TIL DAWN may not be a put him in the top 10, but he must surely rate in the next 5! I realize it was Tarantino's worst flick to date though

steve said...

yeah, i'm usually in the minority on this subject, but i adored "Death Proof"

Mighty The Pen said...

Tarantino didn't make From Dusk Till Dawn, his little bro Robert Rdriguez did.

By the way... what was wrong with that flick?????

Wayne B said...

Steve - I'm in the minority along there with you.

Nathaniel - Love the Top 10 list! Kind of wish Pam Grier had made it on there. Her Jackie Brown is a dynamic and multi-layered woman who doesn't rely on physical strength but on her wits. I've always wondered why Bridget Fonda never went higher than this though. I would love to see what Quentin could do with her in a bigger role.

Eric Henderson said...

I'm sorry, but it's a felony crime that Pam Grier and Robert Forester didn't top this list.

Agent69 said...

How was Diane Kruger in Basterds?
In the script her character rivaled The Jew Hunter IMO.

Mighty The Pen said...

I do agree with you Taraja about Death Proof. Lot's of fun and understated which was nice to see from Tarantino.

rosengje said...


JS said...

I watched Jackie Brown over the weekend...OMG it's so good! Pam Grier and Samuel Jackson are amazing, he's so hilarious. It's just such a great film, I don't care if it was almost 3 hours.

Jason Adams said...

First off, watch Jackie Brown again soon, Nat. I love it more every time I see it and I've seen it a dozen times already. Easily my favorite QT.

And secondly, have you given Death Proof another chance? I don't think that you'll ever adore it like I do, it's more suited to my crazy-person tastes than yours, but I think you might get a little more appreciation for it with a repeat viewings. There's a lot going on in it even if it might seem otherwise.

And lastly, and because this list shouldn't be JUST bitching, YES to everything else. I really did realize just recently that as far as I'm concerned I am an unrepentant Tarantino fanboy. I love it all. Every fucking frame. And I feel gifted that I'm around watching him make movies.

NicksFlickPicks said...

I am never going to understand what is special about Uma Thurman in these movies aside from a few good scenes toward the end of V.2 and the director's obvious infatuation with her every move and angle. She just comes across as so stiff and graceless to me, which is how I usually take her; the "roared and rampaged" monologue just dies on her tongue. But that's me. And, like JA, I am totally with every other entry on this list (though Forster would also be my #1, with Jackson in Jackie Brown a threat for #2).


agent69 kruger is very good in Inglourious Basterds. and it's a terrific role.

everyone i need to watch Jackie Brown again, yes.

Andrew L. said...

Anyone know why Maggie Cheung's credit in Basterds was removed from imdb? I know she was edited out of the final cut of the film, but she was still credited. Now it's not listed at all. That's strange, no?

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Lucy Liu wipes the floor with all 10 of those as far as I'm concerned.

Maybe not Daryl Hannah but it would be a close (and delicious) battle.

Much as I love the Kill Bills and watching Uma, I always felt like she could've done more with several of the scenes. Maybe I'll change my mind when I revisit.

Glendon said...

Forster and Grier would be in my top five. Out of all of Tarantino's movies, Jackie Brown feels the most real to me, and has the least Tarantino artiface. It's my favourite Tarantino movie.

I really want to give Death Proof a second chance. Zoe Bell at the end is awesome, but the first 2/3s of that movie came off as so obnoxious.

steve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
steve said...

^ @ Glendon

DP is actually one of my fave Tarantino films

it works as an homage to 70's slashers, car films ("Vanishing Point" "Duel" "The Car" et al, and stunt work

the extras are definitely worth watching on that dvd, as the end sequence w/Bell is gloriously cgi-free... you're able to see how he was able to construct that sequence using past film/stunt techniques as a model

something has to be said for what was involved in making action films made before the dawn of cgi

it's a work that is concentrated in oft unsung part of the film process - stunts, and that is brought to the forefront primarily by casting Bell(a stunt woman)as lead & the character "Stuntman Mike"

but it's the type of film that either clicks with you or doesn't... it was a love at first sight thing with me

Styx said...

Pam Grier should have topped this list, though THE BRIDE is an iconic star turn, and probably the best role Uma Thurman's ever going to get her hands on. Can't wait to see "Inglourious Basterds"!

DL said...

My list would probably be something like... (noting that I haven't yet seen Inglourious Basterds. :( )

10. Samuel L. Jackson - Jackie Brown
09. Daryl Hannah - Kill Bill
08. Harvey Keitel - Reservoir Dogs
07. Bruce Willis - Pulp Fiction
06. Uma Thurman - Pulp Fiction
05. David Carradine - Kill Bill
04. Robert Forster - Jackie Brown
03. Pam Grier - Jackie Brown
Tie for First:
Samuel L. Jackson - Pulp Fiction and Uma Thurman - Kill Bill

Glendon said...

@steve: I just couldn't get into the characters, except as mentioned Zoe Bell. About the car chase, it won't be necessary to see those special features to appreciate the stunt work, or the 70s homage, as I was in complete awe when the wheels started spinning. That car chase is one of my favourites, and makes me sad there isn't a Best Stunt oscar to honour the work that went into it.

Still, I couldn't get into the characters. It was the first time in these movies that whenever anyone said anything the only person I could hear talking was Tarantino.

Robert said...

I cannot approve of a list that claims Death Proof is a bad film and therefore writes off the performances of Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson, Sydney Tamiia Portia, and even Rose McGowan. Then again, I can't really get behind a list that claims Bridget Fonda is better than Pam Grier and Robert Foster in Jackie Brown, either. Or acts like Lucy Liu wasn't in Kill Bill Vol. 1. She's my Supporting Actress win that year.

/3rtfu11 said...

Yolanda (Honey Bunny) – Amanda Plummer (Pulp Fiction)
Kim (e.g. the female Samuel Jackson) – Tracie Thoms (Death Proof)

^personal favorites of my own

PIPER said...


Although I liked Death Proof, you're criticism is spot on. The dialogue is joyless in parts and self-serving. I suppose anyone could sit down and write a 20 minute dialogue scene. Making it worth watching, that's another thing.

Ryan said...

delicious writeup/ranking. here's mine for the hell of it (although must revisit 'JACKIE' for Ms. Fonda...

01) Uma Thurman – KILL BILL
02) Uma Thurman – PULP FICTION
03) Christoph Waltz – INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
04) Samuel L. Jackson – PULP FICTION
05) Daryl Hannah – KILL BILL
06) David Carradine – KILL BILL
07) Michael Madsen – RESERVOIR DOGS
08) Pam Grier – JACKIE BROWN
09) John Travolta – PULP FICTION