How to Rank a Perfect Filmography, or Happy Birthday, Quentin!

With the recent news of Quentin Tarantino allegedly setting his sights on another movie circulating on the mouths of film bloggers, tweeters and other denizens of the widespread online film community, the customary conversations regarding the quality of his filmmaking output have also arisen in the same circles. Now, I have never been particularly fond of writing listicles; though I won’t go as far as to claim that if you see me writing one, you should do me a favour and take me behind the shed to put me out of my misery (that’s likely because I am pretty sure I have written some in the past). However, these recent revelations of Tarantino circling another movie, which by his own admission may be his last even though I’d be willing to bet a substantial amount of money on his coming out of this self-imposed retirement sooner than he would ever imagine, combined with the fact he is turning sixty today, brought me to write a few words about the way I go about ranking his movies.  

Admittedly, some filmographies are easier to put in order of personal preference than others and oftentimes just arranging movies according to star-rating criteria is more than enough to do the job. However, when it comes to Quentin Tarantino’s directorial output, things are a bit different for me, as I have effectively made it my personal gimmick that all his movies – from Reservoir Dogs to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood stand adorned with the perfect five-star rating. So, how exactly are you supposed to rank-order a set of movies, all of which you see as pretty much perfect?  

Did I mention that I really like Tarantino? No? Well, consider yourself informed, dear Reader, that he is by far my favourite living filmmaker.  

Anyway, the methodology I have adopted is to refuse to rank Tarantino movies in a straightforward contest altogether and instead see them the way a father would see his children. After all, in the absence of easily diagnosable pathologies or kill-one-so-the-other-shall-live predicaments straight out of Sophie’s Choice, I can only believe that any father would agree that their love for their children is equally distributed. However, that is not to say their affection is completely the same. It differs in colour and texture, even if the magnitude remains identical.  

Therefore, if I were to proceed with my fantasy analogy of seeing all Tarantino movies as hypothetical children of familial extraction (and at this point I don’t know if I am brave enough to prod further to see if Tarantino himself is the mother of these children while I am the proud daddy, or if he’s the father and I am just observing, but I am happy to be a part of this process nonetheless), I’d begin distinguishing them from one another by identifying their unique features and circumstances of their arrival into this world that make them somewhat special.  

You can have a hundred kids, but you will always remember the time you held your first-born son for the first time in your life. This was literally the time your life underwent a seismic shift. In the span of one second you went from being just another guy to being a father, which immediately bestowed you with a set of brand-new responsibilities in life. Not to mention, you didn’t know how to be a father. Nobody holds courses for dads where they get to practice on other people’s children. You learn on the job. So naturally, you will make mistakes and – despite your best efforts – you will inevitably make mistakes while raising that first child you were blessed with. This is Reservoir Dogs, a movie that is rough around the edges, a bit frazzled in places, but it’s nonetheless perfect. It’s a full-blown adult now and has a life of its own, including a few of his own children (have you seen American Animals?), but even a big guy could use a hug every once in a while. That’s at least how I feel when I watch it – as though I was touching base with a grown-up son. 

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the latest addition to the family. It’s still a baby and it hasn’t had the chance to learn how to walk or talk, let alone develop its own personality. But it’s a baby and babies are cute, fun to carry around and kiss on the forehead. So, you treat this movie exactly like you’d treat a baby. You don’t really have any expectations and you are perfectly content facilitating their journey of discovering the world around them. What distinguishes this particular baby from all your other children is that – having reared a whole bunch of them – now you definitely have got the hang of it. Therefore, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is more polished and competently put together because you now know what to do and what not to do as a parent. You are no longer stumbling aimlessly in the darkness, but rather proceeding along a path and chances are, if you live to see it, this little baby will grow into a well-adjusted adult at some point. But for now, your only interaction with it is limited to waltzing it around the park in the pram and waving shiny objects in front of it. In fact, just being there for it is more than enough sometimes. 

Oh, and let us not forget about that kid you had on the side way back in the day when you were going through a dark period in your life, a midlife crisis of sorts. That’s True Romance for you. It was a fling which the wife eventually got over but has never truly forgiven. Nevertheless, you can never forget you do have a child out of wedlock you got to see once or twice a month as he was growing up. And even though he was socialized away from you and your family, it still carries your DNA, which is exactly how watching True Romance feels – like a Tarantino movie, but not really. It has the voice, the personality and the character but it carries itself as though it was raised in a different environment. Still, it is perfectly deserving of fatherly love even if the circumstances of his arrival on Earth were less than ideal.  

Now, if you look slightly to the left of Reservoir Dogs, in the Tarantino family picture (yes, True Romance and From Dusk Till Dawn are hanging awkwardly in the background) you will find Pulp Fiction, the second-eldest progeny. He is the more self-assured and better-adjusted younger brother to Reservoir Dogs. The two share some interests as the age gap between them was quite small, so they socialized together. Pulp Fiction’s older brother showed him everything he knew. To this day they share records and go to the movies together whenever they are both back in town to visit. And even though you know full well in your heart of hearts you weren’t exactly sure you knew what you were doing with either of them and that you made way more mistakes than you can count and you inflicted way more unintended trauma on them than you’d want to admit to yourself in the mirror, you do realize that one of them has had an objectively easier time growing up. Maybe you were a bit more relaxed, even instinctively so. Maybe you had more of a plan. Or maybe you just weren’t as anxious or paranoid about every little thing. Consequently, one of them turned out less scarred than the other, less rebellious, more structured, more… confident.  

Who’s that in the middle of this fateful family portrait, you’d ask? It’s the twins, don’t you know? Kill and Bill, your two identical twin daughters whose arrival was at best a bit of a surprise and completely turned your world upside down. In honesty, you were only getting ready to expand your family by one, but no. You got a double trouble package out of the deal. Suddenly, you had to throw everything you ever knew about parenting out the window because you had too few hands to handle everything these two little miracles would bring with them to the party. Therefore, nothing was ever the same: your life, your worldview, your parenting philosophy. Kill Bill was a significant inflection point in this parental trajectory and reminded you that you can just let things happen and it will be OK, too. The twins are wild and unkempt. And even though they are genetically so darn similar, you can always tell them apart. They have their own distinct personalities that shine through those similarities, though you rarely think of them in isolation. They are somehow inseparable.  

As a result of your newly acquired parental coolness and weird just-let-it-go free-range happy-go-lucky laxity, the later additions to the family picture, all conceived in close succession, are even wilder. The trio of Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight are an A-Team of troublemakers whose location around the house is always easily pinpointed if you follow the trail of destruction and listen for the characteristic rumble of three rambunctious spirits who present as seemingly untameable. Out of self-preservation you have adopted a principle of non-interference in rearing these three wildlings and you are just happy they are happy being loud and occasionally a bit obnoxious. But they are just so much fun to be around and their sheer presence makes you feel a few decades younger.  

However, let us not forget Death Proof, the quintessential middle child in the Tarantino homestead whose existence can be easily forgotten simply by virtue of being overshadowed and dominated by the destruction trio of youngsters who came right after it and diverted your attention quite successfully. You’ve always had your hands full with the mischief laid out by those three rascals, so Death Proof invariably ended up side-lined and for the most part practically abandoned. Only a bit later – perhaps when it was already too late – you clued into the fact he needed your love and attention, so now he became a bit more central to you, as though to compensate for all those lost years. And as you have taken an active interest in him, you have come to realize that – while shy and perhaps a bit introverted – Death Proof has grown up just fine. He’s weird in his own special way but he’s cool to be around and you somehow get his vibe.  

And then, finally, there’s your little princess. Jackie Brown. Every man knows there is a difference between a first-born son and a first-born daughter and even though you do know you love all your kids the same way, this one is special. She’s daddy’s little princess. She knows it. You know it. But nobody else does. It’s your little secret because if it ever came out, all your other children would feel hurt and betrayed. And rightfully so. But that’s just the truth. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction (together with True Romance) where there first. Once Upon a Time… instinctively knows he is special. Kill Bill twins are so self-assured, they don’t need reminding you care. The dynamic trio of Basterds, Django and The Hateful Eight are too busy feeding laxatives to the neighbourhood dogs to even think about anything else. And Death Proof is too cool for hugs even though you both know he enjoys them dearly. But Jackie has a special place in your heart. Her smile melts you internally. Her voice puts you in a state of hypnosis. And all those memories of pushing her on a swing, picking flowers together and watching her dance at her first talent show always come flooding in when you need a pick-me-up. She’s your special little princess.  

I guess, what I am trying to say – and have spent nearly two thousand words rambling about – is that Tarantino movies are like a litter of cinematic kids I have. I love them all equally. Each of them is kind of special in their own way. Each of them represents a different chapter in my own life (as well as the filmmaker’s). And despite knowing full well I don’t play favourites and they are all perfect little creatures with their own special quirks and qualities, some of them are a bit more special than others. I love Death Proof just a touch more because nobody else does and I feel I owe it to this movie to give it as much as I possibly can.  

And I will always love Jackie Brown, my little princess.  

Happy Birthday, Quentin! And thanks for giving me all those kids. I mean movies. This makes no sense. Sorry, not sorry.

P.S. I can’t wait to see the new addition to the family!  


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