Quentin Tarantino scenes are like songs.
The kinetic trade offs of expletives and pop culture references form a rhythm. The quotable monologues are the ear worm singalong choruses. The violence — that releases the swell of tension — is the guitar solo, the violin crescendo, when the beat drops. And every time Samuel L. Jackson says “motherf–ker;” that’s the crash of symbols, trumpet blasts, the “throw your hands up.”
Tarantino lays it all down over samples from his inspirations: Sergio Leone, Jean-Luc Godard, Sam Peckinpah and Brian De Palma, just to name a few.
His scenes are self-contained. They have playback value. And they’re just so catchy. So, it is only appropriate to compile Tarantino scenes like one would an album to properly encapsulate his oeuvre. Choosing one scene from each of his movies, here are Quentin Tarantino’s Greatest Hits.
If you ever found yourself chatting over the checkout counter with a young Tarantino at his pre-fame job as a video store clerk, this is the exact conversation you might expect — a phallocentric screed on Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” You feel like you really know the guy after the very first scene of his very first movie. He’s a walking, talking (very talky) encyclopedia of pop culture minutiae that will let loose his off-kilter takes on cultural touchstones at every opportunity.
He turns what is ostensibly non sequitur prattle about a pop song into a moment to introduce himself right out of the gate as an auteur. These are the first frames of many that Tarantino smudges with his bloody fingerprints. This is a scene worth revisiting — for sentimental reasons.
Nothing is too sacred for Tarantino; even the Bible is subject to his revisions. Playing a game of one-upmanship with God, he rewrites scripture with a cooler, badder version of Ezekiel 25:17. The audacity! But, he backs it up with some of his most indelible writing.
What scene in Tarantino’s filmography is more jam-packed with reproducible lines? “And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger!” “What ain’t no country I ever heard of.” “Look at the brain on Brett.” “This is a tasty burger.” “English motherf–ker, do you speak it?” It’s spawned endless memes, parodies and quote-offs, earning its place on the list by sheer cultural impact.
“Your Ass Used to Be Beautiful”
The still of a blood-spattered windshield in front of Ordell snarling at a dying Louis with the caption, “Your ass used to be beautiful,” could be framed in a museum. The backseat vantage point, the index of impending death on the windshield, the recognition on De Niro’s face, the anger on Jackson’s face and that line that gives you everything you need to know about the history between the two characters all fit into this moment. Tarantino has a knack for distilling big turns into small moments that linger and mesmerize.
“Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique”
The Bride kills Bill quite literally with a flick of the wrist (five flicks of the wrist to be accurate). Shouldn’t Bill stand atop the stepping-stones of the Bride’s slain foes as the epic boss battle? Where’s the drawn-out fight scene that heightens all previous showdowns to their logical extreme?
Instead, Tarantino trades in action movie tropes for genuine character development. The mastery of the art of killing the Bride accumulated over her journey to hell and back boils down to this one quiet moment. Her final battle is her easiest; she’s earned it. To cap it off, ex-lovers share a tender farewell as the now twice broken-hearted villain accepts his besting and walks into the sunrise to make good on the promise of the film’s title. Consider our expectations pleasantly subverted.
There’s a tire mowing off a face in slow motion. Then there’s the severed leg (or rather through Tarantino’s fetishistic gaze, a bare foot incidentally attached to a severed leg) that flops on the ground like a dropped drumstick.
Tarantino shines at turning B-movie images into art. It’s a bit sickening; but it’s also a compelling slice of filmmaking.
Not the opening interrogation scene in the French cottage? Or at least the party game scene in the bar basement? Those are the heavyweight favorites, but sometimes you have to give it to the little guy.
Hugo Stiglitz is a minor character and not terribly consequential to the plot. Yet, Tarantino splices in what resembles a trailer for “Hugo Stiglitz: The Movie” into the middle of his film. Tarantino conjures up each character with so much care and thought, now matter how small, you would be compelled to go to the theaters to see them star in their own movie.
To really sell the imagined spin-off, the trailer has the ultimate guerrilla battle hymn with the lifted Ennio Morricone theme from “Battle of Algiers.” And if that wasn’t enough, it comes complete with narration from Samuel L. Jackson.
Django erupts out of a cacophony of diegetic noises (bullets whistling, bag guys yelping) to a post-modern Blaxploitation theme song with a 2Pac/James Brown mashup. His bullets set off the squirting and plopping from ketchupy blood out the world’s most high powered squibs.
It’s campy, adrenaline-fueled, and oodles of fun. Tarantino can be heady and esoteric, but vastly entertaining scenes like this are a testament to why he has such broad appeal. He’s one of the few people who would have an MTV Movie Award and a Palme D’or on the same mantel. He caters to the art house and frat house crowd alike. Enjoy Tarantino brain on — or brain off.
“The Lincoln Letter”
Tarantino makes no pretense of verisimilitude in his movies. The source material for his movies are other movies. His stories are based on stories. So what better way to end “The Hateful Eight” with a celebration of story.
Two bitter enemies bleed out to a death sonata of a howling blizzard. They’re about to be the newest fixtures in the haberdashery turned charnel house right after the dangling woman they just hanged. This is shaping up for a bleak ending. But Tarantino cleans up the bloody mess with an uplifting final moment.
The one-time enemies reconcile with one another and find solace in death at the reading of a fabricated letter from Abraham Lincoln. They go out smiling, their life sputtering out, as if they’ve just heard the best bedtime story of their lives. Tarantino’s reveal of the letter’s contents as the closer is, as Walton Goggins’ Chris Mannix says of the letter itself, “a nice touch.”
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
“Rick F—king Dalton”
A little girl reduces Rick Dalton to tears with the compliment, “That was the best acting I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” With his fleeting mojo back at hand, he echoes the pep talk from his bromantic counterpart Cliff Booth : “Rick f—king Dalton.”
Could there possibly be a more endearing scene?
The Tarantinoverse is full of smooth-talking adept killers, and then there’s Dalton — a hapless guy who stutters through life. Where most Tarantino characters loudly broadcast, “I’m a character in a movie,” Dalton feels the most true to reality. He’s the easiest to root for.
Dalton crying behind the wardrobe prop mustache donned by his cartoonish Western character serves as a perfect visual metaphor for the character — Tarantino more than ever has penetrated the humanity of a character under the veneer of caricature.