As a director, screenwriter, and producer of such classics as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and more recently Django Unchained, you’d expect Quentin Tarantino to know a thing or two about what makes a good movie. From his humble beginnings as a video store clerk, Tarantino has been thrilling movie-goers with his flavour of stylised violence, satire, and gripping storytelling for 25 years.
Last year the director (among other things) contributed a revised list of his top 12 movies for Sight & Sound’s 2012 poll. Many of the films on this list have clearly influenced his work throughout the years, and it stands true that when one influential filmmaker starts banding favourite films around, fans and film-buffs alike should take note.
So, how many have you seen?
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall; Apocalypse Now fuses a brilliant cast, the rather challenging subject of war, and a rather curious plot into one gung-ho production that took nearly three years to edit alone.
Set during the Vietnam war, the plot follows a US Army Captain on a mission that “does not exist” — to seek out a rogue US Green Beret Colonel who the military believe has gone completely mad, and to eliminate him. As if this wasn’t intriguing enough for a plot, the film is full of sharp dialogue, walls of napalm, and some rather impressive special effects in general, not to mention that rocking soundtrack that epitomised the era so well.
The Bad News Bears (Michael Ritchie, 1976)
The Bad News Bears is a 1976 Walter Matthau comedy about an alcoholic coach and team of terrible baseball players. What’s it doing on Quentin Tarantino’s top list? Your guess is as good as mine, but it seems to have been popular enough for a 2005 remake of the same name.
This film’s selection probably has more to do with its “don’t make ’em like they used to” social commentary documenting the state of affairs for children growing up playing little league baseball in rural America than anything else. Mighty Ducks this is not, though it probably provided a great deal of inspiration for it.
Carrie (Brian de Palma, 1976)
It should come as no surprise that the director who borrows so clearly from the horror genre (without actually making a horror film) would opt for a title like de Palma’s 1976 prom-themed revenge flick. The film which documents the bullying of a 17-year old girl as she prepares for her prom still holds up today, though if you’re a fan you might want to check out the upcoming re-make (though that depends on how you feel about remakes, really).
Carrie is a girl pushed to the edge, who soon discovers that she is different. She has powers. Telekinetic powers, which she uses to enact her revenge on those who made her life so difficult in glorious 1970s style.
Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993)
Dazed and Confused is a seminal piece of coming-of-age film history which documents the last day of high school in a small Texas town in 1976. Chock full of stereotypes, pranks, stoner culture, and an ever-present feeling of longing for the past, it’s bound to make you reminisce about your younger years.
While Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club are similar coming of age films released during the period they were set, Dazed and Confused manages to squeeze in before them chronologically while taking much of its cues from the culture that spawned them (and the culture they too spawned).
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)
To get an idea of just how influential this 1966 Clint Eastwood film really is, take a look at the IMDb reference sheet which demonstrates just how synonymous this film is with westerns and the culture that embodies them. Even people who haven’t seen this film know the star, the theme tune and the fact that it’s one of the most revered films of its kind.
If you’re sitting there thinking “I’ve never watched that, but I should!” then take your own advice and wallow in it. You can then spend the rest of the day playing Red Dead Redemption and asking punks if they feel lucky.
The Great Escape (John Sturges, 1963)
I find it incredibly difficult to even read the three words “the great escape” and not start whistling, which I suppose demonstrates that much like the previous film; this is one of those genre-embodying pieces of work. This time round it’s World War II, and the efforts of allied prisoners of war attempting to escape to freedom from a German camp.
Starring Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Garner and a host of other household names, The Great Escape strikes the right balance of light heartedness, action and poignancy in its tale of escape which has its base in history.
His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
A Cary Grant comedy, Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday follows the editor of a major Chicago newspaper as he tries to stop his former wife and best reporter from running off with an insurance salesman. You only need to watch the trailer above to see where the allure of this film stems from (they don’t make trailers this bad any more though, thankfully).
Best of all you can actually watch this film for free as it was released into the public domain and is now freely available to stream on YouTube which I’ve embedded below.
Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
It seems only fitting that a list featuring The Good The Bad, and The Ugly; The Great Escape; and Apocalypse Now be joined by another genre-defining film: Jaws. Steven Spielberg’s best work (ok, so that’s just how I feel) tells the tale of Amity Island, a small community that relies economically on its beaches that suddenly finds itself on the menu for large sea-dwelling predators.
Jaws went on to inspire a chain of sequels, theme park rides and recently appears to have been indirectly responsible for a wave of shark-inspired horror throwbacks (I’m looking at you, Sharknado), but remains just as watchable as it always was.
Pretty Maids All in a Row (Roger Vadim, 1971)
A film about a high school athletic teacher’s sordid affairs with his students, Pretty Maids All in a Row blends the comedy and thriller genres in a way that’s reflected in Tarantino’s own work. The darker side eventually emerges when the teacher is forced to kill some of the students in order to keep his secret. This is one black comedy that’s certainly not for children.
I couldn’t find a trailer on YouTube, so instead I’ve embedded the opening five minutes which should provide an idea of what this film is getting at.
Rolling Thunder (John Flynn, 1977)
When Major Charles Rane returns from eight years at war, he is hailed a hero. But he doesn’t return to the country he left behind, and he has to face up to the fact that he himself has changed. With his life in pieces, he vows to take revenge on those who have wronged him.
A blood-soaked tale of great vengeance and furious anger (do you see what I did there?), it’s not hard to see how Quentin gets a kick out of this, and it’s not hard to see elements of it appear in titles like Kill Bill, too.
Sorcerer (William Friedkin, 1977)
William Friedkin has a reputation for films like The French Connection and The Exorcist, and adding to that catalogue of awesome is Sorcerer, a gritty 70s story about a group of outcasts working together in an oil drilling operation in South America, with a beautiful bouncy synth-led Tangerine Dream soundtrack.
When an opportunity arises to escape their dreary lives, four men take on the impossible task of transporting highly unstable dynamite through miles of jungle on a journey that is full of peril. This film came out at the same time as Star Wars, which practically buried it in the sands of time; so if you’re scratching your head wondering why you’ve never seen or heard of it, you’d better start putting that right.
Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
Taxi Driver is the tale of a mentally unstable returning Vietnam war veteran starring a young Robert De Niro and in a sleazy dangerous 1970s New York City. The performance put in by De Niro has gone down in history as being one of the finest of its kinds, and few other films capture the grunge of 1970s New York so well.
As he struggles with his perceptions of the world around him, the ex-Marine takes matters into his own hands using his own personal definitions of what’s right and wrong.
What do you think of Quentin Tarantino’s list? Are you a cinephile who is influenced as much by your favourite filmmakers and those which they themselves aspire to be? Let us know what you think in the comments below.