Quentin Tarantino exists within his own genre by this point, by blending the amalgamated knowledge of dozens of various films from numerous cultures and styles he has crafted characters of almost every variety imaginable. From scheming villains, redemptive figures, good Samaritans and unscrupulous killers he has written so many varying roles (and subsequently directed them) that there are numerous eligible entries to choose from when trying to narrow down the best performance that an actor has given under his direction.
The variety of roles he has crafted is only matched by the variety of actors whom he has worked with. They are all unique in the sense that Tarantino rarely just chooses the biggest actor working at the moment, he clearly gives careful consideration to the actor that will be tasked with bringing his creation to life. He has amassed a staple of recurring cast members, utilised the talents of previously unknown and even rejuvenated the career of more than one performer who was considered to be down for the count.
Before I go into the actual list I feel as if I should lay down some ground rules to avoid controversy (or at least minimise it) I am only including roles from films that Tarantino has written and directed, because with the amount of films that he has helped to pen and produce, we would be here all day. So even though there are some remarkable performances in films like True Romance and Natural Born Killers, none of them will be appearing here.
10. Jenifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight
It would take a lot to stand out in an ensemble film that included the likes of Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell and Bruce Dern (none of whom fail to turn out a good performance anyway) but amazingly it is Jenifer Jason Leigh’s turn as the savage and brutal killer Daisy Domergue. She remains utterly magnetic for every second she is on screen and exudes an undertone of knowledge, meaning that even though she is the Russell’s prisoner we are very much on edge, as if she knows something we don’t and already has a way to achieve what she wants.
Her ferocity is so raw and vicious that alarming would be an understatement. At one point she is literally soaked in the blood of another man and it that seems the closest moment in which her appearance matches her psychosis perfectly. She screams and writhes in chains and becomes a full force of nature that is just as deadly as the harsh environment beyond the isolated cabin.
But as the film goes on we begin to unravel the layers of her character, something that might not have been as obvious without that performances. As she keeps the viewer guessing when it comes to her true motives, is she fed by chaos, revenge, self-preservation?
That is just one aspect that makes The Hateful Eight so enthralling throughout, you’re never exactly sure what each character is thinking at any given moment and what their incentive is, all of the actors in The Hateful Eight do a good job of conveying that, but Leigh arguably does it best.
9. Steve Buscemi in Reservoir Dogs
Reservoir Dogs is a film of loyalties and standpoints, of contrasting perspectives and contained personalities and it should come as little surprise that Steve Buscemi can be heralded as one of the very best performances from the movie. As Mr Pink he remains constantly elusive (it’s not an accident that he is the most significant character whose real name is never known), is motivated purely by self-preservation above all else and is often the voice of reason in the mvoies’ madcap world.
Mr Pink arguably introduced us to the concept and style of Tarantino’s dialogue with his objection to tipping and reaction to his title of Mr Pink. He is crude in nature, siding with whoever he needs to and rarely trying to become too involved in the situation and tries to bluff his way through as much of it as he can. He is perhaps the least predictable of all the characters, he argues, rants, cracks jokes, threatens people, becomes agitated and paranoid. His performance reflects a lot of what we love about Tarantino.
The hyper-articulate style of Buscemi’s performance is further evidence of how he created another key staple of Tarantino characters that we have come to know and love. He is completely at ease within his own world, taking everything in his stride but still being surprised whenever he needs to be, a conversational kind of performance that could go on speaking forever and you would be hooked on every word.
8. Robert Forster in Jackie Brown
One of Tarantino’s finest traits is to craft characters of such sublime and intricate brilliance, that even in their supporting roles they feel so thoroughly developed and fleshed out that an actor willing to take on the task can be greatly rewarded for their efforts. Robert Forster is a classic example of this as he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the bondsman that ails out the titular character at the start of the film, and never quite leaves our minds until it ends.
Max Cherry is madly in love with Jackie and jumps at the opportunity to help her pull off one last big score, despite being such a throwback story it fits so perfectly with the tone of the film and Foster more than takes advantage of that intimate nature. He injects such a sense of humanity to the role and a feeling of weary goodness permeates every sentence and gesture, ever subtle movement and speech creates a feeling of decency within his character.
Max Cherry never really specifically says that he is in love with Jackie, but we all know he is and has been from the moment he saw her. But he keeps the information to himself and the entire film seems to centre around their interaction and relationship even though it’s never confirmed exactly what they each feel for each other. That is the kind of subtly Foster’s performance exudes, and the kind of emotion that it conveys.
7. Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained
Having emerged from almost complete obscurity in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds (more on that later) Waltz would earn another Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a German bounty hunter disguised as a travelling dentist. It’s undoubtedly a unique role to say the least, but there are numerous layers of brilliance to this role. Waltz actually managed to make Schultz utterly likable through his pompous charms and traits, the reasons that many characters would be deemed unlikable are the exact reasons we enjoyed watching Schultz so much.
He’s a sophisticated gentlemen in a fairly barbaric landscape, from the way he speaks and moves his entire stature and demeanour creates the sense of a man doing what he loves in the way that he loves. He acts as a fathering figure to the title character Django and comes across as such a charming individual that whenever he resorts to violence by either brandishing his concealed derringer or relying on his faster reflexes, it is genuinely shocking but somehow he never loses our sympathy.
If anything, he only increases it as we start to see a more vulnerable side to him as the film progresses. We are almost heartbroken as the horrors and atrocities of the plantations begin to weigh him down, robbing him of his charisma and reducing him to a shaken mess, even if it is only temporary it is glaringly obvious.
6. Tim Roth in Reservoir Dogs
As we’ve already seen Reservoir Dogs has no shortage of excellent performances from Michael Madsen’s psychopathic and remorseless Mr Blonde and Harvey Keitel’s role as Mr White is also one of great vigour. In many ways it is the relationship between Mr White and Mr Orange lies at the centre of the film, and that allows Tim Roth to shine as Freddie Newandyke under the pseudonym of Mr Orange.
Orange is consistently under pressure and consistently in a vulnerable position as an undercover officer in way over his head as the heist he was meant to prevent goes horribly wrong and turns the tables against him. He perfectly conveys a sense of conflicted loyalty and nerve shredding fear, as every move seems to be undertaken with a reluctance at risk of being revealed as the perpetrator. What makes it even more painful is the fact that his bond with Mr White through a few passing conversations rapidly becomes a standoff between the gang members with Roth caught in the middle.
The fact that he takes a mortal wound early on in the film makes the sustained intensity or Roth’s performance even more impressive. The raw suffering that he exudes through his acting is an incredible feat of unrepressed pain in cinema and more than once you are forced to squirm in pain yourself from the expressions of a man who knows his time is rapidly running out, and is in extreme agony for the entirety of the ordeal.