Steve Buscemi (on floor) and Harvey Keitel face off in “Reservoir Dogs.”
By Vanessa Zimmer
Thirty years have passed since Quentin Tarantino became an overnight legend with the very first film he wrote and directed, Reservoir Dogs, which premiered at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival and was picked up by Miramax for wide release in October of the same year.
The gritty crime drama, starring Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, and Steve Buscemi, changed the American cinematic landscape. The film established Tarantino’s signature tone and satirical style, with over-the-top and stylized violence, pop-culture references, profane and witty dialogue, and timelines that bounced all around. In the process, he created a brand-new standard for other films lucky enough to be labeled “Tarantino-esque.”
Another Sundance Film Festival entry, cult favorite The House of Yes, also observes a big birthday this month, with its 25th anniversary of release. The film is about a young woman called Jackie-O and her twin brother who returns to the family home for a holiday — with a fiancee tagging along. Needless to say, that latter detail changes everything.
Join us in sending celebratory wishes to those and three other distinctive Festival films with October anniversaries. The year of wide release for each is in parentheses.
Reservoir Dogs (1992) — Six professional criminals who are strangers to one another, and each given a color for their code name, attempt an elaborate jewelry heist that goes awry — propelling each to question the loyalty of the others. “Inspired by [Stanley] Kubrick’s The Killing, Reservoir Dogs is best described as Jim Thompson meets Samuel Beckett — a fusion of pulp drama, black humor, and the existentialist void by a talented young filmmaker,” according to the Festival Film Guide. Available on Cinemax and HBO Max.
Clerks (1994) — Much like Tarantino and Reservoir Dogs, Kevin Smith’s first feature film set him on a successful path. His story of a day in the life of a convenience store clerk nabbed the Filmmaker Trophy at the 1994 Festival. Shot in black and white, brimming with raunchy language, the film depicts everyday life as surreal, often stupid, and heavily dosed with humor. “The metaphor of a convenience store, where the price of convenience is that one is overcharged for a meager selection of mediocre goods, proves very apt for this loopy meditation of contemporary values,” according to the Festival Film Guide. Available on Paramount+ and Pluto.
The House of Yes (1997) — This black comedy, based on a play by Wendy MacLeod, introduces us to the quirky… nay, absolutely dysfunctional Pascal family as it prepares for Thanksgiving dinner. Parker Posey won the Special Jury Prize for Acting at the Festival: “Parker Posey as Jackie-O turns in the performance of a lifetime in a part that seems tailor-made for her,” writes John Cooper in the Festival Film Guide. “[Director Mark] Waters takes the family dynamic and pushes it into a hysterical, emotional free fall. He lets the action play out like the finale of an insane symphony while controlling the underlying fever pitch with just the right amount of restraint.” Available on Pluto TV.
Dear White People (2014) — Tessa Thompson plays an outspoken biracial student, with her own radio show called “Dear White People,” at an Ivy League university. When white students throw a blackface party, chaos ensues. “With tongue planted firmly in cheek, writer-director Justin Simien makes an auspicious debut with Dear White People, a witty and whip-smart satire about black militancy, post-racial fantasies, and the commodification of blackness,” writes Shari Frilot in the Festival Film Guide. Simien was awarded the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the Festival. Available on Epix.
The Lobster (2015) — Overall (and from the very beginning), The Lobster is an absurd film. The premise: In this dystopian world, single people are taken to a strange hotel for mixers and the like to shop for a romantic companion. Those who don’t find a suitable partner within 45 days are turned into animals and released in the woods. Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, and Olivia Colman. “With deadpan conviction and perfect comedic alchemy, The Lobster thrusts us into a darkly satirical world that posits love as a social construct, skewering ritualized coupledom and our base impulses toward romance (loneliness, insecurity, desperation, cruelty) before adopting a more emotional complexion,” writes John Nein in the Festival Film Guide. Available on Showtime.