Every Richard Linklater Movie, Ranked

Movies Lists Richard Linklater
Every Richard Linklater Movie, Ranked

One of America’s quintessential Gen X filmmakers, Richard Linklater’s Texan appeal manifests in his rambling characters (both physically roaming from place to place and speaking his drawling, chatty dialogue) and his poetic cinema. He’s a seeker of meaning, but not one to strive—he knows that meaning can be found right down the street at the bar, or the multiplex, or the corner store. A symbol and ambassador of Austin’s ’80s culture boom, before it was consumed by tech bros, Linklater embraced the DIY punk of the everyday and the inherent appeal of eccentricity. In fact, much of his work concludes that we all boast an oddness worth celebrating, in the right light. Because he understood his vision from the jump, ranking Richard Linklater’s movies is therefore an exercise in understanding which movies best succeed in bringing us into his beer-and-a-shot, art-jock philosophy.

While Linklater’s movies span genres, they are united by his particular ability to not sound like an asshole while his art goes after ideas so essential as to be off-puttingly hacky. Ethan Hawke, in a documentary directed by Paste‘s former Movies Editor Michael Dunaway, sums this quality up:

Rick has this uncanny ability to pull off an idea, like, “I’m going to make a movie where this one dude is talking to this other dude, and then it moves to a different dude.” And I remember when I saw Slacker, I thought, “I had this idea!” And like 59 different people have said to me, “I thought about that.” He took an idea that all of us wondered if you could do, but he did it. And the reason is that the target is very small. You have to make Slacker just right. Dazed and Confused—“I want to make a movie about the night I graduated from high school; it was SO FUN!” Hard to do. “I want to make a movie about the night I fell in love.” Hard to do. But very simple. Waking Life—“I want to make a movie about my dreams—dude, they’re amazing.” But Rick did it. A lot of his movies are that way.

Celebrating this scrappy, endearing, alluring interpretation of the profound everyday, we look at Linklater’s body of work.

Here is every movie by Richard Linklater, ranked:

23. Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2019)

An annoying, plotty, schmaltzy disaster, Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a near-parody of a bestseller adaptation and a depressing entry into the damning “movies that feel like they would’ve been hits at Sundance” category. Maria Semple’s epistolary novel becomes a straightforward, quirky dramedy, filled with inhuman stock characters (precocious children, well-meaning workaholics, prickly geniuses) protesting at length that their big feelings are just like ours. Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of ex-hotshot architect Bernadette Fox is overwhelmed by an ever-piling stack of narrative baggage and misanthropic eccentricity. As her character grits her teeth through “normal” life and eventually flees it entirely (much to the chagrin of her ultra-loving family), we are asked to find her disdain with those around her amusing. We’re asked to greet loony plot twists with the same half-smile as Bernadette’s possible mental illness. It’s not funny and its saccharine emotions have been weaponized by Graham Reynolds and Sam Lipman’s shameless score. It all makes Where’d You Go, Bernadette a tonal mess, made much worse by its ever-increasing scope. Problems with neighbors get Walter Mitty’d all the way to Antarctica! And Blanchett isn’t alone as a great actor stranded with uninspired filmmaking and an abysmal script. Billy Crudup and Kristen Wiig give similarly over-the-top, soapy performances, emphasizing their one-note characters’ main takeaways like they’re the anthropomorphized emotions from a Pixar movie. As Where’d You Go, Bernadette limps to its ridiculous conclusion, it tries desperately to figure out what it could possibly be about other than rich white ennui, failing to find much of an answer beyond the hand-waving, cure-all of creativity. It’s everything Linklater movies usually deftly avoid being: Trite, false and thoroughly distant.–Jacob Oller

22. Bad News Bears (2005)

Playing a slightly less surly version of his character in Bad Santa, Billy Bob Thornton drinks and curses his way through Bad News Bears, and it is obvious that he is having a good time. Matching Thornton beat for beat are the kids in the movie, who play an eclectic bunch of losers and dimwits and psychopaths. They spray each other with poison, constantly get in fights, and swear up a storm … all the while being incredibly lovable and adorable! Greg Kinnear even shows up as the villain of the film, a slimy rival coach who will do anything to take down the Bears. The bad sportsmanship of the Bears is one of the major reasons why the movie works so well. Everyone is an asshole, yet you find yourself rooting for these particular assholes to succeed. When they don’t, they act like even bigger assholes, and somehow the payoff is actually really rewarding. What other indie filmmaker could tackle the remaking of a beloved film no one particularly wanted to see remade and do so with such obvious care for the source material? Linklater seemed to understand that just capturing the elusive spirit of the first film was a worthy—and challenging—goal. As a result, he showed again his willingness to put ego aside, and that remakes can be done well if they are put into the right hands.–Andy Herren

21. Inning by Inning: A Portrait of a Coach (2008)

Richard Linklater goes back to his college ballplayer days for ESPN’s Inning by Inning: A Portrait of a Coach, documenting the philosophy and camaraderie (often intertwining) surrounding University of Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido. While Linklater never played for Garrido (he played a single season his freshman year at Sam Houston State), he would’ve known about him: Around that time, Garrido was becoming a legend, winning his first College World Series in 1979, the season before Linklater batted for the Bearkats. The ideal of the loving, stern, educational coach–the cheerleader and, some might say, director trying to coax the best out of his young talent–clearly holds appeal for Linklater as a filmmaker, but Inning by Inning only briefly allows these connections to play out. Stifled by the boundaries of the form rather than pushing them, Linklater’s non-fiction grows heavy under the weight of his obvious affection for both baseball and Garrido. For as much baseball footage as there is, none of it is given the spotlight like Garrido’s chatter. It’s not entirely unpleasant hearing the best college baseball coach to ever live talk about coaching the hell out of college baseball, but after a while you wonder if hearing him speak over unrelated footage is the best avenue for his ideas. An hour into this 106-minute movie, and you wonder if the Coach K self-help book route would’ve been a little cleaner. There are a few key ties between Garrido’s ideas on baseball and the counterculture Zen of Linklater’s creativity (an acceptance/expectation of failure, an appreciation for the journey over the destination), but Inning by Inning never strays far enough from the diamond to make this more than a journeyman sports doc.–Jacob Oller

20. Fast Food Nation (2006)

Declaring Fast Food Nation Richard Linklater’s “most visceral film” is a bit of an understatement: It immediately lunges, teeth first, for the jugular, and cares so little for subtlety that there’s a smash cut between Greg Kinnear’s fast food chain marketing VP considering an enormous industrial cattle ranch, and Luis Guzman’s shady coyote shuffling immigrants from a van (going so far as to refer to one of them by number). Considering the horrifyingly disgusting (and disgustingly horrifying—this really can’t be overstated) non-fiction source of its story, approaching the material with any measure of subtlety was probably never an option. Adapted as a fictional narrative from his own bestselling non-fiction exposé, Eric Schlosser’s screenplay touches on nearly all of his book’s bigger themes of cause-and-effect, while wringing out a great deal of fatalistic humor on the topic. While Schlosser seems to be arguing that resistance is useless, as evidenced by Kinnear’s tense—and ultimately defeatist—conversation with his company’s supply chain boss (an hilarious cameo by Bruce Willis) and the ever-grizzled Kris Kristofferson as a lifelong rancher whose livelihood has been torn apart by policies made to support corporate greed, Linklater is just as keen to turn to his cinematic comfort zone as a rejoinder. Once Ethan Hawke’s uncle character shows up to mentor/monologue Amber and plant the seeds of destabilization to ensure his niece doesn’t waste her youth in blind compliance, Linklater’s fans can heave a mighty, empowered sigh of relief. From there, the director’s familiar oeuvre begins to take shape, and becomes the more intimate, personal film that was clearly waiting in the wings when he signed on to the project. Of course, Linklater himself being a vegetarian may have had something to do with his involvement, too. Which is, no doubt, why choosing to end the film with one of the exploited immigrants touring the meatpacker’s killing floor as she’s hustled to fill another debasing role within the company, there’s no reprieve for the audience. Linklater’s not scared to wield his lens like a cudgel in showing America the ugliness in its soul, especially when there’s a chance to reach the next generation of thinkers—and maybe turn their disgust into revolt.–Scott Wold

19. It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books (1988)

Richard Linklater’s lo-fi DIY debut, It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books tracks his character’s meandering journey from Austin to Missoula and back. Planting the seeds of what’s to come, or perhaps watching as Linklater lived the kind of life he’d continue to examine over and over, a young man avoids college, avoids his well-off parents and avoids thinking too hard about what he wants to get up to. Clearly influenced by the slow, quotidian cinema of Chantal Akerman, It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books turns mostly worldless scenes of traveling and bumming around (channel surfing, hiking, playing pinball, shooting pool) into quintessential Americana. Linklater’s a comfortable, physical performer, and he’s constantly shown here eating, drinking, or acquiring a ticket to get to the next hopefully fulfilling place. Underneath and between the liminal places, filmed with quiet, static framing (since Linklater seems to be the only person who worked on the film aside from his co-stars) is the pop culture that adds color to life. We spend more time on the bits and bobs of art–a snippet of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Gertrud, a spoken quote from Conversations with Kafka and sequences of characters lying on the ground watching Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing on a tiny TV, seeing Some Came Running in a theater, and scanning through a Daniel Johnston tape–than on the majesty of a national park’s mountain range. If there is something worthy in Linklater’s early wanderings, it’s found in the common creative experiences you share with your fellow ramblers. It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books is a hazy sort of home video, but one that showed Linklater’s clear thematic interests from the very start.–Jacob Oller

18. Last Flag Flying (2017)

Last Flag Flying

Last Flag Flying is a shrug of a movie, a quiet sigh of no consequence about men who aren’t especially noteworthy. Irrelevance is woven into the film’s DNA, and it’s part of the story’s quiet strength and also its limitation. Richard Linklater looks at three guys who were part of our lives, briefly, in the early 1970s in a film called The Last Detail, back when they were full of piss and vinegar. Now, like most people, they’re older and not necessarily wiser—their dreams are smaller and they’re trying to figure out what’s left. They’re the products of one war trying to make sense of a new one. Last Flag Flying isn’t great—a concept like greatness is too highfalutin for a film so bone-dry modest—but its scruffy integrity digs at you, won’t let you quite dismiss it. Steve Carell’s Doc has tracked down Sal (Bryan Cranston), who now runs a bar but has always run his mouth. Sal and Doc haven’t seen each other since the events of the 1973 film, when Sal escorted Doc to military prison but, beforehand, tried very hard to show him a good time and get him laid. Doc has a request: He wants Sal to help him transport his son’s body to a local cemetery. Doc’s boy was serving in Iraq and died under mysterious circumstances, and since Doc has no other family—his wife died somewhat recently, too—he has no one else to turn to. Sal agrees, and the two men seek out Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), their fellow Last Detail chum, who’s found Jesus and become a pastor. Thirty years later, these three will go on another emotionally fraught road trip. Linklater, working from a novel by Darryl Ponicsan (who also wrote the book for The Last Detail), has an eye for the intricacies of male bonding and masculinity. But the youthful, wistful optimism of Boyhood and Everybody Wants Some!! are nowhere to be found in Last Flag Flying, which might be the gentlest antiwar film in memory. Linklater is a master of the hangout movie, but the incidental adventures of these three characters don’t always capture the intimacy and offhand beauty of everyday life that are the hallmarks of his work. Instead, we just watch some dudes tell stories and crack jokes. Last Flag Flying’s minor-key approach starts to feel like a straitjacket rather than a principled, muted strategy to honor the ongoing sacrifices of soldiers and their families after the fighting stops. The movie builds to a nicely nuanced finale, and there are small grace notes peppered throughout. But whereas most Linklater films start modest and end up seeming powerfully universal, making us see our ordinary world in wondrous new ways, Last Flag Flying stays small.—Tim Grierson

17. Tape (2003)

Like subUrbia before it, Tape is based on a play (by actor/writer Stephen Belber) involving a reunion of high school acquaintances; unlike subUrbia, with its large cast of characters and sprawling New Jersey real estate, Tape is an exercise in simplicity. Set exclusively in a dingy, nondescript motel room, the plot plays out in real time with a cast that consists of merely three characters (the third of which does not appear until well past the halfway point). In filming this low-key story, Linklater employed an equally low-key approach. After rehearsing with the actors for a few weeks, he shot the film on a New York soundstage in six days with two consumer model Sony PAL digital cameras. During filming, cinematographer Maryse Alberti operated one camera and Linklater operated the other. While the actors would have specified blocking, Alberti and Linklater would shoot spontaneously, darting around the room to capture the action at various angles. Often, these takes would run seven to ten minutes, with Linklater cutting together the best parts. Tape is a simple story with many layering conflicts, some obvious and some that must be extracted. It’s the story of a testosterone-fueled, schoolboy competition gone awry. It’s the story of two directors and their conflicting versions of the truth. It’s about how that debate is further complicated when a third party with a different perspective is introduced. It’s a dialogue on the nature of truth—does the truth really set you free or is it better to let sleeping dogs lie? Given its limited scope, the method in which it was shot and its unmistakable basis in theater, there’s certainly a temptation to criticize Tape for being slight and decidedly un-cinematic. Yet even the film’s detractors would be hard-pressed to deny the energy that courses through each frame of this offbeat venture.–Mark Rozeman

16. The Newton Boys (1998)

Between 1919 and 1924, the Newton Gang—a family owned and run operation based in Uvalde, Texas—robbed over 80 banks and six trains, sparing bloodshed in their outlaw ventures. The sibling quartet—Willis, Wylie, Jess and Joe—cut their legend from the same cloth as Jesse James and Butch Cassidy, sharing more in common with the latter by virtue of their humanitarian ideals; theft is one thing, but killing people is another entirely. Maybe that’s what drew Richard Linklater to the four brothers and their exploits when he cobbled together his 1998 heist flick, The Newton Boys. Today the film feels like an anomaly in his body of work, a straight-up genre exercise that sticks out like a sore thumb against the vast majority of his catalog. But many years have passed since the film’s release, and a steady glance into the rearview reveals a movie that only Linklater could have made. The Newton Boys is a portrait of youthful angst and unrest, couching Willis’ motivations to live a life of crime in his own societal frustrations. If it’s an overlooked, lesser entry in his filmography, it’s also just as important to defining him as a narrator as his best received and most widely hailed offerings.—Andy Crump

15. Bernie (2011)

Bernie is as much about the town of Carthage, Texas, as it is about its infamous resident Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), the town’s mortician and prime suspect in the murder of one of its most despised citizens, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Unlike Nugent, Bernie is conspicuously loved by all. When he’s not helping direct the high school musical, he’s teaching Sunday school. Like a well-played mystery, Linklater’s excellent, darkly humorous (and true) story is interspersed with tantalizing interviews of the community’s residents. Linklater uses real East Texas folks to play the parts, a device that serves as the perfect balance against the drama that leads up to Bernie’s fatal encounter with the rich bitch of a widow. The comedy is sharp, with some of the film’s best lines coming from those townsfolk. —Tim Basham

14. A Scanner Darkly (2006)

A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater’s second animated-over-live-footage film, can be hard to remember without recalling specific circumstances. It hits that deeply, touches that kind of nerve—looks the way everything feels when pumped full of anesthesia for surgery, nothing in any frame still, everything crawling like hallucinated bugs in the film’s opening scene. About a future in which the War on Drugs is lost and a new drug named Substance D is sweeping the nation, A Scanner Darkly adapts the Philip K. Dick novel to follow Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) as an undercover detective who becomes an addict, the drug splitting his personality into two. Arctor takes D with his friends James Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), and things have gotten bad. Those bugs? They’re not real, but they’re crawling all over him at any given moment. Accordingly, RDJ and Harrelson are not actors who deal in stillness, constantly moving, always some nervous twitch displaying some desperate itch that begs to be scratched. Toss in animation that dances from frame to frame, and we’re a long way from the gorgeous Vienna of Before Sunrise or the suburban high school of Dazed and Confused. Still, Linklater masterfully guides each scene to maintain the sense of dread permeating Dick’s dystopian work. —Travis M. Andrews

13. Me and Orson Welles (2009)

Zac Efron is ostensibly the star of Me and Orson Welles—he has the biggest name, at least, thanks to his role in High School Musical. But he plays the nondescript pronoun in the film’s title, not the bigger-than-life dynamo who wraps pre-war New York City around his little finger. That role belongs to little-known Christian McKay, who steals every scene as a 22-year-old Orson Welles. It’s 1937, and Welles stands astride his corner of the world as if it’s an empire. He hasn’t yet made a feature film, but he recently staged an audacious version of Macbeth in Harlem, currently stars in a popular dramatic radio series, and is feverishly working on a Broadway production of Julius Caesar with his newly formed acting company. His Shakespearean credentials are clearly secondary to his boundless capacity for showmanship—he reset Macbeth in Haiti, and now he’s putting his Caesar actors in modern military dress, which in 1937 is a flourish designed to turn heads. When novice actor Richard Samuels, played by Efron, bumps into Welles on the street, the director gives him a part in his new play based on little more than a hunch. Samuels then becomes our usher into the theater world, the fly caught in Welles’ web, wide-eyed and sure to be devoured. Despite a budget of less than $25 million, Me and Orson Welles looks as glossy as any big studio production, an illusion created largely by clever staging. Much of the action takes place inside a theater, every city’s portal into the past; cover up the modern speaker systems in front of any old stage, and you may as well be in late-’30s New York. Cinematographer Dick Pope, who shot most of Mike Leigh’s films, gives the picture an appropriately clean, bronze-colored glow. The characters all evaluate their jobs on a minute-by-minute basis to see if Welles is worth the trouble. The ego, the insults, the sudden changes, the capricious bluster—watching Me and Orson Welles gives a palpable sense of how confusing it must have been to fall under the man’s spell. Those moments when we wish for him to return to screen probably mirror the times when his actors waited for their mercurial leader to grace them with his presence. He’s late for rehearsal, but his magnetism cures all.—Robert Davis

12. Hit Man (2023)

hit man review

Armed with the kind of star wattage capable of outshining his co-stars, Glen Powell has cemented himself as a leading man. With the raucous comedy Hit Man (which he co-wrote with director Richard Linklater), Powell crafts a character that can ground its delightful and relentless series of plot twists. While Linklater and Powell’s last collaboration worked under the guise of an ensemble in Everybody Wants Some!!, Powell is the definitive protagonist of Hit Man. Gary (Powell) is a bumbling, lovable philosophy professor who works part-time with the undercover division of the New Orleans police department. He loves his cats, has a good relationship with his ex-wife and drives a sturdy, practical Honda Civic. When fellow detective Jasper (Austin Amelio), undercover as a hitman, is pulled from a case for misbehavior, Gary steps in, relishing the chance to immerse himself in another life, free from moral reasoning and the trappings of normality. Once he encounters the sweet and desperate Madison (Adria Arjona), who wants to rid herself of an abusive, domineering husband, his life spins into chaos. While the film weaves together colorful, tonally specific threads with relative ease, it is dominated by its romantic and comic impulses, following Madison and Gary’s relationship with unwavering focus. This requires unbidden chemistry between the two leads, a multi-hyphenate source of energy that both insulates them and propels the story forward. Powell and Arjona are up to the task, gravitating towards each other and leaning into every suggestive conversation with startling ease. Gary’s lessons in philosophy slowly coalesce with his personal experiences in Carrie Bradshaw-esque fashion. It is here that Hit Man feels somewhat shallow and underdeveloped, trying to shoehorn grander life lessons into a relatively simple relational set-up. While the ambition of such a storytelling move isn’t totally unwelcome, it does take the audience on an unnecessarily bumpy ride, forcing them to ascribe deeper meaning to a purely physical, chemistry-riddled expression of cinema. Arjona and Powell leave as the victors of this light excursion, following in the footsteps of Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck, with shades of Cary Grant coloring Powell’s playful physicality. He is spry and breezy, thriving in the informality of the silly premise he and Linklater rip from real life (Hit Man is based on a Texas Monthly article by the same man who covered Bernie’s real-life inspiration). With such charming old-school performances, Hit Man peels back the layers of genre to reveal something alive–lovely in its full-bodied animation.Anna McKibbin

11. Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood (2022)

Near the end of Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood, Richard Linklater’s luscious rotoscope ode to the tail-end of the 1960s, the father of our young protagonist Stanley (Milo Coy) worries that his son slept through a historic event. “Even if he was asleep,” says Stanley’s mom (Lee Eddy), “he’ll one day think he saw it all.” The magic trick that is memory serves as the basis of Apollo, a film that recalls Apollo 11 from the rose-colored perspective of Stan, a ten-year-old boy living in Houston–Linklater’s childhood stomping grounds–at the time of the mission. The film begins with two suited men pulling Stan aside at school and informing him that NASA accidentally built a spaceship that was too small for an adult to ride in. Given this, they’ll need Stan to perform a test run to the Moon instead of one of their highly trained adult astronauts. What follows is a 90-minute, highly sentimental, kaleidoscopic examination of 1969, spliced with moments from the greatest fantasy of the Stanleys of the world: Traveling to space. Linklater doesn’t spare any detail of what life was like back then, nor does he worry about boring audiences by delving into the minutiae of it all. Grown-up Stanley (Jack Black), Apollo’s narrator, bounces confidently between descriptions of the monotonous games the neighborhood kids used to play, breakdowns of the plots of old black-and-white sci-fi shows, the conservative methodologies Stanley’s mom applies in making school lunches for her kids, the nuances of spending time with grandparents who lived through the Depression and everything in between. Everything in the film that has to do with chronicling life in 1969 is so captivating on its own that one can’t help but wonder what Apollo would be like if it removed Stanley’s outer space subplot altogether. Still, where Apollo succeeds, it really succeeds. It’s a stylish meditation on childhood that isn’t afraid to indulge in all the sentimentality that goes along with that. Almost 30 years after Dazed and Confused, Linklater is still reminding us exactly why childhood is a uniquely special thing.–Aurora Amidon

10. School of Rock (2003)

By 2003, Richard Linklater had never done a film as formulaic as School of Rock, which wryly sends up the “inspirational teacher” genre while adding some “slob vs. snobs” comedic flourishes. School of Rock was also Linklater’s first star vehicle written around a performer with an established persona. With those ingredients, you might expect merely a paycheck movie, the kind easily overlooked in a filmmaker’s career retrospective. Instead, School of Rock delivers a surprisingly warm, winning comedy with all the elements in the same groove. Jack Black had been a steadily working comic actor for the decade prior to School of Rock and had his breakthrough role with his scene-stealing supporting turn in High Fidelity. For School of Rock, his neighbor Mike White (an esteemed actor and filmmaker in his own right) wrote a screenplay based on Black’s own head-banging rock fandom. School of Rock gets plenty of comic mileage of the fact that Black’s character, Dewey Finn, isn’t nearly as booksmart as his students. “You’re gonna have to use your head, and your brain, and your mind, too,” he tells them. But it’s Dewey who uses his head, brain and mind as he becomes musical mentor, creator of lesson plans and manipulator of an inflexible educational system. (With school music programs being slashed at schools nationwide, School of Rock was ahead of its time.) Dewey’s musical values and uncouth behavior may be silly, but the film shows a surprisingly sincere interest in dramatizing the creative process, with the class room scenes unfolding in long, naturalistic scenes. Culminating with the band’s irresistible big performance, School of Rock builds to the kind of conclusion common to 1970s sports movies, in which the underdogs enjoy a moral victory without necessarily winning the competition. It’s not surprising Linklater followed the film by remaking of one of its spiritual predecessors, The Bad News Bears.–Curt Holman

9. subUrbia (1996)

Richard Linklater’s always been something of a modern day documentarian, dredging that banal everyday which is formed by technology and culture, and unearthing the explorative, self-reflecting fossils of the individual adrift in the societal sea. Linklater’s first few movies, Slacker and Dazed and Confused, were tales of youth and the young muddling about—full of ennui, little forward motion and unpromising future prospects. Granted, Before Sunrise hit theaters in 1995, but it’s subUrbia, released a year later, that’s the apt conclusion to what one might call Linklater’s Austin slacker trilogy. The fusion of Linklater’s Austin and Eric Bogosian’s biting social commentary remains potent and relevant two decades later. For those unfamiliar with Bogosian’s staged works like Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll and Talk Radio, they’re in-your-face satirical plumbings that shame, deprecate and provoke. The adaptation of subUrbia couldn’t be more of a natural fit for Linklater, who relishes contemplative dissections of the mainstream and those disenfranchised by it. While the convenience store owners labor to realize the American Dream, that ideal for the five inerts has morphed into a nightmare—dreams with dead ends and zero gumption to do anything more than wallow in the tantalizing misery of what could be. Tim (well-employed character actor Nicky Katt) becomes the epitome of failed future promise as a former star quarterback who joined the Air Force only to get an honorable discharge for lopping off the tip of his finger while on salad duty and now bides his time on the corner drinking away his severed severance checks. The force driving the slackers in subUrbia is the anticipated arrival of Pony (Jayce Bartok), a nerd in high school who’s made it big on MTV and is back in town for an arena gig. It’s an effective Waiting for Godot-esque device, though eventually Pony does swing by the convenience store to “keep it real” with his former posse. Pony’s more plot spur than character, but he’s not one without soul. Quiet, reflective and a bit out-of-touch, he’s as kind and humble as one can be when reaching such heights at such an early age. You can almost see him as a stand-in for Linklater, who as a self-taught filmmaker, became one of the elite best which grew out of the indie film movement in the early ’90s. In 1996, subUrbia poignantly captured a generation and cemented the reputation of a rising talent; today, the film’s reflection of a young generation struggling for identity in a world driven by changing technology and a shifting cultural landscape remains especially relevant.—Tom Meek

8. Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Everybody Wants Some!!

Everybody Wants Some!! is intended to play like a spiritual companion piece to Linklater’s ’70s-era Dazed and Confused, with the writer/director reveling in his turn-of-the-decade’s style and swagger. Big lapels, bigger hair, even bigger facial hair and outright enormous egos are the norm throughout this nostalgic saga. Boasting little in the way of plot, Linklater’s film is content to sidle up alongside Jake and his new friends to see where their appetites, whims and libidos will lead. And its laid-back vibe pays dividends as it progresses, given that one-note characters who initially appeared to be smug louts, hyper-gonzo wild cards, dim-bulb doofuses or inane hillbillies slowly develop semi-distinct personalities of their own. Their days devoted to slacking off, their nights spent trimming mustaches and dousing themselves in cologne before hitting the town in search of the next woman to bed, Linklater’s play-hard-and-party-harder characters are the embodiment of cocksure macho vitality, all of them rightly convinced that, at least for the moment, they have the world by the balls. But there’s also some requisite baseball team-based hazing thrown in for good measure, which feels like an authentic representation of what dudes like this would be up to—and, consequently, serves as a buzzkill reminder of their fundamentally dude-bro nature. —Nick Schager

7. Before Sunset (2004)

It’s not every day that a sequel earns its right to exist both in the context of and independent from its predecessor, but this human-scale little drama pulls it off. Richard Linklater’s meditation on romance and inspiration follows Ethan Hawke’s novelist Jesse on a European book tour, where he’s reading from the book inspired by his run-in with Celine (Julie Delpy) almost a decade ago–and spending one out-of-time day with her to try and figure out what might’ve been. Linklater makes intelligent use of languorous long takes to underscore how little time the characters have to find some kind of closure–how little time any of us have, really. It’s not easy to make a film that relies on things like idealism and emotional generosity. But I’m glad people still try. When it’s successful, the result can be stunning. Before Sunset is wistful without schmaltz, thoughtful without ponderousness, and fundamentally kind.–Amy Glynn

6. Slacker (1990)

Richard Linklater kickstarted his career with a wild assortment of murderers, musicians, philosophers, thieves, lunatics, conspiracy theorists, anarchists, artists, activists, celebrity-pap-smear peddlers, students, and various combinations of those things. Slacker often receives due credit for helping spark the modern independent film movement, yet for all the filmmakers it inspired, it’s still one of a kind. It is simultaneously bizarre and authentic in its depiction of the peculiar people of Austin, Texas, as they vocalize a mix of wisdom, madness and inanity. Linklater leaves it to us to decide which is which and filter accordingly. The film’s conceit of a wandering camera that follows different characters through short vignettes was ideal from a logistical standpoint. Producing a film on no budget means you’re often improvising shooting schedules based on free time. Not having a leading role meant not having to worry about an actor flaking out, finding a better-paying gig or getting a haircut. But Slacker is much more than a mere solution to a production problem. It has no lead actor because Austin is the main character. Slacker’s genius is that it manages to be both part of its world and a wry observer. We can watch the sad-sack dumped guy and his vicariously destructive friend ceremoniously drop a tent and typewriter off a bridge, and laugh at their foolishness. But it’s a knowing laugh rather than a condescending one. We’ve all been disappointed in love, and can understand the heartbreak of both the dumped guy and his overbearing ringleader, who’s clearly exercising demons of his own. Linklater said of Austin in his audio commentary, “You have a lot of people wandering the streets and you don’t know if they’re in government, university or released from the mental health hospital.” Many of these characters are driven by something, just not something that society has deemed to be of value. Slacker is about those who are willing to play with life and explore unusual things, and it is just as adventurous as its characters.—Jeremy Mathews

5. Before Midnight (2013)

before midnight

Before Midnight concludes one of cinema’s great trilogies—assuming it stays a trilogy. Director Richard Linklater and stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke could still revisit their characters from 1995’s Before Sunrise. But as it stands, they have built a beautiful study of life and love, each chapter of which stands on its own while adding emotional resonance to the other two. 2004’s Before Sunset saw Jesse and Celine reconnect in Paris for the first time since their magical night in Vienna, searching again for that rare, deep connection between two humans. Before Midnight spends another day with the characters, this time in Greece, but things are a little different. While they are still extremely connected to one another, additional people also command their attention and somewhat limit their personal time together. Which doesn’t mean the two leads don’t converse. The series’ trademark intense, thoughtful and personal conversations remain. An early scene holds on one perfectly acted two-shot in a car for 13 minutes. The discussions are often as hilarious as they are engaging. Hang-ups, regrets and doubts have have become a greater part of Jesse and Celine’s lives, and the film reflects that. But it also reminds us what made the couple such a lovable pair that they could hold our interest for 20 years. —Jeremy Mathews

4. Waking Life (2001)

With 2001’s Waking Life, Richard Linklater made his most formal inquiry into the Big Questions. Though also his most boldly experimental, the film can be read as something of a companion piece to his 1991 film, Slacker—both generously afford their multiple subjects spacious platforms in which to espouse their views. Waking Life draws upon a method of delivery that more closely matches the ephemeral nature of those intellectual and existential musings, and places the setting—appropriately—inside the dream of an introspective and curious young man. Employing an economical (the animation team reportedly worked only with basic, retail-level Macs), but ingenious, rotoscope animation technique pioneered by art director Bob Sabiston, Waking Life’s signature visual style is as elegant and variable as the dream world it inhabits. Sometimes wild and chaotic, sometimes gently shifting and tranquil, the choice to digitally paint over the video allowed Linklater the additional freedom to interpret the segment jumps both fluidly and with vivid, expressionistic flair, calling out artistic movements spanning over a century. Linklater has explored many of these questions before, mostly with the aforementioned Slacker, but the decision to animate the proceedings, with changeable styles to pair with the monologues and discussions, makes the film comparable to a more “serious” academic prospect: the Fine Art Show. For all its deliberation (and sometimes, angry hand-wringing), Waking Life is highly accessible, but it clearly reads more as a guided tour—a well-curated exhibition for whom the gallery’s guest is the Dreamer the film follows. Between the gravitating markers of Slacker and A Scanner Darkly, Linklater created a gratifyingly intellectual and stylistic film that isn’t yet regarded as the touchstone it is. Waking Life is every bit the curatorial exploration it aims to be, and even more the near-perfect expression the chosen medium can afford. One can regard the arguments within as pedantic, but the surrounding endeavor supports them far better than it needs to. After all, if what dreamer wants to interrupt the dream before the tour’s concluded?—Scott Wold

3. Dazed and Confused (1993)

Set in 1976 Texas, Dazed and Confused flows from one group of high-school and middle-school students over the course of one night—the traditional cinematic one-night-that-changes-everything—Richard Linklater’s follow-up to Slacker shows a variety of vantage points on a number of issues, philosophical, political and otherwise. The camera lingers, offering multiple perspectives, and allowing you to take your time and consider all sides of these various excursions. Ultimately, these digressions circle back on one another, and Linklater forms them into a coherent narrative that resembles an updated American Graffiti for a new generation. As the day begins, there is a very rose-tinted-glasses style outlook on the whole scene, one that is, layer by layer, peeled away over the course of the ensuing evening. For all the seeming importance placed on things like playing football, chasing romantic partners and finding some good old-fashioned visceral experiences, there isn’t much in the way of consequences. You may get your ass kicked a little bit, but there isn’t a lot at stake. Whatever happens, you’ll be fine. This is never more apparent than as Dazed and Confused draws to a close and the film takes a dark turn towards what can only be described as adulthood. —Brent McKnight

2. Before Sunrise (1995)

Thank goodness for Before Sunrise, the first chapter in what wound up becoming perhaps the most unexpected trilogy in movie history. Here marks the start of a modern cinematic landmark, a trifecta of pictures that follows in the footsteps of people like Michael Apted and François Truffaut. It’s the start of a nearly 20-year-long narrative in the making, and nobody saw it coming save for Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Clever, clever. We’re done with the tale of Jesse and Celine (well, for now at least), but looking in the rearview, it’s amazing to think how something so simple could spark such a longstanding collaboration between a filmmaker and his actors. It’s an initial investment in both the characters and in their creators’ joint commitment to explore every nook and cranny of human relationships, the anxieties that come with growing up, the romanticism of youth. The primary topic here, however, is love, discussed at length over an ambling, street level visual tour through Vienna. Like all of the subjects Jesse and Celine flit back and forth from throughout the film, all talk of love is filtered through the inexperience of the young; these are people who are only just into their 20s, and have yet to learn the ropes of being out in the world on their own. Much of what they discuss is brought up parallel to personal anecdotes. They’ve scarcely made a dent in their new lives as emerging adults, and thus have fewer ways to engage other than by speaking through the lives of their friends, families and acquaintances. Before Sunrise glimmers with its own brand of movie magic; it reminds its audience how rich and valuable something as mundane as an aimless conversation about life, the universe and everything can truly be. This, too, is a lesson well tread in the annals of cinema, but Linklater’s flare for orchestrating fluid conversation between actors, accented by his trademark slacker discourse, puts his personal stamp on the tradition. The film’s central, sustained duologue is at once heady and down to earth, funny and tragic, moving and heartbreaking, and it ends ambiguously with two trains going in different directions. We’re only left with a wish of pure fantasy, capstoning a movie of pure realism. It’s a perfectly bittersweet climax to a near perfect movie.—Andy Crump

1. Boyhood (2014)

The 2014 SXSW Movie Capsule Roundup

Of all the achievements in Richard Linklater’s career, perhaps what he will be best remembered for is his depiction of time. Dazed and Confused chronicled teenage life with precision, but his Before trilogy showed how the passage of time shapes and changes people in ways that they can’t see, precisely because they’re on the inside, lacking the necessary perspective easily available to us on the outside. With Linklater’s Boyhood, time is examined in a new, incredibly moving way. As is Linklater’s custom, Boyhood is profound so casually that its weighty themes feel nonchalant, effortless. This movie might make you cry for reasons you can’t quite articulate. You won’t be alone in feeling that way. Because of the ambition of the project and the amount of years it covers (filmed from 2001 to 2013), Boyhood might initially seem underwhelming. By design, Mason’s (Ellar Coltrane) life isn’t particularly momentous, and there are no major revelations or twists. Instead, everything that happens is a matter of gradation—say, for example, how Mason begins to develop an interest in art or how his mother’s partners start to repeat similar patterns of behavior. These moments aren’t commented on—they’re simply observed—and one of Boyhood’s great attributes is its generous spirit. Linklater, who also wrote the script, doesn’t care about indulging in soap opera melodrama because he’s too busy being jazzed by the casual flow of life. There’s enough going on with most people that he doesn’t need to invent incidents. Without even necessarily intending it, Linklater in Boyhood has fashioned a rather lovely vision of modern America, and it’s telling that Mason’s story starts a year after 9/11. In a sense, the world of Boyhood is the world the rest of us have had to negotiate right along with him. By the time Boyhood ends, 12 real years later, no grand resolutions have occurred. Mason will keep living his life, and so will we. But by observing the everyday with such grace, Linklater allows us the opportunity to do the same. There are few better gifts a filmmaker can give his audience. —Tim Grierson

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