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Retrospective: The Films Of Richard Linklater

Retrospective: The Films Of Richard Linklater

It was just a couple of years ago, around the time of “Bernie,” that we first ran our retrospective of the films of Richard Linklater. But in the brief period since, he’s made not one, but two films that feel like they, in fact, mark exactly the kind of caesura that should by rights have us looking back in assessment: Linklater’s last two titles deal in time passed and time passing and have slightly transformed the shape of his filmography, certainly bringing us to a newfound appreciation for his insight and intelligence, even though we were fans before.

The first of the two was “Before Midnight,” the third film in the ‘Before’ trilogy which showed us Jesse and Celine a decade on from the events of “Before Sunset,” their new life stage reflected in very different pressures and concerns from those they’d shown before. But the true culmination of Linklater’s impulse to track life changes in more-or-less real time opens this week. “Boyhood” (review here) is a wonderful film, but beyond that it’s an admirably long-sighted project, shot in annual bursts over the course of 12 years, so we get to watch its central character, played by Ellar Coltrane, grow up from a small boy until his first day at college. And so the aging, the minute process of changing and developing independent tastes and thoughts of your own even as your face changes and your bones grow into each other, is not rendered in some sort of ‘Benjamin Button’-style CG—it’s not a trick. We get 12 years of a boy’s life in 2 hours and 46 minutes, and the effect is exactly as thought-provoking and exhilarating as that sounds.

We spoke to Linklater in some depth after the film’s Berlin premiere about his preoccupation with time, and the making of such a singular project, but with the film now hitting theatres, and being the undoubted crowning glory of an already highly individual career to date, we couldn’t let the occasion pass without returning to and updating this retrospective. Judged as part of the ongoing continuum of Linklater’s career, it’s fascinating to see the ways “Boyhood” sits in amongst the filmmaker’s recurrent concerns, and the ways it transcends them. Of course part of this may well be fellow-feeling: Linklater is someone we’ve grown up with, almost alongside it feels, and we’d be hard pushed to think of a period in our own lives whose concerns, passions, highs and lows are not somewhere chronicled in his catalogue. But it has taken the undeniable ambition and scope of “Boyhood” to get us to really take notice of what we’d taken for granted, and to see Linklater for what he’s been all along: one of our most adept and insightful observers of American life, with the rare ability to be playful and profound in equal measure. He may contend with some weighty issues, but never at the expense of his lightness of touch. Here’s our assessment of his quietly, unpretentiously impressive back catalogue.

It’s Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books” (1988)
This one’s tough: shot on Super 8 with shoddy audio and serving as a film school for the young Linklater, it’s difficult to see this as anything more than an exercise to sharpen his skills as an artist. Sporting a fresh bowl cut and skinny exterior, the director stars as a college student preparing to visit a friend in a distant town… and that’s more or less the entire plot of the movie, which focuses not on story but on the mundane moments that make up our lives. These non-events are generally shot from a distance, shown very matter of factly, and are mostly banal experiences: doing the laundry, watching television, cooking food, etc. It’s probably the most earnest slice-of-life flick you’ll find and, in turn, requires a very specific mood and large amounts of patience that not everyone has. But there’s still something about the dreary, low-grade film stock that lends enchantment to the movie—a yearning nostalgia for something, be it a more fruitful time or some kind of emotional connection. Strange, too, that this debut feature shows little of what would make him such a beloved director. There’s hardly any dialogue and there are only vague specks of what he’d eventually make his style—but it just goes to show how little someone’s first work says about their eventual career. Anyway, the film itself has its charms, but we’re not sure if it’s even for completists—it was absolutely a learning experience for Linklater and he most definitely went on to much greater things. [C-]

Slacker” (1991)
A breathless shuttling in and out of the lives of Austin’s weirdest, Linklater’s “Slacker” no doubt evolved from “It’s Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books.” Linklater is also present here, as the first of many dreamers, recluses, artists, would-be terrorists, conspiracy theorists, aging anarchists, and countless others plagued by a lack of direction while heralding that aimlessness is a cause to rally behind. One hundred minutes may present vignettes of Austin life, but within that microcosm, most viewers can identify a man or woman after their own heart. It’s an effectively plotless film, similar in that regard to “Dazed and Confused,” although the latter film certainly plays by the rules more so than here. With “Slacker,” we can tune in and out at will as the film never pauses to reflect, but why would we want to? It’s engaging and frequently funny, with Linklater knowingly tapping into our urge to watch people. This is the purest distillation of a “Did you hear what he said?” moment, a fraction of an event that sticks in your memory. Linklater presents dozens of these everyday moments and invites us to participate. The resulting film is notable both for the young director’s trademarks (plot is rarely the focus, the camera tracks its characters but rarely suggests their state of mind) and the fact that it really does work. An auspicious sophomore effort and an integral moment in the 1990s American independent film landscape. [B]

Dazed and Confused” (1993)
Simply put, Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused,” a kaleidoscopic, free-wheeling look at the last day of school in Austin, Texas, circa 1976, is one of the best, most honest high school movies ever made, and one of the very best movies of the 1990s. It’s also the perfect confluence of Linklater’s nakedly commercial tendencies (as evidenced in things like the sunny “School of Rock“) and his more laid back, conversational interests (“Slacker,” “Waking Life,” large swaths of “A Scanner Darkly“), stitched together and interlocked with his encyclopedic love of rock music. To anyone in high school, it’s incredibly identifiable, but if you grew up in Texas, it’s as true, sacred and easily quotable as holy scripture. “Dazed and Confused” has the loosest of plots—it’s basically about a bunch of burn-outs, hippies, and dorks (like the cast of some prequel to “Freaks and Geeks“) and their various activities on the last day of school, leading up to a big blow-out of a graduation party. Linklater nimbly weaves between stories (the jock who refuses to sign an authoritarian oath to stay clean over the summer, a high school lifer terrorizing soon-to-be-freshman, and a graduate who still hangs around for all the wrong reasons), creating a sense of urgency and drive in a movie essentially made of sequences where kids sit around and shoot the shit and listen to music. Immensely re-watchable, it’s also worth noting for its “Fast Times at Ridgemont High“-like collection of future superstars, including Adam Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey, Cole Hauser, Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey and Ben Affleck, all looking like they’re having the time of their lives. You can get high just breathing in the groovy fumes from “Dazed and Confused.” [A]

Before Sunrise” (1995)
Continuing the theme of shooting what he knew, Linklater turned one of his own personal love stories into one of the great indie romances of the ’90s. “Before Sunrise” centers on two characters, the slightly cynical but moreover dreamy romantic American Jesse (Ethan Hawke), and the idealistic but grounded French Celine (Julie Delpy). The two meet by chance and begin talking on a train from Budapest, Celine on her way back to Paris, Jesse on his way to Vienna for 24 hours before he flies back to America. He convinces her to alight in Vienna with him to continue their conversation, and so it begins, a 14-hour marathon conversation (not in real time, fortunately…) which must end, as the title implies, at sunrise. It sounds banal, but much of what they say about life, love, politics et al. is interesting and insightful, and reveals hidden depths of the two young characters still trying to “figure it out.” As their time together runs out, the two decide instead of risking their spark fizzling long distance, to instead meet up in six months in Vienna, leaving a tantalizing will they/won’t they to the ending. Linklater took great care with his casting, and he chose well, Hawke and Delpy not only put in fantastic performances, but their natural romantic tension is intoxicating; both actors are also said to have contributed uncredited work to the script, which is not hard to believe, considering the naturalism in their delivery. Between that and Linklater’s unobtrusive shooting style, full of tracking shots and extended takes, its hard to remember what you’re watching isn’t actually two people really having the most important night of their lives. [A-]

SubUrbia” (1996)
Linklater has to be commended for taking on this film adaptation of Eric Bogosian’s play, if only for attempting to critically dismantle the lifestyle he’d observed since his debut. That said, what remains is a very ’90s misfire that feels especially juvenile for all its philosophizing. Town-boy-made-rockstar Pony (Jayce Bartok) returns to the nondescript neighborhood he called home and briefly reconnects with former slacker friends, his appearance forcing them to reexamine their lives. The fact that most of the film plays out in front of a 24-hour convenience store minded by Indian clerk Nazeer (Ajay Naidu), whose accent makes him the butt of several jokes, should give you an idea of the cultural headspace the uniformly strong cast plays in. Giovanni Ribisi leads the charge as malcontent mouthpiece Jeff, spouting regrets about his station, or lack thereof in life, while Amie Carey, Parker Posey, Steve Zahn, Dina Spybey, and a particularly notable Nicky Katt alternately stew or rage. It’s a dated film, and while Linklater doesn’t misstep as a technical artist here, he’s fenced in by the sourpuss subject matter and the film feels unmemorable as a result. However, the soundrack is notable for being a quintessential snapshot of ’90s alternative, featuring Sonic Youth, Elastica with Stephen Malkmus, Beck, Superchunk, The Flaming Lips and more. [C-]

The Newton Boys” (1998)
Ah, the mid ’90s, when indie filmmakers could get away with things that would seem impossible now. After the success of “Slacker,” “Dazed and Confused” and “Before Sunrise,” Linklater mounted a dustbowl-era period piece about the most notorious and successful bank robbers of the roaring ’20s. Naturally, Linklater gravitated to his close associates Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke for two of the four titular brothers with Vincent D’Onofrio and one-time would-be rising star Skeet Ulrich being the other two (this being the era when Ulrich was being touted as the hot new thing on the rise). Co-starring Dwight Yoakam and Julianna Margulies as McConaughey’s love interest, Linklater’s hones in on the four disparate brothers, a mixture of charming and obsessed (Mac), cocky and arrogant (Hawke), taciturn (D’Onofrio) and conservative and moral (Ulrich). While their bold and brash bank robberies make headlines, it’s an ambitious train robbery in Chicago where the long (and rather ruthless) arm of the law catches up with them. While “The Newton Boys” doesn’t have a lot to say, at almost two hours long, it’s surprisingly engaging and satisfying for what it is, but it may have been the beginning of the end for the filmmaker and bigger budgets aside from “School of Rock” ($27 million budget because of its period piece setting), as it underwhelmed at the box-office. [B-]

Waking Life” (2001)
The idea of Linklater tackling an animated film was a fairly unlikely one. Until, of course, it actually arrived, and proved to be the closest he’s come to replicating his debut, “Slacker.” A philosophical journey following a young man (“Dazed and Confused” star Wiley Wiggins) in a dream state examining the nature of reality, the film is in many ways Linklater looking back on his career, with several of his favorite actors (Adam Goldberg, Nicky Katt) and colleagues (Steven Sodebergh, Caveh Zahedi) cropping up, while a cameo from Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as Jesse and Celine helped to pave the way for “Before Sunset.” And the animation is stunning. Linklater used the relatively uncommon (at the time) rotoscope technique favored by Ralph Bakshi, filming his actors on digital video before having animators paint over them on off-the-shelf Macs, creating a genuinely unique, trippy look for the film that suits is subject matter down to the ground. It’s a shame that the film doesn’t quite have the content to match the style. The almost docu-drama approach leads to some insights, but more often than not, it comes across as the not-particularly inspirational ramblings of a stoned grad student, uninvolving in a way that “Slacker” never was. The existence of the far superior “A Scanner Darkly” a few years later only goes to emphasize that “Waking Life” was an experimental warm-up more than anything else. [C+]

Tape” (2001)
This drama, made simultaneously with “Waking Life,” reads like a filmmaking exercise—made in real time, with the then-new digital camera, with limited sets (a small motel room with an adjoining bathroom) and only three actors, even if those actors are Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Robert Sean Leonard. Based on a one-act play of the same name written by Stephen Belber and set in Lansing, Michigan, the motel room is rented by drug dealer and volunteer firefighter Vince (Hawke), who may also have a hot temper and semi-violent tendencies. He’s there in theory to support his high school friend Jon (Leonard), a documentary filmmaker who has a film in a local festival. While the two are reminiscing, an argument about the circumstances under which Jon slept with Vince’s high school girlfriend Amy (Thurman) years ago comes up. Vince coerces an incriminating confession out of Jon, which he catches on tape. Of course Vince has also invited Amy to the party, and the conversation just gets more bizarre and heated from there, ending with a neat little plot twist. This is where Linklater is most at home directing realistic dialogue that is both interesting and insightful to the human condition. He uses the digital camera to great effect, swiftly moving it from person to person, amplifying the emotions as they grow increasingly heated. Adapting theater plays to film is not the obvious slam dunk you’d think, but “Tape” manages to capture the live feel, while also making the rapid-fire dialogue and limited setting work to the film’s advantage. Linklater also gives the cast room to stretch beyond traditional “movie star” acting with Hawke in particular shining, proving once again that both he and Linklater consistently bring out the best in each other. It’s not surprising that it was Hawke who approached Linklater with “Tape,” and asked long-time friend Leonard and then-wife Thurman to co-star. Intended for TV, it was decided to release the film theatrically based on the final cut of the film, and it joined “Waking Life” at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.  [B-]

School of Rock” (2003)
Possibly the most purely entertaining of Linkater’s films, “School of Rock” was an unexpected smash, grossing more than $100 million (four times its original production) and cementing Jack Black‘s place as a bankable comedic leading man. What’s more is that the film succeeded without ever losing Linklater’s particular point of view, visual playfulness and noted obsession with rock music. The central concept of “School of Rock” has “commercialized drivel” written all over it—a flunky wannabe musician poses as a substitute teacher and ends up teaching his students how to rock, hard—but thanks to a sly screenplay by Mike White and creative guidance by super-producer Scott Rudin, Linklater was able to flourish. One of the best moves he made was to cast the kids first and then rework the characters around the young actors, catering to their strengths both performance-wise and musically. It gives the movie an incredibly robust, naturalistic set of child performances and contributes to the movie’s genial, easygoing, but never simplistic, attitude. (Dutch cinematographer Rogier Stoffers‘ autumnal photography also gives it a deeper level of almost collegiate sophistication; the movie looks like a corduroy blazer with leather elbow patches or a pile of freshly fallen leaves.) A big studio also afforded Linklater to indulge his love of classic rock, with a dizzying amount of artists and profoundly expensive collection of songs (including Led Zeppelin‘s nearly unobtainable “Immigrant Song,” a track Linklater had hoped to use in “Dazed and Confused“). Linklater’s direction is loose, inspired and playful (we love that title sequence), as is Black’s performance, and while there’s been talk for many years of a sequel (White turned in a draft and Paramount briefly announced Rudin and Linklater would return), so far nothing has materialized. Maybe it’s better that way. Nobody likes a rock star who’s performing past his prime. [A-]

Before Sunset” (2004)
Indie romances aren’t usually prime targets for sequels, but Linklater and the stars of 1995’s “Before Sunrise” defied conventional wisdom to create the sublime “Before Sunset.” While most cinematic love stories end with the hook-up, the story’s continuation explores the aftermath of the one-night romance of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) almost a decade later. The now-older-and-wiser pair spend an afternoon on the streets of Paris, rehashing their Vienna evening from nine years ago, and it’s the rare follow-up that doesn’t just step up its game, but also makes the original deeper and richer in retrospect. The interaction between Celine and Jesse is revealing and real (the moment when the pair share a cab, Delpy trying, unseen, to touch Hawke, but pulling back, is one of our favorite pieces of screen acting), and the intimate script earned Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke an Oscar nomination, and the eternal affection of true romantics who aren’t swayed by Hollywood’s unrealistic output. [A]

The Bad News Bears” (2005)
The Bad News Bears” was a direct response to Linklater’s success with “School of Rock,” but in many ways stands as the antithesis to that film. Whereas the Jack Black vehicle was grown organically from an original script by Mike White, “Bad News Bears” was a naked grab at a commercially viable hit based on a beloved, preexisting property, the 1976 Michael Ritchie/Walter Matthau comedy of the same name. While “School of Rock” had time in development to cater the characters to the kids that they had cast, “Bad News Bears” had a truncated schedule and as a result the child actors feel anonymous, the characters lacking depth and the snappy pacing of “School of Rock” was replaced with a lethargic, nearly two-hour-long running time. It’s enough to make you wonder why Linklater made it at all. It’s not completely devoid of laughs and Billy Bob Thornton riffs on his “Bad Santa” performance to a fairly entertaining degree (“Bad Santa” writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa wrote the script but it’s got whole swaths cut and pasted from Bill Lancaster’s screenplay from the original). It’s just that it’s the rare dud in Linkater’s oeuvre, even more damning since it was made at a time in his career when he was at his strongest both commercially (“School of Rock”) and critically (“Before Sunset”). We understand that you have to take the paycheck every once in a while, and maybe Linklater saw something interesting that he wanted to do with the project that just didn’t get translated to the screen, but for whatever reason, “Bad News Bears” might be the filmmaker’s most easily skippable movie. [D+]

A Scanner Darkly” (2006)
It’s safe to say that the director’s second experiment with rotoscoping animation didn’t get a proper chance when it was released back in 2006. Faced with production delays, middling reviews, and a release date at the height of summer, the movie never found the cult audience it deserved, despite being a heir apparent to the stoner-approved “Waking Life.” Adapting Philip K. Dick‘s novel himself, Linklater takes the intensive, amusing dialogue sessions that are his custom and coats them in fresh paranoia, creating a bleak sci-fi tale with more than a fair share of noir tendencies. Keanu Reeves plays an undercover police detective set to monitor a supplier of Substance D, a highly addictive hallucinatory drug with a large part of the population at its beck and call. His double life involves living with addicts (played by the enormously fun Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr.) and prodding a self-described coke addict (Winona Ryder) who he assumes to be a highly connected dealer. The only problem? Reeves is now a junkie himself and the damage done to his brain makes it difficult to properly perceive reality or his own being. This leads the protagonist to become an untrustworthy narrator, though interestingly enough, it’s hard to really trust anyone in the film—the government workers who diagnose the condition seem highly manipulative and could very well be lying about everything—which only makes things thrillingly unpredictable. The rotoscope works particularly well for this one—things look and feel real, but there’s just something a tad artificial and suspicious about it. This aesthetic also lead to the “scramble suit,” a full-body disguise which frequently changes the wearer’s appearance every couple of seconds. This thing is a walking metaphor—the destruction of singular identity, the government’s watchdog obsession, take your pick—but is also, on a superficial level, incredibly disturbing. First time viewers may find that ‘Scanner’ is a lot to take in and some might get lost amidst the knotty plot, but given a second shot it’s a wild ride and a pretty unique view of those Big Brother horrors that sci-fi writers love to go on about. [A-]

Fast Food Nation” (2006)
Whatever you were thinking a narrative feature based on Eric Schlosser‘s best-selling nonfiction book (Schlosser co-wrote the screenplay) might turn out to be, Linklater’s grim, weird, boldly political “Fast Food Nation,” a sort of cattle-mangling equivalent to “Traffic,” probably wasn’t it. A sprawling, Altman-esque tangle with a half-dozen intermingling plotlines, a vaguely sinister, conspiratorial tone, and a climax that features footage of a cow getting churned through a real-life slaughter house (shocking, for sure), it was too wild to be a real Oscar contender and not outwardly pleasurable enough to be pure entertainment. Instead, it was this lumpy, misshapen experiment that, while admirably ambitious, is hard to really love, despite its stellar cast (including, but not limited to, Greg Kinnear, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Willis, Patricia Arquette, Paul Dano, Ethan Hawke, Avril Lavigne, Wilmer Valderrama and paranoid radio show host Alex Jones), solid direction and beautiful, plainspoken cinematography (by frequent collaborator Lee Daniel). Linklater and Schlosser made a bolder movie than anyone could have anticipated but it was also alienating to the point that it couldn’t get its message across. [C]

Inning By Inning: A Portrait Of A Coach” (2008)
ESPN‘s “30 For 30” documentary sports series (which ran from 2009-2010) is rather grand, with the best entries in the series featuring more gripping drama and high stakes than many feature films. Of the initially announced series, three docs ended up being released on their own, including Spike Lee‘s “Kobe Doin’ Work” and Linklater’s “Inning By Inning.” Linklater’s doc doesn’t have him stray far from his roots and sees the filmmaker focusing on The University of Texas at Austin coach Augie Garrido, the most-winningest coach in the history of NCAA Division I baseball history. While his discipline and ambitions are fascinating—this is a man who could have easily moved to the Major Leagues had he wanted—his story is not overly fraught with conflict or drama. Instead this is a impressive tale of drive and focused vision. Garrido had a true calling from a young age, to teach and coach, with winning as a logical byproduct, not the starting gate goal, which in part is antithetical to MLB’s end game. While winning is important, Garrido’s approach is a philosophical mentoring method and an unwavering belief that a focus on pure baseball fundamentals and teamwork bears victories. And his track record shows, more often than not, he’s right. Garrido doesn’t produce superstars or flashy players, just get ‘er done winning teams and his gruff, but inspiring techniques are aspirational. And while “Inning By Inning” is a faithful and true portrait of the coach that he and his friends and family are likely proud and happy with, it’s doubtful that anyone outside of baseball fanatics consider this a must-see sports documentary classic. [C]

Me and Orson Welles” (2008)
One of Linklater’s more bafflingly overlooked entries is “Me and Orson Welles,” which seemed commercially acceptable enough. A historical comedy/drama about a young man who goes to work for Orson Welles (Christian McKay) in his Mercury Theatre days (around the time of his influential “Julius Caesar” production), it featured none other than “High School Musical” hunk Zac Efron in the lead. But it was crippled by an absolutely terrible promotional campaign (including one of the worst posters imaginable—why is Claire Danes wearing that rictus grin?) and a bizarre, underfunded roll-out (courtesy of Freestyle Releasing) that made it virtually impossible to track down and see. (It’s even hard to find on home video—even though Warner Bros. put it out on DVD, it was sold exclusively at Target.) Even more heartbreaking is the fact that if somebody like The Weinstein Company had been in charge of “Me and Orson Welles,” McKay’s fine performance would have at least been nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar (and just might have won). Instead, he was barely noticed. “Me and Orson Welles” isn’t one of Linklater’s masterpieces, but it’s just as breezy and entertaining as “School of Rock,” with an unexpected emotional punch. It’s worth seeking out…if you can find it. [B]

Bernie” (2012)
There is a thread of laid-back amiability that characterizes a lot of Linklater’s work that means sometimes it’s easy to overlook his films’ more experimental tendencies, and while in something like “Waking Life” the novel approach is writ large, elsewhere the apparent ease of the filmmaker’s style is such that it almost undercuts his gently pioneering edge. And so it is with 2012’s “Bernie,” a film so well-acted and put together with such a gentle sense of humour and love for its characters that it passes in a pleasurable rush and it’s only afterward that you think back on it, and realize it really shouldn’t have worked at all. Jack Black’s centerpiece performance as Bernie Tiede, who in real life was serving a life sentence for murdering his wealthy benefactress and was recently released from prison, deservedly came in for a good deal of praise, but it’s Linklater’s seamless blending of fictional and non-fictional elements that really sets the film apart. Bernie, you see, was a truly beloved member of the small community of Carthage, Texas, and many of the townspeople who are interviewed in the talking head segments, recounting their memories of Bernie or their reactions to his crime, are the real townspeople. And so when they’re talking about Tiede they’re not thinking of Jack Black, but of the real Tiede they knew and, almost to a man, loved; Linklater uses not just their real faces, accents and homes/porches, but their real memories and anecdotes too. It makes it a funny, fond, insightful look at the mechanics of small-town politics and popularity as much as a true-crime tale, and moored by one of Black’s best-ever performances, dialed back and genuinely quite affecting, the film becomes much more than the sum of its parts; it’s a fable about humanism versus hubris and the power and the limits of likeability. But again, Linklater wraps it up so neatly into such an appealing package that we scarcely notice the sly point being made, if indeed there is anything so edgy to be found beneath all that geniality and affection. [B]

Before Midnight” (2013)
So who would have thought back in 1995 that “Before Sunrise,” the loose-limbed, talky slacker classic would spin off into a grand, decades-spanning experiment, a trilogy that at its conclusion is revealed to be as much about the passage of time and its effects on relationships as it is a will-they-won’t-they romance? But if the gentle disillusion and acerbic edge of this third installment makes it perhaps the most atypical, it is also the right and truthful way for the story of Jesse and Celine to progress, putting the lie, a little, on one of moviemaking’s (and storytelling’s) greatest and most pernicious constructions: the idea that after the credits roll, our attractive central pair will live happily ever after. In ‘Midnight,’ we meet Celine and Jesse well into their ever after, but whether you could call it “happy” is up for debate: the blush of new love, or love rediscovered has given way to routine companionship, and the pressures of raising their kids and juggling their careers has taken the place of romance and giddy attraction. Over the course of a day and an evening on holiday in Greece, they talk and bicker and make up and fight, their every encounter colored by a kind of authentic familiarity very rarely captured in onscreen couples. Of course Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are by now fully-fledged equal partners with Linklater in the ‘Before’ scripting process, and the film, by far the most ambivalent and equivocal in tone, has that fantastic, improvised feel, while never losing its thread to self-indulgence the way actual improvisation can. It’s a great achievement, and one whose bravery cannot be overstated: those who fell for Jesse and Celine falling for each other the first two times out would probably have been happy to get a third go-round, with some sort of contrivance designed to have kept them apart, only for them to meet and fall in love yet again. But of course that’s not where a filmmaker of Linklater’s sensibility would ever go. His commitment, along with Hawke’s and Delpy’s, is to these characters, and not to a situation, and that comes to bittersweet, wise and desperately relatable fruition here. [A-]

Oliver Lyttelton, Jessica Kiang, Drew Taylor, Christopher Bell, Rodrigo Perez

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Comments

viola

I've seen those kids of Suburbia hanging around 7/11s for years and in so many different Australian suburbs. They're the outsiders still out there in all their nihilistic glory.

Melissa

I LOVE Bernie! I have it on DVD and have watched it many times. I just adore that movie — it has become one of my favorite comedies.

Billy T

I think your critique of "Inning by Inning" is way off base. Not only is it an insightful critique of a man who is the best at his craft, it takes you into places that the audience has never seen before. Inside a top flight college baseball locker room and you can hear every word said to the players on deck and to the umpire during an argument. Isn't that the point of documentary film making? Any fan of sport would do well to see that film.

Loz in Transit

I wouldn't minimise Linklater's scope as an "insightful observer[s] of American life". I can't think of anyone who captures existentialism so fully in their art. Granted a lot of his work is Texas-centric being a proud Austinite.
But seeing as you mentioned it, I wonder how universal a movie like Boyhood would be? As an Australian, I understood Ethan Hawke's shift in Politics as he matured, moved about and found his partner but I wonder if it translated for others. However when it comes to the essense of life, Linklater is in a class all his own.

Figures

I agree with Nathan below, Waking Life is incredible. "It's a shame that the film doesn't quite have the content to match the style." Also, the old "not-particularly inspirational ramblings of a stoned grad student" critique of people who are actually talking about philosophy is as cliche and
lazy as it gets.

jimmiescoffee

im a huge linklater fan but ive always thought his 'before' films were big time overrated.

T

You might want to rewrite some of the older entries, particularly Before Sunset… I don't think there's just "talk" of a third installment of the Before trilogy anymore, and your skepticism about its quality seems a bit ludicrous now!

Nathan Duke

Good list overall, but really disagree with your take on 'Waking Life,' which is one of Linklater's best films and better than 'A Scanner Darkly.' Looking forward to 'Boyhood.'

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