Saturday, February 14, 2015

Top 5 Movie Guide: Richard Linklater

For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, we take a look at the films from writer/director Richard Linklater, whose 2014 film, "Boyhood", is one of the front-runners for Best Picture this year. Linklater was born and raised in Houston, TX. In his early 20's, after dropping out of college, he left Texas to work on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. It was there that he really started thinking about film seriously and decided that he wanted to be a director. After a few years offshore, he returned to Texas, founded the Austin Film Society, and begin making movies. A completely self-taught filmmaker, his breakout film was 1991's "Slacker", a virtually plotless film, that garnered high praises throughout the festival circuit, including accolades at Sundance.

A couple of Slackers with Richard Linklater a few years back at Ebertfest.
Linklater has only grown his reputation and filmography in years since, becoming one of the most successful filmmakers to emerge from the "American Independent Film Renaissance" of the 1990's. He's known for presenting subjects that take place over a 24-hour period, and preferring dialogue to action in almost any scene where it's an option. The fluid, casual feel that most of his films emit lead many to believe there's much improvisation happening in the scenes. But on the contrary, Linklater admits that he rarely has the time or money to explore alternate takes, and nearly every word in his films come from the written scripts.

He's directed only 17 feature films to date, writing the screenplay for all but five of those productions. He's so far been nominated for five Academy Awards, but has yet to win one. Respected in the industry as one of the most genuine and approachable premiere filmmakers working today, there's no doubt many will be rooting for him to take home his first trophy during next week's ceremony.

Alex Schopp -
Richard Linklater is one of favorite directors. I love this guy's style, and just how regular he is. He makes movies because he loves movies. His concepts for filming segments of life that are seemingly plotless are one of my favorite styles in film. And I'm not sure there's anyone else out there right now who can capture personal dialogue/emotion better than he can.

     1. Dazed and Confused (1993)
One of my all time favorite films. Great characters, great time period, great soundtrack. Like many from Linklater's filmography, this is nothing more than a snapshot of life for this particular group of characters. And I love it. This film and its construction, and others like it, are exactly why I want to make movies. Also, this film probably has the highest watchability factor of any from Linklater's films.
     2. The 'Before' Trilogy (1995 - 2013)
I know, this is kind of cheating, but how can you pick only one? In their own ways, I could defend each of these as being my favorite from the trilogy. The obvious accolade you have to give Linklater for these films is just the pure amount of dialogue happening. All of these movies take place over a handful of scenes where nothing more than the character interactions move us along (for viewing purposes, that's either something you like or you don't). Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have real chemistry, and Linklater captures it perfectly. I know he's stated that this series is complete, but I really hope Linklater decides to go back to these characters in another nine years (seven now, I guess) for another update. I want a new installment every decade or so until it's an impossibility.
     3. Boyhood (2014)
One of the more ambitious projects we've ever seen put on film. This is similar to the Before trilogy in a lot of ways because it's capturing snapshots of these characters at different intervals of their lives. Only here, we get more updates and all crammed into one film. What a neat thing to see evolve over the course of a few hours. Also, Ethan Hawke is the man! What a cool dude. My Top 15 Films of 2014 will be unveiled next week, and as a sneak peak, this is in my Top 5. The fact that it's #3 (sort of #5) on this list should say a lot about Linklater's filmography.
     4. Bernie (2011)
I didn't expect much from this film when I first watched it, but I was just captivated by its story and the style in which Linklater told it; the film was almost never what you thought it would be. And what a group of characters Linklater profiles in this picture! This was a perfect role for Jack Black - odd enough to play up some of his own quirks, but serious enough to actually take Jack Black seriously.
     5. School of Rock (2003)
I liked this movie more when I was younger, but I still think it's a quality, entertaining film. Jack Black stars in another film that feels perfect for him - though this never tries to take itself seriously and only plays to Black's comedic (and musical) talents. I generally enjoy the music in the film, and love its story about socially and musically educating these uptight kids (and the adults). Also, this is a ridiculously quotable movie.

Ben Foutch -
Richard Linklater is a true filmmaker. Even when he takes breaks from the indie fare to do Hollywood type films like "School of Rock", they still seem genuine.

     1. Before Sunset (2004)
Each film in this trilogy helps elevate the other ones because the narrative gains more significance as the timeline expands. This particular entry seemed to have more tension, or elements in the story that brought more uncertainty to the final outcome. Either way, congrats to everyone involved for making three romantic dramas based primarily on dialogue that don't feel pretentious or overbearingly sentimental.
     2. School of Rock (2003)
I didn't care for this very much when it first released, but it really grew on me over time. It's a love letter to AC/DC, but really captures the positive aspects of being in a band and creating something special together.
     3. Dazed and Confused (1993)
This is one of those films like "The Shawshank Redemption" that rate so high on the watchability meter, the damn thing doesn't even work anymore.
     4. Bernie (2011)
You can't make this stuff up. From the most unlikely of killers to the cast of oddball townies, this could only have worked as a dark comedy. The fact that Linklater was able to capture the absurdity in a comedic matter while respecting the heart of the story really shows how much of a brilliant filmmaker he is.
     5. Boyhood (2014)
Aside from the natural performances and tight direction, what really makes this work is how seamlessly the time gaps are interwoven into the sprawling narrative. I hope this film inspires other filmmakers to tread down similar territory.

Derek Clem -
I was able to meet Richard Linklater at Ebertfest a couple years back. All I was looking for was for him to sign my copy of "School of Rock" and to get a picture with him, but then he started to try and hold a conversation with me. I didn't know how to handle it; I didn't know famous people did that. He was a real dude and interested in me. Shocked and taken aback by his friendliness, I ended the conversation quickly. I’d love to meet him again someday and be prepared for his approachable personality.

     1. School of Rock (2003)
Maybe if my piano teacher had the enthusiasm for music that Jack Black’s character has, I’d know how to play the piano. Instead, four years of lessons resulted in a guy who can only play a basic version of Camptown Races. I really do love his enthusiasm for music.
     2. SubUrbia (1996)
I’m just really into these slackers-hanging-out type movies. With this one, however, I pity the characters more so than admire or relate to them. Their ambitions/bitterness is so high that they may never even reach a comfortable mediocrity, which is all I’m really shooting for.
     3. Bernie (2011)
Jack Black gives a great performance here. Plus the vibe of the movie is so obscure. I love how Linklater can weave in and out of different tones seamlessly from movie to movie. The man has some real range.
     4. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
I’ve only seen this once. It was in the theater and it gave me a headache. Even while in excruciating pain, I still enjoyed it. Linklater puts rotoscoping to both artistic and plot functional use.
     5. Waking Life (2001)
I swear I’m not some huge fan of rotoscoping; I actually find it mostly annoying. Anyway, beyond that, I suggest watching this movie as a back-to-back double feature with Linklater’s "Slacker" (1991). BUT, make sure you watch "Waking Life" first - it makes the opening of "Slacker" that much more amusing. Remember that – Waking Life THEN Slacker.

Nathan Hinds -
I'll admit right away that I'm not very well versed with Linklater's filmography. These are actually the only five movies I've seen of his that he has directed. I really need to correct that.

     1. Dazed and Confused (1993)
Easily gets the top spot here. To me, this is one of the best representations of high school kids that I've ever seen on film. I hadn't been cooked-up yet during the time period this film takes place, but I could relate someone I went to high school with to almost every character in this film. It's so spot on to how people act. I watch this movie and I'll be thinking, I literally went to high school with that character. I could watch this movie over and over again, it never gets old.
     2. Boyhood (2014)
I think this is an important film in the history of cinema, and even though it's not my favorite of the nominees, it absolutely deserves to win Best Picture. This isn't the type of movie you're going to want to watch a bunch of times, but I think it's a film everyone should see once just to see it for what it is. The dedication that went into this film is stunning. You get to actually see this actor grow up over three hours, and that's such a unique experience. I like to say this is the biggest little movie ever made. It's so simple at its core, but it's so big at the same time. Such a cool movie. I really hope this wins Best Picture. The Academy already screwed this up the last time a game-changing film ("Avatar") was nominated. Don't snub the important film again, even if another film may have a better story.
     3. School of Rock (2003)
This is where we get into the films that I enjoy, but there's no real special connection or reason for them being on the list other than they're the only films I've seen. Still, any movie with a bunch of classic rock songs - especially those by Led Zeppelin, my favorite band - is gonna be a movie I can get behind.
     4. Fast Food Nation (2006)
This movie's message is completely wasted on me because no movie is ever going to get me to stop eating meat/fast food/whatever it is they're trying to get me to stop eating. I don't care what goes into my food or how it's made as long as it tastes good. Sorry activists, you're firing blanks at me with any messages of the sort. Still, I enjoyed the movie, and almost like watching these types of films in a defiant "you're message didn't work on me" kind of way. I'm sure I watched this and went straight to a drive-thru after it was over.
     5. Bad News Bears (2005)
Yeah, this gets the fifth spot for the simple fact that it's the last one I've seen. I enjoyed it, but that's about as much as I need to say about it. Nothing really memorable about it.

Andy Schopp -
No entry this week.

So there we have it. We were down one writer this week, so we don't get quite as good a picture as we normally do. Still, 10 different films were profiled this week - not too bad for a director. Only half of them hit on multiple lists, and only one, "School of Rock", appeared on all four. Otherwise, three different titles made the cut for three of the lists: "Dazed and Confused", "Boyhood", and "Bernie". And the only other film/franchise to make multiple lists was some combination from the Before Trilogy, with two total selections.

Hopefully these picks give you a nice base to start or continue your Richard Linklater education. Make sure to check back next week, when each of us will begin unveiling our Top 15 Films of 2014 starting on Monday. Also, we'll wrap up this Oscars-themed series of Top 5 Movie Guides next Saturday with our picks for the best past Best Picture nominees that didn't win.

Happy watching!