Ranking the Films of Richard Linklater
From Slacker to Bernie.
Richard Linklater’s films, ranked from best to worst:
Dazed and Confused: An ensemble re-creation of one bitchin’ night for a bevy of 1970s high-schoolers. First kisses, ass-whuppings, doobies galore, a party at the moontower, and Ben Affleck getting a bucket of paint poured on his head.
Before Sunrise/Sunset: A bookended romance in which thwarted lovers meet only twice in 10 years, but connect with such zapping electricity that I have trouble watching their sparks fly without depressingly comparing them to the sputtering battery of my daily routine.
Groovy Head Trips
Slacker: Still surprisingly entertaining given the uneven acting and lack of cohesive narrative. You can doze off for a few minutes in the middle and it really doesn’t matter—and somehow I swear I mean this as praise.
Waking Life: Kernels of wisdom and transcendent moments, all articulated by animated talking heads. The rotoscoping was a revelation when the movie premiered, and it still looks ravishing. I love that Linklater used an Austin tango band to create the entrancing score.
Indoctrinating Children Into the Slacker Cult
School of Rock: Totally charming family fare about Jack Black transforming over-parented school kids into rock-and-rollers. Fun performances from both Black and Joan Cusack. Kind of amazing that this kiddie flick’s central message is to question “the man.”
Bad News Bears: Doesn’t add much to the 1970s Walter Matthau classic. (The kids might be slightly more diverse, and one is disabled.) But Billy Bob Thornton is perfectly cast as Buttermaker, the ex-big leaguer who coaches with a cold can of beer in hand.
True Tales of Texas
Inning by Inning: Portrait of a Coach: Augie Garrido*, longtime University of Texas baseball coach, is a compelling figure. After watching this documentary profile, you’ll want him to coach your life.
Bernie: Could have benefited from a little more tension and menace, given that it’s a story about the murder of an elderly woman. But Black shines again, singing, dancing, and managing to be simultaneously sweet and bizarre. And I could listen all day to that drawling Greek chorus of townspeople.
The Newton Boys: Plodding genre flick with awful pacing. Makes robbing banks seem like a pleasant but boring pastime. (Remember when Skeet Ulrich was a thing?)
Tape: Not terrible, with a cleverly twisting plot. But Ethan Hawke over-acts and the airless setting (we never leave a single motel room) begins to grate.
A Scanner Darkly: Promising in theory: Rotoscoping might help bring the hallucinatory vibe of Philip K. Dick to life. But despite a few memorable ideas (I adore the scramble suit—a garment that disguises the wearer with an ever-shifting mix of race, gender, and fashion), it falls flat.
Fast Food Nation: Unfocused and meandering. And seems convinced we will be repulsed by scenes of meat processing. Eh, I've seen it before.
SubUrbia: Has never even been released on DVD. Nobody misses it. You’re better off reading Eric Bogosian’s play.
Zac Efron Is in This Movie
Me and Orson Welles: A startlingly spot-on Welles impersonation from Christian McKay, and some faithful re-creations of Welles’ early theater craftsmanship. But: Zac Efron.
*Correction, April 27, 2012: This article original misspelled Garrido's last name. (Return.)
Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.