Ranking the Films of Richard Linklater: From Slacker to Bernie.

Notes from a fan who's seen it all.
April 26 2012 4:02 PM

Ranking the Films of Richard Linklater

From Slacker to Bernie.


See Seth Stevenson's "Completist" look at Richard Linklater, and vote for Linklater’s best film.

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

Richard Linklater’s films, ranked from best to worst:

Wistful Masterpieces

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?)

Unnecessary Adaptations

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.)


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