Ranking the Richard Linklater Films

UPDATED: 2/13/2023

ONGOING FLUID PROJECT (ie: to be updated continuously yet sporadically)

Unwatched: It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, Fast Food Nation 


19. Last Flag Flying [2017]

While Linklater’s motivations for making a movie rarely if ever seem cynical, this by far was the one that most seemed like an awards-bait piece of bullshit. Cranston and Carell in particular seem to be really going for Oscar Nom #2 here with everyone on this one clearly in Full Trumbo Mode.


18. Bad News Bears [2005]

No one could ever accuse me about being squeamish or resistant to the idea of sequels, remakes, prequels, reboots, etc. They can be great sometimes! Giving the ’98 Psycho treatment to The Bad News Bears though is one of the most bizarre ideas I have ever seen executed though! Very bizarre shit.


17. Where’d You Go, Bernadette [2019]

Hard to imagine a scenario where this does not end up being one of the most forgettable Linklaters ever. The one thing the film has going for it is that it’s a Blanchett vehicle, and at the end of the day a film can only be so bad when it is that. On the other hand, from that perspective, it’s kinda remarkable how unremarkable this in fact ended up being.


16. Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood [2022]

It is always cool to see auteurs push themselves and display some sense of growth. Huge props to Linklater for setting this film in Houston instead of Austin.

For whatever reason, it is really hard for me to remember that the director of Dazed and Confused is a boomer. Anyway, this movie is about being a kid in the late sixties and early 70s in the suburbs of the United States.

The film works because of the commitment to the POV of “Young Stanley” seen through the eyes of the young kid but told through the narration of “Old Stanley” (and voiced by Jack Black). Linklater has continuously explored the concept of nostalgia. Here he captures how we see our childhood in retrospect and how (if you are lucky enough), you can paint a very flattering picture of yourself even if your memory is completely unreliable.

There is not much more being said than merely pointing all of that out. But it is an adequate film to vibe to as the majority of the film is Jack Black listing things that Linklater experienced in childhood and that is more comforting than one might necessarily guess.


15. Slacker [1990]

90s low budget US indie cinema has such a charm to it. There is something so inspiring and basic about it that makes filmmaking seem so accessible and possible for anyone. This early Linklater picture was obviously one of the earliest and most influential of the lot. It still is pretty fun and interesting to watch, especially from the standpoint of looking at Linklater’s career at large.


14. Tape [2001]

Leave it to Linklater to do a gritty, semi-experimental film in one location with just a shitty digital camera that actually manages to strike a chord. Hawke, Thurman, and Leonard deliver a theatrical setup in a human way that explores so much about male insecurity, and how conversations about consent, sex, and assault so often do not prioritize survivor voices. However, somehow the conversation always becomes about the perpetrators and what is gonna happen to them and how they make peace with what they did. While this is missing the joy and rewatchable factor that Linklater’s best stuff usually has, it is nonetheless a notable chapter in his career and worthy of a watch.


13. Waking Life [2001]

Waking Life is a fascinating exercise for Linklater. Unlike some of his other attempts to stretch the traditional boundaries of the form though, this one does not feel like a novel way of rethinking how films get made and stories get told. Instead, it seems like the animated form that Linklater uses here (and in later works) mostly just is good for helping to cover for the weaknesses in performance from the untrained and weaker actors. It does also to contribute to the overall idea of the movie. The film captures what it is like to be young when you are starting to get exposed to different ways of thinking and considering what it means to be alive. It is compelling and interesting without being especially powerful. But that is fine. And, if nothing else, there is a bonus Jesse/Celine scene.


12. The Newton Boys. [1998]

A post-WWI/pre-depression bank robbery story does not seem – on the surface – like the typical thing for Linklater to tackle. Fundamentally, this is a story about of a young boys lost and confused about what they want from the world and how they are going to go about getting there. They are hanging out in Texas. Ethan Hawke and Matthew McConaughey are there. It’s not a movie that will light your world on fire or anything like that but it’s a fun hang.


11. Me and Orson Welles [2008]

Linklater’s director-for-hire jobs (and as of 2022, this was his last one) can be rather interesting because Linklater always finds some way to make a connection to the story. The two big Linklater ideas in here are the doe-eyed young boy protagonist and confronting nostalgia. In regards to the former, Zac Efron did not get to show off his best qualities. There’s a natural darkness to him that makes him a tough sell in this role even his talent wins out overall. In regards to nostalgia, Linklater is neither interested in deifying nor tearing down Welles. More admirably, he is looking to capture the spirit of Orson Welles. A tall task to say the least, but they truly struck gold with Christian McKay. McKay really embodies our collective perception and understanding all the while doing a gripping interpretation of his personality and various ticks that made Welles so distinct.


10. Boyhood [2014]

Is there a cut of this movie called Fatherhood or something and we just follow Ethan Hawke vibing around for fifteen years as he makes his way in the world? Anyway, I have extremely fond memories of this film, and it undoubtedly remains an impressive accomplishment. The passage of time is always one of the most rewarding ideas to explore in art, and what better way to make a movie about fifteen years in the life of a human than actually film it over fifteen years? The problem is that the titular boy in Boyhood is not especially interesting. I cannot tell if he is supposed to be or not to be fair – but the film undoubtedly suffers from the lack of compelling features about this boy. The only real part of his (and his family’s) life that was how much their existence was dictated by capitalism. “I just want to do anything I want because it makes me feel alive.” It is quite sad how this family’s livelihood is dictated just in order to ensure they have the basic necessities to keep living dignified lives. And for what? “I spent the first half of my life acquiring all these things, and now I have to spend the second half of my life getting rid of it all.”


9. School of Rock [2003]

While it would be tempting to write this one off a tad, at the end of the day, this is about people hanging out and the vibes. That is probably the defining element of Linklater’s voice!! It’s also executed as well as you would want, and Jack Black fucking killed it in the role he was born to play.


8. Bernie [2011]

What a wonderfully quirky little character piece and faux but kinda real documentary? I don’t know! But it’s a real good dividing line film between good Linklater and weak Linklater so that in it of itself gives it some value! Linklater really gets how to write for Jack Black though and clearly they need to work more together.


7. A Scanner Darkly [2006]

Of all three of Linklater’s major experimentations with animation, this is by far my favorite. You have a clever undercover story (always fun!). You got dystopian future where the whole world is addicted to drugs and big brother is always watching us. And the film is primarily concerned with capturing what it is like to be tripped out and paranoid and trying to put the audience into that mindset. It’s not a major work or accomplishment, but this film holds up as a something cool and different. It also gets points for being one of the handful of RDJ films between recovery and becoming Iron Man. That brief 4-5 years when he was just a great actor and functioning well as a human being.


6. SubUrbia [1996]

“Believe me if I thought something bad was gonna happen, I would have done something.”

The great contradiction of Dazed was that this explicit nostalgia takedown piece became a huge source of nostalgia for everyone (cast included) and a “happy place film” for so many. Dazed is a film that makes you feel good and makes you reach out for it when you want to feel good again. It takes you back to a time when possibilities felt infinite and even the stupid shit you did feels insignificant before the future was still in front of you.

SubUrbia is a film designed to make you feel bad. It takes you a few years after Dazed (spiritually). It takes you to the moment when your future has started, and your possibilities no longer feel infinite. The stupid shit you do now feels increasingly significant – each of those stupid moments is one less moment you have in your future.

SuBurbia is a much more successful film in capturing the true terror of being young and is naturally much less celebrated as a result. At a certain point, we stop looking at children as children and start to look down at them. These are the characters from Dazed a few years later (but now actually Gen X characters instead of Gen X actors playing teenage boomers). The world is insane, and the kids are going mad. And they have no tools to help themselves and make sense of what is happening around them let alone to themselves.


5. Before Sunrise [1995]

Young people, hanging out, talking, and being cringe. No one does it quite like Linklater! Watching this as an adult is kinda like staring at zoo animals. “Aren’t they so cute!” It was an essential movie and kickstarted the defining series of films for the white generation X. It just does not move me quite as much now.


4. Everybody Wants Some!! [2016]

The most loving tribute to The Boys and The Fellas that there has ever been. One of the best films to ever explore the idiocy of boys in a truly loving manner. While it has yet to make the cultural impact of Dazed, it will hopefully be discovered and beloved by new generations for years and years to come.


3. Dazed and Confused [1993]

What else needs to be said! It’s a wonderful tribute to the idiocy to the notion of nostalgia, and then helped to usher in a new wave of nostalgia! You can never underestimate the idiocy of the audience or use that as an excuse to dismiss a film. Just some beautiful cinema right here.


2. Before Midnight [2013]

This was one of the most stressful movie watching experiences of my life. The moment Jesse gets into the SUV, and you learn he and Celine have TWINS the countdown starts and you know there is so much tension that is assuredly going to blow over by the end of this. This whole series is a remarkable achievement in some ways more impressive than Boyhood. It’s the defining text for the white GenX population. Give me, Before Twilight.


1. Before Sunset [2004]

While life can often be cruel, it’s not the only truth we know. The way Céline and Jesse were terribly impacted by their experienced nine years earlier was just beautifully told on screen. The gradual transition from Jesse trying to cover up his pain to it being revealed that Celine has been just as fucked up by the experience was just perfectly executed. Celine’s rant in the taxi is probably the peak of the series.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s