Director Picks: Top 5 Movies by Richard Linklater

Written by Emily McWilliams November 24, 2012

Jack Black in the Linklater film, "School of Rock"Richard Linklater is probably one of the most underrated and under appreciated directors working in Hollywood right now.  The man is a creative chameleon, approaching every film genre with a fresh and unique perspective.  Linklater has also been able to balance the realms of indie filmmaking (giving some actors their big break) and huge mainstream features.  Linklater has shown that he can create memorable films with just about any budget, cast, or medium that are completely original.  Here, in this top five, we will finally give Richard Linklater the much deserved attention that this director is due.

5. A Scanner Darkly (2006)

Keanu Reeves in the Linklater film, "A Scanner Darkly".

This science fiction film is set in a future less than a decade away.  Keanu Reeves plays an undercover cop looking to track down sales of a dangerous new drug called Substance D.  Reeve’s character becomes addicted to Substance D, causing him to have severe hallucinations and lose his identity.  The film is a science fiction tour-de-force, and Linklater opted for rotoscope animation (scenes were filmed with actors and then animation was drawn directly onto the film strip) to give it an even more surreal look.  With the film bordering between reality and hallucination, and characters who constantly change their identities, I can’t say I completely understood every plot point, but it is a unique film worth checking out.

4. Dazed and Confused (1993)

Matthew McConaughey in the Linklater film, "Dazed & Confused".

A teen coming of age story that was the start of a lot of acting careers for the young cast including Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, and Milla Jovovich.  Set on the last day of school in 1976, the seniors prepare to haze incoming freshmen and then plan on partying to kick off the summer.  In many ways this is a typical teen-stoner-identity film, but Linklater has a bit more edge when it comes to the subject matter and his character’s actions than John Hughes ever did.  As well, like many of Linklater’s films, it becomes philosophical at points while the young characters determine their futures.

3. School of Rock (2003)

Jack Black and his young cast mates in the Linklater film, "School of Rock".

One of Linklater’s more mainstream films and the one that gave Jack Black his real breakout role, “School of Rock” may not be the deepest or most artistic Linklater film, but it is a lot of fun.  Black stars as a slacker and failed rock musician who manages to pose as a substitute teacher at a private elementary school.  He uses the young class to create a rock band that will compete at The Battle of the Bands competition, all while inspiring creativity and self-confidence in his students.  The film is a bit predictable and sentimental, but Black is hilarious and all of the classic rock references and allusions make the film worth watching.

2. Before Sunset (2004)

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in the Linklater film, "Before Sunset"

If anything, this movie proves that it is possible to make a sequel that is as moving and original as its predecessor.  “Before Sunset” is the follow-up film to the 1995 film “Before Sunrise”.  The films focuses on the romance-friendship between an American and a French woman who meet while traveling in Europe (portrayed by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy respectively). “Before Sunset” is set in real time, nearly a decade after the characters first met, and like the first film, these two only have a few hours to talk about life, love, and everything in between before they must return to their separate lives.   These films aren’t really plot driven, instead they focus on the minute details of human interaction and relationships, offering a refreshing change from the contrived love stories everyone is used to seeing in movies.

1. Waking Life (2001)

A scene from the Linklater film, "Waking Life"

“Waking Life” is a very intense and difficult film experience to describe.  The main character travels through a dream, encountering a variety of people that offer philosophical discussions on the nature of life.  This is another rotoscope animated film, but unlike “A Scanner Darkly” which had a uniform look in it’s animation, “Waking Life” shifts unexpectedly in its look, giving the film even more of a dream-like quality. “Waking Life” is Linklater’s most ambitious and meaningful film, and perfectly describes Linklater’s creative intentions on the whole.  It defies the normal conventions of filmmaking and characters while revealing an intelligent, but elusive statement to its audience.

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