6. School of Rock (2003)
Whilst the promotional poster of a demented Jack Black clawing at a guitar may be enough deter those who would say that Tenacious D weren’t entirely their cup of tea, School of Rock is for the most part an absolute riot. It’s difficult to determine who exactly the film will appeal to, but with Linklater’s carefree attitude right at its heart, the film boasts an undeniably impressive energy that threatens to rock its way off the screen.
Black stars as Dewey Finn, a down-on-his-luck musician who’s evicted from his band ‘No Vacancy’. With the threat of eviction looming over him, he begrudgingly takes a substitute teacher position at the local school. Whilst initially bemoaning his rotten luck and constant struggle, he soon begins to bond with his class after discovering they share a taste for rock music, and decides to impose an alternative syllabus of rock n’ roll.
The results are predictable but infectiously uplifting, and the whole cast appear to be having a hell of a good time throughout, as absolute pandemonium bangs around them. Touching, funny and ludicrous, School of Rock is a further advert for Linklater’s flexibility for film, arriving in a loud and delirious package.
7. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
A fittingly trippy adaptation of Philip K Dick’s psychedelic-laced novel, A Scanner Darkly sees Linklater again gather an illustration team to add a hallucinatory touch to his camera findings –coating a sleek animated varnish over a star-studded cast that includes Robert Downey Jr, Keanu Reaves, Winona Ryder, Rory Cochrane and Woody Harrelson. In many ways the darker, more pessimistic and more handsome brother to Waking Life; A Scanner Darkly sedates the restlessness that pulsed throughout Linklater’s 2001 film; allowing for a bolder, glossier effect that has to rank as some of the most incredible animation ever put up on screen.
Dick’s radically avant-garde ideas are faithfully adapted by Linklater, and whilst the storyline often appears convoluted, the film pulls together the seemingly endless amount of loose threads in some satisfying closing shots that surprise and impress all at once. Set in a drug-addled dystopian near-future, A Scanner Darkly depicts the aftermath of America’s infatuation with a drug called Substance D, a med that threatens to destroy the country in its cause of decay, sickness, psychosis and decease.
Nothing is ever quite as it seems – with the characters themselves often mystified as to who they are or what is going on around them – and interwoven with the interpolated rotoscope effects, this makes for a mind-bending trip of a movie. Robert Downey Jr is typically excellent, adopting the fidgeting, paranoid demeanour of an addict with both fascinating and amusing results, whereas Reaves acts as an offshoot of himself; embodying the role of an unaware everyman exposed to a world he doesn’t truly understand. T
he sickening scent of disease that lingers around the film, threatening to infect each frame, is often best conveyed through the behaviour of Cochrane, whose wild-eyed yelping and obsessive scratching is enough to ruffle even the most impassive viewer. Creative to its core, A Scanner Darkly depicts ideas of dauntingly invasive technology in a society teetering on the brink of insanity. The opening scene is so skin-crawling it remains capable of imparting an insect phobia to an entomologist, and Linklater’s venture into the dark depths of the human mind is one that’s impossible to forget.
8. Me and Orson Welles (2008)
Linklater pays tribute to one of cinema’s greatest directors of all time with Me and Orson Welles, a fictionalised account of a youngster being accepted into the world of Welles and discovering all it has to offer. Christian McKay doesn’t so much perform as Welles but rather completely embodies him, from his egotistical roars and stunning artistic vision to modest mannerisms such as the chomping of a cigar. Zac Efron plays the young man who is given a role in Welles’s theatre production of Julius Cesar, understandably startled under the bold and brash demeanour of the director.
Whilst not necessarily the kindest or saint-like portrayal of Welles, Linklater ensures that the genius of the man who made Citizen Kane is consistently underlined. Efron is commendable as the aspiring Richard Samuels, and obligatory love-interest Claire Danes is charming as Sonja. Whilst the battle that commences between Samuels and Welles for her attention occasionally lags, it does have its intriguing moments. But the real power of the film lies in its depiction, and awe of, a treasured director of American cinema.
The film monitors the backstage artistry and conception of a famous play in the hands of a great innovator, and whilst often overlooked in terms of Linklater’s work, Me and Orson Welles is in parts a fascinating inspection of a cinematic pioneer, who’s early work inspired the likes of Linklater and in turn his own fascinating filmmaking.
9. Bernie (2012)
An unadulterated case in point for up-close-and-personal filmmaking, Bernie’s most mind-boggling aspect is the way in which the director himself eventually became an important part of the fascinating story he had tried to depict. Acting as both an intrinsic biopic and also morality tale of how no man is beyond breaking point, this 2012 release ended up inviting criticisms and inputs from society, the penal system, the judicial system and the film world in general.
A mockumentary in form, Linklater puts a black satirical comedic spin on a true Texas town murder in 1996; an event that shook a tiny community, and effectively put this corner of Carthage on the map. Jack Black stars as eponymous main man Bernie Tiede; a gregarious do-gooder from a snug southern corner of America. The documentary format shows a variety of interviews with town residents, revealing a unanimous adoration for Bernie throughout the community, stretching from top to bottom.
This respect stretches to pity as the film wears on, as the naïve and compassionate Bernie begins to care for cold-hearted widower Marjorie Nugent, who instead of thanking him for his efforts, proceeds to ceaselessly bully and demean him. When Marjorie goes missing, only Sherriff Danny Buck Davidson (played by Matthew McConaghey in a performance that invigorated his lagging career) smells a rat in Bernie. The revelation that the kind-hearted Tiede did in fact shoot Marjorie Nugent dead goes down like a lead balloon, and Bernie is sentenced to life imprisonment.
Linklater’s documentary-like satire conveys a sheltered little town’s reaction to the news of how even the nicest man can be driven too far. Just months ago, the real Bernie Tiede was in fact bailed from his sentence, on the condition that he reside with Linklater; the filmmaker who’d been visiting him frequently over the past few years for assistance on the film about Tiede’s life.
As such, Bernie became the focus of a minor scandal in suggestions that the film influenced the legal system, and the incredible events surrounding the production have threatened to dwarf the eminence of the film itself. Jack Black gives a career-high performance in the lead role, and Shirley MacLane is suitably sharp as the incessantly abusive Marjorie. Offbeat and unusual in all kinds of ways, Bernie is wickedly unique; even for Richard Linklater.
10. Boyhood (2014)
Arguably his most epic and imposing film to date, the impending release of Linklater’s most recent film Boyhood has had cinephiles on the edge of their seats for years. Having already garnered an enormous wealth of critical praise, Boyhood has been filmed over a real-time period of twelve years, acting as an authentic examination of a real-life youngster blossoming from a tender child into a resilient adolescent.
Linklater predictably finds a role for Ethan Hawke as the father, with Patricia Arquette playing the mother and Linklater’s own daughter also having a role following her brief appearance in Waking Life as a young girl. Due for release over the summer period, Boyhood looks utterly unmissable, and will at the very least cement Linklater’s footprint in committed and creative filmmaking.
Author Bio: Gareth Lloyd is a freelance writer with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Manchester in English Language & Screen Studies, and a pending Master of Arts degree from Aberystwyth University in Film Studies. Along with postgraduate study, he writes articles on film, sport, music, social life and literature.