Before the 21st century would find him a more professional filmmaker, Tape was the last whiff of Linklater’s early independent spirit as it was relevant to truly lo-fi filmmaking.
The acting reunion of Dead Poets Society stars Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard – the two coincidentally play old high school friends – is tempered by a brief appearance by Uma Thurman in the final act. Making for an impressive box film, Tape’s fuzzy digital camcorder florescence renders Linklater’s miniscule film incredibly intimate.
Like it was made in a weekend, the nonchalant charm of Tape is in Stephen Belber’s adaptation of his own stage play, which, while not possessing Linklater’s hand, plays close enough to real life to appreciate.
Bernie’s brand of dark humor and stranger than fiction storytelling is a curious blend, but Linklater’s brand of sympathy turns this otherwise nonessential piece of the prolific filmmaker’s repertoire into a gem all itself.
Jack Black’s character work as Bernie Tiede, the bubbly mortician turned murderer, makes for one of Black’s best roles. Like the people of Carthage, Texas who defended Bernie even after his confession, Linklater easily attains compassion for our befuddling protagonist’s situation. Linklater has expressed his love for Hitchcock’s Psycho for the sly ways it forces one to empathize with a monster, and that influence comes across most clearly in this film.
Slacker is genuine Linklater, a work of experimental creativity strung together with a myriad of interesting intellectual musings. The film feels a bit like a scrappy warm-up for what would become crystal clear in Waking Life a decade later, but Slacker has plenty to offer by itself.
Beginning with Linklater himself as a talkative traveller rambling to a taxi driver, the omniscient camera follows passerby to passerby amongst the Austin population in order to complete its structure. Like Dazed and Confused and SubUrbia afterwards, Slacker marked Linklater’s first consideration of the forgotten subcultures and the unspoken masses of his era.
More his debut proper than It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, Slacker was a signal of masterpieces to come while remaining a minor one itself – many of Linklater’s ideological foundations can be identified in Slacker’s arrangement of characters and interactions.
10. Last Flag Flying
Linklater’s most recent and most emotionally wrenching film, Last Flag Flying investigates the stateside grief of overseas warfare through the eyes of Doc – Steve Carell in a performance to match his transformation in Foxcatcher. Considered a spiritual successor to the 1973 Darryl Ponicsan adaptation The Last Detail, Last Flag Flying stands on its own regardless.
With his decidedly leftist leanings, Linklater restrains himself from too much anti-nationalist rhetoric while still making the case that the loss of human life supersedes any sense of jingoistic duty. Lawrence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston turn in excellent performances as Doc’s Vietnam War buddies who assist him on a trip to collect and bury his recently fallen son, a marine just like them.
Abundant with the tenderness and touches of humor one could expect from the director, Linklater is also incredibly observationalist when the tear-jerking moments rear their head. Last Flag Flying is a rare politically minded moment for a director who wisely focuses on camaraderie and friendship predominantly.
9. Everybody Wants Some!!
Whether you see it as a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused or as an overdue apology to baseball following his Bad News Bears blunder, Everybody Wants Some!! is a very good time watching college guys have a very good time.
Thankfully, the debauchery of this early 80s nostalgia trip doesn’t grow tiresome. Linklater leaves plenty of room for his staples of philosophical discourse, social commentary, time-related narratives and humanistic optimism in depicting a college baseball team coming to terms with one another during the weekend before fall semester.
Exploring the identity crisis of finding your scene and the often animalistic urges of male competition, the film manages to let the good times roll even when Linklater stops to make a point or wax poetic. Everybody Wants Some!! proved that Linklater had lost none of his instincts when it comes to giving slackers, and even nostalgia, a good name.
8. School of Rock
Working with a hilarious script by Mike White, who also stars in the film, School of Rock is far and away Linklater’s most financially successful film, and also the strongest of his directorial efforts that he did not write himself.
Apart from the wonderful batch of kids in the class of Mr. Schneebly, Jack Black’s unhinged, livewire performance easily lives up to his Tenacious D mentality. His controlled chaos is a joy to behold bit after bit – the single take as he sings his work in progress rock opera song to the kids a cappella is a testament to Black’s dexterity as both performer and actor.
Happy endings and PG-13 ratings aside, School of Rock has a mature sense of humor while also staying appropriate enough for the ages similar to the students of Horace Green. The film’s soundtrack is full of well-chosen rock songs, and the original ones aren’t bad either. Laced with sheer exuberance in its entirety, I doubt Linklater ever had a better time shooting a movie and it shows.
7. Before Midnight
The weakest of three masterworks, Before Midnight is the fantasy-shattering reverberation of two fairly enchanting installments. Reality, creeping in after two predecessors veiled with romance, is here to stay.
Midnight is the most narrative of the three Before film and bears the largest cast too. As much as Linklater retains his knack for interesting dialogue and earnest introspection, Midnight is purposely structured to be a mild letdown based on its thematic principles. Echoing films like Godard’s Le Mepris, the climax of Before Midnight is one blistering argument sequence realistic enough to give you agita for an evening.
After months of vacationing in Greece, Jesse and Celine are finally away from their twin daughters for an evening, but the littlest of things will get a heated conversation avalanching into verbal warfare. It’s a devastating third act, one that feels both thoroughly rehearsed and wonderfully improvised like some of the best moments of the last two installments.
Who knows what awaits us in 2022, although anyone’s best guess is along the lines of divorce – these films won’t be getting any rosier if they continue. However it turns out, Linklater will likely outdo himself again. Each continuation of his 1995 masterpiece could have spoiled a good thing, but he has justified a new film every time. Before Noon will either work out well or not at all.