The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Richard Linklater
Well, Richard Linklater didn't wind up taking home the Oscar for BOYHOOD but it certainly gained him an awful lot of traction in Tinseltown. He was always respected, but now he's in the top tier of directors and his next film will no doubt be seen as an event thanks to BOYHOOD's insane reception. It can't be denied, BOYHOOD was one-hell of an accomplishment. Linklater put twelve years of his life into making a chronicle of one boy's coming of age – all shot in real time. It's stunning.
But, BOYHOOD isn't Linklater's first great movie – not by a long shot. His film SLACKER, put him on the map in a big way, making him one of the first star directors to emerge from the Sundance Film Festival. His follow-up, DAZED AND CONFUSED was even better. The BEFORE series is another huge feather in his cap, with him regrouping every seven years with stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy to make what's turning out to be one of the great love stories of our time. Even Linklater's lesser films are worth watching, like THE NEWTON BOYS, or the effortlessly delightful SCHOOL OF ROCK. Truly, Linklater is worthy of being called a modern master.
I'm tempted to throw in BOYHOOD just on the merit that it's the movie that's finally pushed Linklater into the top-tier of current directors. Both it and the BEFORE trilogy would be career-cappers for most people, but to me Linklater's finest piece of work was his second film, DAZED AND CONFUSED. As a coming-of-age movie, I feel like DAZED is tough to beat with only something like AMERICAN GRAFFITI being on the same level. Is it a coincidence both are period pieces? I'm not so sure, as there's something about looking back on the coming-of-age of previous generations and the way teens are always teens regardless of when they're growing up, be it the sixties, seventies, or 2015 that's profound. To this day, DAZED is a movie I go back to it at least once a year, and I feel like it's maybe the most honest teen movie ever made, with the premise – just being that of a bunch of teens driving around and looking for fun – lending itself to a superb slice-of-life that feels very much like a precursor to what he'd do with BOYHOOD and the BEFORE series later on. Yet, of all of his movies I'd say DAZED is the most accessible and a perfect mix between his artistic sensibilities and his more commercial side.
BERNIE's an underrated gem. In addition to a standout performance by Jack Black as real-life convicted killer Bernie Tiede, what's especially interesting is Linklater's stylish mix of documentary and drama, with many of the peripheral characters being people who actually knew Tiede in real life playing themselves or simply being asked to tell their stories on camera in straight documentary fashion. It's a pretty compelling way to make a true crime tale and a film that was sadly overlooked in favor of flashier fare both commercially and critically (although Black landed a Golden Globe nomination). As an interesting side-note, Tiede eventually got out of prison by being released to Linklater's custody. Truly a stranger-than-fiction end to a crazy story.
I thought people were way too kind to A SCANNER DARKLY on the merits of its rotoscoped animation. Granted, it's visually stunning, but Linklater did the same thing to far better effect on WAKING LIFE. It's one of four movies in a row that Linklater made that don't really work (with the BAD NEWS BEARS remake, FAST FOOD NATION and ME & ORSON WELLES being the other three). That said, maybe he had to work some style issues out and if the failure of these four movies led him to BEFORE MIDNIGHT and BERNIE, than it was well worth it.
One of the things Linklater nailed in DAZED AND CONFUSED was the indestructible, “I'm the f**king king of the universe” attitude so many teens cop, without making them come off as total dicks. The scene where Matthew McConaughey, Jason London and Wally Wiggins strut into their local pool-hall hangout like kings while Bob Dylan's 'The Hurricane' plays on the soundtrack is one of those perfect moments in cinema where the attitude of an entire generation can be summed up by one perfect shot.
Linklater's next movie is being called a spiritual sequel to DAZED AND CONFUSED, but set in the eighties – with it called THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT and centering around another young up and coming cast. Will he discover the next McConaughey? We'll see.
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