His order is predictable but hard to refute: "Dazed and Confused," "Before Sunrise," and "Before Sunset" come out on top as "Wistful Masterpieces," followed by the "Groovy Head Trips" of "Slacker" and "Waking Life" and the "Indoctrinating Children Into the Slacker Cult" films "School of Rock" and "Bad News Bears." Not sure about ranking Linklater's "Bears" remake ahead of the moody and unsettling "A Scanner Darkly," but not enough to argue about it.
Actually, in this case, I was less absorbed by the actual rankings than Stevenson's accompanying essay, which examines Linklater's filmography as an auteurist whole. Linklater's a director with consensus best and worst films: you'd be hard-pressed to find many critics ready to go out on a limb to declare "The Newton Boys" his unsung masterpiece (if you do find them, send 'em my way; I'd love to read them). But for all his well-deserved reputation as a personal filmmaker, Linklater hasn't garnered a ton of scholarly consideration on a career-wide level. To write this piece, Stevenson watched or rewatched all fifteen of Linklater's movies, giving him the proper perspective to weigh in on his recurring themes and motifs. This paragraph effectively sums it all up:
"Within 'Slacker' is embedded the mix of obsessions that has defined Linklater's subsequent work. He is: 1) bored by the bounds of traditional three-act narrative structure, and classic protagonists; 2) entranced by the gift of gab, and by the literate, barstool monologuist who can cast a spell over everyone within earshot; 3) fiercely sympathetic to the outsider -- the freak, the fringe; 4) spiritual, and engaged with big ideas. This is perhaps our most Buddhist filmmaker -- in the sense that he is forever meditating on the present moment, the impermanence of it, the effort to mindfully inhabit it."
Stevenson's comments make me realize how much of Linklater's work is about the juxtaposition of the finite and the infinite. As he notes, many of Linklater's movies take place within small amounts of time -- the last day of school in "Dazed and Confused," the night in Vienna in "Before Sunrise" -- and follow characters while they ponder the largest of issues. That's perhaps why Linklater was and remains one of the quintessential American independent filmmakers of the last twenty-five years: because his best movies all embrace their budgetary limitations. Talk is cheap, and ideas are free.
Read More of Seth Stevenson's "I Watched Every Richard Linklater Movie."