Richard Linklater has directed at least as many innovative, cutting edge films that are also highly entertaining as any other director out there. The only other director I can think of who may be his equal in this regard is Jim Jarmusch (who has an equally original but very different style).
Slacker was his first film, an underground tour of Austin, Texas and its quirky inhabitants. I’m not sure if this is a pure documentary or mockumentary, but it is funny and enjoyable all the same. Look for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has appeared in later Linklater efforts as well.
Dazed and Confused is a teen comedy without the mindless quality of most Hollywood versions of this genre. It takes place in the 70s on the last day of high school. It’s an episodic tale of the various kinds of kids who populate any school and their goals, desires, fears and, as the title suggests, confusion.
Before Sunrise is one of the best dialogue-centered movies ever made (among the others I’d include the sequel, Before Sunset, My Dinner With Andre and Coffee and Cigarettes). It’s very difficult to pull of a film with little conventional action, almost all talk, that is not only interesting to watch but doesn’t feel like a play. The fact that it takes place in scenic European cities, and on board trains, doesn’t hurt, nor do the performances by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. The conversations seem real and spontaneous rather than scripted, yet they are intelligent and interesting as well.
Before Sunset is one of those rare sequels that is just as good as the original, no small feat in this case. Delpy and Hawke continue where they left off, rekindling their tentative steps towards romance.
Waking Life is another of my favorite Linklater films. This is an animated exploration of dreams, and it raises some timeless philosophical questions, such as how can we ever be sure what is “real” and what is a dream? Waking Life features the voices of many Linkater favorites such as Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and radical libertarian activist Alex Jones. A fascinating film, worth seeing several times.
Fast Food Nation is based on the book by the same name, though this is a fictionalized version while the book is nonfiction. While this film has a definite and somewhat heavyhanded political message, Linklater’s good sense of dialogue and character save it from being tedious. Still, I would not call this his best film.
A Scanner Darkly is based on Philip K. Dick’s paranoid dystopian world of the near future where the Drug War is the dominant fact of life. This is a strange film, full of ambiguity and not always easy to follow. We are never sure exactly what is going on, but then neither are the characters themselves. Perhaps being familiar with Dick’s work (which I’m not, unfortunately) would make it clearer, but the movie is still interesting and illustrates some of the contradictions and hypocrisy inherent in the war on drugs.