Richard Linklater is one of the finest directors working today. He has a strong command of the filmmaking craft, but he also understands people, which is really what makes his films work so well. It’s how the same director has managed to make a drug-hazed coming-of-age ensemble piece about the last day of high school and a black comedy about a convicted murderer and put his distinctive creative mark on both.
He also commits himself to crazy experiments like making an epic drama about one boy’s childhood over the course of more than a decade with the same child actor and turns out Oscar-favorite masterworks. So, here are Richard Linklater’s 10 Best Movies, According To Rotten Tomatoes.
10 Me and Orson Welles (85%)
When it comes to depicting real-life figures who have become almost mythical in the legendary status that engulfs them, it can help to tell their story through the prism of a third party who similarly admires them to act as the audience’s surrogate.
This is the case with My Week with Marilyn, which views Marilyn Monroe through the eyes of a production assistant. It was also the case with Me and Orson Welles, which views Orson Welles through the eyes of a teenager – played with class by a Zac Efron who was still best-known for the made-for-TV High School Musical franchise – hired to work on his play.
9 Slacker (86%)
This quirky little comedy has inspired countless indie filmmakers to follow their dreams – including Kevin Smith, who was reportedly convinced that he could make Clerks after seeing Slacker – and is also famous for making Richard Linklater’s career.
It has an unusual structure, being stitched together from short films of drastically varying tones. At the end of one short, a new protagonist will pass the previous protagonist on the street or happen to be in the same library as them, and then the camera will just start following them and the previous one is gone from the movie forever. It’s pretty brilliant.
8 Everybody Wants Some!! (87%)
Narratively, Richard Linklater has said that Everybody Wants Some!! is a spiritual sequel to Boyhood; which ends with a kid going off to college, while Everybody Wants Some!! starts with a kid going off to college. But tonally, it feels more like a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused.
Not only are they both named after rock classics; Dazed and Confused is a slice-of-life snapshot of a group of high schoolers, while Everybody Wants Some!! is a slice-of-life snapshot of a group of college students. It’s not quite as insightful or memorable as either of its spiritual predecessors, but Everybody Wants Some!! is still head and shoulders above your average college-set comedy.
7 Bernie (88%)
Richard Linklater was praised for shaking up the docudrama formula with this big-screen retelling of the murder of a wealthy 80-year-old socialite by her 39-year-old companion, both by bringing an uncharacteristic dark sense of humor to the genre and by having talking head interviews with the fictional town gossips to tell the story.
Shirley MacLaine plays the elderly socialite, while Jack Black plays the guy who killed her, each giving the performance of a lifetime (particularly Black, who plays gleefully against type). Matthew McConaughey also provides strong support as the lawyer who is determined to bring the titular killer to justice.
6 TIE: Dazed and Confused (91%)
With a simplistic, but universally relatable premise, Richard Linklater managed to connect with teenagers across various different generations and social groups for years to come with Dazed and Confused, an expertly interwoven coming-of-age comedy about the highs and lows of the last day of high school.
The movie is also notable for kickstarting the careers of a handful of actors who would go on to be big stars, including Ben Affleck, Anthony Rapp, Milla Jovovich, and of course, Matthew McConaughey, whose performance in Dazed and Confused still stands as one of his finest and most memorable, even after the fabled “McConaissance.”
5 TIE: School of Rock (91%)
Easily the most mainstream movie Richard Linklater has made, School of Rock is really Jack Black’s movie. Mike White’s beautifully crafted and very funny screenplay and Linklater’s typically knockout direction are basically there to serve Black’s talents and let him thrive.
Strapped for cash and kicked out of his own band, he pretends to be his substitute teacher roommate and takes a job at a private school, where he finds that his students are musically gifted and recruits them to form a new band to compete in Battle of the Bands. School of Rock has laugh-out-loud moments in spades, but you’ll stick around for the sweetness.
4 Before Sunset (95%)
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s characters from Before Sunrise happen to bump into each other again, so they spend another movie getting to know each other a little better. It’s like an even more masterfully made, less mainstream version of When Harry Met Sally.
In the second chapter of the trilogy – which tends to be the best one, but in this case, is rated just below the first and third movies by Rotten Tomatoes – Hawke’s character is visiting France during a book tour and enjoys another stint with Delpy’s character. In this one, their relationship gets deeper and more interesting.
3 TIE: Before Midnight (97%)
It’s not often that a threequel even manages to satisfy audiences, let alone come away with a near-perfect 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Before Midnight puts Spider-Man 3, The Matrix Revolutions, and X-Men: The Last Stand to shame, and stands up there with The Bourne Ultimatum, The Return of the King, and Toy Story 3.
This time around, Jesse and Celine don’t just coincidentally encounter one another. They’ve been together for a while and they’re on vacation in Greece. As the vacation winds down, they reflect on their life together and wonder how it could’ve turned out differently. Very insightful, introspective stuff.
2 TIE: Boyhood (97%)
Without a complete script, Richard Linklater began shooting Boyhood many years before it would eventually hit theaters. The idea was a simple, yet experimental one: to shoot a coming-of-age movie across many years as the child actor starring in the film actually came of age.
We begin Boyhood with the character of Mason as a young kid living with his sister and his single mother. Over the course of two and a half riveting hours, we watch him go through various stepdads, schools, and girlfriends. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette do a brilliant job of tapping into their parental roles, despite having to shoot scenes years apart from each other.
1 Before Sunrise (100%)
When Richard Linklater first came up with an idea for a movie that was basically just two people talking for the entire runtime, the investors and producers that he brought it to must have thought he was crazy – especially since it was just the first installment in a trilogy of movies where the same two people talk for the whole duration – but with an impeccable script and the on-screen chemistry of stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, he turned out a masterpiece.
Two people happen to encounter one another, have some time to kill and decide to spend it getting to know each other. As far as they know, they’ll never see each other again, so anything could happen.