Do you find yourself missing your home state of Texas? With the rise of the coronavirus, traveling home is becoming less of an option, but maybe you are here, in quarantine; either way why not settle for a good film to fight your homesick blues? Movies have always been great at representing the look and feel of a place, and Texas has no shortage of great cinema that capture its essence. Here are some films with a particularly strong Texas vibe to remind you of the land you love.
It's possible that no film has captured the size and scope of Texas better than Giant, George Stevens’ 1956 3½-hour epic about love, greed, oil and obsession in the Lone Star State. If that sounds a bit excessive, well, everything’s bigger in Texas, as they say. Beneath all of the staggering vistas and the melodramatic storylines lie important questions about what it means to possess land and power, and the ethical, responsible approach to legacy. Though its own legacy often centers around James Dean in his final film role (and he’s splendid here), there’s no question the film also deserves a spot in the canon of great Texas cinema.
Texas filmmaker Richard Linklater had his breakthrough with Slacker, a rambling, shaggy story of misfits and oddballs set over the course of a single day in Austin. With a strong emphasis on character and dialogue over plot, and a deliberate use of time, Linklater seems to be laying the groundwork for many of his most iconic films. Like many of his best movies, Slacker has a deceptively loose feel to it: While you sense you’re watching life unfold before your eyes, you also notice the ingenious transitions as the camera, seemingly on a whim, leaves one character behind to follow another. This technique suggests that everyone is interesting if you’re willing to give them a little bit of time. It’s a generous sentiment from one of our most beloved filmmakers.
Paris, Texas (1984)
Dallas native L.M. Kit Carson co-wrote the screenplay with Sam Shepard for this 1984 classic that turns Texas landscapes and cityscapes into mythic and metaphorical spaces for loss and redemption. Harry Dean Stanton’s angular, sad face was never put to better use than his role here as a man lost in the Texas desert, who slowly reclaims the life he tragically left behind. The movie quietly suggests that redemption is less about happy endings than setting the record straight, turning chaos into order and peace. It takes real talent to pull off a heavy story like this, which Paris, Texas has in spades: in addition to Carson, Shepard and Stanton, the film also boasts direction by the great Wim Wenders, a haunting score by Ry Cooder and images by Robby Muller that paradoxically make Texas seem at once familiar and dreamlike.
The Rookie (2002)
If you feel a longing for Texas and an empty void left by the delay of the upcoming baseball season, then The Rookie is just for you. Released in 2002, this is one of Disney’s lesser known live action sports movies, but its real-life subject is remarkable nonetheless. Back when football was the exclusive local sport in many Texas cities, a talented pitcher named Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid) brought baseball to the town of Big Lake and created his own legend in the process: after coaching a high school team (Reagan County) to unprecedented success, Morris agreed to pursue his own dream of becoming a major league pitcher. Against all odds, he succeeded, becoming one of the oldest rookies in baseball history. Ironically, Morris ended up pitching against the Rangers in his big league debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
The Last Picture Show (1971)
Most of us are familiar with the idyllic small town seen in various movies: houses are quaint, lawns tidy, neighbors friendly and conflicts but trifles to be settled over a smile and a laugh. If you want a more authentic look at small-town life, try The Last Picture Show, based on Larry McMurtry’s novel of the same name. The film follows various characters in a small, desolate Texas town in winter. Through its sense of place and lack of any real plot, we get a vivid sense of these people's loneliness, longings and fears. Movies tend to ignore these types of faces and places. The Last Picture Show suggests they’re worth our time just as much as the sexier, more intoxicating typical options.
A Perfect World (1993)
Released a year after his Oscar-winning Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World has always existed in that film’s shadow. A shame, since it’s a great one. Set in the 1960s, it follows a convict (Kevin Costner) as he takes a young boy hostage and flees across the Texas landscape. Eastwood directs the film and also has a supporting role as the Texas Ranger in pursuit of Costner. Like Eastwood's best movies, A Perfect World employs archetypes and familiar narrative tropes in order to question common ideas and beliefs about them. Here, there’s a particular emphasis on the place of goodness in a world of criminals and lawmen. For a genre so often defined by heroism, villainy and machismo, it feels positively radical.
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s first collaboration is a strange beast. The film rolls along for its first hour as a fairly standard hostage Texas crime movie, with some excellent Tarantino dialogue for extra fuel. And then suddenly, an hour in, it’s as if the movie itself is taken hostage — by an entirely new genre. It becomes a vampire horror action film, in which our criminal protagonists and their hostages unite to defeat a common enemy. If it all sounds absurd, it is, yet From Dusk Till Dawn is so confidently written and directed, and boasts such an enjoyable leading turn by George Clooney (and good supporting work from Juliette Lewis and Harvey Keitel) that it’s pretty tough to resist.
The Tree of Life (2011)
If you find yourself missing Texas and also wondering about your place in the cosmos, then The Tree of Life might be for you. Terrence Malick’s beguiling, ambitious 2011 film both ventures out to the origins of the universe and zeroes in on the daily life of a family in a small Texas town. Somehow it emphasizes how tiny we are on this rock floating through space, while also making even the smallest of human gestures seem like monumental events. Though some greeted the movie with flippancy (mainly for its inclusion of CGI dinosaurs), The Tree of Life is wondrous; it chases the sublime with more ambition and confidence than any film in recent memory.
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