Programmed by Michael Martinez
Everything's bigger in Texas, and the same goes for the hundreds of films set in the Lone Star State. It's difficult to narrow down a list of ten from this multitude, and simply picking out the "best" isn’t always the right choice. There's also the question of what makes something "Texan" in the first place--it is where the American South and West collide with each other as well as with Mexico, and its recent urban growth follows a still-present and distinctly rural tradition. In short, it's a cultural mishmash. To capture the vast and varied landscape of Texas, I have selected ten films that also vary in everything from subject matter to genre to directorial style. Cowboy westerns, family dramas, true-crime documentaries, and trend-setting horror all have their place, as do the cities, the plains, the coast, and the hill country, brought to you by the likes of John Ford, Errol Morris, and Richard Linklater. So take a look-the cinema of Texas has something for everyone.
(John Ford, 1956) · Named "The Greatest American Western" by the American Film Institute in 2008, The Searchers purports to have inspired everything from Paris, Texas to Star Wars. Former Confederate soldier Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns to his home in West Texas shortly before it is attacked by Comanche warriors, who kidnap his neice. Edwards spends years in an Ahab-esque search for revenge in a film that features many of director John Ford's regulars, such as Wayne, Vera Miles, and Harry Carey, Jr.
runtime: 119m format: 35mm
(Tobe Hooper, 1974) · Though slasher films are almost as old as filmmaking itself, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a strong candidate for the most influential member of the genre. During a visit to an old family homestead in East Texas, a young group of friends encounters a family of cannibals led by the fearsome Leatherface. While controversial upon release for its violence, the film helped to popularize some of the horror genre's most famous tropes, from fake "true story" marketing to the use of power tools for murderous purposes.
runtime: 98m format: 35mm
(Peter Bogdanovich, 1971) · "New Hollywood" director Peter Bogdanovitch presents a coming-of-age drama set in 1951 Anarene, a desolate North Texas town. High School Seniors Sonny and Duane (Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges) struggle to find things to do as changing times take their toll on the struggling community and its residents. Compared by many to Citizen Kane for its style and tone, The Last Picture Show was similarly shot in black-and-white, giving it what Roger Ebert called a "timeless" quality.
runtime: 118m format: DCP
(George Stevens, 1956) · The third and final film of 50s superstar James Dean, Giant takes place on a massive cattle ranch inspired by South Texas's real-life King Ranch. Ranch owner Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) returns home with his new wife Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor), whose East Coast attitudes and progressivism clash with life on the ranch. A sprawling three-hour epic, the film dramatizes the oil boom's impact on Texan life, as well as racism towards Mexican-Americans, a topic rarely explored in the films of the day.
runtime: 201m format: DCP
(Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013) · Texas native Matthew McConaughey returns to his home state to portray Ron Woodroof, a rodeo cowboy who is diagnosed with AIDS. After reacting poorly to 1985's early antiretroviral treatments, Woodroof begins smuggling and selling experimental drug cocktails through the titular "Buyers Club" in the hopes of making money and saving lives. McConaughey and co-star Jared Leto landed Oscars for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively.
runtime: 117m format: DCP
(The Coen Brothers, 2007) · Based on Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name (itself originally a screenplay), No Country For Old Men follows Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a West Texas man who stumbles upon two million dollars, as he tries to stay alive with his find. However, assassin Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) has other plans. As only they can, Joel and Ethan Coen deliver a stunning and disturbing experience in this critically-acclaimed neowestern masterpeice.
runtime: 122m format: Digital
(Errol Morris, 1988) · Documentarian Errol Morris's 1998 film investigates the 1976 shooting of a Dallas police officer and the subsequent death-sentencing of Randall Dale Adams, who was ultimately exonerated and released. Considered a pioneer of the modern crime scene reenactment (a contemporary reporter once asked Morris how he managed to be there, filming, on the night of the crime), The Thin Blue Line is also accompanied by a score from minimalist composer (and UChicago alum) Phillip Glass.
runtime: 101m format: Digital
(Richard Linklater, 2014) · Filmed at regular intervals between 2001 and 2013, Boyhood follows the adolescence of Mason, a boy living in Texas with his divorced 165 min mother and sister. Director Richard Linklater, a Texan himself, wrote only an outline of the film's script, allowing the film's stars to incorporate their own experiences as time passed. Universally praised for its direction and technical scale, Boyhood promises a new look at family life and the experience of growing up.
runtime: 165m format: DCP
(Gregory Nava, 1997) · Selena dramatizes the life of Selena Quintanilla-Peréz, the "Queen of Tejano Music" whose wild popularity in the early 1990s brought Latin music into the American mainstream. This musical bio-drama features Jennnifer Lopez (in her breakout performance) as the young star, documenting her struggles with fame and the intersection of Mexican and American cultures present in South Texas.
runtime: 127m format: 35mm
(Terrence Malick, 2011) · Terrence Malick's experimental epic stars Brad Pitt as Jack O'Brien, an architect that reflects on his childhood in suburban Texas, particularly the death of his younger brother. Intercut with Jack's memories are cosmic scenes of the Earth's primordial history, as well as its ultimate fate, setting the film's events in a much larger context. This sweeping scope places Malick in a tradition of religious contemplation more indebted to Augustine and Aquinas than to any cinematic predecessor.
runtime: 139m format: 35mm