After the recent acclaim of Boyhood and the lovely triumph that is the Before Trilogy, it’s hard to imagine a modern American cinema without Richard Linklater. But when Dazed and Confused appeared on the screen in 1993, it came as a surprise, a fresh voice and a gentle, throwback approach to the “hangout movie” that resonated with fans of stoner comedies and wistful nostalgia alike. It’s a credit to Linklater’s assured yet offhand humanism that it still works today.
His previous film, 1991’s Slacker, introduced indie audiences to Linklater’s fixation on time passing, as the camera moves fluidly from person to person in chance encounters, giving us a weirdo’s insider tour of Austin, TX. In the ensuing years, Linklater would film the Before series in discreet installments released nine years apart, as Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s characters grew together and fans to debated their favorite entry. Boyhood emerged as a passion project shot annually with the same cast, the transitions purged of time-markers, seeking nothing less than the chronicle of a family over the years.
Dazed and Confused takes place over a single day and night, the last day of high school, May 28, 1976. The soundtrack — Aerosmith, Foghat, Ted Nugent, Black Sabbath — sets the tone, as kids make bongs in shop class, seniors haze incoming freshman in a sad and stupid tradition, teenagers dream of life outside this time and place, and everyone gears up for an epic party.
Linklater’s nostalgia affects everything, though. Even the most fun scenes in Dazed and Confused seem shot through with the notion that something is coming to an end, and that no one really has any idea where they’re headed. Movies like this usually result in a catharsis of some kind, a resolution and lesson learned, but not here, really. Instead, we get a snapshot of different people on different trajectories. Some are holding on to things they don’t seem to realize they’ve long since lost, while others fumble towards things they can’t be sure of, or don’t even particularly understand.
In short, in its best moments, Dazed and Confused feels a lot like high school.
Middle of Nowhere: Ava Duvernay‘s second feature is an aching melodrama and character study, rooted in the human consequences of mass incarceration. We follow Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), an RN with a husband (Omari Hardwick) serving time in Victorville on gun charges, as she tries to balance all the demands and pressures of her life, including a domineering mom who clearly hope better for her kids and an attraction to the interested bus driver (David Oyelowo) on one of her routes.
Gorgeously shot and lit in frequent chiaroscuro by cinematographer Bradford Young (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, A Most Violent Year, and Duvernay’s own Selma), Middle of Nowhere can be slower at points than it needs to be, but there’s something deeply felt and moving in the film’s affection for its characters, their desires, frustrations, and the specificity of their lives. Duvernay also gets extra points for doubling down on the melodrama, sending two of her primary characters to see Ali: Fear Eats The Soul at the cinema. This is an earnest, honest, and heartbreaking film.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare: Before he unleashed the cheekily meta-goofballery of Scream, Wes Craven was killing his iconic Freddy Krueger off in a distinctly postmodern fashion. New Nightmare reunites Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund, the stars of the original and A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors, except this time they are playing themselves. In the years since, the notoriety of the films, the insanity of fandom, and their own fixations have allowed the fictional evil to gain new life in their lives. Contrary to the title of the previous installment, Freddy is not dead, and the only way to get rid of him for good is to make another movie. Craven even plays himself, a screenwriter waiting for the ending of the movie we’re watching to resolve itself.
Sure, it’s the kind of idea many a stoned horror fan has probably pitched to a friend on a couch, but in Craven’s hands, New Nightmare becomes a meditation on horror, storytelling, and the effect on those who make it. Also, Freddy tries to strangle someone with his tongue, so that’s cool.
The Hunt: Mads Mikkelson stars in Thomas Vinterberg’s unsettling drama about a grieving man unjustly accused of a horrific crime. Vinterberg keeps everything taut and appropriately tense, as snow-covered small-town prejudices and whims coalesce, Crucible-like, all around him. Like Lars von Trier in Dogville, Haneke in The White Ribbon, or any number of filmmakers focused on the dissolution of community through malevolent gossip or desire, Vinterberg draws things out to their logical extremes, and Mikkelson carries the whole thing on his shoulders, embodying his character’s conflicted impulses toward guilt, rage, and an insistence on being treated with dignity.
Bad Boys II: Ahem.
Now’s the time!