|The Top 10 Greatest Texas Movies
With all due respect to the other forty-nine states, Texas stands alone as the most interesting place in the United States. Within our borders, you will find a diverse blend of culture, terrain and attitude that no other state can come close to matching.
So it is not surprising that Hollywood has made Texas, and its citizens, the subject of a vast number of movies. The following is my list of the Top 10 Texas movies of all time. In compiling this list, I had only one requirement. The film was either set in Texas or about Texans.
10. Charlie Wilson's War (2007). Directed by Mike Nichols and starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
Although the history books tell a different story, we all know the real reason the U.S.S.R. and communism fell — a sexy Houston socialite challenged the manhood of a macho politician from East Texas.
This is the true story of how "Good Time Charlie" Wilson (Hanks), a Congressman from the East Texas piney woods, is goaded by the beautiful Joanne Herring (Roberts) into funneling money and weapons to the Mujahedin of Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion of their country in late 1979. In the process, Wilson finds redemption and experiences the power of believing in a cause greater than himself.
Why it's on the list: No film captures the tenacious Texas attitude quite like this one.
9. Dazed and Confused (1993). Directed by Richard Linklater and starring Jason London, Matthew McConaughey, Wiley Wiggins and Ben Afflek.
It's the last day of school at a high school in a small town in Texas in 1976. The upperclassmen are hazing the incoming freshmen, and everyone is trying to get stoned, drunk, or have sex, even the football players who signed a pledge not to. This movie about the rites of passage has taken on cult status and is rumored to be Quentin Tarantino's favorite flick.
Why it's on the list: This film gives an accurate portrayal of what it was like to come of age in Texas in the late 1970's.
8. A Perfect World (1993). Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner and Laura Dern.
Set in Texas in 1963, Costner plays Butch Haynes, an escaped convict who kidnaps a young Jehovah's Witness with whom he quickly forms a strong bond. Eastwood plays Red Garnett, a conflicted lawman who is methodically closing in on the pair. Dern is cast as a trigger happy criminologist along for the ride. This movie is one of Eastwood's boldest, and most underrated, efforts.
Why it's on the list: If you ever had any dealings with the Texas criminal justice system, you immediately recognize that Eastwood and Dern have captured its best and worst elements.
7. The Alamo (1960). Directed by John Wayne and starring John Wayne, Patrick Wayne, Richard Widmark and Laurence Harvey.
At the time of its release, this movie was widely criticized. There is nothing explaining the cause of the Texas Revolution. Noted Texas historian J. Frank Dobie demanded that his name be removed from the credits. Wayne, who played Davey Crockett, was also slammed for including his own political views in the film.
Having said all that, rest assured of one thing — this film is spectacular. There is no way to make a film about the Battle of the Alamo which pleases everyone. (Witness the 2004 remake with Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton) The battle scenes were ahead of their time and the actors come across as authentic.
Why it's on the list: How can you keep a film about the quintessential moment in Texas history, which happens to star John Wayne, off any Texas movie list? If you don't see the beauty in this movie, move to Oklahoma...now.
6. Tender Mercies (1983). Directed by Bruce Beresford and starring Robert Duvall and Tess Harper.
The film stars Duvall as Mac Sledge, formerly an icon of country & western music, now down-and-out, a penniless alcoholic. Rosa Lee (Harper), the young widow who owns the rural Texas motel where he has ended up, allows him to work off his board. As the months pass, the singer develops a bond with Rosa and her young son, experiencing the healing effects of this deeply religious woman's compassion.
Why it's on the list: Harper is perfectly cast as the archetypical Texas woman — strong, passionate, nurturing, sacrificing and sensitive. This may be Duvall's best performance in a long and distinguished career.
5. Friday Night Lights (2004). Directed by Peter Berg and starring Billy Bob Thornton, Tim McGraw and Connie Britton.
This film is based on Buzz Bissenger's true life chronicle of the 1988 Odessa Permian Panther football team and their quest for (another) state title. The movie does take certain liberties with the truth, but all-in-all, it does portray the love affair that Texas towns have with their football teams. Not quite as cynical as the book, the film does address the unspoken and unanswered question that confronts every Texas high school football player — If the biggest moment in your life has already come and gone at the tender age of 17, what do you do after that?
Why it's on the list: High school football is a huge part of the Texas psyche, and Berg does not shy away from revealing both its good and bad aspects.
4. Paris, Texas (1984).Directed by Wim Wenders and starring Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Stockwell and Natassja Kinski.
Stanton stars as an amnesiac, who has been lost in the South Texas desert for four years and is taken in by his brother (Stockwell). He later tries to put his life back together and understand what happened between him, his wife ( Kinski), and his son (Hunter Carson).
The cinematography inParis, Texas offers outstanding images of the Texas. The first shot is a panoramic view of the desert, a bleak, dry, alien landscape. Shots follow of old advertisement billboards, placards, graffiti, rusty iron carcasses, old railway lines, neon signs, motels, seemingly never-ending roads, culminating in some famous scenes shot outside a drive-through bank in down-town Houston
It also has an outstanding soundtrack, scored by Ry Cooder.
Why it's on the list: This movie offers a great visual depiction of Texas, as well as an outstanding storyline.
3. No Country for Old Men (2007).Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Woody Harrelson and Kelly Macdonald.
Brolin is cast as Llewellyn Moss, a hunter and welder in rural Texas who stumbles across two men killed in a drug deal gone awry. He also finds $2,000,000 in cash and a stash of heroin at the scene, which he takes. Bardem plays a psychopathic drug dealer trying to recover the money and drugs. Jones is the small town sheriff trying to thwart the various crimes.
Why it's on the list: This film is nothing short of a masterpiece. The Coen Brothers have accurately identified the rising danger of the narcotics trade in Texas and challenged us all to confront the possibility of our shortcomings. Jones gives a masterly performance as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, a character that embodies small town law enforcement officers throughout Texas.
2. The Last Picture Show (1971). Directed by Peter Bogdonavich and starring Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybil Sheppard, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman and Ellen Burstyn.
Set in fictional Anarene, Texas, this is a tale which centers around two friends and one unattainable girl. The town is dying as folks head for the big cities to make their livings and raise their kids. The boys are torn between a future somewhere out there beyond the borders of town or making do with their inheritance of a run-down pool hall and a decrepit movie house.
Why it's on the list: It is rare for a movie adapted from a novel to stay true to the original work. However, Bogdonavich followed Larry McMurtry's book closely. This film deals with varied Texas themes — urban flight, the chasm between rich and poor, and daring to dream.
1. Giant (1956). Directed by George Stevens and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Dennis Hopper and Carroll Baker.
Texan rancher Bick Benedict (Hudson) goes back East to buy a prize horse. While there he meets and falls in love with the owner's daughter Leslie (Taylor). They are married immediately and return to his ranch. The story of their family and its rivalry with cowboy, and later oil tycoon, Jett Rink (Dean) unfolds across two generations.
Why it's on the list: This epic shows exactly how the Texas of old became the modern oil rich state we know today. Shot in Marfa, there is no better example of how the cash-poor, land-rich ranchers of West Texas became overnight millionaires. This is a story of power, greed, revenge, lust and ego out-of-control. But more importantly, it illustrates the adaptability, foresight, wisdom and goodness of past generations of Texans.
HONORABLE MENTION: Glory Road, Fandango, Apollo 13, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Varsity Blues. Office Space, the Buddy Holly Story, North Dallas Forty, Ruby, Urban Cowboy, Drugstore Cowboy