There's A Seat For You At The Rodeo And I've Got Every Slow Dance Saved: Great Films About Texas

Texas is one of the few places in the U.S. that's a vital character in movies. Los Angeles, New York, and even Chicago to an extent have definable, discernible screen presences, setting themselves apart with the crowds, taxis, and steam from the subway vents, or in the case of L.A., with heat, sand, and a kind of vapid languor that settles with the smog over the hills.But, to borrow my own definition, Texas is Texas. It's the second-largest state in both land mass and population, and easily the largest of the contiguous 48 states. The plains and trees and cicadas and grass in the sidewalks look like they do nowhere else, and films set there, whether consciously or not, become fused with a unique mentality, a balance of slow movement and quick thinking, of life in big cities and the consistently pleasing sound of truck tires on gravel roads. I'm aware that Texas is responsible for many awful things in life, and more than a few bad movies have has their stories set there. But there have been some good films set here that, to varying degrees, have incorporated Texas into their stories, settings, and states of mind. Here, a list of some of the best: Dazed and Confused A modern classic that tracks a series of vignettes over the course of the last day of high school in a 1976 Huntsville. A friend of mine from this little hamlet can vouch for the film's authenticity. The cast featured a wide array of soon to be B-level actors, notably Ben Affleck as a douchey jock and Matthew McConaughey as Wooderson, aka the future version of Matthew McConaughey. Almost endlessly quotable: "That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age." Primer This is an amazing film not just because it's an inventive, genre-busting (which is important, let's remember) look at a group of hobbyists who cook up a time machine. It's also a tribute to truly independent filmmaking. Writer/director/star Shane Carruth put the film together over a couple years' time; his mom provided craft services and his friends acted as co-stars. He shot the thing on film scraps for $7,000, and got it into Sundance. The two commentary tracks offer amazing insight into the process. One track features Carruth and the rest of the cast and crew talking and joking about the film, but the other track is just Carruth, detailing what it took to put Primer together. I knew the film had to be shot in Dallas, even before Carruth confirmed this. There are too many trees and plains to be anywhere else, and one of the scenes features two characters meeting at a Sonic early one morning. That's Texas. Office Space Another film instantly recognizable as Texas-set, and one of the comedies that no one saw in theaters but that everyone owns on DVD. A creepy coworker of mine, The Guy Who Walks Really Fast, wore a T-shirt recently with the phrase "Damn it feels good to be a gangsta" on it, and he pointed this out to me while confidently nodding and muttering "Office Space, get it?" And the whole thing was so meta it freaked me out. The Last Picture Show Definitely Peter Bogdanovich's best film, starring Cybill Shepherd (who, frighteningly, used to be hot), The Dude, and Young Mr. Hart himself. A beautiful story, set in the dusty spaces of North Texas. Blood Simple Coens. Murder. Noir. Texas. Walsh. Lone Star An amazing murder story from John Sayles, one of the few directors who could turn Wooderson legit. Varsity Blues You knew this would make the list. Texas, as you know, places high school football above all other priorities, except of course for ranching, and keeping those dadgum rustlers off our property. Why, I still carry a six-shooter to this day, and I miss my horse like crazy. In all honesty, though, this movie is so joyously stupid that it's impossible not to watch it. Seriously, Dawson as the football hero? Brilliant. "I … don't want … your life." Burned into the brains of the members of my generation. Bottle Rocket/Rushmore Too brilliant to discuss here at any real length. They remain Wes Anderson's best films to date, and make subtle but definite use of Texas' open spaces and neighborhoods, particularly Bottle Rocket. Plus they're both just unshakeably awesome.