1 · Before Sunrise and Before Sunset

I’m not sure how I went the length of the ’90s without seeing a single movie by Richard Linklater. I knew about Slacker, of course—one of those titles that attached itself to Generation X like, well, “Generation X”. But it didn’t seem like something I desperately had to see.

Like many, though, I was intrigued by Waking Life’s existential musings set to different animation styles, and I also wanted to reassure myself that my favourite Philip K. Dick novel was in safe hands; so when his movies started hitting Edinburgh screens with increasing regularity this year, I was there. First there was the matinee screening of Dazed and Confused, a ’90s film about the ’70s in the same way that American Graffiti was a ’70s film about the ’50s; like Graffiti, it also seems to have inspired a sitcom (That ’70s Show, Happy Days). Then there was the thoroughly enjoyable School of Rock. Finally, at the beginning of August, came the matinee double of Slacker (at last) and Before Sunrise, in preparation for the latter’s new sequel.

Slacker actually wasn’t bad, as generation-labelling pop culture artifacts go. The central gimmick of tracking from one non sequitur scene to another meant there was always something interesting to watch, even if there was no actual plot and not much character development. Taken together with Dazed, it made an affectionate portrait of Austin, a place I didn’t know much about; I can see now why it’s the geek capital of Texas.

But it was inevitably overshadowed by Before Sunrise, which was not only the best movie I saw this year but is probably now my favourite romantic movie, full stop. I barely remember hearing about it when it came out; I must have assumed it was syrupy Hollywood fluff. In a way I’m glad, because watching it now gave a ’90s nostalgia kick it otherwise wouldn’t have. My God, how young Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy look. Those two must have launched a thousand Eurail journeys, leading countless backpackers to wander around Vienna in search of their soulmate.

Full of youthful impetuousness and exuberance, Before Sunrise captures all of the intense emotions and exhilarations of falling in love—those first hours and nights when all you want to do is tell each other everything. In that respect, it’s of a piece with Linklater’s other films; rarely has conversation been so well transferred to the screen.

The best thing about coming to it so late was getting to see the sequel only 24 hours later. Before Sunset picks up the story as the two meet again in Paris after ten years apart. (My God, how not-young Hawke and Delpy look.) Again, there’s the rush of conversation, the getting-to-know-yous and what-happeneds? And again, there’s the romantic chemistry, although this time overlaid with the complications of adult life: the freedoms and hopes of youth struggling against the entanglements and disappointments of experience.

Sunset, like Sunrise, is a near-perfect film; I only rank it lower than the first because the possibilities of youth represented in Sunrise are so irresistible. Not that Sunset is a pessimistic movie: Linklater still believes that hope trumps disappointment. And he knows how to keep that hope alive past the final frame.

Those two days were unquestionably my favourite movie-going experience of 2004. I loved seeing Vienna again through Linklater’s lens, and seeing Paris a few weeks before visiting it myself (where more than once I found myself thinking “This is where they shot that scene!”). I loved watching Hawke and Delpy give the performances of their careers, and the sense of watching real lives unfold over the two films, the second deepening and enriching the first. Most of all, I loved what both movies said.

Something of the same romantic glow suffused Garden State, the story of a young man coming back to life and falling in love. Writer-director-actor Zach Braff went for quirky visuals more than dialogue, but did well with both; there were some funny scenes here, and some moving ones, too. Co-star Natalie Portman also got the chance to show us what she can do when not lumbered with a George Lucas script. Garden State may not have dislodged my new favourite romantic movie(s), but I definitely enjoyed it.

Here’s what people said about this entry.

Very nice top tens. I have greatly enjoyed reading them.

My one criticism would be that with the books / CDs, an artist / author would be nice in the heading, so as to not have to hunt through the text if you're not familiar with the title of the piece.

Here's hoping you see / read / hear something in the next ten days which makes you think "damn, that shoulda been on the list". Such dilemmas.

Added by Nic on a Tuesday in December.

Yes, I left them out to keep the headings/filenames short, but in hindsight should have done it differently. Never mind, there’s a handy one-stop list coming soon.

Added by Rory on a Tuesday in December.

ohhh wow... haven't seen either of them, and i missed the double feature at the cameo! sounds magic...

Added by shauny on a Tuesday in December.