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Listicles of things “best” are always subjective, but the many more great works of cinema about Texas NOT included here are a glaring omission and a bit of a head-scratcher.

A few that come to mind are:

Every entry of the Lonesome Dove franchise (the original is near-indisputably the acting-career pinnacle of both Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones); the character of Woodrow Call is played in turn by a succession of brilliant actors performing herein at the top of their craft, Jones, John Voight, Johnny Lee Miller and James Garner.

And, appearances by Danny Glover, Oliver Reed, Diane Lane, Reese Witherspoon, Rick Schroeder, Sissy Spacek, Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper, Frederick Forrest, Ned Beatty (maybe the best “Judge Roy Bean” ever), George Carlin (in anything but a comic role), Randy Quaid, Wes Studi, David Arquette, Adam Beach, Linda Cardellini, Charles Martin Smith, Sonia Braga (proof that now and then a porn starlet really can act), Kevin Conway, Anjelica Houston, DB Sweeney, Val Kilmer, to name but a very few, illustrate not only a brilliance in the casting arts but also a passion displayed by all involved for this collection which did more to revive and rejuvenate the genre of the post-Hollywood Western than most of the rest of the form since the 1970s combined.


Lone Star, somewhat of a sleeper among John Sayles’ on-again off-again pendulum swings between the utter brilliance of “Eight Men Out” and “Matewan” and the laughably unwatchable mediocrity of “Passion Fish” or “Men With Guns”. Set in a failing border town long beset by the lawlessness and corruption of its own public officials, it opens with a boardroom debate about public-school history content (where was it that Oswald was hiding out, again?) and ends with the revelation of a well-guarded family secret which describes the human experience of the vast US-Mexico border region with tragicomic irony.

Between these bookends of thoroughly resonant artistic commentary, Sayles’ piece offers discussions of: the experience of black folks in the military, the agony of an alienated father, the obscure history of escaped slaves who joined Indian tribes to defend their liberty, the comic sadness of a marriage wrecked by the mental illness of a spouse, the perennial obsession of Texans with football, and the cynical duplicity and opportunism of people from both sides of an imposed border dividing two peoples not only against each other but themselves.

Chris Cooper in the lead is at his best ever, Kris Kristofferson is one of the scariest villains since Gene Hackman, Matt McConaughey in an early role as a near-unknown shows well his capacity to live down his impossible handsomeness and hunk-ness and do some genuine acting, and Frances McDormand plays the neurotic middle-aged overgrown woman-child with a sympathy and warmth matched by few actresses ever, while Elizabeth Pena gives us a portrayal of the aspiring Latina career woman in an artificially-Anglo school system with a vulnerability which few films have ever even dared attempt.


How could any such list leave out No Country For Old Men? Again, a study in border-region hypocrisies and conundrae with few parallels, and again an above-average entry by players like Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones, far from average artists to begin with. Kelly McDonald is irresistible, Garret Dilahunt leaves us wondering why he still is one of those “who the hell is”- grade actors in popular perception, and even Woody Harrelson manages to embarrass himself a tad less than usual. A great crime drama, a great rural soap opera, and a great tragedy colored by more belly-laugh farce than most tragedies ever manage.


And good grief, not including the stand-alone The Newton Boys in any such compilation is practically treason to the whole existence and history of The Great State-a Texas. A true story of four good ole boys (accent on all syllables equally is how it is pronounced, not the way the Yankees and yuppies do in placing it only on the “good”) who almost despite themselves turn into some of the most successful and legendary heist outlaws in the history of the west, and laughing it up the whole way. Again McConaughey is at the height of his powers, allowing us to forgive him for such self-destructive silliness as ever accepting roles in rom-coms….


As for Dazed and Confused, yes, as it happens the story is set in Austin, but what this masterpiece of teen angst is really about is not Texas at all, but the moral anarchy and directionless over-prosperity of the seventies in the period just after the fall of Saigon. The conflict of the main character is that yes, he is a natural talent and BMOC as a football star, but he couldn’t care less. His own stated priority, and the heart of the whole plot, is an upcoming Aerosmith show that every kid in town is treating as the meaning of “life its ownself” (a Texanism for the value of football for those who don’t recognize it).

It is little more than coincidence, for dramatic purposes, that the setting is Texas. Hardly anyone but a teacher or two even has a recognizable accent, as the anxieties and indifferences and party-heartyisms of the teenagers could have been set in any American town of any size in any region in that bicentennial year of 1976, when we had almost lost the Republic to a lost war, Watergate, the extreme exhausted cynicism of a populace still reeling from the catastrophic and divisive sixties, and the appointment of a chief executive who for the only time in our history was never elected by anyone.


I’m sure I could make my own list much longer, but few of the ones offered above in the OP would have made it, frankly.

But nice try. You have been to Texas, haven’t you? Hard to tell.

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