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Texas movies you can watch now

Lone Star State-set movies comprise a genre unto themselves. Here are some of the best ones from all eras of Hollywood.
Credit: Warner Bros. / Paramount / 20th Century Studios

TEXAS, USA — What do you get when a scorching south Texas heat wave continues into August? For starters, another round of excuses to stay inside with the AC while watching some movies. 

But August also brings a drought of sorts at the cinema. The summer’s biggest blockbusters have come and gone, and we’re still a few weeks away from the season of Oscar-worthy fare revving its engines. Thankfully, it’s easier than ever to get your cinephile thirst quenched at home, and few places not found on either coast have received the Hollywood treatment as much as Texas—from the westerns that made John Wayne a household name to the indie fare capturing the state in a more idiosyncratic light. 

We’ve compiled just some of the most memorable ones below, as well as how you can watch each one today. 

The films of Richard Linklater 

If ever you were looking for a reason to pull the trigger on a Criterion Channel subscription, here it is. 

The premiere streaming platform for classical, indie and obscure movies has compiled a not-quite-comprehensive, still-totally-enticing catalogue of Houston native Richard Linklater’s movies. One of the gems: “Slacker,” a collection of breezy Austin-set vignettes produced three years before Linklater fully broke out with “Dazed and Confused.” 

Also in the Criterion package is “Bernie,” the true-to-life murder mystery anchored by Jack Black at his best; “Boyhood,” the ambitious coming-of-age epic filmed over a decade; and some Linklater-directed Ted Cruz attack ads, for good measure. Strangely, the collection includes only two-thirds of Linklater’s iconic “Before” trilogy, for which he collaborated with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, but the finale “Before Midnight” is available via Amazon Prime Video. 

Meanwhile, Linklater’s newest, “Apollo 10 ½” – an animated memory piece inspired by the filmmaker’s Houston childhood that debuted at SXSW this spring – is over on Netflix, waiting to put a spell on you. 

Make a weekend out of it. 

Available on various streaming platforms.

“Paris, Texas” (dir. Wim Wenders)

A modern-day fable about a man trying to find his way back to he’s-not-quite-sure-where, “Paris, Texas” practically tries to take in all the Lone Star State air it can with each cinematic breath, stretching its reunions and ultimatums to the unhurried pace of life itself. In the at-first-mute wanderer Travis Henderson, director Wim Wenders initially offers a character upon which we can project any number of backstories – is he on the lam? In trouble? Out of his mind, or depth? – only to lay our assumptions bare as a simpler, but no less searing, family drama unfolds. 

It helps that Harry Dean Stanton submits one of the great performances of the 1980s; his Travis is an avatar of the hypermelancholic spirit Hollywood has tended to equate with the most remote reaches of Texas. Most Texas-set movies fail to fully justify that lens, but Wenders’s heartacher – sad and hopeful in equal, immense measure – is one of the few that does. 

Streaming on HBO Max and the Criterion Channel.

“Days of Heaven” (dir. Terrence Malick)

Lovers posing as siblings who decide to con a rich, ostensibly ill farmer out of his money via marriage—the plot beats of “Days of Heaven” might have the makings of a goes-down-easy, is-forgotten-quickly drama. But then one remembers “Days of Heaven” come from Terrence Malick, a director who captures the natural world through the lens of man’s place in it, and thus presents this movie’s love triangle as a roiling storm whose approach is so grimly beautiful that you’re ill-prepared for when the lightning strikes. Certainly that's the impression that Ennio Morricone's all-time score evokes. 

To get the most out of “Days of Heaven” is to surrender to its beguiling rhythms, and to suspect that Malick might have forgotten to leave in some key scenes. Yet what it continues to emphasize after more than 40 years is the narrow line that separates swooning romance from biblical-level violence, and how ferociously spontaneity’s spark can grow into something beastly. 

Available to rent on digital platforms. 

“Miss Juneteenth” (dir. Channing Godfrey Peoples)

Nicole Beharie’s versatile turn as a former pageant winner contending with her own massive expectations in “Miss Juneteenth” is among the more undersung performances of the last few years, and made all the more lived-in for how the movie gently attempts to find a meeting place between past and present, big and small, culture and character. Channing Godfrey Peoples imbues her generational drama with just enough grit and sincerity, and in just the right places so as to be a minor-key celebration of Texas life without forgetting that to really celebrate something, you have to be willing to interrogate it too. 

Available to rent on digital platforms.

“Red Rocket” (dir. Sean Baker)

Then there’s Sean Baker’s “Red Rocket,” a jittery black comedy that leans far enough into the territory of interrogation so as to make his camera lens practically sweat. You might find yourself doing the same, given the uncompromising road Baker takes to crash the porn industry, working-class anxiety and red-as-roses Texas into an unmistakable portrait of cheating your way to power in America. 

“Scary Movie” alumnus Simon Rex probably should have collected an Oscar nomination for his disarmingly sympathetic portrayal of the blatantly heinous Mikey, an east Texas expat who returns with a chip on his shoulder and a moral mask he couldn’t pry off if he tried; the performance is electric enough to blow out ERCOT, and all the more impressive for how it turns the limits of entertainment into something we wouldn’t want to approach without a hazmat suit. “Red Rocket” is a hell of a watch, and it’s a hell of an indictment. 

Available to rent on digital platforms.

“The Last Picture Show” (dir. Peter Bogdanovich)

The mother of all Lone Star State dramas – or rather, the subgenre’s patriarch – “The Last Picture Show” has rarely been outdone for sheer cinematic poetry. The late Peter Bogdanovich’s novelistic film about the residents of a small Texas town that’s already tipped over the edge of relevance resonates with renewed power as the years go by and Texas’s own modern identity becomes increasingly difficult to define. It still accounts for one of the most elegiac applications of black-and-white cinematography in Hollywood history, and Bogdanovich takes care to let each moment – the sharp ones and the somber ones; the lessons learned and the everyday observations glinted – unspool with the gentle mood of a parable. It remains, definitively, in the Texas canon all these years later. 

Available to rent on digital platforms.

“Lone Star” (dir. John Sayles)

Jurisdictions aren’t drawn with bureaucratic lines but with cultural ones in John Sayles’s enveloping 1996 mystery, an intergenerational and Oscar-nominated odyssey set in a fictional Texas border town where evaluating the past is all a matter of perspective. And the perspectives are many in “Lone Star,” which so deftly weaves its communal tapestry that it can feel like a work of documentary. 

It isn’t. But by no means does that discredit “Lone Star” as a continuously relevant picture about the role that myth – and mythmaking, too – plays in Texas. Native Texans Matthew McConaughey, Jesse Borrego and Kris Kristofferson boost the credibility factor, as does Sayles’s argument that while individuals are the state’s lifeblood, it’s the fortitude by which they maintain a status quo that gives Texas its imperative. 

Available to rent on digital platforms.

“The Thin Blue Line” (dir. Errol Morris)

Tackling similar sociopolitical commentary as a little film called “12 Angry Men” with the same enthusiasm to break form, Errol Morris’s thoughtfully constructed documentary investigates the investigation of the 1976 killing of a Dallas Police officer, and reveals how no one involved – from the witnesses to the detectives to the lawyers – was without their own biases and motivations. That “The Thin Blue Line” manages to do so as organically as it does creates a compelling and chilling case against judicial status quos. 

Streaming on the Criterion Channel.

“True Stories” (dir. David Byrne)

Leave it to the Talking Heads frontman to create one of the most idiosyncratic dioramas of Texas that is also one of the most strangely endearing. Backed by an all-in ensemble cast and a cheerful willingness to embrace its stitched-together, televised-special aesthetic, David Byrne’s sole feature film is consistently high on its own supply, spinning consumerism and mass culture into a county-fair blend that makes one wonder where Hollywood might have gone if his filmmaking footprint was bigger. The music endures, the gags delight and “True Stories” excels at turning exaggerated anachronisms into genuinely compelling artifacts. 

Yup, it’s fancy drivin’, all right. 

Available to rent on digital platforms.

“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (dir. Tobe Hooper)

Can any list of Texas movies really call itself a list of Texas movies without Hooper’s enduring classic? Nearly 50 (!!) years on, the power of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s” down-and-dirty-and-devilish design feels more than ever like something meant to be discovered in a hidden box covered by cobwebs in your uncle’s attic—and that’s before you put it up against modern horror’s worst tendencies of being self-disarmingly slick and devoid of tension. In Hooper’s film, by contrast, tension is baked into every frame, every sound, every wide-eyed glare from Sally that simply cuts too deep to be the stuff of traditional moviemaking. Deep enough, perhaps, to have seen the black heart of Texas.

Streaming on Shudder and Showtime.

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