Anyone who knows anything about movies knows that Austin is quickly becoming something of a Hollywood South, but it takes a keen knowledge of cinema history to pick out the best flicks that have been birthed out here on the prairie.
Austin.com has also covered the other side of this list — the 10 worst movies filmed in Austin — so thankfully there’s none of that to follow. No, instead we’re looking at the cream of the Texas crop, so to speak. With no further ado, these are the 10 best movies filmed in Austin, as ranked by the film buffs behind the scenes at the Internet Movie Database…
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10) “Boys Don’t Cry,” 1999
This heartbreaking tale details the plight of transgendered teen Bobby Teena, who lived as a man before his biological gender was discovered by his peers. Teena was subsequently murdered at just 21-years-old, but his story was retold on the silver screen with shocking honesty by filmmaker Kimberly Pierce.
The utterly convincing, gut-wrenching performance Hillary Swank turned in as Teena for “Boys Don’t Cry” was also enough to secure the Academy Award for “Best Actress” in 1999. One viewing and you’ll see why right away.
9) “Waking Life” (2001)
Perpetual indie film lord Richard Linklater’s first foray into cell-shaded cinematography is a joyous, mind-bending trip into the world of dreams, modern philosophy and all the beautiful contradictions that make up everyday existence. With each passing segment, actor after actor pelts the sleep-ridden main character with a torrent of ethereal knowledge and spiritual, evolutionary insights.
In fact, this filck is so artistic and brainy you might not be able to keep up, but pay close attention and you may find your whole outlook on life affected by the end.
8) “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974)
Even to this day, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is not your average horror film. This unrelentingly terrifying cult classic literally carved out new space for the floundering horror genre of its day, spawning a huge family of sequels and spinoffs that to this day have not even come close to achieving the pulse-pounding tension and genuine fright the first movie inspired.
If you’ve never seen director Tobe Hooper’s original horror classic, it’s time to face the music. Pick up a copy tonight and prepare for a whole lot of screaming — some of which might be your own.
7) “Dazed and Confused” (1993)
This is one of the original high school comedies and still among the best. It’s also director Richard Linklater’s second entry on the list of best Austin movies, for good reason. This little flick helped launch the career of one Matthew Mcconaughey, comedian Adam Goldberg, actress Joey Lauren Adams (also seen in one of Austin’s worst movies) and, believe it or not, action movie star Mila Jovovich.
Of course, it’s not just star power that keeps this movie on the premium cable channels’ regular rotation: there’s something about how Linklater depicted late 1970s youth culture in Texas that absolutely nails it. And if that’s something you personally experienced, then this film is worth its weight in gold.
6) “True Grit” (2010)
A masterpiece of modern western cinema, “True Grit” tells a tale of woe and suffering through the eyes of Hailee Steinfeld’s character Mattie, a little girl determined to avenge her father’s murder however she can. Along the way she meets up with a grizzled old bounty hunter named Rooster, played by the brilliant Jeff Bridges, and the two go looking for “the coward Tom Chaney” to make him pay for his crime.
Directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen, “True Grit” will keep you on the edge of your seat right up until the agonizing finale. And while the lead actors in this film perform numerous fetes of heroism, it’s hard to get over their subdued humility, or the matter-of-fact way they conduct themselves as a means of surviving America’s last wilderness.
5) “Grindhouse” (2007)
When two of Hollywood’s most famous outlaw directors put their heads together over some drinks in Austin, strange things can happen. Example A): “Grindhouse,” a double-feature that combines the work of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez into a madcap, gore-filled, car-racing, zombie-splattering good time.
Neither movie packed into “Grindhouse” is for the children — both are a strong “R” rating for sure, mostly due to pervasive foul language and excessive violence. But that’s what “Grindhouse” cinema was for at one time, right? Tarantino and Rodriguez take that tradition back to its roots with a slate of films (and outrageous fake movie trailers) that will have fans of exploitation cinema howling with joy.
4) “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” (1993)
You might not expect a movie from the director of “My Life as a Dog” would score so high on IMDB’s rankings for films shot in Austin, but here are regardless. In “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” a shockingly young-looking Johnny Depp plays Gilbert, the only responsible member of a family that’s tearing apart at the seams despite the intensity of their love for one another.
Leonardo DiCaprio also appears in a surprising role as Gilbert’s mentally handicapped brother and really goes after his performance without abandon. What results is more tragedy and less comedy, but deeply touching despite the downer of an ending. See it for the story, and to understand how two of Hollywood’s most accomplished male actors got their start.
3) “Office Space” (1999)
Austin has long been known as the home of animator Mike Judge, creator of “Beavis and Butthead” and “King of the Hill,” but only Austinites can spot all the local landmarks in the corporate comedy “Office Space.”
Shot in and around Austin, this comedy shows how actor Ron Livingston’s character Peter goes from a work-oppressed stooge toiling away for a software company to a fast-track candidate for management, all because he just stopped caring. But when he learns that his company has hired “efficiency experts” that plan on firing his best friends, they hatch a not-too-bright plan inspired by “Superman III” to defraud their employer for millions through a simple computer hack that goes so terribly wrong.
2) “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” (2003)
The master of crime dramas returned to Austin to shoot part of his first entry in the “Kill Bill” series, which sees heroin Uma Thurman jetsetting across the world to carry out brutal revenge against a group of assassins that tried to gun her down years earlier.
The first and second “Kill Bill” movies are not for the squeamish, featuring lots of blood, gore and highly stylized sword fighting sequences that leave literally hundreds of baddies dismembered and crawling away limbless. Still, if you can get over that much blood on the screen, Quentin Tarantino’s revenge epic is an action masterpiece you won’t ever forget.
1) “Sin City” (2005)
This is another Robert Rodriguez vehicle that, much like his follow-up “Grindhouse,” is unashamed of throwing buckets of blood at the audience. In a highly stylized comic book world, Elijah Wood (Frodo from “Lord of the Rings”) turns out to be a psycho-killer, pretty much all the cops but Bruce Willis are the bad guys, hookers have their own militia, and Benecio Del Toro is scarier than ever before.
Yet somehow, this hodgepodge of murder, betrayal, deceit, and mayhem in Frank Miller’s terrifying “Basin City” manages to be one of the most consistently creative, eye-grabbing crime dramas in decades, and definitely one of the best films shot in Austin.
Pro-tip: Pick up any and all of these great films at Austin’s own funky-fresh, homegrown video store, I Luv Video, with locations all over town. You’ll be glad you did.