A Q&A With Christopher Kelly

The film critic on archetypes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the quintessential Texas film.

Texas boasts one of the most iconic and recognizable cultures on- and off-screen. With an extensive cinematic history of cowboys, the Wild West, violence, crime, the dichotomy of good versus evil, and, of course, John Wayne, Texas has undeniably left a lasting imprint on the world of film. But when it comes to deciding which films deserve the top accolades, the task is not as easy as it seems. From such classics as Bonnie Clyde to newer inductees like No Country for Old Men, the range is vast from plot to cinematography. We invited five experts to discuss the pros and cons and attempt the seemingly impossible: narrowing decades of rich cinema down to a meager list of the ten best Texas films. The results are in, and we talked to film critic and moderator Christopher Kelly about what went on at the roundtable. Here’s the story behind the story.

The panelists gave their opinions on what makes the quintessential Texas film. What about you? What do you think characterizes Texas on the big screen?
I agreed with the panelists basic conclusion, which is that in order for a movie be a definably “Texan” one, the state must feel like a character, and the filmmakers must capture something real and unmistakable about living here. Still, I think my personal definition might be a little looser than the other panelists. I admire movies that use a specific Texas experience—coming-of-age outside of Houston circa the 1970s, say, in Dazed and Confused or going to work in the expanding corporate parks of Austin, circa the 1990s, à la Office Space—to touch upon a more common American experience. Yes, Dazed and Confused and Office Space could theoretically have taken place anywhere, but they are set in Texas, and they capture truths both regional and universal. They both would have been in my personal top ten.

It became pretty clear

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