5. Before Midnight
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
With each entry, Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke's Before series gets better. What began in 1995, with Before Sunrise, as a small film about two strangers meeting in Vienna and falling for each while walking and talking through the city has grown to become one of the most important cinematic works about love ever made.
Before Midnight opens in the present. Celeste (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) have been living together for years. They have children together, two twin girls. Jesse left his previous marriage in America to be with Celeste in Paris, but his unhappiness about his long-distance relationship with his son from that marriage is becoming a problem.
Linklater doesn't alter the style of the first two films for Before Midnight; the characters have long, discursive conversations about time, memory, and love in extremely long takes, and those conversations always lead back to their relationship. The care placed in this dialogue, in particular the argument Celeste and Jesse have in a hotel room near the film's end, is unmatched in American cinema this year. The dialogue is hyper-realistic, sounding superficially like regular speech but with such subtext and intelligence, it's not at all like how people talk. The lengthy scenes make you look at editing with fresh eyes. Each cut in this film means something (pay close attention to a shot of a cup of tea late in the game).
But the real reason you're here is to check in on the relationship between two characters movie lovers have come to care about over the course of 18 years. They aren't falling in love here; no, they're testing the limits of their relationship and their own happiness, exploring what sacrifice means between partners of many years. You'll be surprised by how funny so much of this winds up being, but it's also so painful, you might not have it in you to laugh. â€”RS