Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Top 5 Road Movies That Aren't Mad Max

Everyone may be talking about Mad Max: Fury Road, but the road trip has long been a staple of Western storytelling, from The Odyssey to The Hobbit to Pee Wee Herman's Big Adventure. Without further ado, here are my top five examples of the genre:

It Happened One Night is one of the finest road trip romances, and the template for many a romcom thereafter. It starred Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert as a pair of reluctant fellow travelers, on their way to the Big Apple. He's a failing journalist; she's an heiress on the run. When he discovers her secret, they strike a deal: he'll ensure she gets to New York if she'll let him have the story. Inevitably, once the two begin to overcome their prejudices, love finds a way. Made in 1934, the film has held up incredibly well - notably, it won five Oscars (Best...Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, Writing), and even now has a 98% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Gable and Colbert are at the top of their powers, imbuing the witty dialogue with a genuine chemistry.

Midnight Run may be the closest thing to Mad Max on this list, but it is probably rated R for a different reason (MM's foul language is minimal, its violence extreme; MR's language is, to put it mildly, salty, but its violence buffoonish.) Robert De Niro plays Jack Walsh, a hard-nosed, taciturn bounty hunter who is saddled with a moralizing confidence trickster (Charles Grodin). It's hard to believe this was De Niro's first foray into comedy, since his rapport with Grodin is the stuff of legend. But on the other hand, neither part really requires the two to stretch themselves - they're playing the archetypes for which they were known, and they're playing them straight. Given the cleverness of the script and the sheer talent involved, the result is magic. My review.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World may not be the world's best road movie, but it's definitely the world's most road movie. I won't attempt to name the entire cast, but the sheer size is staggering. Nearly every big name in comedy has a cameo in the huge group of people chasing $350,000 in stolen cash. It's a hilarious, ridiculous, overblown ride.

By contrast, The Straight Story involves no car chases. Its protagonist is Alvin, an old man who wants to visit his ailing brother. As it works out, he has no car, so he decides to make the 260-mile journey on his lawnmower. It's a laconic, leisurely film which allows Alvin to pass through the lives of a dozen fascinating strangers and forge meaningful encounters with each of them (notably: without becoming saccharine.)

Mr. Bean's Holiday is the creative apex of Mr. Bean's on-screen life. In the tradition of the great silent film stars (Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd), Rowan Atkinson's Bean does best when he doesn't have to say a word. This is facilitated by transporting his selfish man-child self to France, where he has a series of madcap adventures en route to Cannes.

So over to you - what are the best road movies out there?

Hannah Long

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