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The 25 Best Road Trip Movies

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist November 5, 2010 at 6:55AM

What is it about the road trip that lends itself so well to cinema? Looking down the entries to the genre, some of our very favorite films of all time qualify as part of one of the oldest tropes in the movies, and today's release of Todd Phillips' "Due Date" confirms, if confirmation was needed, that the style is still alive and kicking.
20

"Pierrot Le Fou" (1965)
Coming immediately after one of the very greats in Godard's canon, "Alphaville," "Pierrot Le Fou" marks a major transitional step in the director's career -- his first film in color, for one, and the first step in a move towards post-modernism that, eventually, became all-consuming. Here, Godard uses a fairly standard set-up -- a married man (Jean-Paul Belmondo) runs away with the babysitter (Anna Karina), who, as it emerges, is being pursued by Algerian gangsters. But the plot is never the point: Godard uses it as a hook on which to hang a primary-colored pop-art trifle. It's as ineffably cool a movie as ever made, summing up the French New Wave for generations that follow but, unlike some of Godard's better work (even the equally road movie-like "Weekend"), it never becomes about anything other than style and technique. The photography, by Raoul Coutard, and the score, by Antoine Duhamel, are both stunning, but like most true pop art, it's all surface dazzle. [B-]

"Pee Wee's Big Adventure" (1985)
Is there such thing as a perfect film? Possibly not, but we contend that exhibit Q, Tim Burton's feature-length debut starring Paul Reubens as the titular Pee Wee character is as close to perfect mainstream storytelling as cinema gets. We're not really sure what happened to the rest of Burton's career afterwards (a few gems like “Edward Scissorhands” and “Ed Wood” and then a motherload of awful), but the 'Big Adventure' is a hilarious, engrossing and inspirational tale of a young man -- a loner, a rebel -- who treks across our great nation in search for his stolen bicycle -- a heartbreaking metaphor for the loss of innocence we endure by becoming adults. Part road film with a various cast of characters -- Judd Omen as Mickey being this writer’s personal favorite -- part coming of age tale and part Iliad-like epic of adventure and self-discovery that would make Homer more than proud, why we're not celebrating the 25th anniversary with a 10-disc Criterion box-set is beyond us (one of the reasons this thing is so good? The late Phil Hartman is one of the co-writers). The cloying bag of tricks that are rote and pedestrian in Burton's films now are fresh and inventive here. And Danny Elfman, who has become another predictable clown, does some of his greatest work here (arguably, he’s been remaking this score for ages). Judd Apatow might be producing Reuben's next Pee Wee film, but they should be careful, as the 'Big Adventure' is an ever-dynamic, masterfully constructed piece of pop cinema that raises a profound question that has dogged humankind for ages: “I know you are, but what am I?” [A+]

"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000)
The Coen Bros. put their distinctive spin on “The Odyssey” (the original road trip tale) with this Depression-era comedy filled with strange characters and the brothers’ most quotable dialogue (outside of “The Big Lebowski,” that is). George Clooney gets goofy (and starts a winning partnership with the fraternal filmmakers) as Ulysses Everett McGill, a chain-gang refugee who travels across dusty landscape to retrieve his buried treasure with the help of fellow convicts Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson). Like road trips themselves, the best road trip movies feature a solid soundtrack, and the T-Bone Burnett-produced sounds were just as big as the movie. The seductive sirens scene gets even better with the dubbing of the angelic voices of Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, and Emmylou Harris, and the now-iconic Soggy Bottom Boys’ hit “Man of Constant Sorrow” gets an extra push from Union Station’s Dan Tyminski’s subbing in for Clooney on lead vocals. [A-]

"The Motorcycle Diaries" (2004)
This story of young Ernesto “Che” Guevera on a long road trip with his friend Alberto Granado is an incredibly intriguing coming-of-age adventure movie that provides insight in to the revolutionary’s beginning. When Steven Soderbergh released his two-part epic on Che’s guerrilla war efforts in Cuba and Bolivia, a wonderful, inadvertent trilogy was finished (franchise, anyone? "Che Guevara: On Stranger Tides?"). Director Walter Salles, DP Eric Cautier and the music by Gustavo Santaolalla paint a lyrical look at South America, as Ernesto and Alberto cruise along the continent via the titular vehicle, providing a worthy backdrop that expresses Guevara’s love for the people and culture while hinting at the motivations to his future revolutionary philosophy. The landscapes are lush and wonderful as the two friends journey through a life changing experience. Lead actor Gael Garcia Bernal (“Amores Perros,” “Y Tu Mama Tambien”) has rarely been better, and it's proof that Salles is the perfect choice to helm the ultimate road movie, next year's Kerouac adaptation “On The Road.” [A-]

This article is related to: Feature, Due Date


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