Y Tu Mamá También (Cuarón, 2001)
Roads are never just roads in road trip movies. They’re frontiers waiting to be passed, thresholds to be broken through. They are the physical manifestations of the journey ahead, whether that journey be for love, a new life, or self acceptance. In Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También, the road leads the viewer through history. While the leads explore their sexual proclivities and attempt to seduce an older woman, an unseen narrator tells us of the land the movie is taking us through. By always coming back to the dense, sometimes celebratory, but often tragic history of Mexico, Cuarón infuses a deeper meaning into a movie about two boys coming to grips with their identities as they become just a small thread in the tapestry that makes up the colorful history of Cuarón’s home. History is often forgotten, the film proposes, but it is always felt.
— Joel Kalow
The End of the Tour (Ponsoldt, 2015)
In The End of the Tour, a journalist (played by Jesse Eisenberg) accompanies David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) as he embarks on a five day speaking tour following the release of his massively influential Infinite Jest. In between stops at radio stations and small bookstores, the two men speak at length about everything from junk food to intellectualism. They’re both highly thoughtful in their own ways (although one is clearly more celebrated for his work) and their discussions frequently turn inward as their perceptions of each other begin to bump up against how they perceive themselves. The movie is made up almost entirely of these beautiful, messy, profound conversations between two men circling what it is they want in life. What do they cherish? What do they fear — from the past, the present or the future? What, if any, significance is actually attached to their titles and accomplishments?
While the picture is most certainly a tribute to Wallace’s spirit (not quite so much his published work or public persona, but rather the essence of his personal thought space), it makes the additional effort to reach out to the viewer with the expression of some shared, deeply acknowledged anxiety. Beyond being a complex and loving portrait of a conflicted man, The End of the Tour uses its intimacy to suss out second-guessed truths and confusions inherent in the human condition. As they often are, this particular road trip is quite introspective and perhaps especially meaningful for any writers who happen across it.
— Byron Bixler
Il Sorpasso (Risi, 1962)
It’s a basic setup, really. The extrovert asks the introvert to go for a ride, and with nothing better to do, the introvert accepts. From there, the two go on a road trip where they learn things about themselves and each other. Il Sorpasso might seem like a standard road movie, but it actually set the standard for all road movies that followed. Watching it today, it’s easy to see why it still holds up while its imitators have fallen by the wayside. Writer-director Dino Risi spends little time setting up the situation; including the opening credits, it only takes eight minutes to get on the road. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for exposition, but that can be taken care of later. Risi gets past this through a very simple conversation between Bruno, the extrovert (Vittorio Gassman), and Roberto, the introvert (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Looking out at an empty Italian city, Bruno remarks “When I see the city deserted like this I get depressed, don’t you?” “Well, no,” replies Roberto. “It’s better for studying.” In two lines, we’re given everything we need to know about these characters. What follows is a funny and incredibly entertaining film. Take out its rather out-of-place ending and it becomes one of the great Italian movies of the ’60s.
— Austin Gold
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Charles, 2006)
If you’ve never heard a Borat impression, you’ve been living under a rock. Sacha Baron Cohen’s sharp social satire masquerades as a silly road trip documentary in which Borat, a Kazakh reporter, travels across the United States to learn about American culture (and ultimately marry Pamela Anderson). The film follows Cohen (in character as Borat) as he drives from New York to California, stopping along the way to interact with unsuspecting pedestrians and non-actors, revealing uncomfortable truths about American misogyny, jingoism, and racism. Cohen’s humor is crude, pointed, and always hilarious, crafting gut-busting jokes out of a myriad of taboo topics. Upon release, the film was met with both universal critical acclaim and box office success, challenging viewers to leave their political correctness behind. Its comedic potency still endures today.
— Justin Madore
Güeros (Ruizpalacios, 2014)
As far as road movies go, there aren’t many better than director Alonso Ruizpalacios’s Güeros. When asked to summarize it, Ruizpalacios described the film as “a black and white coming-of-age road movie in Mexico City, I guess.” The “I guess” here is key, because Güeros is much more than the sum of its categories. I first watched it at last year’s Habitats-themed Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival. There was a great deal of discussion after the screening with representatives from the film’s distributor, Kino Lorber, about the film’s various nods to American independent comedies like Richard Linklater’s Slacker and the French New Wave in particular. Its occasional self-awareness, old-timey aspect ratio, and iconic structure reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou are certainly worth noting. Nonetheless, the beauty of this film is its fusion of history and the present. Güeros brings something more to the table than its quotes and genres. For instance, its handsome shallow depth of field and cool, constant camera movement tells us that this film isn’t just about citing influences. Much like the film’s characters, who often say the opposite words at the same time, Güeros contradicts its historic class in the best way possible — with new voices and ideas.
The story advances through the eyes of teenage troublemaker, Tomás (Sebastián Aguirre), sent by his single mother to stay at his older brother Sombra’s apartment in Mexico City. Set during the momentous 1999 strike and occupation at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Sombra (Tenoch Huerta) and Tomás visit two friends at the University. Out of eager boredom, the four hit the road in search of their favorite folk singer, Epigmenio Cruz (Alfonso Charpener), the man who “once made Bob Dylan cry.” Like any great coming-of-age road movie, antics and panic attacks ensue, but amidst this, the film leaves genuine, unaffected impressions about race, protest, and adulthood. Like Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise, Güeros says everything and nothing at the same time, bringing you gladly out onto the great open road.
— Kai Nealis
Zombieland (Fleischer, 2009)
People travel across the country for many reasons — to get away from home, see a new part of the world… run away from zombies. Zombieland is an expertly crafted comedy, following our main protagonists as they drive in various vehicles, all the while looking for a good Twinkie and killing some zombies. The characters may not be the most complex in the universe, but their strength comes from their sense of humor and various attitudes toward the apocalypse. Whether it be Wichita and Little Rock’s hope for the future or Columbus’s isolation and resignation to the current situation, the characters are just interesting enough to engage you through the runtime. The film also incorporates enough drama and genuine emotion to tug at your heartstrings, while making you laugh at its jokes (both visual and dialogue-based) and its brilliant action scenes (especially one in a grocery store). Zombieland may have the skin of a classic action comedy, but it has plenty of heart and personality to stick with you long afterward.
— Elizabeth Esten
The Motorcycle Diaries (Salles, 2004)
This film will hit you. You might not realize it initially, but after the last shot, it’s nearly guaranteed that you will sit back and just think to yourself, “Wow.” Whether it’s the stunning visuals provided by cinematographer Eric Gautier or the film’s underlying sociopolitical themes, something is bound to strike a chord within you. The Motorcycle Diaries tells the story of Che Guevara’s 1952 motorcycle trip across South America with his longtime friend, Alberto Granado (Rodrigo De la Serna). The film is based on Guevara’s memoir of the same title, which was published in Cuba in 2003. The humanism of this future revolutionary is revealed as the film shows who he wanted to be when he was a young man. Through his travels with his friend, Guevara (Gael García Bernal) saw social inequality and decided that he was going to change the way the world worked. Watching these two free-thinking university students open their minds to the world around them is breathtaking. We watch their transformation from boys to men while also witnessing the gorgeous locations they travel through. This is not a standard road trip film and The Motorcycle Diaries is not to be missed by any means.
— Haley Goetz