We are in the heart of the heat of the summer and you are either crackin’ brews at the beach, cursing your life in a suit and tie wondering how the hell you got stuck in a soul-crushing corporate gig or loading the car with gas and snacks. Road trip!

As we close in on the 4th of July, my vacation of choice is always the open road – that most unique of American experiences. (Sure, they travel in other countries, but in Europe they go by commie international rail and/or by following bearded men with staffs into dark forests.) Before you rummage through your old wallet looking for that AAA card, here are some great road trip movies you probably haven’t seen.

The Straight Story(1999); David Lynch, director.

I can’t even think about this movie without my eyes welling up. Remind me that it’s a true story and I’ll just start blubbering.

Richard Farnsworth plays Alvin Straight, a midwestern geriatric who is too old to drive but wants to visit his sick brother living 240 miles away. Against the warning of his community he hooks a trailer up to his lawn mower and sets off for adventure.

There are no chases or hijinks, just encounters with regular people and natural obstacles. He meets pregnant teenage runaways, fellow WWII vets haunted by nightmares, roasts wieners over an open fire and drinks “Miller Light.”

This is a masterful piece of humanist filmmaking, and while it isn’t the best “David Lynch film” it is David Lynch’s best film.

La Strada(1954); Federico Fellini, director.

“La Strada” is Italian for “The Road,” so clearly this one has a worthy claim on being an essential road movie.

Giulietta Masina (Federico Fellini’s wife of fifty years) stars as a Chaplin-esque indentured street performer tagging along with a brutish strong man played by Anthony Quinn. While hardly a statement for Feminism (Quinn is a bit of a prick to her, yet she loves him all the same) La Strada is something of the ur-text of fanciful Italian romantic cinema.

Flawed but humane characters fill every scene as our duo make their way through small towns with their traveling circus. If you find yourself unable to fall in love with Gelsomina and Zampano, you really need to get to a doctor immediately to determine if you have a pulse.

Patti Rocks (1988); David Burton Morris, director.

Arriving just a few years before the 1990s indie cinema explosion, Patti Rocks was a controversial film for its time in that it was mostly two guys talking candidly, and crudely, about women. The film is predominantly set on the road as Billy drives to confess to a woman he’s impregnated (Patti) that he is, indeed, married.

Nowadays it would probably push the gross-outs further and then take the edge off with some Apatow-esque nice-boy routine. That’s not what you get with this film. It is a fascinating portrait of midwestern, blue collar guys who, looking at them now, seem to come from a completely different world. At the end they’re faced with a Feminist punchline that had tongues wagging back in 1988.

There aren’t too many clips available for this one, so sorry if what I’ve included isn’t all that thrilling. Trust me when I say this is an interesting flick. I discovered one other clip, but thought it was a little too NSFW to embed.

Road to Morocco (1942); David Butler, director.

Oh my God, Hoffman’s talking about Bob Hope. What is he, 300 years old?

Listen – the guy you might think you know from golf tournaments was, I swear, a comedy genius when he was cooking. 50% of Woody Allen’s schtick was stolen directly from Bob Hope. (Another 25% was Groucho Marx.)

Road to Morocco is the third of seven Bing Crosby/Bob Hope “Road to. . .” movies and is without question the best. It has the most surreal plot, the best 4th-wall gags, good songs and an unrehearsed moment with a spitting camel that is Hollywood gold. You might roll your eyes at corny old movies, but give this one a shot – it isn’t quite as square as you might think.

If you find yourself liking it, Road to Utopia and Road to Zanzibar and Road to Bali (in color!) are the others in the series that are really funny. Your mileage may vary on the others.

PS – yes, these are the movies that inspire the “Road To. . .” episodes of Family Guy. If they’re good enough for MacFarlane, they’re good enough for you.

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