Sullivan’s Travels (1941); Preston Sturges, director.

While Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night might be the gold standard of Hollywood screwball road pictures, I’ll choose Preston Sturges any day.

It’s no coincidence that the Coen Brothers gave this movie a tip o’ the hat with their own road movie – “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is the name of the snooty art film about the downtrodden man Sturges’ comedy director John Sullivan wants to make.

Before he can shoot, though, he decides to go out into the world of the great unwashed and that is where comedy ensues. There’s a perfection to the way Sturges strings the story along – one adventure after the next, while you grow to love our lead and his new friend, Veronica Lake. Sturges’ scripts are like masterpieces of classic architecture. One should never attempt to create something new without understanding the history of the form. Any screenwriter who isn’t versed in Sturges is fooling themselves. If you haven’t seen one of his movies, start here.

Alice in the Cities (1974); Wim Wenders, director.

Wim Wenders’ production company is called Road Movies Filmproduktion and it is easy to see why. Many of his great films involve people in transit, both emotionally and physically. (No reason can be given for spelling Film Production like a crazy person, though!)

Alice in the Cities is a dead-pan, shaggy dog tale about an emotionally detached German reporter/photographer aimlessly wandering through the wastelands of American culture. He ends up saddled with a precocious little girl (Alice) and the two form a unique bond.

It is an atypical buddy movie, one less interested in big emotional beats than simply finding the humor in every day situations. It’s like a really, really cool version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles except Steve Martin is a world-weary European and John Candy is a little girl. If that doesn’t sell it, I don’t know what will.

The Sheltering Sky (1990); Bernardo Bertolucci director.

Who says road movies have to stay in America?

One of the most gorgeous (and very, very heavy) films you are likely to see is this tale of 1950s bohemians hoping to rekindle their marriage by exploring North Africa. Things don’t go well, but amidst all the philosophizing and moody states of mind are some terrific scenes of travel by all sorts of methods. Also, there’s a very young, very sweaty Timothy Spall in this movie – so I trust that’s enough to get you booking your passage.

The Living End
(1992), Gregg Araki, director.

A revolutionary 1990s road indie, Gregg Araki’s The Living End was the right movie at the right time. The AIDS epidemic was at its apogee and there was a tremendous amount of indignation toward the 8 years under Reagan and 4 years under Bush in which nothing was done to help awareness, let alone look for a cure.

To call this movie a gay Bonnie and Clyde seems fair, but what was more important was that is was one of the first underground gay films with almost no camp factor to reach a crossover audience. These were not swishy gays, these were dangerous gays – and mainstream audiences had no idea what the hell hit them.

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