How can you go wrong with this one? Based on an Elmore Leonard novel, The Big Bounce is set in Hawaii, directed with snapping fingers by underutilized genre pro George Armitage (Miami Blues, Grosse Point Blank), and graced with likable star Owen Wilson, as a small-time criminal who’s angling for a big score despite his better judgment and the advice of sympathetic local judge Morgan Freeman.
Georgian artist Sergei Paradjanov, after the eye-opening primitiveness of his 1964 film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, grew more abstract in his storytelling and more hellzapoppin with his folk-art imagery. This demanding and astonishingly beautiful film depicts the life of Armenian poet Sayat Nova (which Paradjanov mixes with the myth-tales of Nova’s own writing), and The Color of Pomegranates is a fabulous visitation of ancient Russian-Arab-Turkish-style fusion, as seen in the most surreal icon art.
One of the great mid-century import hits, Black Orpheus, a vivid Brazilian film, is an infectious retelling of the Orpheus-Eurydice myth, set during Carnival and feverish with hip-swiveling hustle, exploding local color, and sleeve-worn heart. Never underestimate the raw energy of South American partying.
We can still wistfully recall the days when, in the movies at least, developing world vacation spots were playgrounds for rich people who dressed in tuxedos and gowns, danced, ballroom style, under the palm trees, and nuzzled in the equatorial moonlight. Flying Down to Rio introduced the pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (but as the second leads, after Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond), and it features splendid tunes (by Vincent Youmans and lyricists Gus Kahn and Edward Eliscu) and a good amount of pre–Production Code bralessness—all under a fake Brazilian sky.
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s indie hit (pulling in nearly a 1,000 percent return on investment in a year in which Mission: Impossible III couldn’t even break even) has a familiar outline: a contentious, eccentric extended family hits the
road in a puttering VW bus—in this case, to participate in that most revolting of American rituals, the preadolescent beauty pageant—but it’s executed with consummate wit and Swiss timing. The charm of Little Miss Sunshine might boil down to the cast: give pros like Alan Arkin, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, and Greg Kinnear some open road, and they will race like the devil.
Well, this’ll take the cake: if your dad is Harrison Ford, and he strands you and your family on a Central American jungle coastline so you can create paradise away from the evils of society, then you’ve won the Worst Vacation Ever sweepstakes handily. In The Mosquito Coast, Ford is fascinatingly out of character as a deluded utopian, and director Peter Weir knows how to turn the screws.
Is Lost in America the worst vacation on film? Don’t throw down an extreme-scenario gauntlet if you don’t want Albert Brooks to step up and take the gold. Here, he’s a fired ad exec who leaves L.A. with wife Julie Hagerty and a head full of road movie cliches and Easy Rider memories. He doesn’t get far, and the comedy of discomfort that ensues is peerless.
National Lampoon’s Vacation is actually two movies: seen when sober, it’s an only occasionally winning Chevy Chase comedy about the worst family vacation ever; seen while under the influence of a certain organic substance we keep hearing about in the news (and from friends who certainly knew more about it in their 1980s youths than they do now), it’s a gaspingly hilarious Chevy Chase comedy, filled with dry moments between the jokes that are, for some, priceless.
Not every American city has an origin myth like Las Vegas does, and if you love Sin City, you’ll dig Bugsy, a too-serious Barry Levinson–Warren Beatty tribute to Vegas-planning, psychopath gangster Bugsy Siegel. If you don’t agree that Vegas was worth all of the angst, the money, and the bodies in the desert, you’re not going there, anyway. With Annette Bening, who became Mrs. Beatty.
Michael Mann’s epic tale of cops and robbers, Heat weaves multiple stories into its Robert De Niro–Al Pacino “last of the hard men” struggle, but it is also very much an L.A. story; the city is captured in all its smoggy sprawl, glamour, economic disparity, freeway craziness, and industry. Likewise, Mann’s Collateral (2004) hits the same note (while driving around with Tom Cruise’s contract killer and Jamie Foxx’s cabbie), but with a difference: because it’s shot in digital video, you see the lit city at night, partially illuminated by smog-reflected neon, like never before. With Val Kilmer.
The most New Orleans–ified film ever made, The Big Easy is tipsy on everything that made the pre-Katrina hub famous: sunlit bayous, dancing at Tipitina’s, voodoo in Storyville, Mardi Gras floats, institutional corruption, and an overall Cajun flavor so palpable you can taste the pepper in the gumbo. In addition to providing an authentic N’Awlins feel and foot-tapping creole-Cajun-zydeco soundtrack, this flavorful Jim McBride movie also offers Dennis Quaid’s irresistible grin (in its way as life-loving as the city’s reputation), and a foreplay scene (with Ellen Barkin) that just doesn’t quit, no matter how many repeated viewings (ahem) some of us may sneak.
Was New York at its New Yorkest in the 1950s? Woody Allen’s painfully lovely small-time showbiz ballad, Broadway Danny Rose features Allen’s low-rung talent agent, Mia Farrow’s floozy, and Nick Apollo Forte’s comeback-kid lounge singer, all mixing it up in a 1950s-ish world of nightclubs, back offices, liaison flats, and very real spots 275 | us ness r p V like the Carnegie Deli. So flavorsome it makes most of Allen’s other New York movies seem generic
A great American city—decaying tourist trap, haven for lowlife, repository of dreams, schizophrenic, gentrified-neglected mess—is the backdrop to Louis Malle’s Atlantic City, which largely involves a romance of sorts between dapper has-been septuagenarian Burt Lancaster and casino trainee Susan Sarandon.
Vertigo is San Francisco’s house movie, so famously entangled in the city’s landmarks that for years now, tourists have easily found guided tours of the places featured in the film, in the order in which they’re seen. Of course, the substance of the film is something else—James Stewart, two Kim Novaks, a ghost, a fear of heights, and a psychosexual obsession so subtly but clearly delineated by director Alfred Hitchcock that this film remains one of the most perverse in Hollywood history.
Interesting fable about a magician (Edward Norton) and his entanglements with the aristocracy, set in turn-of-the-century Vienna but actually shot—fabulously, by Dick Pope—in the old neighborhoods of Prague. The result does both cities justice.
Jonathan Safran Foer’s postmod novel couldn’t have made for a coherent movie—and it didn’t—but this is the only film you’re likely to find about a naive American (Elijah Wood) journeying into the heart of modern, comically semiprimitive Ukraine in search of his roots
You don’t need to go to The Hermitage, in St. Petersburg, if you see this remarkable film by Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov, which takes a tour of the world’s largest museum (and, in the czar’s day, the world’s largest private residence) in one roving, restless digital-video shot. Never mind that the film intersects with a century of Russian history along the way; the instruction here is in the location. Once you’ve experienced this gargantuan remnant of the imperial age, you’ll know why the Russian Revolution happened.
L’amour between two precocious young teens—an American girl (a fresh-faced Diane Lane) and a French boy (one-shot-wonder Thelonious Bernard)—on the streets of Paris, and their flirtation takes us on quite the tour: Parisian markets, the Champs Elysées, the Tuilleries, and more. In an effort to pledge their eternal love, they run away to Venice to kiss under the Bridge of Sighs in a gondola at sunset, and they treat us to Italy in the bargain. Laurence Olivier accompanies them, trotting out a French accent that sounds as unassailable as his German accent in Marathon Man.
Thanks to Generalissimo Francisco Franco, Spain never had the cinematic New Wave it deserved, but it does have this sweeping, poetic, elliptical work from Victor Erice, about two peasant girls, the vast and sun-reflective Castilian plains, a village showing of 1931’s Frankenstein, and a dark-eyed drifter. Essential viewing.
One of the great European films, made when director Bernardo Bertolucci was only 29, this startlingly beautiful character study and essay on fascist collaborationism and political cowardice is by no means just an evocative Euro-travel primer; it’s essential viewing for anyone who cares about movies. Even so, the film’s passage from World War II–era Rome to Paris to the snowy Alpine forestland between the two cities is as powerful as a dream.
Audrey Hepburn won an Oscar her first time out with this expert postwar romance (she’s a bored princess; Gregory Peck’s a cynical American reporter), shot entirely in Rome and utilizing virtually every recognizable tourist spot in the city, from the Spanish Steps to the Colosseum.
René Clair was one the filmmakers for whom the technological burdens of early sound were not a crippling impediment but an inspiration. This love triangle confection is a fascinating litany of ingenious narrative gimmicks and formal flourishes, as well as a swoony, romantic evocation of the city in the period between the world wars.
Ripe blockbuster cheese, but one that packs in a cannibal tribe, a voodoo queen, a ship-consuming monster cephalopod, the Flying Dutchman, Davy Jones’s locker, Davy Jones himself (Bill Nighy, with a captivating squid puss), a seaport tavern brawl, the infamous East India Company (as the ultimate corporate villain), and a cannon-blasting sea battle. Plus Johnny Depp, pounding so hard on his Keith Richards imitation that it seemed inevitable Richards would be cast as his father in the next sequel. Best of the four, count ’em four movies based on a ride at Disney World.
Patrick O’Brian’s literate, seafaring Aubrey-and-Maturin novels finally hit the screen, by way of director Peter Weir. Napoleonic warfare, survival at sea, and meticulous period flavor are all subsumed, as they should be, by the two protagonists (played by Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany) and their ironclad, platonic bond to each other. Supposedly, 90 percent of the film was shot on the water.
After the 1930s, the luxury-ship-stowaway comedy fell, more or less, into remission until Stanley Tucci (who wrote, directed, and stars here) concocted this happy vaudeville about two lousy thespians (Tucci and Oliver Platt) who find themselves, quite by accident, on a cruise ship among European anarchists, spies, grieving ex-royalty, a pompous theater star (Alfred Molina), a suicidal nightclub singer named Happy Franks (Steve Buscemi), and sundry other broadly played types (including a Nazi-esque ship officer, triumphantly personified by Campbell Scott). It’s so unpretentious and dizzy, the entire cast conga-lines right off the set at the end, to boppin’ tango music.