Five Great Car Movies for When You Tire of the Fast Series

fast6

Get it? “Tire?” Anyway, I don’t mean to pick on them; The Fast and/or Furious movies do their thing well. You want brilliantly dumb action with cars and shimmering movie stars? Been there, done that. Digital effects everywhere you look? The newest entry in the franchise looks to have you covered. Want something that feels a little more grounded, or that at least goes about “crazy” a different way? Well, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Which is fine, because there are a lot of other options out there for those who need an evening of gasoline-fueled movie magic. Here are five good choices to shake things up between Fast & Furious marathons.

Drive

drive

This is, admittedly, a fairly obvious choice. There seem to be two possible responses to Drive: Either you find it hypnotic and possibly the best sort of movie there is, or you think it’s boring and needs more in the way of action and less in the way of deliberately awkward pauses between every line of dialogue.

I find myself split between those camps, sometimes depending on what scene we’re talking about. Director Nicolas Winding Refn wanted to impart the feeling of driving around late at night to those watching the movie, and on that count he absolutely succeeds. Ryan Gosling capably leads a strong supporting cast through this pitch-dark crime tale, and Refn is an absolute whiz behind the camera. But… at the end of the day, I still don’t really feel anything. Maybe that’s okay. There’s a few movies out there that defy easy categorization, and Drive is one of them.

One thing we should all agree on, though, is that its opening sequence is one of the coolest, most tense car-based chases ever.

Rush

rush

Rush tackles the incredible true story of infamous rival between Formula One racers James Hunt and Nicki Lauda. Infamous, that is, if you know anything about the sport, which I don’t. Still, this is a damn fine racing flick. Truthfully, it doesn’t focus on the races so much the racers. Hunt and Lauda are both (portrayed as) incredibly competitive assholes; they routinely toss aside everything from common courtesy to the feelings of their wives in pursuit of the next victory. That alone would make it worth watching, but there some turns the story takes in the back half that would feel totally contrived if they weren’t… well, true.

Hemsworth and (especially) Bruhl are pretty much sensational in their respective parts, but really what this is is the best movie Ron Howard has made since at least A Beautiful Mind. It actually might be his best ever, but I haven’t seen Apollo 13 since I was a kid and don’t want to die on that hill just yet. Sadly, despite its quality, Rush struggled to turn a profit when it came out a couple years ago. Do yourself a favor and rent it sometime, because Rush is the sort of great movie Hollywood made its name on.

Death Proof

Grind House (Death Proof)

Grindhouse still might be the best time I’ve ever had in a theater. Its second half, Death Proof, gets forgotten a lot, but it shouldn’t. It’s got some strong stuff in it — fun supporting roles, a titanic villain in the form of Kurt Russell, and a particularly gnarly car crash sequence. The real reason to watch, though, is the last act of the thing: The car chase that caps off this short story is one for the ages.

A lot of people consider this the absolute least of Tarantino’s movies — including Tarantino himself. I think the point is debatable, but even if it is the least of his movies it’s still a heck of a ride. The last twenty minutes would be worth sitting through almost anything, and the very last frame has got to be an all-timer. Of course, the movie is vastly improved by sitting next to Planet Terror as part of Grindhouse, and should never be watched any other way.

American Graffiti

graffiti

…Because you can never turn down an opportunity to sneak George Lucas on a list, and because this is the movie on here with perhaps the most joy in its heart for the machines we drive around in. Those of us who have passed through the sacred rite of procuring a driver’s license knows that a car = freedom, at least when you’re a teenager.

Graffiti is one of those movies that’s nostalgic even if you weren’t alive in the time it depicts. I wish I could go back to a teenage experience I never had — one with drive-in diners and night spent cruising in town and drag racing on the outskirts. Or just listening to the ubiquitous Wolfman Jack while gunning the engine on a hoodless yellow deuce coupe at a redlight. Man… I feel like I missed out.

Speed Racer

Speed Racer

Jupiter Ascending may have been a huge misfire, but the Wachowskis have already made their masterpiece anyway. And no, it isn’t The Matrix. Okay, maybe they have two masterpieces. Cloud Atlas is pretty close, too, though… okay, let’s not get lost in the weeds here. The point I’m trying to make is that Speed Racer marks the absolute pinnacle of the Wachoskis’ career.

Firstly, because it’s one of the most winsomely sincere movies I’ve seen in forever. In an age where so many characters are orphans and so many parents are morons, it’s unbelievably refreshing to watch a movie extolling the virtues of a family that simply refuses to stop sticking together.

But more to our topic, in and amongst this shockingly heartfelt storyline are three of the most gonzo racing sequences in movie history, and very probably movie future. The last lap of the final race filmmaking so far beyond what anybody else is doing today that I’m not sure I’ll live to see anything else like it. That sounds hyperbolic, but this is a movie made out of hyperbole. It seems to exaggerate its own self while you sit there watching it, every shot, gag, and cut stamped with an exclamation mark. Speed Racer: It lives up to its title.

Now, I know this isn’t even close to a comprehensive list of great car movies. Just some of the ones that rev my engine… so to speak. What about you? What are some of your favorites?


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