After the particularly painful song of ice and snow that was this past winter, I’m happy to say that the robin in yonder dell is finally chirping “Spring! Spring! Spring!”

Yes, the world is puddle-wonderful again and that means that, like any other hibernating animal, I feel an urge to shake off the cold, stretch my legs, and participate in some old-fashioned migration. So windows are rolled down, sleeves are rolled up – it’s time for a good long drive to greener horizons, or most anywhere from here.

I raise my face to the sun, and movie fanatic that I am, hear Groucho’s voice ringing in my ears: “Sing ho! For the open highway! Sing ho! For the open road!” (Anyone remember the movie?) Or maybe the strains of Bob Hope – “We’re off on the Road to Morocco!” (Bob – it’s better off-season.)

It all has to do with some deep, Joseph Campbell-type instinct. Reaching all the way back to Homer’s “Odyssey”, many of our finest stories take place on voyages or quests, where our hero (or heroine) experiences boundless new sights, gets in adventures, and has a transformation of thought and being. In short, travel means growth, we are all wired for it and for the excitement it brings. 

So, with warm air stirring the veins, and a long Memorial Day weekend ahead, it seems like the right time to talk about road movies, that bounteous staple of film that surely warrants its own subgenre. After all, the road movie is the cinematic equivalent of the epic tale, told around a campfire in the crisp Spring night air.

Here then are my entries for the best ten road movies, sure to get you on your own highway of life. You can read more about each (and then watch them) by clicking on the title(s). All these films have offered particularly memorable and exciting staycations for me while in the comfort of my La–Z–Boy, with the added bonus of no fighting kids in the back seat or complaints about hiked up gas prices:

It Happened One Night (1934) 

Down-on-his luck reporter (Clark Gable) gets the scoop of a lifetime when he meets an heiress on the lam (Claudette Colbert) on a bus excursion. Then – as usual – romance complicates everything. This was the first film to sweep the Oscars in all major categories, and deservedly so.  Click here to stream it now!

Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

Well-meaning hack Hollywood director (Joel McCrea) wants to make a serious, important picture for a change, one profiling the plight of the impoverished masses. With just a dime in his pocket, he takes a trip to find “the poor” and gets much more than he bargained for.  Click here to stream it now!

The Wages of Fear (1953)

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic, white-knuckle, thriller follows four broke, desperate men (including Charles Vanel and a young Yves Montand), stranded in a dusty Latin American town. Things get tense when the four agree to transport two trucks of explosive nitroglycerin along bumpy, rarely traveled terrain.  Click here to stream it now!

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Arthur Penn’s bloody crime picture profiles two bank robbers from the twenties and thirties, Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) and Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway). At first Warner Bros soft-pedaled the movie, and it almost sank on release. But in the end, Beatty’s perseverance, and great word-of-mouth publicity, made the movie a hit. Faye became an overnight star, and every young lady in town wanted a beret (see her performance and you’ll know why).  Click here to stream it now!

Easy Rider (1969)

Dennis Hopper’s counter-culture, anti-establishment, stoner classic about two hippies on a motorcycle trip from the West Coast to New Orleans was a surprise hit in 1969, resonating deeply with a divided country. All these years later, it still earns its cult status, and is buoyed by Jack Nicholson’s breakout performance – “Here’s to the first of the day, fellas!”  Click here to stream it now!

Midnight Run (1988)

Martin Brest’s hilarious road movie has Robert DeNiro as a bounty hunter taking former mob accountant Charles Grodin back to custody on the West Coast. Let’s just say the trip is eventful. The two stars have terrific comic chemistry, and look out for Joey Pants (which is always good advice)!  Click here to stream it now!

Rain Man (1988) 

Dustin Hoffman won his second Oscar playing an autistic savant who gets reunited with his slick younger brother (Tom Cruise) after their father dies and inheritance issues arise. The two brothers go on a trip that will change them both forever. Definitely... definitely a winner from director Barry Levinson.  Click here to stream it now!

Thelma and Louise (1991)

This irresistible feminist buddy movie features Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon taking a one-way journey away from the lousy men in their lives. Geena and Susan are both aces, and look for a young Brad Pitt in a most unsympathetic role. Also – that ending is unforgettable... remember, stay out of Texas.  Click here to stream it now!

The Straight Story (1999)

A quiet, deeply felt, atmospheric gem from (of all people) David Lynch, the film stars Richard Farnsworth as a senior citizen who can no longer drive. When he hears his estranged brother is ill in another state, he ventures off to care for him – driving a puttering tractor! Sissy Spacek co–stars as his understandably awestruck daughter.

Transamerica (2005)

Felicity Huffman deservedly got an Oscar nod for her performance as Bree, a pre-op male-to-female transsexual who discovers she fathered a son years back, and that the boy is in trouble. Posing as a Christian social worker, Bree claims her son (Kevin Zegers) without telling him who he/she really is, and transports him to L.A., with some illuminating stops along the way. Clever, funny, touching, and different – in a good way.  Click here to stream it now!

So this year when you go out, stay in – but if you must travel the open road, remember to aim high in steering, keep your hands at 10 and 2, and to take it easy out there. Road rage can be killer – check out Spielberg’s thrilling, early, made for TV feature “Duel” (1971) to get an illustration. 

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