10 of the Best

10 of the Best… Road Movies of the 2010s

In cinema, the open road is packed with endless possibilities and diversions: here we highlight our top picks from the last ten years...

Why do we yearn to hit the road? To lose ourselves… or to find ourselves. A road trip can mark a journey of self-discovery, but equally provides the basis for escape, destination be damned. And if cinema itself is the ultimate form of escapism, few sub-genres exemplify this quality more than the road movie.

Whilst the heyday of this great and traditional genre might be confined to the past, spoiled by satellite navigation and TripAdvisor ratings, it still offers fertile ground for those directors willing to reinterpret what the road movie is, finding new ways to shape and bend the narrative.

To celebrate the release of brilliant Bosnian road movie Take Me Somewhere Nice on MUBI, here are 10 fascinating spins on the road movies from the last 10 years…

 

Holy Motors (2012)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

To call Holy Motors a “road movie” seems a bit redundant – how do you categorise a movie that refuses to stick to a single genre by design? Leos Carax's brilliantly baffling meditation on art and movie-making eschews all narrative convention; it is a blindingly disorientating but outright entrancing piece of work, its individual and loosely connected stories presented to us, one by one, as the mysterious Oscar is ferried around town in a limousine. Holy Motors refuses to give you what you want, but in the process gives you things you never knew you wanted: talking cars, a zombie film, an accordion musical number, a Kylie Minogue belter, Eva Mendes…! The road has never seemed so alive with possibilities.

 

Ida (2013)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

A young nun and her chain-smoking, alcoholic of an aunt hit the road in 1960s Poland. Along the way they stop at run-down hotels and drink in hazy bars, exposed to the bitter cold of post-war life. It’s nobody’s idea of liberation: instead what drives them is a desire for truth, to find out what happened to Ida's parents. Ida, meanwhile, lusts for freedom and sex. Perhaps this is not the sort of road trip you’d want to take yourself, but as with most Pawel Pawlikowski films there is such a detail and authenticity to the period setting it's as though you're transported to the past. And proof that power is not derived in a film’s length: this, at 82 minutes, feels so rich and complete.

 

Locke (2013)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

How is that Tom Hardy, alone, talking on his mobile phone about concrete, can make for such a gripping road movie? Locke takes place entirely in real time, at night, as Hardy – sporting a questionable Welsh accent – slowly comes to realise with each passing mile that his world is about to crumble. His destination, en route from Birmingham, is Croydon – perhaps the the least inherently cinematic of all English destinations. On the end of the phone, his wife, but also the woman he spent a night with once who holds a shocking secret – a  conversation that will come to spell personal and financial ruin. Locke is proof that, with the right execution, a good movie can be about anything. Even concrete.

 

Nebraska (2013)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

What better mismatched pair for a classic American road trip than that of father and son? Here Will Forte and Bruce Dern unite for Alexander Payne’s self-consciously quirky road movie, Nebraska, shot in crisp black and white, a love letter to America's heartland and its people. Small town diners and snow-covered suburbs offer the homeliest slice of Americana as our bickering pair make their way cross country in pursuit of a million dollar check that almost certainly doesn't exist. The film brought Dern back into the spotlight; it's to his credit that he makes an insufferable curmudgeon of a man into somebody you genuinely root for.

 

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

What is Llewyn Davis’ problem, exactly? He's clearly has talent – but not enough to compete with somebody like Bob Dylan. What does somebody in this predicament do? Drift, of course – and become bitter in the process. The Coens' portrait of a lowly artist makes for an inherently melancholy ride. Llewyn lives on the breadline, playing gigs and getting nowhere, until he’s presented with a chance. It's a road movie in that he plays chauffeur to John Goodman partway through the movie, but it's also a road movie in the sense that our hero never stays in the same place for too long. In American movies, the road is more often a symbol of fresh pastures. Here it’s a reminder of Llewyn's destiny to end up right where he started – a road leading in circles.

The Rover (2014)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Australia offers the perfect territory for the road movie – no wonder the country's filmmakers are so keen to dwell on its vast and endless deserts. Poised as a kind of anti-Mad Max, The Rover sees Guy Pierce's merciless marauder teamed with Robert Pattinson's mentally handicapped southerner as the two hit the road to retrieve a stolen car: a truly odd couple in an unfair and unforgiving world where the road is arguably the only safe place. Stop moving and you die. But why is the car so important, we wonder? The Rover is bleak and cruel, yet by the end we might just come to understand why this man has torn though the outback and left so much death and bloodshed in his wake. At last, peace – but the journey is hell.

 

Mississippi Grind (2015)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

The road movie feels like a natural fit for the obsessive gambler, whose life is defined by an ability to get in and get out quick – and make a run for it when things get hot. Following in the tradition of 70s American New Wave gems like The Sting and California Split, Mississippi Grind finds two grifters – played by Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn – on an impromptu road trip to win a sizeable jackpot. The game is poker, and their union – forged en route to a high stakes game in New Orleans – takes them on a rollocking tour of the Deep South. Along the way they dip in and out of games, meet unconventional characters, bond, break up, and everything inbetween.  There is something refreshingly old-fashioned in their antics – and in this purely entertaining buddy yarn.

 

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Further proof that Tom Hardy and the open road were made for one another. George Miller’s frankly insane fourth Mad Max film plays out as one continuous car chase – though Max is chained to the front of an enemy’s vehicle for much of the runtime, playing second fiddle to Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa. Miller keeps CGI to a minimum and constructs a relentlessly breathless cargasm that keeps topping itself. Few road movies dare to double back on themselves – doing so would undermine the journey. Yet Miller proves just how much control he has over his film – and us! – when he sends Max and friends right back to the very start, the way they came, reclaiming the same ground but convincing us it all makes perfect sense. It’s dizzyingly, death-defying stuff – the most road of any road movie.

 

American Honey (2016)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

A ramshackle group of lost teens pile into a bus and hit the road in Andrea Arnold’s sun-kissed story of displaced dreamers. American Honey is about that time in your life when you’re not sure that anything is more important than living in the moment; this is how young Star (Sasha Lane) comes to meet Jake (Shia LaBeouf), the pair part of a motley crew selling door-to-door magazine subscriptions – falling in and out of life, living dangerously and hedonistically, but also truthfully. LaBeouf is strange and magnetic; Lane delivers a deeply authentic performance; Rihanna's “Diamonds” takes on a truly mythic quality as it kickstarts this strange and singular adventure.

 

Captain Fantastic (2016)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Echoes of Paul Theroux’s Mosquito Coast in Captain Fantastic, which starts like Lord of the Flies before going full-on road movie as survivalist father Viggo Mortensen takes his off-grid kids out into the big wide world. They plan to attend the funeral of their mother, and cram into a bus, Little Miss Sunshine style, as they get to know the civilisation they've been taught to ignore. Is this father a maniac with a twisted ideology, though, or are his kids better off not knowing how to send an email? The film remains cooly ambiguous on the matter; one man’s nut job is another's enlightened guru, after all. Mortensen sells it either way.

Artwork for this article was created by Braulio Kuwabara. You can follow his work here.

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