In the continued spirit of the holidays, this month’s streaming recommendations will focus on travel (and often the misery of it). From the woes of cancelled flights, to finding out how much your friendship really means when you’re cooped up with people for extended amounts of time, the following films focus a lot on the transformative experience of a trip away, and what it means for life back home. Even if you aren’t traveling this holiday season, most of these movies also provide some lush and atmospheric backgrounds to fuel the fantasy of escaping to a far-off place (without the hassle of actual travel). And as a reminder: if you don’t currently have the streaming service paired with each film, search the one(s) you do have — many of these titles are available on more than one online platform.
Hit the jump for my recommendations, and click here for Streaming Recommendations, Volume 1: Dysfunctional Families.
The Trip (Netflix Instant)
- Director: Michael Winterbottom
- Country: U.K.
- Year: 2010
- Stars: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon
Michael Winterbottom‘s The Trip is a lot less complicated than his film A Cock and Bull Story, though it employs some of the same structure. In A Cock and Bull Story, frequent Winterbottom collaborator Steve Coogan and comedian Rob Brydon star as fictionalized versions of themselves, filming a movie based on a book that is itself metafictional. In The Trip, Coogan and Brydon essentially reprise those heightened versions of themselves in a movie that takes them across the moody north of England, where Coogan is on a foodie tour that he was supposed to share with (and use to impress) his American girlfriend. Desperate for a companion after she says they should take a break, Coogan finally settles on Brydon, and the two engage in a journey that includes a lot of one-upmanship and impersonations (one of the best scenes of the film, in fact). The ending is a strikingly melancholic one, but it is well earned after such an in-depth character study of two men who are looking for very different things from the experience. The atmospheric north of England also lends a dramatic and beautiful backdrop for the drama to unfold upon.
Y Tu Mamá También (Hulu – Subscription Required)
- Director: Alfonso Cuarón
- Country: Mexico
- Year: 2001
- Stars: Diego Luna, Gael García Bernal, Maribel Verdú
Known to those of a certain age as “that film no one will let us see,” Y Tu Mama También is really a beautiful and engaging character study of two best friends (Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal as Tenoch and Julio) who embark on a road trip with the wife of Tenoch’s cousin, Luisa (Maribel Verdú), looking for a mythical Mexican beach. The sex is nothing that should be all that shocking to regular viewers of premium cable, but it’s also not the point. Alfonso Cuarón creates an all-encompassing and dream-like atmosphere where teenage and young adult angst turns into real emotion and, ultimately, leads to revelations that change them all forever. Intertwined with the personal drama is commentary on Mexican politics and the state of the country’s poorest rural areas. This elevates the drama to something even deeper than what the boys and Luisa experience, and makes for a tremendous film that will stay with you long after it ends.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Amazon – Free for Prime Members, $3.99 to Rent)
- Director: Woody Allen
- Country: U.S., Spain
- Year: 2009
- Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz
Not technically a road trip, but still a trip: the film follows two very different friends (Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall as Cristina and Vicky) who spend a summer in Barcelona, where they meet the artistic and seductive Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). As Juan Antonio begins introducing the girls to the experiences of the finer things of Spain, they learn that his beautiful unstable ex-wife Elena (Penélope Cruz) is still somewhat in the picture, both emotionally and literally. While both girls take up with Juan Antonio at some point, Cristina ends up living with him as well as Elena for some time, while Vicky returns to her fiancé. Woody Allen‘s script inserts plenty of wit and convoluted emotional stories, all laced together with trademark awkwardness. Like Y Tu Mama También, the girls’ trip exposes them to situations that challenge their world views, and leave them changed — often because of the transformative power of sex. Also like Y Tu Mama También and The Trip, it’s imbued with a sense of melancholy throughout, even amid such a lush setting.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (Amazon – Free for Prime Members, $2.99 to Rent)
- Director: John Hughes
- Country: U.S.
- Year: 1987
- Stars: Steve Martin, John Candy
No list of road trip films could possibly be complete without the inclusion of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, a film that marked a shift of John Hughes from chronicling teen angst to adult angst (so much angst!) The movie is the pinnacle of the “totally fucked” travel genre, and pairs the great duo of Steve Martin and John Candy, whose character personalities balance each other out and lend some gravity to the film even in the most madcap situations. The movie makes a nice pair with The Trip (though with a much more uplifting ending that makes it a better one to finish with). And while it is much more outrightly outlandish than The Trip, it also has a lot to say about stress, friendship and trust. Ultimately, a classic always worth revisiting, or watching for the first time.