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Do you have a Need For Speed? If so, you’re probably going to be seeing the movie of the same title this weekend. But maybe your need runs deeper than that. Maybe you love the feeling of getting behind the wheel and just soaring, hitting the open road and letting the wind blow through your hair as you step on the gas and leave civilized culture behind. Or maybe you just like a good chase.
Since the earliest days of film, people have been burning rubber onscreen, and directors and effects crews have been doing their best to make the chases convincingly cinematic. With that in mind, we’ve prepared a 24 hour marathon of movies dedicated to the art of machines in action, cars chasing cars, wheels turning and sins burning. This is your full day noon-to-noon marathon of the very best in the history of car chases in movies. The key is variety, and if your favorite isn’t here, feel free to sub it in for one of the other titles.
GRAND THEFT AUTOLast year, Ron Howard earned some of his best notices with the Formula One drama Rush. But that wasn’t his first time behind the wheel: Howard’s first directorial effort found him in front of the camera and behind the wheel for this madcap Roger Corman film. Howard, who previously starred in Eat My Dust, plays a lovelorn lad who can’t win over the father of his latest pursuit, opting instead to flee with her in her daddy’s ride, leading to a cross-country goose chase. Howard’s done some pretty staid, respectable pictures, but when he first started out, it really seemed like he was destined for hell raising all-terrain vehicular warfare.
BULLITTTaking off around 1:30, meet the godfather of cool. Steve McQueen was lightning in the driver’s seat, never moreso than in this cop classic. From producer Philip D’Antoni, responsible for some of the gnarliest car movies of the Seventies, this San Francisco thriller finds McQueen as the turtlenecked stud of the title, a lieutenant who has to uncover a massive political conspiracy tied to a low-level thug, one car chase at a time. Bullitt’s Mustang soaring over the San Francisco streets remains one of the most indelible cinematic images of its time.
THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFTAs much as people love the Fast And Furious films, they only used cars as props: the first two films are action pictures with crime drama undertones, and the fourth film on emphasize family, explosions, and action so absurd that it seems as if people actually take flight. If you want something with an emphasis on driving, you might need to see the third, and lowest-grossing of the films. Justin Lin’s first time out isn’t beholden to leading men as the narrative’s fulcrum, a displaced teen played by Lucas Black, ends up giving way to the film’s emphasis on drifting. As a style of driving, drifting is both wonderfully cinematic as well as surprisingly peaceful, emphasizing skill and grace over the brutish hardcore speed of the other films.
DEATH RACE 2000It’s a little after 5, so why not revisit the work of Roger Corman? Bearing almost no relation to the Jason Statham remake, this satirical thrill-ride depicts a future where drivers compete in a cross-country race to see who can kill the most pedestrians. As if that wasn’t a ridiculous-enough concept, the film pits the zen-like David Carradine as leather-clad Frankenstein versus a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone as trash-talking Machine Gun Joe Viterbo. With stunt cars, sloppy sexuality, and a sideways smirk, this insane slice of low budget trash might secretly be our greatest achievement as HUMAN BEINGS.
GONE IN 60 SECONDSNeed 48 cars stolen for you in a minimal amount of time? Why call Nicolas Cage when you can get H.B. Halicki? The writer, director and star of this low budget indie gets down and dirty as a master car thief who must procure a wide variety of automobiles for a crooked drug lord who has his own shifty intentions. Unlike the polished, simplistic Jerry Bruckheimer-produced remake, this film is rough around the edges and poorly-made, which is to say it feels less like a Hollywood production and more like a bunch of idiots acting recklessly with expensive material. According to lore, 93 cars were destroyed onscreen during the final epic chase, a feat no film could ever match.
SMOKEY AND THE BANDITIt sound be around 8:20 or so, primetime for the king of seventies charisma, Mr. Burt Reynolds. As the legendary Bandit, Reynolds is the slyest, sexiest bootlegger on the roads, hauling ass in his truck to get alcohol over state lines ahead of the fuzz. Reynolds would reprise the role two more times, but kudos if you can find a copy of the lost, alternate version of Smokey And The Bandit 3, where Jackie Gleason played dual roles, one of which may have been the Bandit! Yes, it’s an urban legend, but what a great one!
THE SEVEN UPSIn the early seventies, Roy Scheider co-starred in The French Connection, a peerless classic and one of the crustiest movies to ever win Best Picture at the Oscars. That film featured one of the great all-time car chases, but it profiles mostly as a crime story. So if you want more Scheider, and more car chases, but don’t want to sit through any more of Gene Hackman boozing and cursing at everyone, then try this breakneck actioner from producer (and now director) Philip D’Antoni. Scheider plays a member of a hardcore cop unit dedicated to bringing down a drug ring, one breakneck chase at a time. The narrative is good and thin, maximizing the amount of time we spend with the characters in each vehicle.
USED CARSRobert Zemeckis’ first film is an absolute delight, following the craven shenanigans of a crooked car salesman (Kurt Russell) trying to outwit his competitor with defamatory strategies and reckless driving. As befitting a film produced by Steven Spielberg and John Milius, the whole thing is a silly comedy that seems to be hiding its climax, a wacky multi-car chase that involves the arrival of a batch of new cars onto the lot, barreling forth at dangerously high speeds.
MOTORWAYThis little-seen Chinese film from producer Johnny To, which should be hitting your screen around 1:40 or so, is absolutely, completely ridiculous in its dead-faced sincerity. The narrative follows an ace driver who joins the police force, finding himself wedded to the chase of an accomplished getaway artist. In this film, driving is an art form, a stroke of heaven that touches us almost supernaturally: when the wheels begin to turn, it’s borderline religious for both cop and criminal.
FEAR IS THE KEYIt’s 3:15, so you’re gonna need a boost. How about the immortal Barry Newman behind the wheel? No one has looked more comfortable in the driver’s seat quite like him, and this showcase begins with him whipping and whirling through a sea of law enforcement agencies as he audaciously embarks upon an insane half hour crime spree. The rest of the film settles into a twisty mystery noir that takes the audience to the very bottom of the sea, but the opening half hour has some of the most insane off-road car action you’ve ever seen.
TWO-LANE BLACKTOPIt’s almost 5 AM. Time to bliss out to maybe the greatest, and most chill car movie of all-time. On one side, you’ve got the laconic, lanky James Taylor in his young, shaggy glory, looking very much like a mop of hair stuck to the end of a q-tip. On the other, wiry, deeply-unsettled Warren Oates, looking very much like this is the last race he’s ever going to participate in. Who will win? Monte Hellman’s classic is more about asking what the win will actually mean.
TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.William Petersen sure had a rough eighties. It doesn’t look like he had any sleep during the production of either Manhunter or this classic neo-noir, a crime film where he plays a Secret Service operative after a nefarious counterfeit artist. It’s around 6:30, and let’s face it, you probably slept during some, or maybe all of Two-Lane Blacktop. There’s no better movie to wake to than William Friedkin’s late-career classic, a nihilistic slice of violence that seems dipped in morning-after Jack Daniels. It’s a movie that goes down that rabbit hole of darkness and violence, featuring one of the most reckless and scary car chases ever put to film, where the entire case is put on the line. Eat breakfast. Have a cigarette.
DEATH PROOFSure, most dismissed Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse homage as something of a wank, an indulgence that ultimately even he threw under the bus as a mistake. But watch the evolution that occurs over the film, which first depicts the scummy Stuntman Mike as a predator, and then prey. As the film grain disappears from the image, Kurt Russell’s wolfish sinner ends up being revealed as the impotent sucker he really is, taken down by Zoe Bell and her risk-taking cohorts in a lethal road match-up that represents some of the purest filmmaking of Q.T.’s career.
VANISHING POINTBarry Newman is back as the enigmatic Kowalski, ready to take you to the end point from around 10:30 in the morning or so to the finish line. Kowalski is a loner who speaks one language, and that language is speed: as he passes state lines, it seems like he’s driving not necessarily down roads, but through dimensions of the mind, seeking for something alien, unattainable. Vanishing Point illustrates the depth of the journey shared between a man and his car, illustrating the symbiosis that occurs when we’re outrunning laws, injustice, and exclusion. Perhaps one of the rare seventies movies that doesn’t feel like its aged a day.