Mar 052012
 

In honor of the upcoming new season of Top Gear on BBC America, these people have done a top ten list of the “most bad ass car movies” ever made. The concept sounds cool and the link was posted by the Top Gear Twitter account, so I figured it must be pretty good. Intrigued, I decided to have a look.

What I found was the most appalling, underresearched and worthless list of drivel that I have ever read. And that’s saying something, since I was at one time a subscriber to Super Street magazine. For those of you who couldn’t be bothered to watch the video (and I just can’t recommend that you do), here is what they came up with:

10. Back to the Future
9. Speed Racer
8. Grease
7. Italian Job (the original and the remake)
6. Transformers
5. The French Connection
4. Thelma and Louise
3. The Transporter (franchise)
2. Fast and Furious (franchise)
1. Bullitt

It is, to borrow a Top Gear phrase, complete rubbish.

Most of what they talk about aren’t even “car” movies, by any definition that I can come up with, let alone bad ass ones. Back to the Future, while it includes a very unique car, would be exactly the same story if that car were removed and replaced with, say, a bath tub. Marty would still show up, nearly sleep with his hot teenage mother, and then go home. And let’s be honest. The DeLorean, even when equipped with a flux capacitor, is just not bad ass. If it were people would have… bought it.

And Speed Racer? Really? That movie included no real cars, no real roads and, for that matter, no real acting. It was an orgy of cartoonish nonsense that had little, if anything, to do with cars or driving. Herbie: Fully Loaded was more bad ass than that cinematic colostomy bag.

Transformers? Thelma and Louise? The French Connection? Grease? These are not car movies. All have cars in them. Some even talk about cars. But none of them are movies about cars and their drivers. Grease comes the closest, but let’s be honest. Everyone who considers choreographed dance numbers to be bad ass raise your hand. Yeah, thought not.

Even Bullitt, despite its undeniable bad ass-ness and awesome chase scene, is not a car movie at its heart.

Credit where it’s due, though, the remaining three are right on. The Italian Job, be it the original or the remake, would not have been possible without those Minis and the characters driving them. The Transporter and Fast and Furious franchises take it a step further, making the relationship between the cars and their drivers a central part of the storytelling (even if the storytelling isn’t always first rate). They certainly belong on the list.

So, now that I’ve spent all that time bashing their list, I bet you’re thinking, “all right Mr. Know-it-all, what would you have done, then?”

Thought you’d never ask.

What follows is my own list of bad ass car movies. These are movies in which driver and car are both central to the story and also not complete pansies. Although there is an order, I am not really concerned with it all that much. I am genuinely interested, though, to see if my readers think I have omitted any or included one where it doesn’t belong. Feel free to comment below.

10. American Graffiti — A bunch of raucous youths (add Joe Pesci pronunciation as you see fit) have a coming-of-age experience while street racing some hot rods. Mostly about the kids, but not a movie without their cars.

9. The Italian Job (original and remake) — More a very clever heist flic than a car movie. As I noted before, though, without those Minis, neither movie is any good. They are as integral to the story as the characters. And damn, Charlize Theron looks pretty good behind the wheel in the remake.

8. Cannonball Run — This one copies a bit from the formula supplied by The Gumball Rally, which you’ll find further up in the rankings. Nevertheless, it is a decent story about cars and drivers and a fun watch. Apparently there were sequels, but I never saw them and I have never heard anything good about them.

7. Smokey and the Bandit — Not one of my all-time favorites, but it deserves a spot on the list. Burt Reynolds makes good use of both a Pontiac Trans Am and the fact that Sally Field was at some point pretty nice to look at. Neither, though, has aged well since this movie. In any case, its premise was rehashed in all sorts of other movies and television shows, so it can’t have been all bad. This one also apparently had sequels.

6. LeMans This is the Steve McQueen film that belongs on a list of bad ass car movies. It has McQueen, so it’s automatically bad ass. It’s all about racing, so the other criteria are filled as well. The only thing keeping it from moving further up the list is its entertainment value. It can be a bit dull if you’re not into this kind of thing.

5. The Transporter (franchise) — The movies themselves are mostly about showcasing Jason Statham’s action hero status through fight scenes. That being said, though, it would be hard to make a movie called “The Transporter” without some serious focus on his car and they definitely deliver on that front. Although they certainly push the believability envelope, the driving and chase scenes are undeniably compelling.

4. Gone in 60 Seconds (original and remake) — Not much to say here, I think. A film about a group of people who have to steal a series of seriously cool cars over the course of the film. Bad ass premise and a story that wouldn’t go anywhere without cars and their drivers. Game, set, match, really.

3. The Gumball Rally — A fun and always upbeat tale about a group of bored, upper-class characters who get together every once a year or so to race across the country. Although often goofy in its depiction, the concept is undeniably bad ass. As are the cars. The all-star cast, though, makes what would probably have otherwise been a decent B-movie into a thoroughly entertaining experience (Seriously, look at this cast list. Killer).

2. Fast and Furious (franchise) — The Fast and the Furious, when it dropped in 2001, was arguably the best-timed movie ever. It hit right at the height of the import racing craze and it spoke to those involved in the culture in all the right ways. The first movie’s focus on the underworld surrounding illicit import street racing in addition to the cars and the drivers also gave its story a level of legitimacy that few expected initially. The ensuing three films (there is rumored to be a fifth on the way as well) went with more mainstream Hollywood-style stories, but all revolve heavily around the relationship between car and driver.

1. Grand Prix — Probably the greatest racing movie of all time, not just because of its story, but also its realism. Most of the driving sequences were performed by real Formula 1 drivers of the era (1966) and it was shot with the highest-technology equipment available at the time. Grand Prix explored the complexities of being a Formula 1 driver through a superb performance by James Garner and excellent directing by John Frankenheimer.

So there you have it, faithful reader. A list of movies about real cars and their drivers. Posers take note.

I look forward to your comments.

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