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The Washingtonian (Virtual) Travel Film Festival 2020

Coronavirus 2020

About Coronavirus 2020

Washingtonian is keeping you up to date on the coronavirus around DC.

Stuck inside? This might be a good weekend to visit other locales from the comfort of your sofa, your bed, or wherever you like to watch movies. We asked Washingtonian staffers to choose their favorite movies that involve travel, whether or not they’re strictly (or even arguably) films about travel. Because if there’s one thing we have little patience for these days, it’s constraints.


The Out-of-Towners (1970, Arthur Hiller)

Ohioans George and Gwen Kellerman travel to New York for George’s job interview and are beset with calamity after calamity, from a diverted flight to a kidnapping to a broken tooth—on and on (in a good way) for 90 minutes. If Jack Lemmon, as the microscopically short-fused George, and Sandy Dennis, as his just barely forbearing wife, had been born a few decades later, they’d be hosting SNL, their sketches shooting across social media. Beyond the stars’ brilliance, this film is so 1970—hot meals on an Ohio-NYC flight, a lost false eyelash treated as seriously as a lost contact—and nails Manhattan at the depths of its dumpery, exemplified by simultaneous transit and sanitation strikes. Screenwriter Neil Simon seems to be saying his native city is a demented monster that will inhale and expectorate any who dare think they’re up to it. What a laugh. —Bill O’Sullivan, senior managing editor

(Streaming: Amazon Prime)


Almost Famous (2000, Cameron Crowe)

My favorite travel movie? Almost Famous. Now, I can hear what you’re saying: “That’s not a travel movie!! What about Eat Pray Love??” But hear me out. The high-school journalist who cons his way into writing a Rolling Stone profile of the fictional band Stillwater gets to travel with the group, making his way across the country through hotels, concert arenas, and tour buses. It’s a love letter to the landscape of 1970s America, a classic-rock-fueled bildungsroman, and a movie for journalism nerds all rolled into one. Do yourself a favor and stream the soundtrack. It’ll make your quarantine much more rock-and-roll. —Mimi Montgomery, associate editor

(Rental: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, etc.)

I Love You, Man (2009, John Hamburg)

At the end of these particular days, I don’t just need something escapist, I need something that requires not one brain cell of me. What my mom would call “mental Cheetos.” Enter this Apatow-like buddy comedy featuring Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Pepperidge Farm pirhouettes, some delightful-looking fish tacos, and the Venice Beach boardwalk. Oh, and a cute puggle. I’ve probably seen it 25 times. NO JUDGING. —Ann Limpert, executive food editor/critic

(Rental: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, etc.)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986, John Hughes)

Writer/director John Hughes called this classic his “love letter” to Chicago. It’s part ’80s-comedy flick, part reflection on the fleeting preciousness of life, part visual tour of the greatest city in the country. Yes, I am from Chicago and, yes, I am slightly homesick. Sue me. Regardless of where you’re from, Ferris Bueller is an instant pick-me-up perfect for these depressing times. There’s no way not to root for Ferris and his shit-eating grin as he outsmarts bungling educators and helps his friends find the beauty in the little things. Full of iconic lines (“Bueller? Anyone?”) and oft-replicated scenes (see: Cameron dumbfounded by Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” at the Art Institute), the film’s familiarity makes it a cinematic comfort blanket. —Jane Recker, assistant editor

(Streaming: Netflix)

About Time (2013, Richard Curtis)

After an idyllic childhood surrounded by his eccentric but adorable family on the rugged coast of England, Tim’s dad (a hilarious Bill Nighy) shares a life-altering secret on his 21st birthday: The men in the family can travel backward in time—not, like, to the Dark Agesmbut to moments they’ve personally lived and would like to do-over. Though time travel is a central element, the movie never feels hokey or like fantasy. Rather, it’s a funny, heartwarming rumination on love—both the romantic and the family kind—and a reminder that there’s beauty to be found even in ordinary, or difficult, moments. —Marisa Kashino, senior editor

(Streaming: Netflix)

Into the Wild (2007, Sean Penn)

The 2007 adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a recent college graduate who in the early 1990s traveled across the country and hitchhiked his way to the Alaskan backcountry, where he set off on an adventure designed to find meaning in the world around him. Carrying only a few supplies with him, McCandless lived off the land, gathering his own food and finding shelter in an abandoned bus. As McCandless, played by Emile Hirsch, says in the film, “[A]nd I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once. To find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions. Facing the blind death stone alone, with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head.” Tragically, after several months in the wilderness, McCandless’s body was discovered in September 1992. He is believed to have died of starvation. —Luke Mullins, senior writer

(Rental: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, etc.)


The Angels’ Share (2012, Ken Loach)

Like a lot of Ken Loach films, The Angels’ Share starts off as a wistful and depressing work of social realism. But this story of a bunch of small-time Glasgow hoods getting straight with the law abruptly turns into a heist film as they figure out how to steal a portion of extremely rare whisky. The gang travels to the distillery, but it’s their trip to Edinburgh, 50 miles away, that shows how relative travel can be: One of the crew doesn’t recognize Edinburgh Castle, a symbol of the country that’s plastered all over lots of Scottish goods. “Is there no shortbread in your house?” his friend asks, aghast. —Andrew Beaujon, senior editor

(Rental: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, etc.)

The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Peter Jackson)

Whether it’s the first or the 50th time you’ve seen them, these movies never disappoint—take it from someone who’s watched The Return of the King about 150 times by age 25. What you already know: There’s a dangerous magic ring and some short, hairy people called hobbits have to travel across the world with their multi-species but still very white friends to destroy it. What you don’t know: It’s so much more than the thirst trap fantasy characters that might jump to mind, like Aragorn or Legolas. There’s a level of homoeroticism that is hilariously wonderful to watch in 2020. Gollum is obviously a misunderstood queen of shade whom we should all stan at this point. Badass women DO exist in Middle Earth, though there’s only one per movie, really. Oh, and there are weed-smoking hobbits. So put aside your very valid concerns over its Orientalist tropes and join me in this re-watch. If you don’t own them, you can buy all of them on Amazon. Bonus: There are special extended editions that I PROMISE are worth it. My favorite character in this universe is the sassy Mouth of Sauron, and you should do yourself the favor of seeing his brief but stellar cameo. —Rosa Cartagena, web producer/writer

(The Return of the King and The Two Towers are streaming on Netflix. The Fellowship of the Ring is available to rent in all the usual spots.)

Chef (2014, Jon Favreau)

Chef is a family story about chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau), who is uninspired at a prestigious Los Angeles restaurant and decides to quit after being humiliated by an esteemed food critic (Oliver Platt) who says his food no longer has any life. Casper then decides to open a food truck with one of his friends (John Leguizamo) from the restaurant to cook the menu that he wants and travel through the United States. He is inspired by the local cuisine of eclectic cities like New Orleans, Miami, and Austin. Along the way, he bonds with his estranged son and rekindles his relationship with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara). The movie touches on themes of family, creativity, and community through difficult times and is a great watch for the whole family. —Sana Shah, user experience designer

(Rental: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, etc.)

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987, John Hughes)

I hope it’s held up—I haven’t seen it in 30 or so years, since it first came out on VHS after its 1987 release in theaters. But I remember feeling lucky to be watching a grownup movie with my parents in our den one night and then feeling simultaneously wowed and delighted by my dad’s recurring fits of laughter. He was in hysterics watching John Candy and Steve Martin bumble their way somewhere, maybe for Thanksgiving? Anyway, I’d like to laugh like that right now. If my daughter were old enough, I’d turn it on in hopes of recreating the moment. —Kristen Hinman, articles editor

(Streaming: Amazon Prime)

Shrek (2001, Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson)

The film’s central action is a quest, the most heroic form of travel. Shrek and Donkey embark on their journey from the swamp to a castle guarded by a fire-breathing dragon, then hike through the Sherwood Forest to the charming city-state of Duloc. For viewers, it’s an opportunity to escape the confines of reality and into a fairytale world, set to the dulcet tones of Smashmouth. Not to mention that Shrek is kind of the original king of social distancing: All he wanted was to be alone in his swamp. —Daniella Byck, assistant editor

(Rental: Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, etc.)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994, Frank Darabont)

The ultimate movie about escape, hope, and freedom has travel at its core. That’s if you include travel of the mind and body, of course. The film is perfect for your quarantine, which for some of us, like Shawshank, has come to feel like a prolonged domestic internment. I’ve already made my friends watch it during a virtual movie party. Can we travel beyond concrete walls, physical as well humane? As Morgan Freeman says, the movie is about “Andy Dufresne, the man who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.” —Ben Wofford, staff writer

(Streaming: Netflix)

Princess Mononoke (1997, Hayao Miyazaki)

No travel-themed list is complete without some Hayao Miyazaki. You can take your pick of the humanity-affirming worlds he’s created in his animated films: Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service—each one is an adventure, and there’s always lots of flying. The one I’d specifically recommend is Princess Mononoke, named for the wolf-raised heroine who fights greedy humans trying to destroy the magical forest she calls home. She meets a boy on a quest, as one does, and they attempt to save the spirit of the forest in this colorful environmentalist journey. —Rosa Cartagena

(Purchase: Amazon, iTunes)