Nothing inspires travel more than sitting down and watching a feature length movie set in an exotic location. With dozens of crew members paid to make the place look as beautiful, or as atrocious, as possible, movies never fail to evoke emotions.
The Harder They Come (1972) – Reggae artist Jimmy Cliff stars in this great film about a young singer who travels to the city to make it big, only to get embroiled in his boss’s marijuana business. Shot on location in Jamaica.
Motorcycle Diaries (2004) – The intriguing story of a young Che Guevaras and the trip across South America that inspired his life’s calling.
The Battle of Algiers (1966) – Dramatic and touching historical movie based on events at the start of Algeria’s 1954 war with France.
City Of God (2002) – Engrossing and tragic story of ill-destined youth of the Rio slums and how their lives are affected by the drug dealing life. A telling portrait.
Paris Je T’aime (2006) – A series of fabulous vignettes celebrating life, romance and tragedy in the City of Light.
Monsoon Wedding (2001) – Wonderful film showcasing the magic and chaos of a Indian wedding. Utterly charming.
Kundun (1997) – Beautiful, slow moving piece about the 14th Dahli Lama and his escape from Tibet in 1959. Skillfully shot by Martin Scorsese in one of his few non-violent features.
In Bruges (2008) – Hilarious (if completely riddled with obscenities) buddy story of two contract killers on the lam in the lovely town of Bruges, Belgium.
Breathless (1960) – A timeless classic with sex appeal by Jean-Luc Goddard. About a car thief trying to persuade a pretty young American to hide out with him in Italy. In French with subtitles.
Darjeeling Limited (2007) – A flight of whimsy by Wes Anderson. One of my favorite travel movies of all time, one that unveils many truths about India. Starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman. Great soundtrack!
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) – Cinematic poetry showcasing the lush landscapes of China. In Mandarin with subtitles. 4 Oscar wins with then innovative special effects.
Roman Holiday (1953) – Classic romance shot in the Italian capital starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. 3 Oscar wins!
The Killing Fields (1984) – Moving film about a New York Times reporter who goes in search of his Cambodian friend after he’s sent to the labor camps of the regime of Pol Pot. Very realistic.
Swimming to Cambodia (1987) – A Spaulding Grey monologue about the time he spent in SE Asia while filming the Killing Fields. If you’ve never seen a Spaulding Grey movie, this is the one to see. A hilarious and fast-paced showpiece.
The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (1988) – Well-scripted and perfectly acted love story starring a very young Juliette Binoche and Daniel Day-Lewis. Based on the book by Milan Kundera incorporating events surrounding the 1988 Russian invasion of Prague.
Persepolis (2007) – Amazing animated film detailing a woman’s childhood life during Iran’s politically turbulent and war-scarred 1970s.
The Last Emperor (1987) – The epic story by Bernardo Bertolucci about the last monarch of China and the moment of grand cultural change in his country. Winner of 9 Oscars.
Very Long Engagement (2004) – Love story by the director of Amelie (another great movie). Set in France during WWI, the movie follows a woman (Audrey Tautou) as she discovers the fate of her lover after the war. Fantastic set design marks this totally believable period piece.
Powaqqatsi, Koyaanisqatsi, & Naqoyqatsi (’82, ’88, ’02)– A fantastic trilogy of cinematic art produced by Godfrey Reggio. Three films focusing on turmoil, industrialization and war in countries around the world in the modern age. Without dialogue but with stirring images and music by Philip Glass. Definitely worth the time to watch.
Lost in Translation (2003) – Probably the best movie to showcase modern Tokyo in all its alienating and sweeping beauty. Haunting and moving, plus you get to look at Scarlett Johansson for nearly the film’s full length. Sofia Coppola won the screenwriting Oscar for this movie.
Please feel free to add your own choices in the comments section below, we’d love to hear them!
* photo by notacrime