Monday, May 18, 2009

The 10 Best Movies About Air Travel

We've all seen movies on airplanes, of course. But what are the best - or at least the most memorable - movies about air travel?

Here is my list. As a travel journalist, I'm a frequent flier. Moreover, for eight years, I was a movie critic for the San Francisco Examiner. I've seen a lot of movies - some of them at 8 in the morning at film festivals and press screenings. On the whole, watching movies on planes is better than that.

Anyway, in no particular order:

1. "Airplane!" This may be the most flat-out enjoyable movie about air travel, ever. Released in 1980, this knowing spoof of air disaster movies is still funny, if politically incorrect. Think of the older white woman who attempts to speak what she believes to be hip talk to young black men by blithely explaining "I speak jive.'' Not to mention the comically anxious passengers who watch as two ordinary American travelers try to land the plane.

2. "United 93.'' The dark, tragic antipode to "Airplane!'' This 2006 picture is a skilful docudrama that recreates the last moments aboard the hijacked United Airlines plane that crash-landed in a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001. Incredibly sad, incredibly hard to watch, it nevertheless compels attention.

3. "The Aviator.'' Not a great film, but this bio-flick about the reclusive mogul and aviation pioneer Howard Hughes, directed by Martin Scorcese and starring a credible Leonardo DiCaprio as the dashing but mad Hughes, is entertaining from take-off to landing. The supporting performance by Alec Baldwin as Pan Am visionary Juan Trippe is worth the price of admission.

4. "Catch Me If You Can.'' DiCaprio again. He's boyishly handsome and charming as a consumate con man who convinces everyone he is a professional airline pilot (among other things), though he has absolutely no idea how to fly a plane. Directed by Steven Spielberg with a born storyteller's brio.

5. "Airport.'' Based on Arthur Hailey's novel of the same title, it's a blissfully exaggerated melodrama, released in 1970, that takes a common idea - the idea of a big airport as a small city - and puts it on screen with a starry cast that includes Burt Lancaster and Helen Hayes.

6. "Tokyo Joe.'' One of Humprey Bogart's little-known roles, this 1949 feature was shot on location in war-ravaged Tokyo. Bogart is an American war veteran who starts a cargo airline in Japan - amid complications from American officials running the U.S. occupation.

7. "The Terminal.'' Spielberg again, with a bit too much sentimentality about an immigrant to the United States who gets caught in legal limbo and can't leave the airport. The movie is nevertheless carried by Tom Hanks' engaging Everyman performance.

8. "Octopussy.'' What can I say? It's Bond ... James Bond. We're both shaken and stirred by Agent 007's adventures in the sky circa 1983.

9. "Snakes on a Plane.'' The title tells the story with this so-bad-it's-good thriller/horror flick. With Samuel L. Jackson as a cool under pressure FBI agent.

10. "Air Force One.'' Harrison Ford is heroic as the President of the United States, battling Gary Oldman-led Russian hijackers on-board the President's plane.

1 comment:

  1. Can't argue with that list; I recall a few others in the snakes-on-a-plane category, like "Red Eye" and the silly Jodie Foster vehicle "Flight Plan", that made extensive use of the airplane setting, but they don't belong on any top-ten list.