Grand Prix (1966) Surely the most realistic and impressive film on an F1 race… but in the 1960s. John Frankenheimer’s first color film, we follow James Garner on real circuits like Monza or Monaco. The racing scenes are always impressive. And it’s a total success with 3 Oscars at stake. Steve McQueen and Paul Newman were approached for the main role, both big fans of motorsport. But it is ultimately James Garner who will get the role, Steve McQueen will be very angry and legend has it that he no longer speaks to James for years when they were neighbors. Steve and Paul will catch up a few years later on the films Le Mans (1971) for Steve and Virages (1969) for Paul but they are less successful than Grand Prix, the big winner of the 1960s, everything starts from there.Last American Hero (1973) Based on the true story of NASCAR driver Junior Johnson, Last American Hero is one of the great Jeff Bridges’ early roles. And it perfectly represents the very dangerous and motorized vibe of the 1970s with its outlaw and speed fade characters. Jeff Bridges is already impressive and the stock car racing scenes are among the most successful of the time. Based on an essay by Tom Wolfe published in Esquire magazine, this film is surely the best entry point to discover the circuit NASCAR very popular in the United States, which we find in the very good Red Line 7000, one of the last explosive films of Howard Hawks with James Caan and in the less good Days of Thunder by Tony Scott with Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall, a Top Gun on earth, pompous and epileptic despite some interesting scenes. Ricky Bobby, king of the circuit (2006) To continue in the NASCAR circuit, here is the hilarious parody signed Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, surely one of their most successful combos. Accompanied by the always excellent John C. Reilly a few years before their Brothers in spite of themselves, Will Ferrell is incredible as a post-teen pilot, gently stupid, full of ego and adrenaline. Special mention for the villain of the film, Sacha Baron Cohen who plays a French driver with a crazy accent who drinks tea while driving at 250 km/h. It’s Days of Thunder but frank and honest with scenes from anthology.Redline (2010)Redline is an animated whirlwind of rare power. Straight out of Madhouse Studios (Ninja Scroll, Paprika, Wicked City), this film directed by Takeshi Koike features “Sweet JP” and other racers competing to win a totally underground race that takes place once every 5 years somewhere in the universe. Where it gets tough is that all shots are allowed and the vehicles are all modified to destroy other competitors while exceeding all speed limits. Very little known, this anime has received numerous awards for its impressive technical mastery. It’s dizzying, extreme, psychedelic, Cowboy Bebop with more amphetamines. Rush (2013) We return to the world of Formula 1 with this true story of the rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Remarkably directed by Ron Howard, the very gripping film is rather realistic about the world of motor racing in the 1970s, dark, dangerous and whole. And then a battle that opposes Thor to Baron Zemo on a circuit, that has to be exciting. In the same spirit of modern re-reading of a circuit fight, James Mangold’s Le Mans 66 (2019) is also a superb challenger. This time it’s a battle between two teams, Ford and Ferrari, on the Le Mans 24-hour circuit in 1966. Matt Damon and Christian Bale join forces so that Ford can finally beat Scuderia Ferrari and end their hegemony for so many years. Superbly filmed, with a very interesting historical scope and incredible first roles, Le Mans 66 beats Rush as the best motor racing film of its last ten years. What we also see very well in Le Mans 66 is all the work of the teams and the factories to make their vehicle progress and push the limits of the automobile, a whole section of progress that we will also find in Coppola with his very underrated Tucker played by… Jeff Bridges, 15 years after Last American Hero. The circuit loops are looping faster. Thunderbolt, extreme pilot (1985) Who says car racing necessarily says stunts at some point. And as a big fan of Rémy Julienne, Jackie Chan made a film with extreme piloting, a delight. Reputed to be rather minor in the endless filmography of the Hong Kong legend, Thunderbolt is nevertheless incredibly effective with real feats of production and combat staging. More violent than in his usual style, he delivers among the stunts the more impressive of Jackie Chan as well as shootouts close to his Police Story but even more electric, approaching the energy of John Woo, Tsui Hark and other Ringo Lam. The final racing scene is simply unmissable. Small clarification to finish convincing you: The French title of the film is Jackie Chan under pressure. There you go. Speed Racer (2008) This film by the Wachowski sisters suffered an uproar when it was released in 2008. Yet the entire film is an innovative UFO with visuals accompanied by motion. At the time, audiences just weren’t ready for this kind of groundbreaking imagery. It was too soon. But this style of strange visual mixing has since found its way brilliantly into the work of this type at Zack Snyder or more precisely on films like Fury Road by George Miller, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, or even Kid Cudi’s Entergalactic.Speed Racer is the variation of an exceptional manga Mach GoGoGo and an anime that hit until the early 1990s. It even has music by Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and Cappadonna in 1997 on “Daytona 500”. Just the idea of developing a film in this spirit is really crazy. The vision was too ahead of its time. The Great Race Around the World (1965) Here we are in the craziest. Blake Edwards is inspired by a true story, The Great Race, the real first major car race that linked New York to Paris via Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Yokohama, Vladivostok, Irkutsk, Omsk and Moscow. Each participant created his own vehicle as a team, it was completely crazy, between technical and human progress. Anecdote: there were six “stables” including three French. It’s Jules Verne but in real life. Blake Edwards takes this crazy story, adds a legendary rivalry between Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis as well as his absurd humor, building on the success of his Pink Panther films. The result is almost a humanized cartoon, which also pays homage to the silent laughter of Laurel and Hardy. Moreover, this film will become downright a cartoon because it will be the inspiration for the cartoon Les Fous du volant with the famous Diabolo and Satanas. ten years later with The Death Race of the Year 2000 (1975). Same concept, teams create their own vehicle to make a big transcontinental race (exit Asia and Europe). But there are new rules: you get extra points for running over pedestrians.Roger Corman, film producer and B-movie legend, wanted Steve McQueen for the lead role of the very dark Frankenstein. He will finally have David Carradine in full rise Kung-Fu. But Corman manages to impose another hidden talent for the role of Submachine, the antagonist of Frankenstein. And it’s just about… Sylvester Stallone in one of his early roles. In the end, the film is exhausting, enjoyable and totally cult. Mad Max and Running Man a few years before. Driven (2001) Speaking of Stallone… Perhaps the most failed film on the subject of car racing but that’s what makes it so good, so crazy. Absolutely nothing is realistic, everything is too much, Jours de Tonnerre version LSD. And we are not far from Tony Scott because it is the evil Renny Harlin that we find in the realization, a specialist in flashy firefighter version action. 58 more minutes that’s him, Goodbye forever too. Or even Cliffhanger, where he meets Sylvester. Stallone is a fan of Formula 1 in the 1990s, he hangs out with Jean Alesi, he tries to get the rights but it’s no, no F1 for Sly. He then falls back on the American Formula 4. But he wants it to be F1. So it’s a mess, nobody knows where the film is going, Stallone is no longer the main role, the races are filmed with incredible technical prowess and insane budgets but the result is sometimes just completely absurd or improbable. Real UFO in the career of both actor and director, Driven joins Michel Vaillant (the only real French car racing film) in the list of rather failed films that we love to see again for their way of having pushed back the limits of cinema. It’s really fun and totally awesome at the same time. The mark of the greats. Pit Stop (1969) Director of exploitation classics like Coffy, Foxy Brown or the incredible Switchblade Sisters, Jack Hill decides to make a racing film when he discovers the violence of Figure 8 racing. It’s a NASCAR-style circuit but in 8 where cars can pass each other and therefore inevitably crash into each other. It’s stock-car, it’s completely crazy and particularly dangerous. And Jack Hill will draw his best film from it in superb black and white. With bad guy legend Brian Donlavy in his newest role, Pit Stop contains absolutely no pit stops but is truly explosive from start to finish. Forgotten and underrated, let’s fix that right away.
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