There’s a built-in poignancy about road movies involving codgers. Either they’re retracing footsteps of an embattled past, or they’re journeying into unknown territory in defiance of age and expectation. Either way, it can be engrossing to watch.
JACK NICHOLSON IN “ABOUT SCHMIDT”
In “About Schmidt,” Jack Nicholson hits the road as a deeply ordinary man forced to question pretty much everything about how he’s lived his life. There are some very funny moments in RVs and a hot tub, but the overriding sense of sadness is strong. “About Schmidt” also boasts one of the most unusual choices for an ending that I’ve ever seen.
JANE DARWELL IN “THE GRAPES OF WRATH”
It’s all there in her wonderful face: pain, fear, disappointment, resolve. Based on John Steinbeck’s great novel of Okies fleeing the dustbowl during the Depression, Darwell’s performance is rooted in a tragic, almost mystical view of travel as survival. She isn’t on the road seeking redemption or guidance. She wants to find a place for her family to live.
ALAN ARKIN IN “LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE”
How great is this movie? Mr. Arkin’s work, in particular, is excellent. He takes a stock character, the cranky old guy, and knows exactly when to play him loud and when to play him soft. Road movies are always about the interior transformations and emotional movements, and “Little Miss Sunshine” wisely uses Arkin as a major catalyst.
ART CARNEY IN “HARRY AND TONTO”
Art Carney won an Oscar as Harry, a philosophical widower tossed out of his New York City apartment. He roams the country with his cat, Tonto. Although this film has a few too many contrivances, it’s also undeniably moving. It makes a firm argument that loss and change can be accompanied by new experiences and new friendships.
JAMES EARL JONES IN “FIELD OF DREAMS”
The great James Earl Jones isn’t the star of “Field of Dreams,” but his presence enlivens it immeasurably. His road from sarcastic skepticism to ardent belief in Kevin Costner’s quest is what gives the movie some zip at exactly the right moment.
GERALDINE PAGE IN “TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL”
Page is heartbreaking in “Trip to Bountiful.” She plays an older woman, living with her shrill daughter-in-law and henpecked son, who wants to see her childhood home one last time. So she sneaks away and takes the bus. It’s such a quiet, winning performance; Page won a well-deserved Oscar for it.
RICHARD FARNSWORTH IN “THE STRAIGHT STORY”
I’ll readily admit that I’d have been willing to plunk down full price to see and hear Richard Farnsworth recite the ingredients in soup. His manner had the simplicity and beauty of deep, still water. In “The Straight Story,” he plays a man who sets out on a riding lawnmower to visit his estranged brother, who lives in another state. It’s both boring and riveting, if that makes any sense.
And now, the Jimbo List is going to take a two-week break. Safe travels to one and all.