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The Ten Best Films With No Plot
As Steve Coogan meanders lovably through this week's The Trip, we survey ten classics where nothing happens.
By Andrew Osborne
In this week's The Trip, two middle-aged British actors (Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan) banter over gourmet cuisine, do some Michael Caine impressions and... well, that's about it, really. And yet, despite a near total lack of plot, drama, or character arcs, the film is deeply satisfying. Coogan and Brydon bumble along, bantering and griping and doing their best to get by in a way that feels reassuringly familiar. And so, in the midst of all the bombastic, death-defying mutants, pirates, wizards, cowboys, and aliens of summer, we'd like to salute The Trip by listing (in no particular order, appropriately enough) our favorite films where, to quote David Byrne's description of heaven, nothing ever happens.
1. Lost in Translation (2003)
When a film doesn't have much of a plot, the characters need to be engaging or the whole thing quickly becomes a boring slog (like, for instance, Sofia Coppola's recent Somewhere). But Coppola got it right with this beloved Oscar-nominated Tokyo travelogue, because who wouldn't want to hang out singing karaoke all night with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson?
2. Barcelona (1994)
There are too many meandering, plotless foreign films to mention, but even American directors tend to get distracted by the local scenery once they hit the Old World. To be fair, Whit Stillman's 1990 debut Metropolitan would never be mistaken for a tightly-plotted thriller, but (despite a little sex and a moment of violence) his Americans-abroad follow-up is as pleasantly aimless as an afternoon sipping sangria in the shade.
3. Head (1968)
Artsy experimental films are pretty much plotless by definition. But unlike, say, Andy Warhol's Empire (an eight-hour study of Manhattan's most iconic building), this psychedelic attempt by the Monkees to break out of their pre-fab TV image is packed with catchy songs and nonsensical vignettes that are funny in both senses of the word (as when the band is menaced by an oversized Victor Mature). Pointless? Sure, but still a head trip worth taking.
4. The Thin Red Line (1998)
Some critics say Terrence Malick's controversial new movie, The Tree of Life, has too much plot (i.e. the entire history of the universe). But the iconoclastic director won more favorable notices for his episodic tone poem about the chaos of war, the beauty of nature, the meaning of life, and... stuff like that. After nearly three hours, the point of the whole exercise may be debatable, but the film's gorgeous cinematography and haunting mood are not.
5. My Dinner With Andre (1981)
Louis Malle's arthouse hit about a long conversation between friends essentially divided viewers into two camps: those (like eccentric bon vivant Andre Gregory) who seek answers to the Big Questions, believing life is only meaningful with senses and emotions fully engaged; and the rest of us (like homely, down-to-earth Wallace Shawn) who are more concerned with everyday challenges and simple pleasures like a nice warm electric blanket in winter.