The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, January 25-31

nyc repertory-oates-two lane blacktop

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)
Directed by Monte Hellman
In Hellman’s cult classic, 1960s idealism has given way to fatalism, leaving a hollowed-out counterculture in uneasy equipoise with an anachronistic and equally decadent roadside America—a situation perhaps loosely resonant of the current zeitgeist. Setting out from California, The Driver (singer-songwriter James Taylor) and The Mechanic (The Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson) laconically subordinate all else to keeping their tricked-out ’55 Chevy faster than all comers in pop-up drag races along Route 66. They run into “GTO,” a garrulous but lonely drifter, played by the inimitable Warren Oates, who drives the eponymous Pontiac. Trash talk yields a cross-country race to Washington, DC, the winner to get title to the loser’s car. Everyone involved in this existential masterpiece steps up, but the revelation is Oates’s heartbreaking blend of bluster, threat, humility, zaniness, insecurity, and, improbably, latent decency—signature qualities of this great film actor, who at least until recently has been under-appreciated. It goes almost without saying that the race is never finished. The movie’s iconic fade-out is one of the coolest and most haunting in film. Jonathan Stevenson (January 29, 4:45pm, 9:30pm at Metrograph’s “Universal in the ‘70s: Part One”)

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