The relationship between trains and movies is as old as cinema itself. Slightly less old is the relationship between people and video stores. And yet, as Jeff Goldblum reminds us in Jurassic Park, nature finds a way. Why not celebrate the inauguration of the new light rail line with a trip to the Stranger Genius Award–winning Scarecrow Project, where you can pick up any and all of the following transit-based movies.
This movie is brilliant. It also leaves you with the perfectly appropriate feeling of being furious that it exists at all. Oscar Grant was the unarmed 22-year-old black man shot to death by a transit cop in an Oakland train station—Fruitvale Station—on January 1, 2009. Filmmaker Ryan Coogler got permission from BART to shoot the murder scene on the very platform where it happened. In the end, Coogler chose to make a fine-boned movie that follows a single day in Grant's life, his final day. He uses a wealth of details to make mundanity sing. JEN GRAVES
35 Shots of Rum
In this late masterpiece by the French director Claire Denis, a man played by the great Alex Descas operates an RER train in Paris and thinks about death and the essential meaninglessness of life. Two important things to keep in mind while watching: (1) RER are express train lines that connect Paris's center to surrounding suburbs, and (2) in Paris, the suburbs are where poor people live. CHARLES MUDEDE
This Hungarian film about a ragtag group of ticket takers on the Budapest subway combines broad low comedy with modern world-weary surrealism, yielding a glorious goulash of the all-in-one-night exhilaration of films like After Hours and Miracle Mile and the bawdy humor of 1980s teen sex comedies. There's a murder mystery along the way, but the plot is obviously just a way to help the filmmakers stay down in the subway station as long as they possibly can, the better to amuse themselves (and us) with grim behavioral observations. Kontroll all but literally spills over with bodily fluids, crude jokes, and a morbid humor that, however obliquely, reveals the film's core truth: We are trapped in life, and there's no sense pretending there's anything better to expect once we leave it. SEAN NELSON
This is one of the few contemporary sci-fi films to present a near future in an American city that is dominated by public transportation. The 21st-century hero of Spike Jonze's Her, played superbly by Joaquin Phoenix, moves around Los Angeles, the 20th century's motor city par excellence, entirely by elevated rail. CM
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
Yes, Walter Matthau. Yes, Robert Shaw. Yes, color-coded bad-guy names 18 years before Reservoir Dogs. But even more than these things, this thriller about the hijacking of an NYC subway car is a brilliant procedural about the convoluted art of transit dispatch. You think those trains run by themselves? (Obviously: Don't bother with the terrible 2009 remake. Stick with 1974.) SN
Stations of the Elevated
This documentary, which is about graffiti on New York City's subway trains (a moment in urban history that, according to Wikipedia, came to an end in 1989), has a visual mode and editing structure that is profoundly hiphop. The film loops distinct images around the elevated rails. Billboards advertising sexy women, manly men smoking cigarettes, and hamburger-eating gorillas appear. (Gorillas are, by the way, vegetarians.) Also looped are people waiting for trains or watching trains or looking at the colorful graffiti on trains, and young boys playing in bombed-out, postcapitalist neighborhoods. This beautiful, poetic film reveals nothing less than the birthplace of hiphop. CM
We must also enjoy anti-transit films like Volcano. Their hysteria is delightful. In this disaster film, a subway line essentially triggers the eruption of a volcano under Los Angeles. What does it teach us? Exactly what the car industry thinks about public transportation. CM
When this documentary about the many impoverished humans forced to live underground in disused train tunnels near New York's Penn Station came out in 2000, it was shocking. More shocking is the degree to which, 16 years later, it feels totally contemporary. SN
This 1971 sci-fi classic by the man, George Lucas, who later gave us Star Wars (a universe with no public transportation whatsoever) was shot entirely in BART, San Francisco's subway system. The ending of the film turns on escaping from it. CM
Walter Hill's 1979 comic-book masterpiece, in which the shirtless, leather-vested Warriors must fight their way back to Coney Island athwart the 100,000-strong army of rival gangs that think the group killed gang messiah Cyrus ("Can you dig it?!?") is part horror, part camp, and part violent paranoid masturbation fantasy. It's also a fantastic time capsule about the essential value and perpetual threat of an all-hours rapid transit system. SN
Honorable mentions: The Last Metro, Speed, The Lady Eve, The Big Bus, The General, While You Were Sleeping, Zazie Dans le Metro, A Hard Day's Night, Amélie, Subway, Stand by Me, Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. , Robyn Hitchcock: I Often Dream of Trains.