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Lights, Camera, Travel!

Leave the cinematography and sound editing awards to the Academy. In this, our first annual Hemi Awards, we’ve chosen our favorite films of the past year based on one simple criterion: Did they make us want to book a flight?


Best Road Film


Director Jon Favreau’s endearing foodie film feels like a spiritual successor to Eat Pray Love, with a more singular focus: Call it Eat Eat Eat. After a social media feud with a critic, chef Carl Casper (Favreau) leaves behind his stuffy LA restaurant—played by decidedly unstuffy West Hollywood spot Hatfield’s Restaurant—and retreats to his hometown of Miami to rediscover the joy of cooking. Following a concert at Little Havana’s Hoy Como Ayer, Carl and his family order late-night Cubanos at neighborhood mainstay Versailles Restaurant (open until 3:30 a.m. on Saturdays), where he has his lightbulb moment: He decides to start a food truck—namead El Jefe—and hit the road on a cross-country grub crawl, tasting local fare and reinventing it to include on his menu, alongside a signature Cubano. With his son (Emjay Anthony) and sous-chef (John Leguizamo) in tow, Casper stops at foodie haunts like New Orleans’ Cafe du Monde for powdered-sugar-dusted beignets and Austin’s Franklin Barbecue for smoked brisket. Favreau was so taken by the trip that he has hinted that he and LA-based food-truck pioneer Roy Choi, who developed the recipe for the signature Cubano, may even open an El Jefe restaurant in the future.

Best Geography in a Leading Role

The Australian Outback, for Tracks

Based on the memoir of the same name, Tracks follows a young Australian woman, Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska), who in 1977 walked an incredible 1,700 miles alone across Australia’s western deserts with a dog and four camels. It was a Herculean task, and adapting it for film was almost as challenging. Not only did the filmmakers have to condense nine months into 112 minutes, they also had to convey Davidson’s rich interior life. In the absence of zippy dialogue, the scenery does much of the talking. Fortunately, the lingering portraits of Ayers Rock, the Flinders Ranges and Coffin Bay capture the loneliness and majesty of her journey.

Best Estate in a Supporting Role

Bletchley Park, for The Imitation Game

Codebreaker Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is something of a superhero in British history. His cracking of the Nazi Enigma code is said to have ended World War II two years early. Amazingly, his team didn’t work out of some high-tech lab; instead, the secret project took place, hidden in plain sight, at Bletchley Park, a genteel Buckinghamshire estate 50 miles northwest of London, which was also the setting for the film. The red-brick, Victorian-era mansion seems more like Downton Abbey’s neighbor than the site of one of the most important intelligence initiatives in military history, not to mention the birthplace of modern computing. To honor Turing’s tragic life—he died by cyanide poisoning in an apparent suicide after being arrested in 1952 for homosexual acts—Bletchley Park has debuted an exhibit of props, costumes and sets from the film. Elsewhere on the grounds, you’ll find galleries featuring German coding machines, a working model of the Colossus codebreaking device and touching personal items, like the plaid-clad teddy bear, Porgy, on which Turing reportedly used to practice his lectures and speeches.

Best City in a Supporting Role

Amsterdam, for The Fault in Our Stars

In this life-affirming tearjerker based on John Green’s best-selling novel, teen cancer patients Gus (Ansel Elgort) and Hazel (Shailene Woodley) head to the Netherlands to meet her favorite writer, Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe). While the meeting doesn’t exactly go as planned—spoiler alert: he’s a real jerk!—the on-location scenes do for Amsterdam what Notting Hill did for London or Sabrina did for Paris: transform the city into a pilgrimage site for hopeless romantics. In a somewhat controversial scene, Gus and Hazel share their first kiss in the attic of the Anne Frank House, after she struggles to climb the landmark’s steep, ladder-like staircases. (Exteriors were filmed in Amsterdam; interiors were recreated on a soundstage in Pittsburgh.) They then spend their first night together at the Hotel De Filosoof on leafy Vondelpark. But perhaps the film’s most iconic scene is its simplest: Hazel and Gus have a heart-to-heart on a weathered green bench overlooking a canal in front of a stately brick rowhouse at Leidsegracht 4. The scene was so popular the seat was actually bench-napped last summer. But the Amsterdam tourism board was quick to replace it, so tween fans could go and recreate the scene for themselves.

Best Supporting Tavern

The Bar in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for Gone Girl 

Whether it’s Rick’s Café Américain in Casablanca or the Park Hyatt piano bar in Lost in Translation, bars in film—as in life—have long served as backdrops for pivotal meetings, plot twists and fisticuffs. Joining the ranks of these famous watering holes is The Bar, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, featured in the David Fincher thriller Gone Girl. With wood-paneled walls, old-school brick exterior and blinking neon sign, The Bar looks as if it has hosted generations of thirsty Missourians. It’s here that Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) first reveals his marital strife over a couple of neat whiskeys. However, this classic, small-town bar actually required a bit of movie magic before it came to life. Previously, The Bar had been a restaurant, a coffee shop and another bar, though it was empty when the film’s set designers first saw it. One major makeover and a box office hit later, and The Bar is here to stay. After filming wrapped, a developer scooped up the property, and the once-fictional bar is now open for real business.

Best Nature Hike in a Supporting Role

The Pacific Crest Trail, for Wild

Based on the best-selling memoir of the same name, Wild follows Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) as she solo hikes more than 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Shattered by the death of her mother and the dissolution of her marriage,  Strayed endures heat, cold, terror and exhaustion as she treks through a landscape that shifts from desert to scrub to lush forest. While the changing scenery may seem an easy metaphor for her changing interior life, it is an effective and poetic one. Strayed’s actual trek sprawled from Mojave, California, to the Columbia River, but the movie was shot largely in Oregon, where the terrain varies from the dry scraggle of the Oregon Badlands Wilderness to the electric blue waters of Crater Lake. It’s a perfect sampler platter of the scenic and diverse West Coast—all in one easy-to-tackle trip.

Best Use of the French Riviera in a Feature Film

Magic in the Moonlight

After decades as the quintessential Big Apple director, Woody Allen hopped the pond for a string of Euro-set films—Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, To Rome with Love—that have melted away his misanthropic cynicism and re-engaged his romantic side. Last year’s Magic in the Moonlight continued the trend, bringing Emma Stone and Colin Firth to the Jazz Age French Riviera. Much as in Midnight in Paris, the seductive locales will make you feel as if you’re part of the in crowd: the walnut-paneled Le Relais Bar at Nice’s Hotel Negresco, which stands in for a Berlin cabaret; the 1860 Caves Bianchi, which was transformed into a jazz club; and the Villa Eilenroc in Cap d’Antibes, a grand chateau that plays host to Gatsby-esque party scenes. In a particularly romantic moment, the duo ducks out of a teeming rainstorm and into the Nice Observatory (now called the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur), which includes a dome designed by Gustave Eiffel.

Best Artistic Direction in a Feature Film

J.M.W. Turner, for  Mr. Turner

Atmospheric, moody and sublime are words often used to describe the work of English painter J.M.W. Turner. But when it came to adjectives for the man himself, director Mike Leigh had little to go on for his biopic about the enigmatic artist. So, he turned to Turner’s work to supplement written accounts. In particular, the Tate Britain’s extensive collection of paintings and private sketchbooks helped with location scouting and set design. Visitors to the Tate in London may recognize works like “The Artist and his Admirers” (1827) and “Rain, Steam and Speed—The Great Western Railway” (1844), recreated in scenes filmed at Petworth House in West Sussex and Llangollen Railway in Wales, respectively.

Best Use of Landscape in a Feature Film

A Million Ways to Die in the West

Seth MacFarlane’s spoof of the spaghetti western didn’t win over many critics, but it got one thing right: a pitch-perfect Old West set. The film opens in Monument Valley, a cinematic landscape of red buttes along the Utah-Arizona border that has been featured in classic Westerns ever since John Ford shot Stagecoach here in 1939. (Ford loved it so much he shot nine more films here.) The rough-and-tumble town of Old Stump was staged at Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch, a working ranch in the foothills south of Santa Fe. You might recognize the ranch’s clapboard storefronts and wooden sidewalks from one of the more than 130 productions filmed there, such as 3:10 to Yuma, Young Guns and Lonesome Dove.

Best Architecture in a Supporting Role

St. John’s College, for The Theory of Everything

On a macro level, the Stephen Hawking biopic is about, yes, everything: time, the universe, black holes, solving life’s great mysteries. But on a mowre intimate, micro level, it’s about the profound power of love and Hawking’s decades-long relationship with now-ex-wife Jane, whom he met while both were studying at Cambridge University. Though Hawking actually studied at the more visually unassuming Trinity Hall, most location scenes were filmed at St. John’s College, which is widely considered one of the university’s most photogenic spots thanks to elaborate architectural flourishes like the New Court, a 19th-century neo-Gothic gem dubbed the Wedding Cake. The lawn in front of this building was hung with hundreds of twinkly lightbulbs for the film’s romantic 1963 May Ball scene. From here, the young lovers stroll toward the River Cam and share their first kiss on Cambridge’s second-oldest bridge, the Wren (or Kitchen) Bridge. Less picturesque, though no less important to Hawking’s life story, is the Cavendish Laboratory, which plays itself in the film. It was in these hallowed halls that the atom was first split, in 1932, so when Hawking is given a key to the lab, it’s seen as an almost spiritual rite of passage for the young scientist.

Best Fairy Tale Views in a Feature Film

Into the Woods

In recent years, musicals like Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Les Misérables have proved that fiercely loved Broadway productions can successfully make the leap from stage to screen without provoking the ire of diehard theater fans. The latest to join the big-screen fold is Into the Woods, which blends various Grimm’s fairy tales with Stephen Sondheim–penned musical numbers sung by the likes of Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep. What sets Into the Woods apart from peers like Les Mis and Sweeney Todd—which relied heavily on movie sets and special effects to recreate 19th-century France and Victorian London—is that many of its fairy-tale locations are real. The film’s twisted oaks came from Virginia Water in Surrey, its quaint medieval cottages from Hambleden, and its picturesque medieval castle is actually Dover Castle in Kent.

Best Use of Location in a Musical

Begin Again

You might expect a movie about recording an album to be confined to a sterile studio or, worse yet, a grungy garage. But Irish director John Carney loves urban life too much to stay indoors. In his 2006 musical Once, he sent his singing stars out into the squares and pubs of Dublin, which only enhanced the film’s tone of melancholy sweetness. For his New York–set follow-up, Begin Again, Carney once again finds a reason to hit the streets. The conceit? Down-on-his-luck producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) and folksy British songwriter Gretta (Keira Knightley) team up to record an album with the help of local musicians on location at spots across Manhattan: a midtown rooftop with a view of the Empire State Building, Washington Square Park and even the Broad Street subway station. Perhaps most iconic of all, they head to Central Park, where Gretta strums her guitar in a rowboat on the Lake and near the angel-topped fountain at Bethesda Terrace—a location cinema buffs will recognize from other movie musicals such as Godspell, The Producers and Enchanted.

Best Performance by a State Park

Big Bend Ranch,  for Boyhood

Filmed over a span of 12 years, director Richard Linklater’s epic-yet-intimate coming-of-age tale is not only a journey through time but also a journey through his home state of Texas. The Houston native has been setting movies here since 1991’s Slacker and 1993’s Dazed and Confused, and his latest brings young Mason Jr. (newcomer Ellar Coltrane) across the Lone Star State for a number of childhood milestones: a baseball game at Houston’s Minute Maid Park, a father-son camping trip to a swimming hole in Pedernales Falls State Park, and even a concert at Austin’s Continental Club, followed by late-night bowls of gooey queso dip. But perhaps the most epic ode to Texas comes at the film’s poignant conclusion, when Mason Jr. heads west to college at Sul Ross State University in Alpine and goes for a hike with new friends in Far West Texas’ Big Bend Ranch State Park, a wild red-rock expanse near the Mexican border. Here, the horizons widen, and you can’t help but feel the sense of optimism and opportunity that westward movement has symbolized since the days of Lewis and Clark.

Best Use of Old-World Charm in a Feature Film

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Over the course of eight films, including classics such as Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, director Wes Anderson has earned a reputation for creating detailed worlds that are curated down to the last matchbook. Immersive and fanciful, many of Anderson’s gorgeous sets are like his films—fictional. They exist temporarily, on Hollywood backlots or in private residences. However, when it came to The Grand Budapest Hotel, his murder-mystery set in a 1930s European ski resort, many of the locations are real and, fortunately for Anderson fanatics, visitable. For instance, the interior of the film’s titular hotel was created inside a 1913 department store in Görlitz (Germany’s easternmost town). The incredible stairways, elevators and atrium that appear as the hotel lobby are all original to the building. As for the Grand Budapest’s exteriors, film and travel buffs alike will recognize their architectural inspiration: the neo-Baroque Grandhotel Pupp, in the scenic Czech Republic spa town Karlovy Vary, which also appeared as the Hotel Splendide in the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale. And, speaking of royalty, no European Wes Anderson tour would be complete without a visit to the Pfunds Molkerei creamery in Dresden, historical hub of power for Saxon princes and kings. The sweetshop, which features interiors as ornate as its confections, serves as Mendl’s bakery in the movie.

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