Hollywood and booze have been partners in crime since the studios first started putting light to celluloid. The industry, long populated with alcoholics, was and continues to be an equal opportunity manipulator of mixed-messaging. On the one hand, there are cautionary tales of inebriation like Flight, Smashed, and The Lost Weekend, that foretell the damnation that accompanies the devil's drink. On the other hand, drunkeness has been shamelessly exploited for slapstick laughs (The Hangover, Arthur, Beerfest) and hipster expressionism (Barfly, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, etc).
In homage to the staying power and self-abuse of onscreen imbibers, from hooch guzzling detectives and cocktail-sipping spies to rotgut swilling antiheroes, here's a survey of the cinematic lush life as represented by my own highly unscientific Stages Of Film Intoxication.
STAGE 1: Euphoria (a.k.a “Buzzed”)
The Thin Man (1934)
There was a time when real he-man didn’t wield glocks and get their hair mussed. Instead, they dressed in formal wear, pickled their livers on scotch, and reluctantly solved murders. “It’s putting me way behind in my drinking,” complains Nick Charles (William Powell) to his equally soused spouse Nora (Myrna Loy). The couple (and their dog Asta) make excellent company for the holidays in this Christmas-time classic.
The Last Detail (1973)
Jack Nicholson is “Bad Ass” Buddusky, a Navy tough guy who must escort sailor Randy Quaid to Portsmouth prison. Quaid’s been sentenced to eight years for stealing $40. Nicholson decides to treat the poor sap to a weekend of getting drunk, laid, and into a character-building brawl or two. Best quote? “Fuck help, fuck fair! Fuck injustice! Don’t you ever just wanna fuckin’ whomp and stomp on someone, bite off their ear, just to do it…? I mean just to do it, just to get it out of your system?”
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Yeah, Indiana Jones has got the hat and whip and roguish charm but it's Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) who knows how to handle her hooch. Not only does she drink a 300 pound Nepalese thug under the table, she actually grabs a swig from a bullet-riddled keg in the middle of a firefight and after being captured by Nazis casually queries, “Whadda ya got to drink around here?” And if you had any doubt as to how much Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull sucked, the older more maternal Marion never even takes a sip of the sauce.
STAGE 2: Excitement (“Tipsy”)
Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Guy Ritchie provides a furiously edited night of drunken debauchery that actually manages to approximate the experience of joining a crew of chest-thumping chumps who are hell bent on getting pissed. Slow-mo, double time, and even upside down, the camera delivers a drunken montage that viscerally captures everything but the morning after hangover. Key dialogue: “I asked you to give me a refreshing drink. I wasn't expecting a fucking rainforest! You could fall in love with an orangutan in that!” “You want a pint, you go to the pub.” “I thought this was a pub!” “It's a Samoan pub.”
The Legend Of The Drunken Master (1994)
It's Jackie Chan’s best film. Downing everything from wine to cognac to industrial alcohol, the more this martial arts master gets sloshed the stronger he gets. Chan was in his prime, and his firewater-fortified fisticuffs prove that sometimes there are some damn good reasons for getting wasted.
My Favorite Year (1982)
A lightweight comedy that stars the fantastically inebriated Peter O'Toole as a cognac-chugging, past-his-prime matinee idol named Alan Swann (a mashup of legendary lushes Errol Flynn and John Barrymore). The plot is disposable but, as an addition to the halls of soused cinema fame, O'Toole brings panache to the state of being plastered.
STONE: “Mr. Swann, I think I’m going to be unwell.”
SWANN: “Stone, ladies are unwell. Gentlemen vomit.”
STAGE 3: Confusion (a.k.a. “Trashed” or “shit-faced”)
Bad Santa: The Unrated Version (2003)
If you're unfamiliar with the exploits of perpetually sozzled safe-cracker Willie T. Soke (Billie Bob Thornton) and his vertically-challenged partner in crime Marcus, you're no drinking buddy o’ mine. This hardcore antidote to holiday cheer honors the birth of the savior with 170 instances of the word fuck, 74 utterances of shit, 31 vocalizations of ass, 10 uses of bitch, and one bastard ... in a pear tree.
WILLIE: “You can’t drink worth a shit. You know that?”
MARCUS: “I weigh 92 pounds, you dick.”
Withnail And I (1987)
Richard E. Grant’s film debut is hilariously brilliant, embodying every self-serving, craven instinct you've ever observed in your favorite alcoholic. When a movie features an argument over whether a shot of lighter fluid is worse than a shot of antifreeze, you know you’re witnessing a holiday black comedy done right.
Withnail: “Right here's the plan; we go in there, and get wrecked. We eat a pork pie, then lay down a couple of Surmontil 750s. It means we'll miss out on Monday but come out smiling Tuesday morning.”
STAGE 4: Stupor (a.k.a. “Gone, Baby, Gone”)
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)
If you've seen the movie, you know the scene: The bathroom stall, the toilet filled with vomit, the floating piece of chewing gum. Ari Graynor, you may be the perfect woman.
STAGE 5 & 6: Coma and Death round out the list but those films are just plain depressing (Leaving Las Vegas, Lost Weekend, Ironweed). Let's not go there, okay?
Dishonorable Mentions Space demands that we keep this list of giggle-juiced joints short but that shouldn't stop you from seeking out the drunken misconduct in films like Steve Buscemi's Trees Lounge (best double featured with Barfly), Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (featured in last year’s Drink issue), The Big Lebowski, Sideways, Crazy Heart, and Days Of Wine And Roses. But keep in mind — there is no best movie to watch when you're drunk. But: no self-respecting drinker wants to achieve sobriety in the company of Chris Farley or Adam Sandler.