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The Ten Best Drinking Movies of our Generation

February 10, 2010

By Monsieur Anton

Just as food is an essential element in cinema, drinking on celluloid has been around since the silent film days.  Back in the day W.C. Fields became the patron saint of drunkards and proved that booze could get you a hottie like Mae West.  Throughout the golden age of Hollywood, with political correctness not yet invented, alcohol on the big screen was prevalent, even more so than now.  Movies were alcohol soaked.

The flicks being shown in the current generation, with some notable exceptions, tend to be comedies, since drunks are funny.  Also the prevailing attitude is to not glorify drinking as movies did in the old days.  What was cooler than Humphrey Bogart seducing Lauren Bacall over cocktails?  These days political action groups are doing all they could to dissuade the influence of alcohol on our culture.  While I understand that, whatever happened to moderation, or for that matter dramatic license?  Movies when done best reflect society, and despite watch dog groups, Hollywood has managed to make their fair share of drinking related movies.  I just wish they would more often use cocktails as a backdrop for serious matters, and not just adolescent drunkenness.  There is a way to address the issue responsibly.  That said, as the aforementioned Mr. Fields showed us, a funny drunk is priceless.

For movies to be included in this list, we’ll make the cutoff point 1970.  Arbitrary yes, but we have to start somewhere.  While there are probably many smaller independent or foreign movies, this list is dominated by movies that had a wider release.  Why?  Because those are the movies I’ve seen!

10) Arthur (1981) Dudley Moore is a millionaire drunk.  Is there any better kind to be?  When he falls in love with the poor Liza Minnelli, he must decide to sacrifice his fortune or pursue love.  Any guesses to which he chooses?  All involved give good performances, and Arthur is rarely seen without a drink in his hand, but Sir John Geilgud steals the show as Arthur’s butler/father figure.

9) Swingers (1996) Jon Favreau breaks up with his girlfriend in New York and decides to head to Los Angeles to pursue his career in acting.  Along with his friend played by Vince Vaughn, they become immersed in the neo-hipster underground lounge movement, and many times way over their heads.  The two losers spend pretty much the whole movie in bars trying to act cool.  A cult favorite.

8) The Hangover  (2009) A drinking movie in which you never see anybody drink, just the effects of the evening before.  The central characters can’t even remember their binge or where the guest of honor of his own bachelor party is, but through the movie, the evening’s events unfold.  Throw in a great cameo of Mike Tyson singing In the Air, and it’s apparent, a good time was had by all.

7) The Big Lebowski (1998) Jeff Bridges is spot on as “The Dude” in this Coen brothers cult favorite.  The Dude wants nothing more than to drink his omnipresent White Russian and have someone pay to clean his rug.  Of course it gets more complicated.  The White Russian is so prominent in the movie that Big Lebowski parties are held and White Russians are the evening’s refreshment.

6 ) My Favorite Year (1982) Best Peter O’Toole…movie…ever.  O’Toole plays a parody of the roles he had been starring in for years, this time as a Hollywood star in the Errol Flynn mold who is to appear on a show that is a thinly veiled version of Syd Ceasar’s Your Show of Shows.  The terror of live television and the pain of the consequences of a former love drive him to drink with touching and hilarious results. O’Toole utters one of the funniest lines ever while drunkenly urinating in the ladies room he responds to a woman telling him that “this is for ladies only,” by saying “so is this ma’am, but every now and then I have to run a little water through it.”

5) Sideways  (2004) If you ever had to pay too much for a bottle of Pinot Noir, blame it on Sideways. Wine snob Paul Giamatti takes Thomas Hayden Church to California’s wine country for his bachelor party.  Material that can come off as trite is redeemed by a wonderful performance by Giamatti.  At its core Sideways is about a common man trying to be a better man, and elevate himself through love and finer pursuits, and there is enough wine snobbery to appeal to Gusteau.

4) Barfly (1987) Charles Buckowski once wrote “If you’re losing your soul and you know it, then you’ve still got a soul left to lose.”  Fortunately, Buckowski still had enough of a soul to write the screenplay for Barfly which is pretty much the story of his life.  Mickey Rourke is in fine form as Henry Chinaski who is basically Buckowski.  Chinaski alternates between drinking in a Skid Row bar and writing wonderful prose.  Wanda, played by Faye Dunaway comes into his life, and while not as down and out financially as Hank, emotionally she is his equal.  This movie reeks of atmosphere, as Hank and Wanda are rarely seen without a drink in their hands.

3) National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) The movie that spawned countless toga parties may be one of the all time funniest flicks ever.  The guys at the delta house are there to do one thing and one thing only…drink.  Ok, two things…chase women.  The movie that made John Belushi a star is raucous fun, and may be the ultimate party movie.

2) Any James Bond Movie I’m cheating a bit here, but any list, with any rules cannot exclude the patron saint of the cocktail culture.  Perhaps one of the most often heard terms at any cocktail party is “shaken not stirred,” and while it can be trite, no words ever sounded cooler when they came out of 007’s mouth, and since the franchise continues to this day, I’m going to make an executive decision and deem James Bond eligible for the list.

1) Leaving Las Vegas (1995) This movie certainly doesn’t glorify drinking.  Nicolas Cage won an Oscar for his portrayal of a man who attempts to solve his problems by moving to Las Vegas and drinking himself to death.  His long, slow decline is interrupted only slightly when he improbably finds love with a kind, lonely hooker played by Elizabeth Shue.  A grim, dark movie, it is our generation’s answer to Billy Wilder’s 1945 classic The Lost Weekend. This movie should come with a warning not watch it when you are depressed.  The results could be disastrous.

Just to prove that the movies celebrated inebriation pre-1970, here are some old school drinking movies to look for:

The Thin Man (1934), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? (1966), Days of Wine and Roses (1962), Cat Ballou (1965), Casablanca (1942), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), My Little Chickadee (1940) and The Pharmacist (1933).

So what’s your favorite drinking movie?  Pour yourself one on the rocks and let us know.

Chef Gusteau says: My goodness Anton…you have seen a lot of movies!  Granted, as they all involve alcohol, I shouldn’t be so surprised!  Although I have only seen Arthur, Bond, and Animal House, I absolutely loved Sideways.  In between the comedy and the personal rebuilding each character had, there were some wonderful parts in which the fascination and beauty of wine are described.  Wine truly is alive in ways no other beverage can claim.  When drinking wine, you can’t help but take pause and think of the time and effort involved in creating the delicious elixir, and truly enjoy the finer, more beautiful things in life.    And to quote the movie, “It tastes so f’in good.”

Not that I cared for the movie, but I am sure some could claim that Cocktail belongs on the list.  The movie certainly spawned the habit of eager bartenders across the country throwing bottles around like lunatics in order to impress their drunken guests.   Personally I was hoping that someone would crack Cruise over the head with one of the larger bottles, but alas no such luck.   And though it kills me to suggest it, I expect that some would argue that the Sex in the City movie further influenced the presence of Cosmopolitans in many a woman’s hand.

In any case, when you are armed with a great drink in hand, any movie can be a great drinking movie.  And if the movie isn’t enjoyable, grab another drink or two.  Have a great weekend, and be sure to look for Anton at your local watering hole!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. tom permalink
    November 4, 2010 4:57 pm

    Good job with this! I would humbly add, “Withnail and I”, as my all time favorite drinking movie. Also include “Factotum” which is good if you give it a couple tries. “Fear and Loathing in LV”, with the amazing J. Depp, and Benicio Del Toro. the Magnum PI episode, “Faith and Begorrah”.

  2. DrunkenStooge permalink
    May 12, 2011 9:30 pm

    And you didn’t even bother to put any of the Broken Lizard films in this list? Club Dread, Super Troopers, Puddle Cruiser or even… Beerfest??! Not even Shaun of the dead, Hot fuzz, or the Big Nothing? What about Fear and Loathing? I would fucking think at least that would have rang a bell… Hot tub time machine?? Bad Santa? Noone even cares about these stupid piece of shit Top Ten. Dumbass.

  3. DrunkenStooge permalink
    May 12, 2011 9:32 pm

    Faggot!

  4. The Dingo permalink
    January 2, 2012 6:58 pm

    The original Harvey with James Stewart is a great movie. And a great one to drink too. Drink every time harvey is said or someone does a gesture toward him such as open a door or moves the bar stool for him

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