Poll Results: Best Movie About Alcoholism

Leaving Las Vegas

THE RESULTS:
– Leaving Las Vegas: 9 votes
– The Lost Weekend: 7 votes
– Bad Santa: 4 votes
– Days of Wines and Roses: 4 votes
– Flight: 4 votes
– Smashed: 2 votes
– 28 Days: 1 vote
– Julia: 1 vote

The write-ins:
– The World’s End: 2 votes (good call)
– Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle: 1 vote (gotta see this)

This poll was a fun one to keep an eye on. The last time I checked the results, the Oscar-winning The Lost Weekend had a sizable lead, but then the Nic Cage fans came roaring in. No complaints here — I saw Leaving Las Vegas for the first time this year, and it left a lasting impression on me. Also, Days of Wines and Roses has just shot up in my queue based on its performance here. Heard nothing but great things about that one.

This Week’s Poll: Let’s go back to video games this week. We’re slowly getting into the holiday season, and there are many, many big titles on the way. The fun starts next week with the release of Grand Theft Auto V (and its record-breaking $265 million budget), but it seems nearly every week there is going to be something worth playing. What TWO games are you most looking forward to this year?

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Poll Results: Favorite Grand Theft Auto Game

GTA Vice City

THE RESULTS:
– Vice City: 5 votes
– GTA III: 3 votes
– San Andreas: 3 votes
– GTA 1: 2 votes
– GTA IV: 1 vote
– Chinatown Wars: 1 vote

Once again, Tommy Vercetti is on top of the world. Vice City would get my vote as well — even though most GTA games are quite good, nothing beats the 80s Scarface-esque rise-to-fame. Hell, I still own the box set for the game’s soundtrack. Interesting to see the 2D top-down PS1 original snag a couple votes, twice as many as the massively popular GTA IV.

This Week’s Poll: This past weekend saw the release of not one, but TWO new films related to drinking: The World’s End and Drinking Buddies. While both of these take the comedic route, I opted for a more serious question this week. Pick Two: What is the best movie about alcoholism? I drew up a preliminary list of classics and modern takes alike, but please let me know if I am missing any important candidates.

Have a great week, folks!

Movie Project #7: Leaving Las Vegas [1995]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Leaving Las Vegas [1995]

Leaving Las Vegas [1995]
Director: Mike Figgis
Screenplay: Mike Figgis
Country: USA
Genre: Drama/Romance
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Elisabeth Shue, Julian Sands
Running Time: 111 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I heard this is one of the greatest films about alcoholism, a subject I have always found fascinating. I have also heard many great things about Nicolas Cage’s performance.

Accolades: Four Oscar nominations (one win for Best Actor), four Golden Globe nominations (one win for Best Actor), total of 29 wins and 19 nominations from multiple awards outlets

“I don’t know if my wife left me because of my drinking or I started drinking ’cause my wife left me.”

That one line perfectly encapsulates the life of Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage), an alcoholic screenwriter who lost control of himself long ago. After getting fired from his job, Ben decides to travel to Las Vegas to “drink himself to death.” A rather generous severance check allows him to do as he pleases in Vegas, and he continues to consume seemingly endless amounts of booze. Beer, vodka, tequila, whiskey… you name it, Ben will drink it.

Leaving Las Vegas [1995]

It is in Vegas where Ben meets another sad soul, a prostitute named Sera (Elizabeth Shue). The two of them immediately bond over their shortcomings, and both seem willing to overlook the other’s major faults. It isn’t entirely clear what draws the two of them together, other than both are incredibly lonely and desperate to find someone to care for them. Truth be told, there really isn’t a whole lot that they can do for each other. At one point, after Ben tells Sera that he cares about her, he makes a point to say, “You can never, ever, ask me to stop drinking.”

Sarah’s reply? “I know.”

And so goes this tragic tale. There is a strange affection between these two characters, even though their relationship seems doomed from the start. After all, can a hooker really help a drunk, or vice versa? Yet even though this is a bizarre couple, their relationship is completely believable.

Leaving Las Vegas [1995]

This credit completely and undeniably goes to Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue, both of whom have delivered arguably the best performances of their careers. Their chemistry is perfected to the point of absurdity, with each expertly portraying someone who has essentially hit rock bottom. There are others in the cast — such as Julian Sands as Sera’s brute of a pimp, or Ben’s old colleagues played by Richard Lewis and Steven Weber — but this is very much a two-person show. Cage won an Oscar for his performance, and I’m willing to forgive his last decade of shoddy work based simply on this alone. It’s that good.

Leaving Las Vegas was filmed on a very small budget, which paved the way for Mike Figgis to direct, write the screenplay and compose its music. He filmed most of the scenes on location with Super 16 cameras, and as a result the film has a very personal, authentic feel to it. His overtly jazzy soundtrack may be a bit too much at times, but it does fit in with the overall bleak, downtrodden nature of the movie.

As far as films about alcoholism go, this is one of the better ones I have seen. Leaving Las Vegas is painstakingly depressing, but its authentic nature hits all the right notes.

8/10

Movie Review: Flight [2012]

Flight [2012]

Flight [2012]
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Genre: Drama
Starring: Denzel Washington, Tamara Tunie, John Goodman, Kelly Reilly, Melissa Leo, Don Cheadle
Running Time: 138 minutes

Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is an alcoholic and a drug abuser. He sleeps with prostitutes, has a dysfunctional relationship with his ex-wife and son, and parties far more often than he should. He’s also a commercial airlines pilot, and a damn good one at that.

One morning, still drunk after a boozy night with a flight attendant, Whitaker snorts a few lines of cocaine and then heads to the airport, ready to pilot a flight to Atlanta. Despite some concerns from his co-pilot, Whip appears no worse for the wear as he takes control and guides the plane through some rough turbulence during takeoff. Problems arise near the end of the flight when the plane’s hydraulics give out, causing it to take a steep dive in what is certain to be a horrific crash. Only thanks to some quick thinking from Whip, in which he seems to be acting purely on instinct, does the inevitable plane crash manage to happen with minimal casualties. It’s an astonishing feat, and an impressive scene to boot.

Flight [2012]

Whip should be labeled a hero after this, right? After all, he saved nearly a hundred lives due to his swift actions, and most pilots wouldn’t even fathom trying what he did. If only it were that simple.

As they do for every aviation incident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) performs an investigation of the crash and quickly finds out that Whitaker was under the influence of alcohol and cocaine while flying the plane. Now, instead of being hailed for his heroic efforts, Whip is looking at the very serious charges of intoxicated manslaughter, as well as a huge legal case. Could Whip have acted the way he did if he hadn’t been high/drunk at the time? Would all of those lives have been saved? Ultimately, it’s a moot point.

Flight [2012]

What’s interesting is that after the crash, Whip has all sorts of people trying to help him out, yet he keeps going back to the bottle. At the hospital while recovering from his injuries, he befriends Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a woman recovering from a drug overdose. She stands as something of the opposite of Whip — someone willing to go to AA meetings and attempt to change her life. The airplane’s pilot union, represented by Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood), delivers him an attorney (Don Cheadle) to help drop the criminal charges, including all traces of the toxicology reports. With all this support, why won’t Whitaker get help?

That’s the power of addiction. Director Robert Zemeckis nails this issue with devastating effectiveness, even if he sometimes goes about it in rather obvious ways. A bit more subtlety would have been welcome, especially during one laughably on-the-nose scene where Kelly enters her apartment to shoot heroin as the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Under the Bridge” plays. Still, Whip’s descent from hero to rock bottom is masterful, undeniably aided by a stellar performance from Denzel Washington. This is Denzel’s best work in years, and he deserves the accolades he has been receiving. It’s also great to see John Goodman step in and deliver much-needed comic relief in a couple scenes as Whip’s longtime hippie friend/dealer, Harling Mays.

When Flight is brought up in conversation, most will mention Denzel’s excellent work, and perhaps the intensity of the airplane crash, but the bottom line is that this is one of the most compelling looks at addiction in recent years.

8/10

Movie Review: Everything Must Go [2010]

Everything Must Go [2010]

Everything Must Go [2010]
Director: Dan Rush
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

Will Ferrell is back in a much-welcomed dramatic role.

Everything Must Go, based on Raymond Carver’s (very) short story “Why Don’t You Dance?“, is a moving character study that gives Ferrell a chance to show off his improved dramatic chops. Ferrell plays the character of Nick Halsey, an alcoholic whose world has just crumbled all around him. After getting fired from his job for a drinking-related incident, Nick comes home to find all of his belongings scattered across the front lawn. His wife, who is nowhere to be found, has kicked him out of the house and even changed the locks on him. With nowhere else to go and nothing to do, Halsey takes up residence on his lawn.

Although he seems perfectly content to spend the foreseeable future on his front lawn while drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon, Nick’s neighbors don’t have the same idea. The police visit his house to warn him that he is breaking the law, but a friend of Nick’s on the force (and also his AA sponsor, played by Michael Pena) grants him a temporary reprieve if he agrees to have a yard sale. Facing the prospect of jail time if he doesn’t, Halsey is forced to agree.

Everything Must Go [2010]

In the midst of his life being in total disarray, Nick forges two unlikely relationships. One is with Kenny, a pudgy teenager (Christopher Jordan Wallace, aka Biggie’s son) who he teaches about sales and baseball in exchange for helping him with his yard sale. The other is with Samantha (Rebecca Hall), a lonely pregnant neighbor across the street who feels sympathy for Nick and is one of few who shows common decency toward him. In a time of need, these are the only people who are even giving him the time of day, as unlikely of “friends” as they might be.

On paper this sounds pretty depressing. And, in some instances, it is. Those expecting a typical Will Ferrell effort will be disappointed, but I believe this is his finest role yet. It is absolutely refreshing to see Ferrell play a different type of drunk — one who is subdued and functional rather than over-the-top and obnoxious. His character is a seemingly good man who has a serious addiction, and Ferrell’s performance really drives this home.

Everything Must Go [2010]

Everything Must Go focuses on the dramatic side of things, although there are hints of sly humor from time to time. The film has a bit of a slow pace that might turn off some, but I found it to be engaging throughout. This is definitely a one-man show complemented by some admirable performances from the supporting cast (including some nice bit roles from Laura Dern and Stephen Root). Hopefully this is the beginning of more similar roles from Will Ferrell; in Everything Must Go, he shows he is certainly up to the task of carrying this type of film.

7.5/10