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Drink Up: 5 Movies About Alcoholism

by Simon Abrams
November 1, 2012 11:00 AM
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Leaving Las Vegas

Leaving Las Vegas
While it’s tempting to compare “Leaving Las Vegas” to “The Lost Weekend” (see below), the key difference between Billy Wilder’s wrenching drama about alcoholism and Mike Figgis’ darkly romantic neo-noir is that there’s no hope of recovery for the latter film’s lead protagonist. Washed-up screenwriter Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage) goes to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. And in spite of her best efforts, Sera (Elisabeth Shue), a lonely prostitute that’s instantly attracted to him, yet can’t steer Ben clear of his suicidal impulses. Worse still, Ben doesn’t have the luxury of being surrounded by a community of friends or loved ones. There’s no kindly bartenders here, nor any magically redemptive qualities to Sera’s love. All that’s left for Ben at this point is a grinding and inevitably fatal binge. Figgis refuses to pity Ben: he’s pathetic and often slovenly but he’s also not without a certain three-sheets-to-the-wind kind of charm. Likewise, it’s to Figgis’ great credit that Sera’s character arc isn’t contrived. Even when Sera hits rock bottom hard, the new low that her own powerlessness brings her to never seems gratuitous within the context of the story that's being told. And when the film ends, Ben leaves Sera to hit a new low all by herself.

“The Lost Weekend”

The Lost Weekend
Billy Wilder's “The Lost Weekend” is basically a horror film about a washed-up writer whose addiction has taken over his life. The film begins with a long crane shot that initially surveys the buildings on a city block and then hones in on a bottle of whiskey that Ray Milland's haunted Don Birnam has secreted in case of such an emergency. Don's brother Wick (Phillip Terry) and his girlfriend Helen (Jane Wyman) want to take him away from the city for the weekend to help him sober up, but Don is already doing everything short of cartwheels to get that bottle of Rye back. Don's fears of being alone and desperately in need of a drink in a city full of people that pity him are well-founded. Once he's pushed Wick and Helen away, Don stumbles around the city alone in search for money enough to buy his next drink. The universe seems to conspire against Don, an alcoholic that's always perilously close to hitting rock bottom but never quite makes it, until he's made to see that he's never really been alone or without resources. Miklos Rozsa's theremin-heavy score compliments nightmarish scenes like when a bat devours a rat hiding in Don's apartment, or when Don stumbles around looking for a pawn shop but finds they're all closed for Yom Kippur. “Lost Weekend” is potent nightmare fuel, right up until its sobering finale.

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  • Mxmx | November 14, 2012 5:20 AMReply

    I recently watched trees lounge, buscemis debut as a director. Man He drinks A LOT in it. The movie is also very good and worth checking out

  • jimmiescoffee | November 5, 2012 8:32 PMReply

    i remember hating 'Factotum' for some reason when i saw it in theater.....'LLV' for the win

  • Chris | November 2, 2012 8:58 PMReply

    Great pick with Factotum its probably the best Bukowski adaptation, and oh that ending is just perfect.

  • Rooty | November 1, 2012 3:11 PMReply

    *Homes* in, not "hones."

  • cirkusfolk | November 1, 2012 1:13 PMReply

    I half expected to find the film Clean and Sober on this list featuring a very underrated Michael Keaton.

  • sp | November 1, 2012 5:55 PM

    Yes, Clean and Sober is good, and yes, Michael Keaton gives an unforgettable performance.

  • sp | November 1, 2012 12:30 PMReply

    I absolutely adore “Barfly.” This film is an underrated classic. This film and the brilliant performances of Mickey Rourke & Faye Dunaway deserved Oscar nominations. Criterion needs to release a special edition of this film.

  • Billyboy | November 1, 2012 11:56 AMReply

    I would add Cassavetes' Opening Night. A great underrated performance by Rowlands where she is pretty much on a psychological descent and alcohol plays a substantial role...

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