‘The Legend of Drunken Master’
In what may be the mother of all don’t-try-this-at-home-kids movie plots, “Drunken Master” stars Jackie Chan as Wong Fei-hung, an unstoppable fighter … as long as he gets really drunk first. Fei-hung, you see, is a master of a style called “drunken boxing,” a form of martial arts whose unpredictability and flexibility relies upon its practitioners being three sheets to the wind. And so, like Popeye gobbling down spinach before mixing it up with Bluto, Chan has to guzzle down whatever booze is handy (in one case, industrial alcohol at a factory) to get schnockered enough to effectively beat the crap out of his foes. This one ranks as one of Chan’s very best movies, back in the days when he was still able to perform all his own stunts. His acrobatic agility will leave you breathless. Just like a dry martini.
The movie that made it suddenly unfashionable to order “f--king Merlot” in restaurants stars Paul Giamatti (giving a performance foolishly ignored by the Oscars) as a emotionally shut-down oenophile who finds love with waitress/grad student Virginia Madsen while traveling to California wine country on a last bachelor fling with Thomas Haden Church, who’s about to be married. (Not that Church lets his impending nuptials get in the way of a fling with Sandra Oh, who delivers one of the best woman-scorned beat-downs in the history of cinema.) While the male characters are flawed in one way or another, the movie’s gorgeous cinematography made audiences flock to the Santa Ynez Valley and boosted the whole vineyard-vacation industry. Fun fact: The tacky and touristy winery they visit is called Frass Canyon; “frass” is a fancier name for insect droppings.
‘The Thin Man’
When heiress Nora Charles meets her retired-detective husband Nick at a bar, learns he’s on his sixth martini, then instructs the bartender, “All right, will you bring me five more martinis, Leo? Line them right up here,” you know you’re seeing booze’s most glamorous big-screen moment. As played by William Powell and Myrna Loy, Nick and Nora Charles created a genre unto themselves, playing wisecracking millionaires who solve murders for fun in between bouts of heavy cocktail consumption. From Nick complaining that a criminal case is “putting me way behind in my drinking” to his instructions that a Manhattan gets shaken in fox-trot time while martinis get a waltz rhythm, you may never see such lovable imbibers in an American movie. Even their hangovers are gorgeous.
There’s an interesting subset of beer movies — from the slob comedy perfection of “Animal House” to the esoteric “The Saddest Music in the World,” which features Isabella Rossellini sporting a pair of lager-filled glass legs — but I’ve always had a soft spot for Bob and Doug McKenzie. Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas took their goofy “SCTV” characters to the big screen with this unhinged comedy-adventure about a megalomaniac (Max von Sydow!) who uses the Elsinore Brewery as his base of operations to take over the world. Little does he realize that the McKenzie brothers will ruin his plan — provided they can stay sober and focused, which is next to impossible now that they’re working in the brewery. It’s a hilarious but exceedingly silly movie that goes down well with some frosty cold ones.
‘Leaving Las Vegas’
There have been any number of cautionary tales about the demon rum, from “The Lost Weekend” to “Days of Wine and Roses” to “Barfly,” but this one packs a real punch, thanks to the unsentimental direction by Mike Figgis and the intense lead performances by Elisabeth Shue and Nicolas Cage (before he went down the rabbit hole to Jerry Bruckheimer-land). Cage stars as a washed-up studio exec who goes to Sin City to essentially drink himself to death. Shue’s prostitute character takes care of him, knowing that there is nothing she can do to stop him from fulfilling his destiny. It’s a brutal and uncompromising movie — and the fact that I really wanted a drink afterward says more about its emotional strength than about it endorsing alcohol consumption in any way.