The awesome new local documentary The Ground We Won (now in cinemas!) has many memorable aspects, the top three being the drinking, the boozing, and the alcohol.
The film gets more mileage out of drinking scenes that perhaps any other in recent memory that isn't Beerfest. Unlike Beerfest, it actually makes for compelling cinema in The Ground We Won.
It's not simple blokes-ploitation however - although often hilarious, much of what occurs can be as troubling as it is entertaining. In many ways, some not necessarily literal, it feels like the first honest portrayal of drinking in this country since Once Were Warriors.
Anyway, it got me thinking about the most memorable scenes of drunkenness in films. Although The Ground We Won obviously has the advantage of being a documentary, it highlighted for me how inauthentic most drunk scenes in movies tend to be. Once Were Warriors being a notable exception of course.
The vast majority of movies that feature drinking simply ignore the effects of doing so (call it the 'Cheers' effect), and those that don't often show how even the most seasoned actors are unable to play 'drunk' with any authenticity.
Cinema history is filled with drunk people of all kinds, but they almost never ever seem actually drunk in any kind of remotely believable way - this includes popular depictions like Animal House, Old School and The World's End. Heck, even Flight. It's an aspect of the fictional world movies present that we've kind of come to accept. Call it the 'Arthur' effect.
So what are the exceptions?
It seems pertinent to firstly acknowledge the best examples of films that qualify as being 'about' drunks, a proud Hollywood tradition that goes all the back to comedies of the legendarily-soused W.C. Fields and classic melodramas like the 1945 Best Picture Oscar winner The Lost Weekend.
I recently delved into some of Fields' films, and as entertaining as they are from a comedy history perspective, the notions of drunkenness that Fields plays with bear little connection to contemporary drunk tropes.
The modern-day standard for this sort of thing is of course Bruce Robinson's 1987 classic black comedy Withnail & I, in which Richard E. Grant brought a sullen authenticity to his portrayal of a desperate alcoholic actor, a performance rendered all the more impressive for Grant being highly allergic to alcohol in real-life, and completely unable to ingest it.
The same year saw the release of the film that many people believe contained Mickey Rourke's best ever performance, Barfly, in which he played a mildly fictionalised version of one of contemporary literature's most famous drunks, Charles Bukowski.
Steve Buscemi offered up a slightly mellower riff on a similar setting in his 1996 directorial debut Trees Lounge, in which he played a starkly believable drunk. That's a film well-worth seeking out.
Nicolas Cage won a Best Actor Oscar for his drunken wallowing in 1995's Leaving Las Vegas, very much a '90s take on The Lost Weekend, which also gained its lead actor (Ray Milland) an Academy Award. It's been a while since I revisited Cage's memorably downbeat performance, but I recall it reeking somewhat of "Hollywood" drunk, again recalling Milland.
Both men are great actors who give great performances in their respective films, but they are inhibited by the mild formality that seems inherent to movie drunkenness. Few films have been derailed by this, but it makes it a particular treat when a drunk performance hints at the undefinable "qualtities" that all (most) Kiwis recognise as pointing to having had a couple too many. Is that bad?
Anyway, many of these "treats" are isolated scenes in movies about characters who are mostly sober. My all-time favourite example of this is the opening scene of the 1967 Cool Hand Luke, in which a drunken Paul Newman methodically removes the tops of several parking meters on a deserted street, which results in the incareration that makes up the film.
It's the conviction in Newman's body language that really sells his drunkenness - he's determined in the way only a drunk person can be. The film's most famous scene (the egg-eating context) provides an interesting counterpart to the opening - never have the effects of eating 50 boiled eggs been so convincingly portrayed on camera.
The recent Irish sci-fi comedy Grabbers ultimately failed to fully exploit its killer premise (aliens who can't kill you when you're drunk), with the notable exception of co-star Russell Tovey's turn as the most jelly-legged drunk of all-time. It's over the top in a way that seems strangely believable.
There's a great section about halfway through Jon Favreau's underrated comedy Made when he and Vince Vaughan party all night then have to front up for mob-related duties early in the morning, having had zero sleep. They are highly convincing as half-drunk/mostly hungover skeeze-bags.
Speaking of which, we don't see much of the actual drunken shenanigans in The Hangover movies (aside from in photos during the credits), but to pile on the widely-held perception that the sequels demonstrated no creativity whatsoever, I always thought it was narrow-minded how the follow-ups fixated on the notion that a hangover must entail memory loss if it is to drive a movie. There are all sorts of other bad/funny things that can happen when you're drunk enough to have a hangover. I've heard.
Here are some other films that feature convincing portrayals of drunkenness: Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood), The Bad News Bears (Walter Matthau and Billy Bob Thornton), Boyhood (Marco Perella, the first drunken stepdad), Bad Santa (Billy Bob Thornton), Crazy Heart (Jeff Bridges). Every movie Dean Martin ever made (Dean Martin).
• What's your favourite drunk performance/scene/movie? Seen The Ground We Won? Comment Below!