While drinking and even casual drug use are woven into the modern American fabric, and are common themes in popular culture, an estimated one-third of Americans don’t drink. A significant portion of the population identifies as fully clean and sober. On days when sober individuals want to watch a movie, but also want a reminder of why they choose not to drink or use drugs, they can turn to these films—which, by the way, are actually good.
1. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Arguably Nic Cage’s most compelling role and film, Leaving Las Vegas chronicles the rapid demise of Cage’s Ben Sanderson. The screenwriter flees Hollywood for Vegas, a liquor store’s worth of booze in tow.
In Sin City, Ben meets escort Sera (Elisabeth Shue), and a twisted romance unfolds amidst the neon lights and seedy motels of the Vegas Strip. An excellent soundtrack and mood-setting cinematography add to this film’s can’t-help-but-look allure.
2. Flight (2012)
A truly original film, Flight casts Denzel Washington as pilot Whip Whitaker, who we find out has a habit of flying while tipsy, if not drunk. But when Whitaker executes a miraculous maneuver to save an airplane of passengers in dire circumstances, complex questions arise as the pilot’s conduct comes under scrutiny.
Flight is an engrossing character study of really, really high-functioning alcoholism.
3. A Star Is Born (2018)
One of the rare examples where a remade film is arguably better than the original, A Star Is Born features Bradley Cooper as an addict-musician Jackson Maine. Lady Gaga’s Ally, the apple of Maine’s eye, balances her own skyrocketing career and a relationship with a spiraling partner.
4. Honey Boy (2019)
In a Rennaissance year for Shia LaBeouf, Honey Boy gave viewers a look into the seeds of LaBeouf’s well-noted personal struggles. This loose biopic in which LaBeouf plays his own rodeo clown, substance-abusing father, will tug at your heart and stick in your memory.
5. Trainspotting (1996)
Danny Boyle’s masterpiece about heroin addicts bop through Edinburgh is a rare film that combines humor with drug addiction. One of the esteemed films with an IMDb rating of greater than 8, Trainspotting does the chaotic life of a junkie justice.
6. Rocketman (2019)
Taran Egerton’s turn as Elton John in this 2019 box-office smash showed Sir Elton at high highest and lowest. Those low points include the pianist’s struggles with drugs and alcohol, which led him to get (and stay) sober for over three decades (and counting).
Rocketman is a thoroughly entertaining, visually-appealing film that shines a light on the rollercoaster life of an iconic showman.
7. Krisha (2015)
A24 purchased the low-budget Krisha after strong critical reception. The film tells the story of party gal Krisha, who shows up at the family Thanksgiving unannounced after a ten-year estrangement from her family members. Cringe ensues.
Clean and sober viewers will appreciate the awkwardness that emanates from a character trying to navigate a super-awkward social situation without intoxicating aid. But will Krisha succeed?
8. Crazy Heart (2009)
Another compelling story of the music industry’s ability to coax out a man’s demons (seeing a common theme here), Crazy Heart follows Jeff Bridges’ Bad Blake. A country star well past his prime, Blake is working the small-bar circuit when he meets Jean, a journalist who starts to coax something else out of Blake.
With cameos from Maggie Gyllenhaal and Colin Farrell, the cast alone is sufficient reason to watch Crazy Heart.
9. Beautiful Boy (2018)
Based on a true story of an author whose son slips into an addiction that makes him unrecognizable to his family, Beautiful Boy allows Steve Carell to shine in a dramatic role. Its basis in reality, means that this film presents a story that viewers with addiction in their lives will find familiar—for better or worse.
10. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Once you see Requiem for a Dream, you can’t un-see Requiem for a Dream. A surrealistic take on addiction in its many forms, Darren Aronofsky’s hellish thriller puts Jared Leto, Marlon Wayans, Jennifer Connelly, and Ellen Burstyn through a Dante’s Inferno-level descent into madness.
11. Barfly (1987)
Based on the life of legendary poet Charles Bukowski, Barfly is a portrait of a drinker. Mickey Rourke takes lead in this film that is unabashedly about booze, infusing humor while never hiding the rinse, repeat cycle that lifelong barflies live.
12. Smashed (2012)
What happens when two people who have always bonded over alcohol decide to make a change? Or, to be specific, one of them decides to make a change? Can the relationship (in this case a marriage) survive?
These are questions that Smashed strives to answer to great dramatic effect.
13. Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
Drugstore Cowboy is the drug user’s answer to The Town. Rather than robbing banks, Matt Dillon’s Bob and his gang of thieves knock over drug stores to fund their habit. A frenetic film that has a Trainspotting-like pacing, Drugstore Cowboy allows you to laugh at the madness of addiction.
14. Julia (2008)
One of the lesser-known films on this list, Julia casts Tilda Swinton in an unfamiliar role. She plays a desperate Julia, whose alcoholism has left her with increasingly few career options. When presented with a hair-brained scheme that a rational person would never consider, the viewer begins to see the depths of Julia’s desperation.
15. Walk the Line (2005)
Like Elton John, Johnny Cash proves that the pressures of the music industry, mixed with the demons that often motivate great artists, are a recipe for disaster. Walk the Line was a smash hit at the time of its release in 2005, and it’s beyond due for a re-watch.
16. Everything Must Go (2010)
Will Ferrell’s take on the plight of the drunken family man, Everything Must Go is a singularly unique film. Ferrell’s Nick Halsey loses his job, loses his wife, relapses on the sauce, and decides to stand guard of all the stuff his wife has thrown out of the house.
While it has an undeniably humorous bent, Everything Must Go ultimately delivers the get-your-stuff-together message that’s typically called for with films of this type.
17. Ironweed (1987)
Jack Nicholson plays a drunken drifter in Depression-era upstate New York. Need we say any more? See Ironweed, which remains one of the most underappreciated gems in Nicholson’s catalog.
18. The Hangover (2009)
So you’ve probably seen The Hangover already. However, for most who saw this comedy classic around its release date in 2009, The Hangover quickly became a movie you watched so many times that you’d swear you’d never watch it again. So, it might have been a minute since you watched this cautionary tale about the excesses of alcohol, so why not take it for another spin?
19. Traffic (2000)
Director Steven Soderbergh has a knack for making films that are simultaneously thrilling and heartwrenching. Traffic hits that same note, weaving several stories together to touch every angle of America’s War on Drugs. With Benicio del Toro, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and a strong supporting cast, this acclaimed film will leave you thinking.
20. Clean and Sober (1988)
Michael Keaton stars as Daryl Poynter, who enjoys cocaine, alcohol, and his life as a hotshot real estate agent. But when the facade comes crashing down, Poynter is forced to go to rehab. When Keaton’s trademark spark meets the no-nonsense persona of Morgan Freeman’s Craig, who counsels recovering addicts, this film evolves into something more than first meets the eye.
21. Half Nelson (2006)
You’re so used to seeing Ryan Gosling as the silver-tongued Mr. Suave or the brooding hero, but have you seen Ryan Gosling as a crack-addicted schoolteacher? With the indie hit Half Nelson, you can witness Gosling flex his acting range.
22. Rachel Getting Married (2008)
This 2008 movie finds Anne Hathaway as Kym, the black sheep of her family who has to skip out of rehab for a bit to attend her sister’s wedding. A reminder of how life moves on while addicts often re-experience the same hurdles repeatedly, Rachel Getting Married is directed by renowned filmmaker Jonathan Demme.
23. Once Were Warriors (1994)
One of the most renowned international films of its time, Once Were Warriors examines poverty among New Zealand’s Polynesian population. Themes of domestic violence, substance abuse, and legal troubles blend with a heartfelt sense of community and warmth to make this a unique and enduring film.
24. The Panic in Needle Park (1971)
What is it with Al Pacino doing the grittiest of gritty films in the 1970s. From Serpico to Dog Day Afternoon and The Panic in Needle Park, Pacino played some dudes in tooough situations. This heroin-tainted love story will reinforce addicts’ decision to get clean.
25. Ray (2004)
Jamie Foxx plays Ray Charles in Ray. Foxx would win the Oscar for Best Actor in a landslide, as he masterfully mimics Charles’ mannerisms, voice, and blindness. Foxx also emulates Charles’ descent into heroin addiction. The music in this movie, by the way, is pretty darn good, too.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
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