Over the course of the years, I’ve converted my lair/lounge/superfortress into an Eden of boozing and film-watching. Regardless of whose fault it is, mine or Hollywood’s, I’ve also come to enjoy fewer and fewer new film releases each year. As a result, like a neighborhood golfer who plays the same handful of courses over and over, I tend toward repeat viewings of many of my favorite films, whether to write a column or just to kick back and zone for a few hours.
Of course, rare is the time I’m not imbibing for such occasions, to the extent that I now associate certain cocktails or even specific wine vintages with particular movies. When you spend half the weekend sprawled on the divan with a tumbler in your hand and a swizzle stick poking out of your navel like the booze patrol just claimed your abdomen in the name of the liquor fairy, you have plenty of time to contemplate such things.
Herewith, a list of five great films and the cocktails that go with:
1. The Big Lebowski — White Russian
No big surprise here — The Dude spends much of the movie with a “Got Milk?” style moustache, and there are even Lebowski watch parties where White Russians are the featured attraction. The White Russian is easy to make provided you have the ingredients: two parts vodka, one part kahlúa, one part cream, mix and stir over ice. Milk may be substituted, but the drink certainly loses something without the distinctive creamy texture. I don’t keep kahlúa in the house (or cream for that matter), but I’ll occasionally buy a small bottle if I’m planning to introduce someone to the film. The overall effect of the movie is heightened with the appropriate beverage; much like the film itself, the slow-building potency of the core ingredient rides on the cloud-like platform of the soft, fluffy surroundings, for a Zen whole that is far more than the sum of its parts.
2. To Catch a Thief — dry gin martini (“gin” being redundant; there is no other kind of martini)
The most superficial of Hitchcock films also happens to be one of the most enjoyable, combining the intense, mysterious style of the Master of Suspense with the sunny humor and pacing of a 1950’s caper, complete with tuxedo-and-ball-gown archetypes Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, both in their absolute, face-of-god primes. The Cat, Grant’s iconic jewel thief, hobnobs with Kelly’s pouty, flirty heiress at a European resort, setting the stage for hijinks aplenty. While the Vesper belongs to Daniel Craig’s James Bond (along with my gay, gay heart), the dry gin martini goes best with the direct yet sophisticated charm of Cary Grant. To prepare a proper gin martini, mix three shots of very good gin with just a whisper of dry vermouth. Shake with plenty of ice, pause, then shake some more and strain into a martini glass; garnish with an olive. Fantasy involving a shirtless Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in a strap-on entirely optional.
3. The Station Agent - St. Germain cocktail
This pairing is a bit counter-intuitive, given the spare, moody nature of the film, but bear with me. In addition to being a truly original movie and the introduction for most people to the amazing Peter Dinklage, The Station Agent was a milestone in the career of Official Boozehound Super-Ultra-Mega-Crush Patricia Clarkson. Clarkson has never really been asked to carry a feature film; even at this stage of her career she frequently appears in thankless bit roles such as the restaurant owner in No Reservations. In The Station Agent, however, Clarkson enjoys about as much screen time as she’s ever had, and there probably isn’t another film out there that makes me feel as good.
Why the St. Germain cocktail? Because it embodies Patricia Clarkson: an overflowing shot of St. Germain liqueur in a champagne flute, topped with cold brut champagne. The fulsome, floral honey of the St. Germain represents Clarkson’s sweet, soothing voice and golden hair; it blends perfectly with the effervescent promise of the brut, representing her sparkling eyes and knowing smile. I recommend priming the flute rim with a cut strawberry as a garnish.
I think you know what the strawberry represents.
4. Cinderella Man — the B-2
I’m not sure what it is, exactly, beyond my habitual fetishization of Russell Crowe. Master & Commander, American Gangster, L.A. Confidential … I’ve watched each of them over and over. I want to drink whiskey, slam shot glasses on plank tables, and chat up bar maids with this man. Cinderella Man in particular strikes a chord, the true story of “Gentleman” Jim Braddock, a 1930s boxer whose ascendance as a heavyweight champion was harshly derailed by an injury during the Great Depression. Crowe was born for this role, and Braddock’s desperate, hardscrabble comeback makes a great story on its own, but all the mo’ betta’ punctuated with an other-worldly turn by Paul Giamatti as his plucky, googly-eyed manager (“You trying to punch ‘im or pork ‘im?”). This is an Insomniac Theater favorite, though there’s invariably the risk of the missus standing at the top of the stairs, calling down, “Are you crying again?” [Wipes nose on sleeve] “No!”
Equal parts Bushmills Irish whiskey and Bailey’s Irish Cream, stirred well over ice, the B-2 is as hard as Braddock’s steel-plated right hand and as soft as his squinty-eyed love for his children. If you want to see the Boozehound sob like a band geek on prom night, make sure to be around when Braddock gets knocked woozy during a match and flashes on the memory of his homeless family standing hungry in the street. Gentleman Jim gets to his feet and grins at the paltry beating offered by his well-fed adversary, then proceeds to get medieval with a motherfucker. Drink a toast to the man who went back to the relief office once times were good, paying back the money the government had given him when he was out of work.
5. Out of Sight — neat bourbon, water back
Like the intoxicating whisper of soft umber lace sliding over Karen Sisco’s tawny culo, the sweet fire of good neat bourbon makes the best accompaniment for one of the most sensual scenes in cinema, as escaped bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney) finally comes to grips with the sultry F.B.I. agent. The intercut of Clooney’s approach in a swanky hotel bar with their slow disrobing upstairs merits its own class at film school. During Out of Sight’s luscious seduction, director Steven Soderbergh employs a grainy freeze-frame to emphasize the stopped-time nature of this fox-and-hound romance. Instead of beating the gimmick to death, Soderbergh spaces out three split-second stills — just enough to catch the eye and elicit a sighing “did that really just happen?” I admire Jennifer Lopez’s impressive performance in this film and despair over the subsequent squandering of her talent. Her transgressions are as irrelevant as Carrot Top, however, and Out of Sight remains one of the best modern films noir.
Ted Boynton is a dedicated sot who plans to leave his barstool to stalk Whit Stillman, now that someone has found Whit Stillman. Ted also manages to hold down a job and a wife, three hours each per day, whether they need it or not. Readers may scold, hector, admonish or taunt Ted by e-mailing him at [email protected]