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Drunk Mess: 9 Great Alcoholic Movie Characters

Every group of friends has a drunk, and every family has an alcoholic. Here at Cinema Blend, we have several. That’s what happens when a company isn’t encumbered by corporate rules of conduct. From the occasional on the job scotch to nine or ten beers at the Christmas party, we make the most of the open bar policy, but even the most hardened boozehounds amongst us were floored by Paul Kemp’s binging in The Rum Diary. How the hell does anyone drink 161 miniatures? With an aggressive zeal for inebriation and a determined fortitude to lumber forward.

His ground and pound strategy might be a vicious fuck you to his own liver, but it’s also impressive in a go-hard-or-go-home Betty Ford kind of way. It’s inspired some of us to start asking for doubles. More importantly, it’s inspired more of us to argue endlessly over Google Chat and Facebook messages about why certain cinematic drunks are better than others. In the end, we couldn’t come to a consensus; so, we decided to give everyone a chance to defend his or her favorite.

Some of the members on this liquidy list are mean drunks, others are just occasionally douchey. Whether running toward the party or away from their screwed up pasts, all of them throw back the sauce often and with relish. Here are Cinema Blend’s 9 favorite movie alcoholics…


Doc From Tombstone

It’s hard not to have undying appreciation for a character that can get stone drunk and still have no problem taking all your money in poker, killing you with the fastest pistols in the west and whisper a perfect one-liner as you die. Such is the case of Doc Holliday, as played by Val Kilmer in the modern western classic Tombstone. Unlike a lot of characters on this list, Doc is also one of the few drunks in cinema history that seems to drink with purpose, as he is slowly dying from tuberculosis. Even better is the fact that he isn’t the kind of drunk that uses alcoholism to shirk his responsibilities and is, in fact, a deeply loyal friend. Despite his disease and predilection for boozing, he makes sure that he beats Wyatt Earp to the showdown with Ringo and kills him with a single quick shot to the head. Doc Holliday shows all of the classic signs of a drunk: he’s reckless, sweaty, speaks out of turn and slurs his speech. But there isn’t another character on this list that you’d want more as a close ally. What I’m trying to say is that he’s your huckleberry.


Arthur From Arthur

Dudley Moore’s portrayal of Arthur Bach in the 1981 comedy Arthur is that of a lovable drunk, as opposed to a destructive alcoholic. The heir to a fortune, Arthur is rich, single and enjoying life in New York City. He’s introduced to us as a man who has no reason to be sober. He’s chauffeured around in a fancy car, and looked after by a devoted butler, while his family pays the bills, affording him all of the booze, prostitutes and fancy living he requires. Strangely, he remains likable, despite all of that. Chalk it up to different times, but beyond how it affects his behavior, Arthur’s alcoholism isn’t really addressed as a serious issue. Drinking is just one more indulgence for him as he jokes around and lives a relatively carefree existence. But, when faced with the choice of love or money, he chooses love, preferring to be with someone who makes him happy over being rich with someone who doesn’t, which shows that beneath his playful, occasionally inebriated and in some ways childish exterior, he is a man with character.


Martha From Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

Elizabeth Taylor was one of the most beautiful and famous women in the world when she agreed to play Martha, the vicious, sexually aggressive and yes, drunken, wife of George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The fact that George is played by her equally famous real-life husband Richard Burton only adds to the intrigue as the two spend the evening scrapping at and destroying each other, all witnessed by the horrified young couple Nick and Honey. The movie is a master class of acting and crackles with the vicious dialogue that only Edward Albee could write, but Taylor's Martha is the malevolent center of it all, spilling out vitriol and endless monologues with the practiced skill of a woman who has spent years berating her husband, and an actress who has spent her life on the screen. Martha isn't exactly the kind of character you can imagine showing up at your next dinner party, but she's not far off either, the kind of woman who's the life of the party until she suddenly, violently turns ugly. Even when she's completely falling apart and sinking into her endlessly refilled cocktail, you can't take your eyes off her.


Miles From Sideways

No one ever said you had to pound back cheap beer or even the most expensive hard liquor to be a raging alcoholic. If they did, they haven't met Sideways' Miles Raymond, a man whose love for wine frequently tips over from connoisseur to large consumer. Miles, played perfectly by Paul Giamatti, is kind of a loser. Well, he's kind of a big loser. He can't get his novel published so he begrudgingly teaches English. He can't get over his ex-wife even though she's moved on to a new man. And he can't even throw his best friend a bachelor party in the Napa Valley without stealing a few dollars from mom's sock drawer on the way. It's fair to say that Miles drinks too much to drown out his rejection and failure, but since those occur to him so frequently, it makes for quite a lot of consumption. This culminates in a scene where a vineyard server refuses to top off his glass so instead Miles grabs the spit bucket and dumps the entire concoction of varied wines and saliva into his gaping mouth, down his lapping lips and, well, all over him. A sad sight for such a smart, if pretentious, man... but he still won't drink any fucking Merlot!


Alan From My Favorite Year

Hollywood has given us countless variations on the drunk, W.C. Fields and Dudley Moore were social. John Belushi was sloppy. Nic Cage was belligerent and downright destructive. But Peter O’Toole managed to be all of the above while playing fading matinee idol Alan Swann in Richard Benjamin’s My Favorite Year. Ostensibly, it’s the story of a young comedy writer (Mark Linn-Baker) trying to keep his hero on a wobbly pedestal of admiration. But the film quickly becomes a showcase for O’Toole’s loopy, drunken charms. For Swann, alcohol is the solution to (and cause of) life’s problems … though the liquid courage allows him to get away with some spectacular one-liners from Dennis Palumbo and Norman Steinberg’s script. When told the restroom he has entered is for women, O’Toole responds, “So is *this*, ma'am, but every now and then I have to run a little water through it.” Hollywood legend says O’Toole’s character was based on Errol Flynn. Like Cage, O’Toole was nominated for the Academy Award for his drunken antics, proving that one way to stand tall while walking the red carpet at Hollywood’s prestigious awards show is to play a fall-down drunk on screen.


Miss Hannigan From Annie

Carol Burnett’s rendition of Miss Hannigan in the 1982 version of Annie is an exaggeration of a woman who, in her heart, has simple desires. She would like a man to nibble on her ear, she would love nothing more than to stomp on little girls’ freckles, and she would give up all the bathtub gin in the world if prohibition were to end. In the meantime, she is content to concoct noxious liquor in a crusty, crumbling tub and wear lingerie as day-drunk loungewear. It could have all continued this way indefinitely but that dratted orphan Annie and that stand-up, yummy Daddy Warbucks came into play. But the real catalyst eventually leading to Miss Hannigan’s downfall is her brother, Rooster, who schemes to scam Warbucks for a bit of cash. Suddenly Miss Hannigan sees farther ahead than the next interlude with the laundry man. She can’t trip her way through physical comedy routines and drink her way through romantic radio programs. She needs to function enough to see through her brother’s scam. In John Huston’s film, Carol Burnett ends a changed woman. Yet, the moment she dials it down, it’s over for Miss Hannigan. A truly good drunken character only works when she is good and drunk.


Jimmy From A League Of Their Own

The only thing Jimmy Dugan hit harder than a baseball was the bottle. The drinking caused the one-time star to wreck his knees falling out of a hotel window... from a fire he started. Hell, they're so bad he can't even fight in WWII. With all the able-bodied men going overseas, the US does something unthinkable - they let girls play baseball. In an equally desperate move, the league enlists former slugger, future hall of famer and present fall-down drunk Dugan to coach. In the role, Tom Hanks delivers one of my favorite performances. At first, he just shows up pissed, taking long pisses and then sitting in the corner scratching his balls. Sorry, smiling, waving his little hat around and signing balls for children ("avoid the clap, Jimmy Dugan") but when it comes to the games, well, he's not a ball coach because he doesn't have ball players, he's got girls. Of course, he slowly gets into the games and weans off the sauce, both largely thanks to Geena Davis' Dottie. I always loved the moment on the bus when she convinces him to put down the flask and pick up a bottle of coke. It almost brings a tear to my eye but as we all know, there's no crying in baseball.


Willie From Bad Santa

With the amount of boozing that Willie from Bad Santa does, you’d think that he would eventually learn how to control himself, but that just isn’t his way. Instead, Willie’s style is to drink until he’s either ready to pass out or wet himself. While most confidence men partaking in a long con are portrayed as slick fast-talkers, what makes Billy Bob Thornton’s character so brilliant is that he’s the antithesis of that, yet manages to succeed despite himself. He can curse at children, talk to store managers about his “fuck stick” and illegally live in a stranger’s house, yet somehow everything seems to always go his way – and that’s what makes it funny. In any other circumstance Willie would be seen as a tragic figure. He seems to have at least some desire to quit his drunken ways, he has people in his life that actually care about him and he is actually fairly skilled, but he can’t help stepping on his own feet. What makes it work is that Willie destroys every inkling of sympathy you can muster for him by constantly acting like a belligerent asshole. He’s a character that you absolutely love to hate and when he wins out at the end it only makes it that much better.


Ben From Leaving Las Vegas

With all due respect to everyone else on this mess of a list, they’re fucking amateurs compared to Ben Sanderson, a trainwreck with the stated goal of killing himself via alcohol. By the time we meet him, he’s already chosen liquor over his family, friends and career. By the time he leaves us, he’ll have chosen liquor over a woman who loves him unconditionally, food and life itself. Along the way, you think maybe, just maybe, he’ll find something better than chugging straight from the bottle, but his priorities hierarchy is already etched in stone. If he was offered a chance to start over, to once again be the social drunk, life of the party screenwriter with admirers and a doting wife, it’s highly debatable whether he’d even take it. That, my friends, is an alcoholic.

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