Film Reviews

An Oenophile’s Guide To Cinema Of Vintages Long Since Past

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

There are few pleasures afforded us mere mortals as unquestionably divine as a glass of vino. It’s the perfect marriage of nature and human ingenuity. Through the years, I’ve come to discover food isn’t the only item with which to pair wine. Cinema, surprisingly, also pairs well with this earthly beverage. I’ve compiled a list of my favorites for your consideration….

Return to Me (2000 vintage)

Not a film expressly about wine, although wine is consumed in it and, oddly enough, you’ll thirst for a glass while viewing. Filled with funny moments as well as downright heartfelt ones, it’ll leave you feeling cheated for never having seen it during its theatrical run; but alas, ’tis an ailment I am here to remedy. Written and directed by Bonnie Hunt (with help from fellow scribes Don Lake, Andrew Stern, and Samantha Goodman), the film stars David Duchovny and Minnie Driver as two souls drawn to each other through unfortunate circumstances – circumstances which reveal themselves early on in the story (for those of you lacking the patience of a Jedi). Also making an appearance is Carroll O’Connor as Driver’s grandfather. Older folks might remember him from his All in the Family Days, but this here is my favorite thing he’s done. Wholly lovable, as well as wise, he plays the grandfather you’ve always wanted. On a side note, after watching this film, I guarantee you that you’re gonna want to seek out an Irish-Italian restaurant – any entrepreneurs out there reading this who’d be interested in a joint venture? Rounding out the film’s cast are Robert Loggia, Bonnie Hunt, James Belushi, David Alan Grier, and Joely Richardson.

A Good Year (2006 vintage)

Based upon a novel by Peter Mayle, this adaptation was, surprisingly, directed by Ridley Scott (with a screenplay written by Marc Klein). I say “surprisingly” because Scott isn’t known for romantic comedies; and this here is quite the gem. The revelation of his aptitude for successfully tackling – and conquering – any genre he so feels the desire to sample, for our benefit nonetheless, only furthers my admiration. Another welcomed surprise was provided by the film’s star Russell Crowe who plays our main protagonist, Max Skinner – a wealthy trader who’s merely a fleeting image of the curious and loving boy he used to be. Until this release, I knew nothing of Crowe’s ability to deliver within a comedic setting, but his performance, not surprisingly, was on point. Albert Finney also stars as Crowe’s Uncle Henry. Through the combination of a well-written, brilliant script, and honed acting chops, Finney gives one hell of a memorable performance. He’s only in the film through a series of flashbacks showcasing Skinner’s childhood, but he delivers some of the best lines in any comedy I’ve seen; lines which you’ll find yourself repeating amongst your wine-loving comrades at the next dinner party. Also popping up in the film are Freddie Highmore, Marion Cotillard, Rafe Spall, Abbie Cornish, Tom Hollander, and Archie Panjabi as Skinner’s awesomely witty assistant, Gemma. The film not only provides one of my favorite go-to stories when I want to zone out with a glass of vino, but also one of my favorite soundtracks. Filled with American and French tracks from an era long since passed, it’s the CD (yes, I’m still rocking the CDs) that I most listen to when I’m behind the wheel of my trusty Civic.

Bottle Shock (2008 vintage)

Loosely based upon the historic blind tasting in Paris which, concurrently, catapulted the planet’s recognition of Napa as a viable contender in the world of wine out of the stratosphere and subverted the French as Earth’s sole proprietors of the vine. With an all-star cast (Alan Rickman, Chris Pine, Bill Pullman, Dennis Farina) and a fantastic script (also including dialogue worthy of repeat utterances), this here’s another favorite of mine that I love to have on in the background while I’m busily dissecting the complexities of my grape juice and freeing toys from their cardboard prisons.

Sideways (2004 vintage)

By now, this film has been so embedded within our cultural zeitgeist that it is about as quotable as Star Wars. I read years ago that there was to be a Japanese version of this beloved film, placing our shenanigan-engaging duo on a similar trip, only this time in Napa. It says a lot about an American film when Japan wants to remake it (the reverse tends to be the norm).

SOMM (2012 vintage)

If you’ve ever wondered about the copious amounts of blood, sweat, and tears that go into attaining the coveted title of “Master Sommelier,” then this is a must-see for you. The documentary follows four gents as they embark on the journey to become masters of their craft. It’s a fascinating look into the preparation involved and the almost super-human strength it takes to overcome the frustrations and stress inherently involved with what is potentially one of the most grueling tests a person can take. If I were to ever hold such a title, thee biggest, pretentious wine snob, I would surely become….

Me: *swirls glass* Remarkable bouquet…..with an alluring nose. Inspection of the pour reveals magnificent hues of brick red, indicative of a mature Bordeaux.

Server: It’s a Burgundy, sir.

Me: Yes, yes, a Burgundy. That’s what I meant.

Actually, let’s not kid ourselves shall we? I’m already quite there.

Well, my fellow lovers-of-the-vine, this here is my list for your viewing and pairing enjoyment. What’s taken me years to cultivate is yours for free. I hope these fine, wonderful pieces of celluloid goodness are as agreeable with your palate as they are for mine. If not, maybe your sensibilities just haven’t evolved to my level yet, in which case there is little I can do for you and your unrefined tastes. Go back to chugging Charles Shaw, or whatever Neanderthals like yourself consume on a nightly basis. Be gone! And never show your face around these parts again! Kidding. Nyuk, nyuk.

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