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411 Movies Top 5 10.25.13: Top 5 Drug Movies
Posted by Shawn S. Lealos on 10.25.2013

Welcome to Week 387 of the Movie Zone Top 5. My name is Shawn S. Lealos and you have entered my world.

The 411mania writers were given the following instructions: With Ridley Scott's "The Counselor" coming out this week, let's talk drugs. This week, let's count down our Top 5 "Drug Movies." These can be drug comedies (Cheech and Chong), movies about drugs in general (Traffic), or movies where drugs are a main plot device (True Romance).


Bryan Kristopowitz

Honorable Mentions: Dredd (2012), The Big Lebowski (1998), Robocop 2 (1990), Lethal Weapon (1987)

5. John Dies at the End (2012)

Director Don Coscarelli's latest movie is one of the strangest movies you're likely to ever see. Essentially, it's about people using a new drug called "soy sauce" that, when used "properly," allows the user to experience other dimensions (it could also be space or some version of it). And that's what we see happen with Chase Williamson's Dave, the flick's protagonist (a bit of a spoiler here with the character named John, played by Rob Mayes, who doesn't die at the end), a sort of professional exorcist who fights demons for a living. He takes some Soy Sauce and ends up going through some weird ass stuff, stuff that makes him aware of the fact that, sometimes, a Soy Sauce user will "return" as something else. It's like an alien invasion, in a way. It's all very weird.


4. Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)

Big Chuck Bronson is back as the architect-turned-vigilante Paul Kersey, this time in Los Angeles, and he's looking to take down the two biggest drug gangs in the city, the Romero gang and the Zacharias gang. Why? Because they're drug dealing scumbags and Kersey wants revenge. Kersey's girlfriend's teen daughter died from a drug overdose, and Kersey can't allow that shit to go unanswered. Of course, Kersey is also threatened by a rich benefactor, brilliantly played by John P. Ryan, to take out the gangs or he'll hand him over to the cops (Ryan's Nathan White knows who Kersey really is). And while all of that is going on, Karen (Kay Lenz), Chuck's distraught girlfriend, who also happens to be a newspaper reporter, wants to expose the social destruction caused by drugs. It sounds like a good idea, sure, but Karen's boss at the paper isn't interested. "Everyone does drugs now" her boss claims. No one cares. Well, Chuck cares, and he's going to stop this shit before it goes any further. He's going to try to, anyway.


3. Fatal Beauty (1987)

The great Tom Holland directed this action comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sam Elliott, a movie that also features a disturbing performance by Holland's eventual Child's Play cohort Brad Dourif, as a heavily armed drug dealer who just wants to make lots and lots of money giving people what they want (a good time taking drugs). Of course, the drug in question, a super pure cocaine that kills you the first time you use it, is incredibly dangerous, but no one outside of the police seems to care. Users want this new drug and they want it now. So Goldberg's smart ass narc cop Rita Rizzoli does everything she can to take down Dourif, his partner in crime Mike Jolly (he's pretty freaky, too, especially that scene where he eats glass), and the big business mafia guy that's involved, Conrad Kroll (Harris Yulin). Elliott is Mike Marshak, Kroll's head of security, and he sort of becomes Rizzoli's partner because he likes her and isn't too keen about working for a criminal (Ruben Blades is in the movie, too, as Rizzoli's cop partner Carl Jimenez. He ends up being shot and killed). The movie ends in a wonderful mall shootout where Goldberg's wields a Winchester pump rifle and just gets to kick ass. This movie doesn't get much play on TV anymore, which is a damn shame because it still works as an action comedy. "Kevlar bitch! Smith & Wesson asshole!" Indeed.


2. Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke (1978)

All of the Cheech and Chong stoner comedies are great, so it was hard to pick just one to be on this list. I decided to pick Up in Smoke as it's the duo's first movie. Basically, Up in Smoke is a road trip movie with a very thin plot (I can't even remember what it is. Don't they have to drive a van made of pot or something across the border?). It's almost like the movie is a series of sketches that all connect because they do. It's just an excuse to make jokes and laugh. And I'm fine with that. Drugs may not be cool, but in the right context, hey, they're just fine, man. They're just fine.


1. Scarface (1983)

Brian De Palma's remake of the Howard Hawks gangster classic is a classic in and of itself. It's about a Cuban immigrant named Tony Montana, brilliantly played by Al Pacino, who gets involved in the drug business and ends up running a drug cartel. And, as we see, running a drug cartel is not all glitz and glamour and money. There's all kinds of blood and guts and murder and whatnot, and it's all gruesome and nasty because that's what the drug business is all about. I haven't seen this movie in several years, but it hasn't left my brain. I can still see all of the blood and Pacino's Montana refusing to drop to the ground because, well, he's the one who "has the power." I also remember watching it on HBO back when it first hit TV and there was an intermission. Am I the only one who remembers that?

Josh Syvertsen

Really Honorable Mentions (or it gives me physical pain to leave these of the list):
The Hangover- shitty sequels aside the first film is hilarious.
Trainspotting- I'm a Danny Boyle fan boy. Heartbreaking with some great performances.
Traffic- Did I mention physical pain leaving certain films off the list?

The List Proper

5. Easy Rider

Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, 1969. The epitome of cool. The first real counter culture road trip film. Hopper and Fonda are two bikers who smuggle a package of cocaine out of Mexico. They fence the goods and hide the proceeds in the fuel tank on one of the motorcycles. Then they take off for New Orleans, hoping to make it before Mardi Gras begins. On their way they pick up Nicholson, and a couple of Karen Black and Toni Basil (yeah, the "Hey Mickey" chic). The film highlights the casual drug counter culture. No one here has a real drug dependency (unless you count Nicholsons alcoholism). There aren't any real consequences to using drugs - other than having a good time. Instead the drugs stand as a parallel to America losing it's freedom. The success of the film, produced independently of the "Hollywood System," helped usher in a new phase in film making where small cheaper films could be self produced and still be highly profitable.

4. Less Than Zero

1987's Less Than Zero isn't the best film about cocaine addiction, hell it's not even my favorite Brett Easton Ellis adaptation (American Psycho - thank you), but it's pretty damn close. If your thinking picking up a coke habit would be cool. Take an hour watch this film. It's heartbreaking (a term I will use a lot unfortunately.) Andrew McCarthy is college freshman who returns on summer break hoping to rekindle things with his girlfriend, Jami Gertz. Meanwhile his best friend played by Robert Downey Jr, in a self fulfilling prophecy I guess is well into full fledged addiction. Downey owes James Spader 50,000 dollars and is forced into male prostitution to pay back his debt. And that's the happy part of the film. A former high school professor once told me "The problem with drugs is that drugs work." And when they do...

3. True Romance

The film that introduced the world the quick witted prose of Quentin Tarentino. Christian Slater meets and falls in love with prostitute Patricia Arquette. They marry, something her pimp is not too happy about. Egged on by the ghost of Elvis, Slater kills the pimp and steals a brief case full of cocaine. They head off to Los Angeles to sell the drugs (maybe to same guy as in Easy Rider), but not before stopping off to visit Slaters dad, Dennis Hopper. Unbeknownst to them, mobster Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken), is hot on his trail and the drugs. They stop at his dad's house and have one of the greatest confrontations ever written. The scene between Walken and Hopper should be watched over and over again by fans of any kind of cinema. The film actually has a pretty good ending. Our heroes survive (depending on who you think are the heroes). Just a fun, fucked up terrifically acted and written film. It's interesting to look back and see that Hopper, James Gandolfini and director Tony Scott have all passed on. As have Christian Slater and Val Kilmers careers.

2. Rebound : The Legend of Earl "The Goat" Manigault"

Probably the least well known film on my list just very well may be the best. This film, made for HBO way back in 1996, well before HBO was was known for their epic quality programming, stars Don Cheadle as the title character. Manigault was a legend on the playground of NYC in the late 50's and early 60's. A contemporary of Lew Alcinder (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and Connie Hawkins, "The Goat" as he was know could have been as legendary as those players. But Manigault was an addict. Washing out of high school, then private school. Manigault found himself on the streets for the better part of his young adult life, his only concern being where he would get his next fix. Manigault eventually straightened himself out, but it was too late for his playing career. Instead he concentrated on helping those in similar situations as his. Despite his death in 1998, the GOAT tournament still lives on highlighting the best in New York City basketball. The film, directed by and co-starring Eriq LaSalle, is one of the most honest portrayals of drug addiction I have ever seen. Case in point : Earl and Diego (LaSalle) are in the police station after being arrested. Earl's grandmother comes to pick him up. He looks her in the eye, promising to get back to school next semester. he'll call the coach, get back on the team. She stares at him for what seems like an eternity before stating "Earl, that was two years ago." Heart sunk.

1. Boogie Nights

When I read this weeks topic this is the first film that popped into my head. Popped it the right word too, because everything about this film just pops. It's expertly acted, expertly directed (the tracking shot of the pool scene is my favorite shot in any film ever) and one of the best written films of all time. The film made Marky Mark a legit star - a big bright shining star. He may have gotten there anyway, but Boogie Nights, made sure he got there a lot quicker than anyone ever thought he would have. With tremendous supporting performances from everyone from Luis Guzman and Burt Reynolds to Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and William H. Macy, no other film relates the highs and the lows of drug addiction like this film. Wahlberg is Eddie Adams, bus boy at a nightclub owned by Guzman. A chance meeting with porn director Reynolds thrusts him into porn super-stardom. Adams now christened "Dirk Diggler," dives head first into the decadent drug scene of the late 70's. As his intake increases his film "performance" decreases. Eventually fired, he resorts to everything from robbery to male prostitution (again with the male prostitution) to recording the theme from Transformers:The Movie to raise money for his drug habit. But Boogie Nights is ultimately a tale of redemption. Unlike Robert Downey Jr in Less Than Zero, Diggler is able to pull himself out of his tale spin just in time to save his career and his life. And isn't that what we all want? Redemption after the fall?.

Shawn S. Lealos

5. Dazed and Confused

"Say man, you got a joint? It'd be a lot cooler if you did."

That quote alone shows the direction that Richard Linklater's slice-of-life high school movie takes. The film takes place on the last day of school and ends at a year-end party, where all the kids show up for beer, drugs and a good time. Matthew McConaughey stars as Wooderson, an older guy who still hangs out with the high school kids, and also serves as their drug connection. It is a classic comedy and one that kick-started the careers of a number of cinema's best independent talent.

4. Pineapple Express

No one should have been surprised when Seth Rogen showed up in a stoner comedy. The actor has always been a proponent for the legalization of marijuana and doesn't shy away from admitting to using it in his own life. "Pineapple Express" tells the story of Dale, a stoner who witnesses a corrupt cop execute a man. He then goes on the run with his drug dealer (James Franco), never understanding what is really going on.

3. Friday

Ice Cube stars in "Friday" as a guy who gets fired from his job on his day off, accused of doing something he says he never did. The movie then follows him and his best friend Smokey (Chris Tucker) as they try to survive in a very dangerous neighborhood, dodging danger while only wanting to be left alone to smoke some weed.

2. Up in Smoke

"Up in Smoke" is the king of the stoner comedy, starring the kings of the stoners themselves, Cheech and Chong. This movie has the pot smoking duo smuggle a van made completely of marijuana from Mexico to Los Angeles, while an incompetent law enforcement officer is on their trail. This movie turned the duo into major stars and created the sub-genre of the stoner movie.

1. True Romance

For many film geeks, the masterpiece of all Tony Scott movies is "True Romance," from a script written by Quentin Tarantino. The movie stars Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette as an outlaw couple on the run after they end up with a briefcase full of cocaine. With the DEA and the mobsters they stole it from on their tales, they head to Hollywood to try to sell the drugs to movie executives. It remains one of Tarantino's best scripts and is an instant classic.


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