Unsurprisingly, the most iconic films about wine often combine exotic locations with either comedy or romance, which is timely because which of us doesn’t need a bit of escapism in the midst of Lockdown 2.0? Time to raise your glass and toast ten vino-themed movies:
Uncorked (2020) – Netflix
Insecure (HBO) showrunner Prentice Penny wrote, directed and produced the recent Netflix film Uncorked, which stars Mamoudou Athie (Black Box, 2020- Amazon Prime) as Elijah who passes on the chance to one day run the family barbecue restaurant to pursue his love of wine and become a Master Sommelier.
This being a movie, things don’t go quite as Elijah hopes. Uncorked proved a hit with many critics, gaining a 93 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The performances of Courtney B. Vance (Lovecraft Country) and Niecy Nash (When They See Us) as Elijah’s parents earned special praise.
Wine Country (2019) – Netflix
Comedian Amy Poehler’s feature directorial debut is a Bridesmaids-style comedy that follows a group of girlfriends taking a trip to Napa Valley to celebrate one of their numbers’ 50th birthday. As you can probably expect, laughs are had, tears shed, and lessons learned.
Poehler utilised her SNL contact book to assemble a strong cast that includes Maya Rudolph, Paula Pell and Tina Fey. Jason Schwartzman (Fargo season 4, Wes Anderson’s upcoming The French Dispatch) also makes an appearance, as does Poehler’s brother Greg, playing Doctor Dickswing.
Bottle Shock (2008) – Amazon Prime
Back in 1976, the Paris Wine Tasting Competition (‘The Judgement of Paris’) caused an industry wide uproar when Californian Chateau Montelena Chardonnay defeated French wine in a blind taste test.
Randall Miller uses the events surrounding the competition as inspiration for this comedy-drama which saw him work for the second time with his Nobel Son(2007) star, the late Alan Rickman.
Rickman plays real life sommelier/wine merchant Steven Spurrier (who disputed the accuracy of much of the script), who plans to save his ailing business with his idea of a blind taste-test in Paris with the aim of promoting New World and other wines.
Rickman plays another variation on his superior persona, with support from a cast which includes Bill Pullman, Eliza Dushku, and a pre-Star Trek Chris Pine. Bottle Shock passes the time amiably enough but is rather average ‘on the palate’.
A Good Year (2006) – Amazon Rent/Buy
Ridley Scott made a rare excursion into comedy-drama with this adaptation of Peter Mayle’s novel of the same name, reuniting with his Gladiator leading man Russell Crowe.
Unfortunately, much like the BBC’s A Year in Provence (1993) what was funny on the page doesn’t necessarily translate onscreen. Never one of life’s natural light comedians, a miscast Crowe plays an (initially) obnoxious City Trader who inherits his late uncle’s (Albert Finney) ailing winery in Provence. And that’s when (as they say) the fun starts.
Philippe Le Sourd’s cinematography is excellent, although it does look like Scott had perhaps been subliminally influenced by the Renault Clio ‘Papa & Nicole’ adverts from the 1990s.
Sideways (2004) – Amazon Rent/Buy
Alexander Payne’s bittersweet comedy sees Paul Giametti’s divorced, depressed, alcoholic wannabe writer Miles accompany best friend former soap actor Jack (Thomas Haden Church) on a trip to California’s Santa Ynez Valley wine country before Church’s impending nuptials.
Although tinged with melancholy, Sideways isn’t short of laughs, with Haden Church providing many of these, especially when the priapic Jack has to retrieve his wedding rings from the home of a waitress he picked up.
At Sachem Farm Aka Uncorked, Higher Love and Trade Winds (1998)
Rufus Sewell, Minnie Driver and Nigel Hawthorne are the stars of this justifiably little seen romantic comedy. Sewell is the arrogant Ross, intent on selling the valuable family wine collection in order to acquire a stake in a mining consortium. As you do.
Standing in his way is his oddball Uncle Cullen (Hawthorne). Minnie Driver was a co-producer of oft-renamed picture with Hawthorne and played Sewell’s love interest Kendal. Let’s just say it’s one for wine-themed movie completists only.
Blood & Wine (1996)
After making two classics with Jack Nicholson (Five Easy Pieces & The King of Marvin Gardens), one OK remake (The Postman Always Rings Twice) and the dire comedy Man Trouble, director Bob Rafelson’s partnership with actor returned to something resembling its old form with the Neo-Noir Blood & Wine.
Nicholson plays philandering debt-ridden wine merchant Alex Gates, who teams up with veteran safe cracker Vic (Michael Caine) to restore his fortunes by stealing a valuable diamond necklace from one of his customers.
Not a great picture, but worth a watch – marred slightly by the curious decision of both Nicholson and Caine to dye their hair (and in Caine’s case also his moustache) with what looks suspiciously like black boot polish.
A Walk in the Clouds (1995) – Amazon Rent/Buy
A wooden Keanu Reeves plays WWII veteran Paul Sutton, who returns home to San Francisco to a dissatisfied wife and a crummy job as a door-to-door chocolate salesman.
That is until he meets the pregnant out of wedlock Victoria (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) and suggests playing her newly married husband to help pacify her censorious Napa Valley vintner father Alberto (the great Giancarlo Giannini).
Anthony Quinn provides his usual side order of ham as Alberto’s granddad Don Pedro.
Some regard A Walk in the Clouds as ‘Three-hanky’ movie, but I prefer the expression ‘One-bucket’.
Readers may recall Clouds director Alfonso Arau from his roles as an actor, including The Wild Bunch (1968), El Topo (1970) and the comedy Three Amigos (1986) where he played the villainous bandit El Guapo.
The Year of the Comet (1992) – Amazon Rent/Buy
Screenwriter William Goldman had a rare flop with this romantic comedy travelogue about the hunt for a $5m bottle of Napoleonic wine – which just might contain the secret to near-eternal youth.
Goldman blamed The Year of the Comet’s lack of success on his contention that the ‘moviegoing audience today has zero interest in red wine.’
Peter Yates (Bullitt) who directed the movie, oddly enough was Goldman’s neighbour in Provence and shared his passion for the Scottish Highlands, the Riviera and red wine.
Which coincidentally all feature in the film.
The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969)
WWII comedy-drama The Secret of Santa Vittoria is the kind of movie that used to play on Sunday afternoons on BBC2 back in the day.
The wonderful location of Anticoli Corrado (near Rome), great widescreen photography and presence of actors Virna Lisi, Giancarlo Giannini (again) and Hardy Krüger make up for director Stanley Kramer’s (Judgement at Nuremberg) usual poor pacing and inability to stage comedy (see also his It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World).
And another bellowing performance from Giannini’s Walk in the Clouds co-star Antony Quinn, who plays Italo Bombolini, the town drunk who regains his smarts when appointed Mayor as the retreating Germans roll in, intent on stealing Santa Vittoria’s celebrated wine stocks – over 1 million bottles.