Cheers! 5 tasty wine movies to savor from home this winter
While you can't meet friends at your favorite wine bar just yet, or take off for a week in Tuscany, you can enjoy a glass of cabernet while streaming a wine-centric movie that will whisk you away to California's wine country or a vineyard in Provence.
Here's a look at five worth checking out:
On Starz and on demand.
Nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, this 2004 gem from writer-director Alexander Payne is arguably the definitive wine movie.
Thanks to stellar performances from Paul Giamatti, Sandra Oh and Supporting Actress and Actor nominees Virginia Madsen and Thomas Haden Church, "Sideways" also makes for an entertaining rom-com and buddy flick.
Giamatti stars as pinot-obsessed and merlot-despising Miles, a divorced and glum English teacher in San Diego. He takes a trip to the Santa Ynez Valley vineyards he loves with his college roommate from years ago (Haden Church), a voice-over actor and former soap opera star who seeks a last hurrah before getting married. The weeklong excursion to enjoy good food, better wine and bad golf quickly goes awry when Jack (Haden Church) diverts from the plan by enjoying a final fling with Stephanie (Oh), a winery worker.
Miles, meanwhile, battles memories of his ex-wife and anxiety over the struggle to get his novel published by downing wine by the bottle while pining for Maya (Madsen), a divorced waitress studying for a Master's degree in horticulture.
For all the acclaimed acting, including from the local ostriches, the real stars of "Sideways" are the precious grapes that bind together this motley group of wine lovers.
-- Kevin Schmit, Staff Writer
"A Walk in the Clouds"
Available on demand.
One viewing of Alfonso Arau's 1995 sensual romance "A Walk in the Clouds" might prompt you to buy up all the grapes at area grocery stores, dump them in a giant vat, doff your shoes and socks, roll up your pant legs and dance those grapes into vintage vino.
Keanu Reeves plays Paul, a lost veteran returning from World War II when he bumps into Victoria (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), a panicked unmarried woman afraid her Old World father (Giancarlo Giannini) will kill her for becoming pregnant.
Taking pity on her, Paul proposes he pretend to be her husband, meet her family, then simply "abandon" her, preserving her reputation.
This simple plot is set against the backdrop of a family-owned Napa Valley vineyard steeped in tradition, especially the annual harvesting of the grapes, sumptuously and sensually showcased in a sequence set to Maurice Jarre's scintillating score.
"It's a time of magic!" says Anthony Quinn as Don Pedro Aragon, and he could be reviewing his own movie, a lushly photographed period piece that's as much about our romance with wine as it is about the people who make it.
-- Dann Gire, film critic
This quiet family drama hit Netflix in the early weeks of the pandemic, before finding something new and refreshing to watch became as elusive as a rare vintage.
Mamoudou Athie stars as Elijah, a young Black man in Memphis who wants to be a sommelier. His mother (a terrific Niecy Nash) is supportive, but his less-than-encouraging father (Courtney B. Vance) insists that his son take over the family barbecue restaurant instead.
Still, Elijah pushes on, working two jobs, embarking on a new relationship and preparing for the outrageously difficult and fascinating master sommelier test despite the challenges life throws his way.
"Uncorked" is a warm, emotionally satisfying tale of dreams, determination, family and fine wine -- served with a little humor and a lot of heart.
-- Lisa Friedman Miner, Metro Editor
"A Good Year"
On HBO/HBO Max.
Director Ridley Scott took a vacation from movies about androids and aliens for this 2006 lark starring his "Gladiator" buddy Russell Crowe as Max, a snarky British banker who rediscovers joy when he inherits uncle Albert Finney's French vineyard -- and falls for local cafe owner Marion Cotillard.
Nothing on Scott's resume suggests a knack for down-to-earth comedy, but Archie Panjabi ("The Good Wife") and Didier Bourdon keep things light as Max's no-nonsense assistant and the property's prickly vintner. Cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd delivers the beautiful imagery that has become Scott's trademark.
The best bits of the film? Flashbacks to Finney delivering life lessons to a young Max, played by "The Good Doctor" star Freddie Highmore when he was only a few years removed from "Finding Neverland."
"A Good Year" is a good movie for a lazy Sunday afternoon; pop a cork and get comfy.
-- Sean Stangland, Widescreen columnist
On Prime Video.
In the 1970s, California wine may have boomed among patriots within the U.S., but the rest of the world saw it as a back-to-the-land hobby for the fabulously wealthy. One event changed all that.
On May 24, 1976, a cadre of French experts sniffed, slurped and spit 20 French wines with identities obscured to determine their country's best. The kicker: A selection of California wines was secreted into the lineup. When the results were called, America wins! America wins! As news careened through the world, the reputation and the sales of California wine skyrocketed.
"Bottle Shock," released in 2008, is a mediocre movie about this incredible event, but if you can ignore bad wigs, bad accents and not squeaky-clean factoids, it's a fun watch that stars Chris Pine and Alan Rickman.
I look forward to the 2021 release of "The Judgement of Paris" documentary, featuring the actual winemakers involved, as well as tasting organizer, Steven Spurrier.
-- Mary Ross, Good Wine columnist