Putting our Roger Ebert hats on for one last time, we're up to the final movie in our over year-long discussion of the Top Five Wine films. To bring you up to date, you can read about the previous four flicks we picked here:
5. The Godfather Part II
2. A Good Year
Before we unveil our top pick, here are three vineyard/winery-themed movies that would have made the list if we had analyzed a Top Eight:
6. A Walk in the Clouds
7. French Kiss
8. Under the Tuscan Sun
Which brings up to the Number One pick:
The Notebook adores this movie. It's charming, funny, nostalgic, wonderfully acted, beautifully photographed, and probably most important, based on a true story. The movie is set in the then still young (in the New World of wine) Napa Valley in 1975, the year before California wine defeated French wine in a blind taste test known as the "Judgment of Paris."
Chris Pine, on his way to becoming a major star courtesy of the Star Trek film reboot and other Hollywood blockbusters, stars as Bo, the slacker son of a very serious man (played by Bill Pullman, who's come a long way from playing the "dumbest person on the planet" in Ruthless People), who would rather smoke pot, crank the Doobie Brothers, and drink his father's creations right from the bottle in his Napa vineyards than learn about the craft of growing grapes, creating wine, and then marketing the creations. Pullman plays Jim Barrett, the proprietor Chateau Montelena vineyards, who threw away a very lucrative job in Los Angeles as a lawyer to follow his dream in Napa. Without giving too much of the film's surprises away, the film becomes Rocky-like in its inspirational story, as Bo shapes up and ends up representing his father's wines, as well as other blossoming Napa wines, in Paris in 1976.
There are some great characters and performances in the film, especially delightful if you're familiar with these actors' previous roles: Alan "Hans Gruber" Rickman as Steven Spurrier, the British wine fanatic who decides to open a wine shop in Paris, of all places, and embarks on journey to find the new winemaking centers of the world (and ends up in Napa); the late, great Dennis Farina (he of countless FBI agent and hilarious mobster roles) as Maurice, the owner of an American tourist shop next door to Spurrier's in Paris (we love Maurice's descriptions of the wines he constantly tastes - for free - in Spurrier's shop); Freddy Rodriguez (who also appeared in A Walk in the Clouds) as Barrett's most talented winemaker, who harbors a secret; and Eliza Dushku, who as an ex vampire slayer on TV would seem a little out of place in this film, but shines in several of the film's best moments as the owner of a local Napa bar. However, Pine and Pullman really take charge of the film as the estranged Bo and Jim. When Jim Barrett reaches rock bottom, it is amazing acting from Pullman, who in addition his break in Ruthless People, has played the President of the United States several times, battled voodoo in Haiti, and worked with acclaimed director Lawrence Kasdan in several films.
The characters in the film are real. The events are authentic (albeit slightly modified to appeal to movie audiences). The film is a perfect choice for wine lovers and holiday viewing, and tasting rooms throughout the state (and country) show the film in evening screenings. Although it contains some salty language, sexual situations, and (OMG) pot smoking, compared to movies like The Hangover and your pick of Seth Rogan comedy, Bottle Shock plays like a Disney movie.
Virginia wineries have been using the events depicted in the film as a template. "California, once seen as the joke of the winemaking world, can do it....so can we!" The small town of Paris, Virginia (up the road from Delaplane where routes 50 and 17 intersect) hosted its own "Judgment of Paris" a few years ago as a tribute. If you're a wine lover (Virginia wine lover, or just a wine lover in general), buy, rent or stream this film pronto!