This Australian film stars Heath Ledger, and is adapted from Luke Davies' novel, Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction. The film's divided into three parts: Heaven, Earth, and Hell. It follows the story of a young woman who falls for an art student and becomes caught up in his heroin addiction as well. It's a fairly grueling look at what happens when addiction is an intrinsic part of a romance. I don't want to give too much of it away but let's just say we don't go from Heaven to Earth to Hell for nothing.
Trees Lounge is written, directed, and starred in by Steve Buscemi, everyone's favorite actor who looks like he was born to play hard-luck characters. The film's named for a local divebar around which the lives of the film's characters orbit. It's a slow, but ultimately despairing, look at how easily drinking can become more important than people. It's the slow burn that gives it punch. Despite its relative obscurity, it's got a strong cast—including Chloë Sevigny and Samuel L. Jackson—and was a nominee for Best First Screenplay, and Best First Feature at the 1997 Independent Spirit Awards.
Something of a cult classic, Killing Zoe stars Eric Stoltz and French ingénue (at the time, anyway) Julie Delpy. It takes place in France and ticks a lot of Francophile boxes: Bastille Day (on which the bank robbery that's the focus of the plot happens) a prostitute who's also an art student (Delpy) and so on. Needless to say, things go spectacularly wrong. This isn't an addiction film per se but it does have, as a central plot point, one character's HIV+ status (thanks to IV heroin use) and the nihilism it engenders—both for himself and those around him.
Helmed by Scottish director Gillies MacKinnon (Hideous Kinky) Pure takes a grim look at the struggles of Paul, a 10-year old boy living in London who, in the wake of his father's death, tries to hold together some semblance of a normal life in the face of his mother's heroin addiction (while taking care of his younger brother, too). Also starring (a then 22-year-old) Keira Knightley, as a pregnant heroin addict Paul befriends. A double prize winner at the Berlin International Film Festival.
The debut film from noted independent producer Tommy Oliver, 1982 is a semi-autobiographical look at the effects, in the year of the film's title, of the onset of the crack epidemic in Philadelphia. Oliver's said that the film's main female character—a crack addicted mother—was based on his own mother; and that the character of the father represents a kind of wish-fulfillment: a fantasy of the father he wishes he'd had in his own life. Highly regarded critically, it's an unpretentious, clear-eyed look at not only the effects of addiction but also the lengths someone might go to combat its effects.
This one, from director Jonas Âkerlund, was billed as a dark comedy—whether it's more dark, or comedy, is a matter of debate. Spun takes place over a three-day-period in the lives of methamphetamine users, producers, and dealers. It takes place in Eugene, Oregon, which is made up (at least in the film) mostly of trailers, motel rooms, and meth labs (one of which is inhabited by Mickey Rourke, at his corroded best as a meth cook). It avoids any noticeable moral position to the point that some have called the film "smugly amoral." Nobody would ever accuse it of harboring any illusions or offering a happy ending, but if gallows humor is your thing, Spun might be for you.
A look at what happens when bad things (booze, crack) happen to nice people—in this case, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who at the start of the film comes to her job as an elementary school teacher so hungover that she vomits in front of her class and then makes matters worse by telling everyone it's morning sickness. Her husband is an alcoholic as well, and Kate's dalliances with smoking crack don't help. (They wouldn't, would they?) Despite all this, Kate's a tough character who, though in over her head, is too stubborn to lie down and die. As always, addiction is a dark business, but here, there's some real hope as well.
Starring Billy Crudup, Jesus' Son is adapted from a collection of short stories of the same name by Denis Johnson, with a title taken from the lyrics of The Velvet Underground's song, "Heroin." The film's told as a flashback to 1971, where a young man with a bad nickname—let's just say it starts with "f" and rhymes with "duck-head"—falls almost by accident into heroin addiction, along with his girlfriend Michelle. Crudup's character struggles to emerge from under the shadow of heroin, and in doing so, finds himself in possession of unexpected gifts. Jesus' Son was a critical hit made on a shoestring budget of just $2.5 million. It went on to win two awards at Venice in 1999 and was named one of the top 10 films of '99 by a number of publications and critics. With Denis Leary, Holly Hunter, and Dennis Hopper (among others.)
As we all know, this film (starring Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb) is a nasty piece of work, about two fairly nasty people: Sid Vicious, of the Sex Pistols, and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. There's not a lot to like about them as people; they're casually cruel to everyone around them, including each other, and generally see other human beings as one thing: ways to score more drugs. Chances are you know things end badly for the duo, but what oddly keeps this one moving is that despite the main characters' unforgivable behavior, they really do seem to love each other, against all odds, which makes the inevitable conclusion of the film, and their lives, feel weirdly redeeming.
Like Sid and Nancy, this is a film that you've probably heard of, but I wanted to include it for its surprisingly honest account of addiction (at least, for a big-budget Hollywood film with a major, bankable star). Flight's main character, Whip Whitaker, played by Denzel Washington, is a hopeless addict (to cocaine and alcohol, in this case) but he also finds himself thrust into the spotlight as a hero pilot who saves an apparently doomed flight through his skill. Ironically, his act of heroism also puts his drug and drinking problems in the spotlight as well. Washington does a hell of a job portraying the character without tired stereotypes; this one's worth seeing, also, just to catch John Goodman's turn as Whitaker's coke dealer.