1. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)
When Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans came out, Abel Ferrera, director of the original Bad Lieutenant starring Harvey Kietel, had some strong opinions about his film’s successor. “As far as remakes go … I wish these people die in Hell. I hope they’re all in the same streetcar and it blows up,” he reportedly said. The film’s director Werner Herzog offered to settle the dispute over a bottle of whiskey. Still, Nicholas Cage’s portrayal of an out-of-control crack-smoking rapist cop fits the actor’s famous weird energy perfectly. A scene of Cage smoking crack and hallucinating is particularly funny.
2. Blackbird (2007)
This film isn’t easy to find. There are only passing references to it online, it’s hard to get a DVD copy, no one has heard of it and there have been subsequent films with the same title. This is unfortunate because the movie, which stars Gillian Jacobs of TV’s Community, captures 1990s New York with uncommon grace. The love story between a runaway teenager and a Gulf War veteran who are both heroin users is far more subtle and believable than Sid and Nancy, a better known example of drug cinema. Blackbird conveys the grime and gloomy energy of the city and is brilliantly unpretentious about its subject matter.
3. 24 Hour Party People (2002)
Ian Curtis of Joy Division was not a heavy drug user, but his manager was. 24 Hour Party People tells the story of Tony Wilson, the recently deceased host of the UK’s Granada TV, who became Joy Division’s manager and one of the key figures in the rise of rave culture in northern England. The film chronicles the careers of several well-known acts associated with Wilson’s Factory Records, including The Happy Mondays, A Certain Ratio and of course, New Order. 24 Hour Party People is a drug tragedy, a drug comedy and a period piece. In two of the most memorable scenes, the Happy Mondays hold their tapes hostage for crack money and Tony smokes a great joint and speaks to God. Of course, God looks exactly like Tony in the film. If you had spoken to God, he would look like you. But you didn’t—Tony did!
The last film from Dog Day Afternoon director Sidney Lumet got rave reviews and features an incredible and prophetic performance by Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a successful businessman facing financial ruin due to his drug problems. Along with his brother, portrayed by Ethan Hawke, he concocts a scheme to rob his own parents’ jewelry store in the hopes that they will be reimbursed by their insurance. Needless to say, all does not go according to plan. Hoffman is extraordinary in the film and the parallels to his own final days are chilling.
This film is hardly unknown—it got good reviews and is something of a cult classic. Igby, the main character, is a pot smoker but not a problem drug user. However, he ends up living with and working for a small group of heroin users, with Amanda Peet’s character putting in a great performance as the quintessential junky-artiste who takes Igby under her wing (so to speak).