The classic stoner movie is becoming a thing of the past. With legalization of cannabis has come a more serious celluloid take on the plant. The era of ha-ha comedies has faded significantly. This year we celebrated the 45th anniversaries of Up in Smoke and Animal House, the 30th anniversary of Dazed and Confused and the 25th anniversary of The Big Lebowski.
Cocaine made a comeback in a 2023 movies headed by a wacky one about a buzzed bear. There were several more comedies and plenty of weed and other drug use in this year's crop of stoner films. With that in mind, here are the Top Stoner Movies of 2023.
• Cocaine Bear - I'll be the first to admit I didn't see the success of Elizabeth Banks' wilderness flick coming. Then the movie barreled down the track and became a surprise hit with $64 million at the box office. It's the story of a botched cocaine smuggle turned into a bit of a joke by the writers and director. In 1985, Drew Thornton was flying over the Southeast with a large amount of cocaine when the plane faltered. He tossed out the bales and evacuated, but Thornton's parachute didn't open and he died on landing. The bales ended up in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest. That's where the bear story comes in. A bear finds the bales and starts partying; this of course gives it super strength, better to attack hikers on. It's a campy thriller with a major tongue in cheek. But, hey, bears have rights in forests too.
• May December – Todd Haynes' deep dive into the life of Gracie (Julianne Moore), a teacher who had an affair with a seventh grader she eventually married, includes a poignant pot scene between husband Joe (Charles Melton) and their son Charlie (Gabriel Chung). Elizabeth, an actress played by Natalie Portman, who's portraying Gracie in an upcoming movie, shakes up the family when she arrives. Suddenly, Joe decides to smoke with Charlie after saying no his entire life. A couple of hits have him coughing badly and he nearly falls off the roof. But it's a key father-son moment in a movie that will receive many awards season kudos.
• Paint - Loosely based on public-TV artist Bob Ross' life, Owen Wilson inhabits the role with Ross' afro and soothing voice intact. Afer Carl Nargle (Wilson) loses his job and is down in the dumps towards the end of Brit McAdams' quirky movie, he smokes some weed given to him by his barber, who says: "You need something to take the edge off. It's medical marijuana. You need some medicine. And here's some gummies in case you need a boost." At home, Carl uses his tobacco pipe to puff the pot. An ember from the bowl starts a fire. After his GF Katherine (Michaela Watkins) saves the day, she asks Carl: "What drugs did you take? " "The Big M – marijuana!" he replies. "But I feel fine."
• The Holdovers – Paul Giamatti plays a stodgy Massachusetts boarding school teacher in Alexander Payne's 1970-set film. Since he'e single, Giamatti's Paul Hunham is assigned to look after several students who have no family plans for the holidays. The group includes several stoners who pass a joint in an early scene. Teddy (Brady Hepner), who provides the weed, are quickly jettisoned, leaving the gangly Angus (Dominc Sessa) to deal with Paul. Da'Vine Joy Randolph as cook Mary adds another layer of pathos to the storyline. The movie takes off when Angus and Paul sneak out and road trip to Boston.
• You Hurt My Feelings – Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars in Nicole Holofcener's topical New York drama that features an illegal cannabis dispensary as a subplot. Beth's son Eliot (Owen Teague) works there. In one early scene at the shop, she tells him, "I'm not going to buy pot from you," and says the place looks dangerous. Mama knows best. In a later scene, two thieves rob the spot as Beth and Michael lie underneath the counter. It's a timely topic, with robberies not uncommon at unlicensed New York weed stores. Expect Louis-Dreyfus to receive numerous award noms for her role as an unhappy wife.
• Pain Hustlers – This opioids saga from David Yates steers away from the Purdue Pharma storyline and instead focuses on Insys, the company that had dancing needles in their Subsys (Fentanyl) promo campaign and has since, like Purdue, gone bankrupt. Zanna Therapeutics sales person Liza (Emily Blunt) uses her good looks and aggressive personality to persuade one doctor after another to be pawns in the company's strategy to increase drug sales and profits (docs received kickbacks). However, she grows concerned when Zanna starts encouraging docs to write "off-label scripts" for other pain issues like migraines, and eventually, predictably and heroically turns on Zanna.
• House Party – The sixth iteration of this funky franchise, directed by Calmatic, co-stars stoner buds Kevin (Jacob Latimore) and Damon (Toson Cole). Short on cash, they decide to throw a bash at LeBron James' swanky crib, which they happen to house clean. At the party, Snoop Dogg and Kid Cudi show up. As bongs and blunts are hit, the camera pans to a furry animal in a smokey haze and a partier exclaims: "Shit, we done fucked up the koala." The Kid Cudi subplot involving the Illumnati is pretty bizarre. James breaks up the party, but eventually shows mercy for Damon who pays for their crime.
• Spoiler Alert – Like Paint, at the end of Michael Showalter's gay lovers cancer story starring Jim Parsons (Michael) and Ben Aldrich (Kit), the two friends further bond over a joint provided by med patient Kit. A non-toker, Michael finally agrees to smoke a joint with Kit after joking to their therapist: "I always say the same thing: 'No thank you, Cherry Garcia.'" As they smoke, Kit comments: "Welcome to the stoners club. We've been waiting for you for a long time. Now you know how Cherry Garcia feels."
• No Hard Feelings – Despite the similar title to You Hurt My Feelings, these two movies have little in common, except for both being set in New York. In Gene Stupnitsky's film, Jennifer Lawrence plays her customary movie stoner. Maddie is down on her luck and needs a car, so she accepts an offer from a couple advertising for a woman who can coax their shy teenaged son out of his shell. Maddie accepts the job and quickly turns on the raunch. But Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) isn't interested until Maddie, who's in her 30s, hops in bed with him. In an early scene, Maddie smokes a joint at the beach in Montauk with her surfer friends. Despite an A-star in the lead, it earned $10 million less than Cocaine Bear.
• The Last Deal – This offbeat drama from Jonathan Salemi stars Anthony Molinari (Vincent) as a California grower who continues to work in the unregulated market post legalization. He makes a deal with Armenians for 200 pounds at $50 per ($100k) that falls though and leads to the death of his partner. It's a smart script with references to SAFE banking and the "essential business" tag given retail businesses during Covid. At the end, Vinny explains, "Cannabis, flower, hemp, marijuana – whatever you call it, it became the highest revenue generating agricultural crop in California, and I knew how to grow it. I'm going full circle."
• Joy Ride - One of he funniest movies of the year, Adele Lim's outrageous travel flick features a coke scene that rivals Cocaine Bear. On a train in China, Audrey (Ashley Park), Lolo (Sherry Cola), Kat (Stephanie Hsu) and Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) unwittingly share a compartment with a drug dealer. Worried about a police search, Mary (Annie Mumolo) coats them with cocaine. "You're drug dealers now, bitches!" she declares, then forces them to snort and eat the large powdery stash. An even wilder non-drug scene happens later in this high-sterical comedy.
• Spinning Gold – There's plenty of coke in this Neil Bogart music-industry biopic directed by Bogart's son, Timothy Scott Bogart. The founder of Casablanca Records signs Donna Summer, KISS and Parliament Funkadelic and then descends into a druggy haze. "I liked how it made me feel," Bogart (Jeremy Jordan) digresses. In a scene with George Clinton (Wiz Khalifa), the funkateer asks, "Why don't you take a ride with me, Neil? I need a space ship because I don't drive." In another uncomforable scene, Bogart snorts in front of his father (Jason Isaacs). It's not a pretty picture.
• Medellín – Director, writer and co-star Franck Gastambide's cartel comedy about a mix-up between "three very ordinary suburban guys" and Colombia's top illegal drug organization is a hoot. The trio indulge at a party when they arrive in the South American country known for cannabis and coca. During one of the movie's many exciting chase scenes, they race through a warehouse where cocaine is being manufactured with bales of white powder lining the walls. The stench of Pablo Escobar wafts through the film with references to the Escobar district in Medellín and the Escobar suite at the hotel where the three amigos start their adventure after learning that one of the guys' brother Brahim (Brahim Bouhlel) has been kidnapped by the the cartel for impersonating Escobar. You can't make this up, but Gastambide did.
• Priscilla - Elvis (Jacob Elordi) and Priscilla Presley (Cailee Spaeny) take LSD.
• Strays - Animated doggies munch magic mushrooms.
• Wonka - Remake starring Timotheé Chalamet as the zany British chocolatier.
• 80 for Brady - In this golden girls comedy, Rita Moreno gets tipsy on an infused drink.
• They Cloned Tyrone – A couple of drug dealers discover an underground cloning laboratory.
• Quiz Lady - Awkwafina trips out on anti-anxiety pills to the tune of "Watermelon Sugar HIgh."
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