Arts & Culture

Fantastic Southern Films—and Their Drink Pairings

A menu for your next movie night, courtesy of G&G staff and contributors

Film: Smokey and the Bandit turned forty-five this year, and the movie seems to only get better with age. Burt and Sally are our own Fred and Ginger, and the race to Texarkana and back with a tractor-trailer full of Coors remains the quintessential Southern classic. “For the good old American life—for the money, the glory, and the fun. Mostly for the money.”

Pairing: While you might expect a Coors with a side of Jack Daniel’s, I have to go with a solid and smoky mezcal margarita. Rim the glass with lots of salt with chili powder in honor of Jackie Gleason’s spicy dialogue and his appreciation of a good diablo sandwich.

—Ace Atkins, author and G&G contributor

Film: Mississippi Masala, a sizzling-hot interrogation of interracial love, was re-released just this year, thirty years after Denzel Washington—fresh from his Oscar win with Glory—and the luminous Sarita Choudhury electrified the screen. This movie was filmed in Greenwood, Biloxi, Grenada, and Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and gave us a sexy reckoning that I don’t think I’ve ever quite recovered from.

Pairing: For a movie as hot as this, you need something tropical, with a kiss of icy refreshment that only mint can offer your mouth. A mango mojito will surely do the trick!

—Aimee Nezhukumatathil, author, World of Wonders, and G&G contributor

Film: Wes Anderson’s rendition of Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of my favorite movies ever, especially for fall. The Houston-born director has a knack for gravitating toward a handful of wonderful Southern actors in his films, and Fantastic Mr. Fox’s cast features the voices of George Clooney and Owen Wilson. I love admiring the animals’ chic fall outfits—specifically Mr. Fox’s brown corduroy jacket; it reminds me when it’s time to whip out my own matching pants come October.

Pairing: Anderson’s iconic vibrant and warm color palette and the forest animals’ cozy underground homes are the perfect invite for a night on the couch with some hot mulled wine. It’s easy to keep on the stove, and it fills the room with some nice spice!

—Gabriela Gomez-Misserian, digital producer

Film: Set in 1980 and rambling along the border between Texas and Mexico, the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men beautifully interprets the fever-dream writing of a Cormac McCarthy novel. I was such a McCarthy dork in college that I made Word-doc dictionaries of the terms I didn’t know from his books, and I’m contemplating making more for the two new books he’s releasing this year.

Pairing: I’ll cheers the literary legend and re-watch this flick with a borderland staple: Topo Chico with a squeeze of lime, tequila optional.

—CJ Lotz, senior editor

Film: Ruby in Paradise, released in 1993, tells the first-person story of Ruby Lee Gissing, a small-town girl on a path of self-discovery, who flees Tennessee for Panama City, Florida. Through the eyes of Ashley Judd, in her first lead role, that beach town is paradise. 

Pairing: A couple decades before our fictional protagonist arrives, Panama City bartenders began making a drink called the Bushwacker, blended with, among other ingredients, Kahlúa and rum. I’m keen on the Bushwackers at Pirate’s Cove, across the line in Alabama. When you go, ask for Lucia.

—John T. Edge, The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, contributing editor

Film: Tim Burton’s Big Fish is a unique comedy-drama that I could watch again and again. Led by a star-studded cast (Ewan McGregor, Jessica Lange, and Helena Bonham Carter, to name a few), the film follows the tale of a man on his deathbed sharing his (at times, highly unbelievable) life story with his skeptical son. Set in Alabama, the movie is a fascinating blend of Southern gothic imagery and American folklore centered around a classic love story—one based on the novel of the same name by G&G contributor Daniel Wallace. It’s a favorite choice for our family movie night, and I challenge you to get to the end without shedding a tear or two. 

Pairing: Any bubbly cocktail is suitable for this whimsical film, but the scent of sweet honeysuckle and crisp grapefruit in this festive mimosa spritzer will transport you to the Deep South and make you feel as if you’ve stepped into the story.

—Emily Daily, newsletter editor

Film: I’m going with O Brother, Where Art Thou?, largely for the music (Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch) and also the great Tim Blake Nelson as Delmar. Of course George Clooney is in prime Dapper Dan form, too, and you can’t forget John Goodman as the Cyclops.

Pairing: It’s a hot, dusty, soggy-bottom kind of movie, and takes place in the thirties, so it would have to be something cold and classic and probably with whiskey. That screams an old-fashioned to me.

—David Mezz, deputy editor

Film: Eve’s Bayou was released twenty-five years ago, but there’s a timeless quality to it. A Southern Gothic drama classic, it has all of the criteria of a good narrative: secrets, deception, betrayal, and mysticism, all set against the backdrop of a 1960s Louisiana summer. Based on director Kasi Lemmons’s experiences as a child growing up in the South, the story follows the well-to-do Batiste family as things fall apart. It was clear from the performances by young actresses Jurnee Smollet and Meagan Good that they were going to be powerhouses as they grew up because they were able to match the energies of skilled performers like Diahann Carroll, Debbi Morgan, and Lynn Whitfield. There’s a reason the late film critic Roger Ebert called the movie “the best film of 1997.”

Pairing: The Ramos Gin Fizz was created at the Imperial Cabinet Saloon on Gravier Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1888, and it’s a family favorite. Cooling in nature, it’s the perfect summer drink, and the texture and flavor that come from the orange flower water and egg whites mean they go down easy.

—Latria Graham, contributing editor

Film: Peanut Butter Falcon is a film full of unlikely heroes: an outlaw on the run from trouble (Shia LaBeouf), a young man with Down syndrome who’s escaped from an assisted living facility (Zack Gottsagen), and his reluctant, rule-following caregiver (Dakota Johnson). The three embark on a Mark Twain–esque adventure down North Carolina’s Outer Banks to meet a wrestler named Salt Water Redneck. It’s weird, warm, beautiful, and bighearted and has quickly become one of my favorite movies.

Pairing: Although Peanut Butter Falcon trends towards corny at times, it’s never saccharine—just like peanut butter whiskey. While the movie characters would likely just take a pull from a bottle of SQRRL or Skrewball (and that works, too!), we recommend mixing it into a cocktail like the Reservation at the Nuthouse served at High Horse in Louisville, Kentucky.

—Caroline Sanders Clements, associate editor

Film: I was probably around ten when my parents first popped Fried Green Tomatoes in our VHS player. My takeaway from that initial viewing was that I wanted to be just like Idgie Threadgoode; after that, my sister and I watched it about a hundred times over the years. I finally found my way to the book in college, and I pictured Mary Stuart Masterson and Kathy Bates the whole time—talk about perfect casting!

Pairing: Any time you’re spending time with the Whistle Stop Cafe, you need a sweet tea—with a little something extra for comfort when things get dark.

—Lindsey Liles, editorial assistant

Film: My Cousin Vinny turned thirty this year and more than holds up. Joe Pesci is charming as an underqualified, overtired New York lawyer adrift in the South (“I’d sure like to get a look at your files!”), Marisa Tomei might be the greatest expert witness in cinematic history, and grits play a memorable role as key evidence. 

Pairing: You can’t go wrong with a classic Negroni, but Mona Lisa Vito might prefer the Bicicletta—a simple blend of Campari, dry white wine, and club soda.

—Elizabeth Florio, digital editor

Film: A movie from my childhood that still holds a special fascination for me is 1991’s The Man in the Moon. It was a young Reese Witherspoon’s film debut—a coming-of-age story set in 1957 in which Witherspoon stars as Dani Trant, a fourteen-year-old girl from Louisiana who falls in love with the slightly older boy next door, Court Foster. A first kiss, disappointment, and of course, tragedy ensue. It’s the swimming hole scenes that remain in my memory all these years later, but every scene drips with the mythic beauty of the South—the front porch, the side porch, the screened porch, the live oaks, the cypress swamp, the summer heat, the moonlight, the familiar chorus of cicadas, and the cooing of mourning doves.

Pairing: Sweet tea is the drink of choice for the Trants, who serve it throughout the movie, so whip up a pitcher and you’ll feel right at home. Or if you prefer something stronger, join Court’s mother, Marie Foster, in adding bourbon.

—Julia Knetzer, art director

Film: While it may feel somewhat wrong to pour up a whiskey neat while watching Paul Newman play an alcoholic ex–football player who drinks his life away in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, there really may be no other way to sip through the 1958 movie. The classic (also starring Elizabeth Taylor) received myriad award nominations for a reason—the film is a must-watch for understanding the tribulations of masculinity, femininity, and love not just in the old South but in today’s society as well. 

Pairing: A heavy pour of bourbon or whiskey in a rocks glass. If you can’t bear the thought of straight brown water, try mixing up a classic old-fashioned or Manhattan.

—Allyson Sloway, social media editor

Film: In the classic rom-com You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks’s character calls The Godfather “the sum of all wisdom…the answer to any question.” Well I counter with Steel Magnolias. Going out to eat with hometown friends and they ask you for restaurant suggestions? “I don’t live here anymore, remember?” Someone questions your attitude. “I am pleasant! Dammit!” Your bestie texts that she has some hot goss. “If you can’t say anything nice about anybody, come sit by me!”

Another reason to cue up the tearjerker on Netflix? The 1989 film—set in Louisiana’s fictional Chinquipin Parish and starring the indelible cast of Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Olympia Dukakis, Daryl Hannah, and Julia Roberts—was based on a play by Robert Harling, which celebrates its thirty-fifth anniversary this year. For its thirtieth, the late Julia Reed worked with her friend Harling to put together this incredible G&G oral history. Read it and weep. 

Pairing: I was going to say “a box of tissues,” but then Louisville’s North of Bourbon—recently name-checked by John T. Edge in G&G’s August/September “Appetite for Travel” story on twenty-five restaurants worth the drive—shared the recipe for the brilliantly named bourbon cocktail Shelby Drink Your Juice. I’ll be sipping it when I hit “play” for the eleventy billionth time.

—Amanda Heckert, executive editor