10 Best Food Movies
By Monsieur Anton
Food and movies go together like, well, popcorn and movies. Since food is one of the central themes of life, it stands to reason that it would make a good theme for the cinema, and there have been some great movies based on life’s gastronomic pleasures.
Obviously, since everyone eats every day, there are bound to be scenes in most every movie in which the characters will indulge; but that is not what this is about. I’ve seen many lists of food movies that include flicks that may have a great food scene or two. Movies such as Diner, Mystic Pizza, Eating Raoul and even 9 ½ Weeks often show up on lists of food movies. While they may include food in them, they are not centered on it. To me, to be a true food movie, the film should embody the same trait that makes for a great chef; passion for the food. You should leave the theater so inspired that you want to either sprint straight to a great restaurant or to the kitchen. There are some foreign language films that are highly regarded missing from this list, in that I haven’t seen them and am having trouble finding the DVDs, so there may be future updates. Since no documentary has ever inspired me in this way, I’ve excluded them from the list as well. That’s a column for another time. Besides, if I want to find out something about food, I’m not going to pick up a DVD, I’ll pick up the phone and call Chef Gusteau.
It’s time for dinner and a movie. Pour a glass of wine, and enjoy the show. These movies may make you laugh, make you cry or may inspire you, but they are all sure to make you hungry.
10) Waitress (2007) This charming little film starring Keri Russell as a waitress at a local eatery who makes the best darn pies you’re ever going to taste. Pregnant, and in a loveless marriage, she hopes that her pies will get her out of her small southern town, and her marriage. The pies she bakes are based on her hopes and dreams, as well as the desperation of her life such as the “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby” pie. Russell sparkles and is surrounded by a strong supporting cast. Is the movie Oscar worthy? Not even close, but the pies look so damn good.
9) Tortilla Soup (2001) The always splendid Hector Elizondo stars as the widowed patriarch of a Mexican-American family. Elizondo, a chef who has lost his sense of taste tries to hold together his family consisting of three lovely daughters through mandatory lavish Sunday dinners. I can relate to this, as my father always insisted on the entire family assembling for Saturday dinners when I was young. The more they try to pull away, the more he tries to hold on. A true family values movie with wonderful cooking scenes, the movie is based on the acclaimed Chinese film Eat Drink Man Woman which is one of the foreign language films I need to track down.
8 ) Soul Food (1997) Another movie based on the Chinese film Eat Drink Man Woman (I really need to see that movie) this time from the African-American point of view. Without the family dinners of Mama Joe once she is hospitalized, her daughters begin to splinter apart, only to find their way inspired by Mama’s soul food. A fine cast led by Vanessa Williams and Vivica A. Fox, this later became a TV series.
7) Woman on Top (2000) Another movie where a woman uses her cooking skills to escape a bad marriage, this time the stunning Penelope Cruz as a Brazilian chef turned cooking show goddess. The movie is quirky and goofy, yet Cruz is adorable in the lead, and with food as a metaphor for life she learns that she does not need a man in her life, she needs to cook and be her own woman.
6) Babette’s Feast (1987) A Danish movie about French woman in Denmark who is taken in by a pastor. She lives in a repressed world where earthly pleasures are not permitted, but when she wins the lottery she spends all the money on a feast in memory of the man who took her in during her time of need. The shopping and preparation of the dinner is lavish, and the story is heartwarming. This film won an Academy Award for best Foreign Film and is ranked higher on most lists, but lagged at times for me. Still, a fine movie, and no list of food films would be complete without it.
5) Chocolat (2000) Juliette Binoche is wonderful as a drifter who along with her young daughter opens a chocolate shop in a conservative 1960 French town. The town is mostly won over by her exquisite chocolate with the exception of the evil town mayor who organizes a boycott of her decadent immoral treats. Johnny Depp is along for the ride as an Irish gypsy. A fun, sexy and entertaining film filled with great performances.
4) Ratatouille (2007) You didn’t think a blog written by a couple of guys named Anton and Gusteau wouldn’t have this utterly charming animated gem on our list, did you? The Oscar winner for best animated film, it follows the adventures of an aspiring chef, and the gastronomic genius rat that helps him cook. It is remarkable how many true food principles are on display in this film, but the true message is that anybody can cook!
3) Tampopo (1985) You’ve heard of a spaghetti western? How about a Japanese noodle western? This funny and poignant Japanese story interweaves several stories all based around food. The central storyline involves a chef who wants to learn how to make the best noodles in the land, and the Clint Eastwood-like trucker/drifter who helps on the journey. Kind of like Zen and the art of noodles, this movie shows a true love of food and the people who make and enjoy it. Get the DVD and sit down with a great bowl of Ramen.
2) Julie & Julia (2009) The movie that drew droves of foodies to theaters follows the true story of blogger Julie Powell, played with abandon by Amy Adams who attempts cook her way through legendary chef Julia Child’s seminal cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” The movie is really parallel stories of two women chasing their dream. In the role of Child, Meryl Streep is astounding (isn’t she always?) embodying the iconic chef. The inspiring message of the movie is basically how Child lived her life; follow your dream, it doesn’t always have to be perfect, and don’t apologize for the first two. As a side note, there is a Cleveland food blogger who is attempting to do the same thing with Iron Chef Michael Symon’s new book Live to Cook. The blog can be found at www.livetocookathome.com. I guess movies really can inspire!
1) Big Night (1996) The movie that launched thousands of restaurant theme dinners. Perhaps no movie has ever captured the painstaking detail involved in creating a special feast. Two bickering brothers played perfectly by Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub own a floundering Italian restaurant. They cannot understand how the rather pedestrian restaurant across the street succeeds while their spectacular cuisine fails to bring in customers. It is a conundrum face by restaurateurs throughout the world. Desperate, they hatch a plan to lure celebrity Louis Prima to the restaurant and serve a sumptuous meal that will surely put them on the map. The ensuing planning and cooking is stunning on the screen, and I dare anybody to watch this on an empty stomach. Simply the best food movie ever made!
So, did I leave any of your favorites off? Let us know what movies drive you to culinary heights and celluloid dreams. Movies and food. There may be no other two things that can arouse more creativity.
Chef Gusteau: Clearly I am a hermit. The only movie on that list I saw was of course Ratatouille. I did see a humorous, though silly, movie called “Waiting” which reinforced the importance of treating your servers well, or at least not eating the food that you sent back and had returned “freshened up.” I will consider seeing Julie & Julia, almost a prerequisite for any cook. I guess a fun game for you to try would be to watch the movies Anton has listed, and cook a key dish from that movie for friends.