Thursday December 10, 2009
From Katherine Sacks of LA Weekly: Whether it's dinner and a movie or popcorn to munch on during the previews, your stomach is often tied to the cinematic experience. From the comic relief of Robin Williams cooking dinner dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire to Meg Ryan moaning over apple pie in When Harry met Sally, food can shape the story (Julie & Julia) or provide essential character development (Goodfellas). Food on screen is emotional, sensual, and often ridiculous, but it keeps us coming back to fill our plate with more.
When directors focus their films on cuisine, what takes the film from a movie with a food scene to a good food movie? Is it passion for cuisine, erotic scenes stretching the limitations of food, or a ridiculous use of food itself? In our opinion, a food movie may need great direction and a riveting story line, but what is really important are great food scenes: passionate, visual, sometimes absurd. So here are 10 of the best of the food film world.
Would you like a slice of maintenance man with your dinner tonight? In Jean-Pierre Jeunet's spin off of Sweeney Todd, grain is currency and meat is scarce(resulting in a future menu of Mr. Maintenance man). It may not rivet you with scenes of food or markets, and you probably won't finish the movie hungry, but this French black comedy wins points for it's scary portrayal of the could-be food system. Complete with butcher sessions and a visit from the Troglodistes, a group of underground vegetarian-rebels.
9. Simply Irresistible
Okay, while the less than inspired acting and lagging storyline would place this on few top ten film lists, Simply Irresistible has the over-the-top food scenes to make up for lack of fine cinematic glory. Loosely based on the novel Like Water for Chocolate, this is the story of Amanda, bitten by a magic crab that gives her cooking powers. Ridiculous enough? How about tear-causing soup, arousal-inducing eclairs, and clouds of perfumed smoke? Sarah Michelle Geller may not win an Oscar for this performance (who's counting anyway?), but the story is firmly based in the magic of food.
8. Big Night
Do you think it's alright to eat risotto alongside a plate of spaghetti and meatballs? The horror! If so, you'd learn a thing or two from watching Big Night, a movie doused in Italian reverence for food. The story is of two immigrant brothers, Primo, the prideful chef, and Secondo, the smooth-talking front man, who struggle to run a real Italian restaurant. Their Big Night comes with the chance to cook for famous singer Louis Primo, and they put everything into it, money, passion, themselves. Not to be missed are cooking scenes of the Italian dish timpano and Stanley Tucci with a hilarious Italian accent.
A five-star meal in a fancy restaurant sounds great, but may not be so appetizing when you find the chef is a rat. While it's hard to stomach the idea of a cooking rodent, Disney's story of Remy, the rat, and his human cook accomplice Linguine, manage to make it's way into the top. With guidance from chef Thomas Keller, the food scenes in this animated film are spot on, from the way the cooks hold their chefs knives to the crunch of French bread. The drawings of the food seem more real than actual food and the description/creation of the French kitchen is accurate. Plus it's about a cooking rat, not a cooking pigeon (eww).
6. Julie & Julia
If you love food it's hard not to like this year's top food movie, the enchanting story of cookbook author Julia Child and food blogger Julie Powell. Vibrant scenes of Parisian markets, messy kitchens, and recipe cooking (by both Julie and Julia) fill most of the movie's 123 minutes. Julia wins with scenes depicting her first tastes of Dover Sole, her attempts at knife skills, and her rigorous recipe testing. Want to read the book? Skip the blogger's side of things and head directly for Julia's memoir, My Life in France.
5. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Golden-egg laying geese, roast beef flavored gum, and a chocolate flavored river? Roald Dahl must have had a wild imagination when it came to cuisine. The original adaptation of his book, 1971's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is full of absurd, larger-than-life scenes of sweet temptations. The eerie Gene Wilder portrayal of Wonka tops Johnny Depp's 2004 Micheal Jackson-inspired characterization, and some scenes, including the neon-lighted race down the chocolate river, the dark ally visit from slimy Slugworth (who hopes to steal Wonka's recipes), and children disappearing left and right, are downright creepy. Worth watching if only to dream yourself into a candy wonderland.
Food eroticism 101: Crack an egg, placing the yolk in your mouth. Pass the yolk into your partners mouth. Continue until the yolk messily cracks all over one of you. This is just one of the many food lessons learned from watching Tampopo, the story of cowboy truck driver Goro who helps Tampopo turn her restaurant into a true ramen noodle shop. Entangled with Japanese culture and food reverence, the movie thoroughly explores food's sensual applications. Other lessons include how to eat ramen like a master, how woman should eat spaghetti making no noise, and how to stop an elderly woman from squeezing grocery store items.
3. Eat Drink Man Woman
If cooking is your thing than Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman is the film for you. Wrapped into the story of Chu and his three daughters is the Sunday dinner. Each week, Chef Chu creates elaborate meals for his family, all for your viewing pleasure. Watch high-speed Chinese knife cuts, killing and cooking of fresh fish, and a carcass being blown up like a balloon and fried into Peking Duck. The storyline is a bit unclear, but the food scenes shine all on their own.
2. Mostly Martha/ Bella Martha
In the battle of arrogant, uncontrollable chefs, Martha Klein reins supreme. This German film completely captures the crazed chef mentality(in the opening scene Martha stabs a complaining guest's table with a chefs knife). Temper tantrums, shouting and cook-offs result from the heady Chef. Of course, the movie needs some sort of storyline, so enter Mario, her cooking competition, and Lina, her 8-year old niece. The film moves away from the food as it focuses on emotions and relationships, but while it lasts Mostly Martha has some great food scenes, including a wish-I-could-do-that moment when Martha locks herself in the refrigerated walk-in to cool down. Rent the original and endure the subtitles; 2007's poor remake, No Reservations, does the German version no justice.
1. Babette's Feast
If you win the French lottery, with a grand prize of 10,000 Francs, how would you spend your money? On the most lavish meal possible, cooked for such fine food connoisseurs as your employers and their pious religious sect, of course. This is just how Babette, a French cook and maid, chooses to spend her winnings, turning Babette's Feast into the epitome of food movies and a delight of French cuisine. Turtle soup, roast quail, and caviar are all musts for the religious sisters Babette works for. Points for featuring food as an evil temptation that her pious guests succumb to with soup a la tortoise, and for suggesting to spend all your money on haute cuisine.