In a recent post entitled Do TV Executives Think We’re Stupid?, I ranted, with the help of author, critic and food writer John Mariani, about the worst (and best) cooking shows on television. I’m taking another cue from Mr. Mariani, choosing my favorite movies where food is a character.
Luckily, there are some wonderful food- and wine-related films that tell us more about the seductive interplay of food and wine, cooking and canoodling, elation and exhaustion than some pumped-up TV “chef” screaming into the camera.
I usually don’t like to read my movies, but Gabriel Axel’s Babette’s Feast (MGM, 1988), based on the novel by Isak Dinesen, should be on the top of anyone’s list. James Bowman of the National Review Online summed it up best by saying, “Never has the cinematic potential of food been more gloriously realized.”
Big Night (Sony, 1996) is done in the same vein and is a worthy second choice. Gordon Ramsey has thing or two to learn from demanding chef played by Tony Shalhoub who refuses to cook insipid Italian-American food for undiscerning customers.
Gangsters and restaurants have a long time tradition. Throw in sex, chef egos and Sandra Bernhard and you’ve got Dinner Rush (New Line, 2000). “Just another regular evening at a New York Italian restaurant.”
Continuing the wise guy theme, the most vivid and mouth-watering cooking scene I ever witnessed is when wiseguy Paul Sorvino slices garlic into translucent strips with a razor blade and drops them into a pan sizzling with olive oil in Goodfellas (Warner Bros., 1990). That movie almost always scores the near the top of the “most quotable lines per minute of film” index.
The most disgusting culinary moment in a movie is the “it’s wafer thin” scene in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life (Universal Studios, 1983), which reminds us that gluttony is appropriately listed as one of the seven deadly sins.
The original 1971Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Warner Bros., 1971) has to be on anyone’s list. It’s about chocolate, candy and chocolate!
In the “what is wrong with our food policy” category, The Future of Food (Lily Films, 2004) and Bad Seed: The Truth About Our Food (Scared Crow Productions, 2005), although very one-sided, is an eye-opening exposé of the corporate control of our food supply and the issues behind genetically modified foods.
InThe Real Dirt on Farmer John (Gaiam, 2006), filmmaker Taggart Siegel paints a fascinating portrait of John Peterson, a man who refused to yield. “He transforming his farm into an experimental haven in the late 1960s, but when the agriculture crisis of the late 1980s led to the farm’s eventual collapse — and his neighbors publicly branded him a devil worshipper — most locals thought he’d call it quits. They were wrong.”
And in the “we really need to know where our food comes from” department is Soylent Green (MGM 1973): “It’s people, it’s peeeoople…” All you Matrix (Warner Bros., 1999)-loving, Generation-X and Generation-Y people out there need to see this one and the French film Delicatessen (Miramax, 1992). It’s the “post-apocalyptic, surrealist black comedy about the landlord of an apartment building who creates cannibalistic meals for his odd tenants.”
My Dinner with Andre (Fox, 1981) is the longest dinner scene in film history. Two hours of intriguing nonstop dinner conversation while poking at roasted quail in a five-star restaurant. As film critic Roger Ebert said, “[a film] entirely devoid of cliches.”
And finally Like Water for Chocolate (Walt Disney, 1993). A film that tells a series of erotic stories built around recipes. Sex and food – can it get any better.