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November 24, 2009

Great Food Films

Across North America - and wherever North Americans congregate around the world - this is the season for gathering with friends and family - and of course - eating. To get you in the mood - at least for the eating part....

...I have complied a list - and a short review of some of my favorite food related movies.

So, in no particular order...

Chocolat (2000) is a whimsical film where we meet a beautiful single mother (Juliette Binoche) who brings a repressed French village to life with her “sinfully delicious” cocoa treats—and eventually works her magic on an Irish gypsy (Johnny Depp). You'll never look at chocolate (or relationships) the same.

Ratatouille (2007)
Certainly the cheeriest family food film here. Even if you've seen this film, it is worth seeing again.

Rats in the kitchen are usually a cause for panic, but in the case of Disney’s Ratatouille, they proved to be a recipe for success. The surprisingly enjoyable tale of a young French rodent with dreams of becoming a star chef (voices by Will Arnett, Janeane Garofalo, Brad Garrett among many others) charmed kids and adults alike and scored a 2008 Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. For even better special effects, watch this film with a room full of children.

Super Size Me (2004)
Here's a film that borders on grim food vouyerism. Ever wonder what would happen if you ate all McDonald’s, all the time? Well, Morgan Spurlock found out, and the results were, well, gross - particularly to his girl friend.

To prove that fast food is largely to blame for America’s obesity crisis, Spurlock, the film’s director and main character, subjected himself to a diet of three McDonald’s meals a day for a month—and watched his waistline expand and his health deteriorate. He had three doctors monitoring his "experiment". They all advised him to quit before his new diet killed him.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
In this 1971 classic, based on the book by legendary children’s author Roald Dahl, Gene Wilder plays the ultimate unhinged yet almost welcoming candy factory owner Willy Wonka. If you need a pure escapist food fantasy, this is "The Wizard of Oz" of food films. I am biased here, but this version is far better - and spookier in its subtleties - than the Johnny Depp version.

Like Water for Chocolate (1992)
Tita is a lovelorn chef whose fiery emotions manifest themselves in the food she prepares. Whether she’s heartbroken over Pedro, or full of unbridled infatuation, guests at Tita’s table are sure to sympathize with their hostess after just one bite in this Mexican film. Like Water for Chocolate (which is an expression in Latin American countries describing two things that are perfect for each other) may not have a happy ending for little Tita, but leaves viewers with a new eye for lush and enticing food.

Babette's Feast (1987)
Babette’s Feast, a Danish film that’s sure to inspire a little honest-to-goodness mouth watering, culminates in a meal that no Thanksgiving dinner will ever, ever live up to. Ever. Babette, the timid cook for a painfully pious family, wins 10,000 francs in a lottery and does something that only she could do - she blows it all on a single banquet for 12 of her closest (only) friends. Her wary guests are (at first) unwilling to enjoy the lavish feast lest they are smote on the spot for such decadence. But who can resist treats like foie gras and truffle sauce? Food like that takes precedence over religion.

Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
How do you spell “love” in Chinese? F-O-O-D, according to director Ang Lee, whose Eat Drink Man Woman focuses on a family of foodies who relate to one another through the kitchen. Chu, formerly one of Taiwan’s top chefs, is losing his touch both with his dishes and his daughters—three young women looking for husbands. If you haven't seen food as purely sensuous visual experience, you need to see this film. This is the film that makes one long for the ability to smell along with a visual experience. Who knew love was as important a part of life as sustenance?

Big Night (1996)
Comic and absurdist Italian passion abounds both on the plates and off in Big Night, a movie about a pair of brothers struggling to find an audience for their authentic Italian dishes on the Jersey Shore. The siblings face off with a less-authentic rival restaurant on matters of food, women, and pride—and, as the title suggests, the match boils over in one big opening night. Everything centers around a surprise mystery guest.

Tampopo (1987) Even though I haven't seen this film, I have heard too many rave reviews to avoid mentioning it - Tampopo is a food film not to be missed.

The movie then turns into the the ultimate quest to research the perfect noodle and open the perfect noodle restaurant. Like most movies about single-minded obsessions, this one quickly becomes very funny.

Consider, for example, the tour de force of a scene near the beginning of the movie, where a noodle master explains the correct ritual for eating a bowl of noodle soup. He explains every ingredient. How to cut it, how to cook it, how to address it, how to think of it, how to regard it, how to approach it, how to smell it, how to eat it, how to thank it, how to remember it. It's a kind of gastronomic religion, and director Juzo Itami creates a scene that makes noodles in this movie more interesting than sex and violence in most other films.

Julie & Julia (2009)

My wife and I just saw this film. The "Julia" is the well-known cooking hostess Julia Child.

The "Julie" is the woman who wrote an online journal documenting her vow to cook all the way through Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, 524 recipes in 365 days. They never meet - except in their shared world of food obsession.

As always, there is far more to food, than just food.

It is good to remember that we are all always learning. And it is always more fun to learn together.

Let me know what it is about English that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


About the author of this entry:

Morf has a B.A.from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and an MAT (Master's in Teaching English) from the University of Washington (Seattle). Morf prefers international and independent films, foods he can't pronounce, music no one else has heard of and riding his bicycle in foreign cities.

Posted by mmorf at November 24, 2009 11:24 AM

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