These 10 movies about food look good enough to eat
The Good Lord gave us five senses. Unfortunately, He only gave the movies two. Sight, and sound.
So movies about food might leave something — you'd think — to be desired.
You can't taste them, touch them, smell them. Though John Waters did attempt to promulgate something called "Odorama" in his 1981 film "Polyester." The accompanying scratch 'n' sniff cards contained such varied scents as Pepperoni Pizza, New Car, and Skunk. It didn't catch on.
But filmmakers are resourceful.
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Just as Leonardo, on a two-dimensional canvas, found ways to suggest perspective, so film directors, in their flavorless, odorless medium, found ways to create mouth-watering banquets that you can almost believe you're eating. And drinks so eye-catching you'll get tipsy looking at them.
Food movies — drink movies, for that matter — are a small but tasty sub-genre. The very titles are mouth-watering. "Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart." "Bread and Chocolate." "Fried Green Tomatoes." "Peppermint Soda." Yum!
If this year's Oscar ceremonies (March 27) aren't to your taste, you could do worse that whip up your favorite dish, pour your favorite wine, and take in one of these movies that eat like a meal.
Here are some of our favorite cinema entrées. Bon appétit!
'Eat Pray Love' (2010)
Poor Julia Roberts! She's got a house, a husband, a career. Naturally, she's miserable. It seems there are certain things money can't buy — so she takes an expensive trip overseas to find them. Her first big breakthrough is spaghetti. Dining al fresco in Rome, Julia is presented with the perfect plate of Spaghetti all'Amatriciana — tomato sauce, onions, olive oil, chili pepper and pancetta. It is love at first bite. As the soundtrack swells with Mozart, Julia slurps forkful after forkful of pasta, while in closeups we see plump tomatoes and snowdrifts of parmesan cheese. Soon Julia is on the road to inner bliss — as the Mozart aria that accompanies this sequence, "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" ("Hell's vengeance boils in my heart") fails to entirely convey.
'Julie & Julia' (2009)
Unusual among food films, this movie — about TV chef Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and a young disciple, Julie Powell (Amy Adams), who attempts to cook all 500-plus recipes in Child's cookbook — is not heavy on the glamour shots. Child, famous as TV's "French Chef," was known for her warts-and-all presentation. Her layer cakes might fall apart, her meat might not cook properly. Whatever it was, she would cheerfully own up. "Never apologize," was her mantra. In the film, we see the beef bourguignon burned, and other recipes (sole meunière, chicken breasts with mushroom sauce) created in less than ideal conditions. This is a film about the joy of cooking — which is not necessarily the same thing as the joy of eating.
As in, a French stewed vegetable dish. Also, as in "rat." This Pixar animated film about an enterprising rat who wants to be a French chef features an insufferable restaurant critic who — with one bite of the layered zucchini, eggplant, and bell pepper, shown in yummy close-up — is transported back to his childhood in provincial France. Did this film make kids like ratatouille? Maybe not so much. But it probably made them like rats.
For wine lovers, this movie was sweet, with an earthy nose. And because of it, a whole generation of moviegoers learned to spurn merlot, and go straight for the pinot noir. "It's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early," says the sensitive hero, Paul Giamatti — describing both the Pinot Noir grape and himself. "Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient on the planet." What woman could resist that pitch? Spoiler alert — Virginia Madsen doesn't.
Repressed villagers are confronted with the ultimate temptation — which is apparently not sex, but food. When Juliette Binoche arrives in the (fictional) French town of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes she comes bearing chocolate. Mon Dieu! Chocolate, as we all know, is "decadent," "indulgent," "sinful" — as a glance at any diner menu will tell you. The local puritans seem to view her chocolate shop as the equivalent of a brothel. Meanwhile, the camera sure loves to linger over those dainty little sweets.
'Big Night' (1996)
Brother chefs Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub run a failing Italian restaurant in the 1950s. It is failing, not because the food isn't good, but because Shalhoub is such a food snob he becomes irate when customers order risotto with spaghetti, or otherwise show insufficient respect for the cuisine. When word comes that singing star Louis Prima is on his way, the brothers pull out all the stops. They make a timpano — a complicated kettledrum-shaped layered pastry (also known as a timballo) — filled with pasta, meatballs, egg, cheese and salami. As usual, the customer is not worthy of the food: Louis Prima never shows up to their Jersey shore restaurant (the film was shot in Keyport and Keansburg). But their sumptuous creation is — moral — its own reward.
'Mystic Pizza' (1988)
This movie that helped put Julia Roberts and Matt Damon on the map was based on a real Connecticut pizzeria. And it climaxes when yet another snooty food critic (you can tell he's snooty, he has a British accent) visits the place to try the signature pie. As the kitchen ladies — and the camera, in close up — spy on him superciliously tasting his slice, one of them crosses herself. “Holy Mary Mother of God!” she says. It turns out, of course, that he loves it. "This pizza is — how shall I say this — in a word — superb," he pronounces. "Exactly the right blend of cheese and tomatoes" — he says tomahtoes, naturally — "and spices that I can't quite identify." For the record, a Mystic Pizza signature pie is topped with spicy Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, red and green peppers, and whole milk cheese. We can't identify the spices, either.
'Babette's Feast' (1987)
Babette (Stéphane Audran) is a French housekeeper in a dour, puritanical Danish home. When she wins the lottery, she decides to spend the money creating the feast to end all feasts. The seven course meal consists of turtle soup, Blinis Demidoff (buckwheat pancakes with caviar), quail in puff pastry shell with foie gras and truffle sauce, endive salad, rum sponge cake with figs and candied cherries, assorted cheeses and fruits, all served with a ravishing array of cognacs, champagnes, and sauternes, and all of which the camera makes love to. By the time we get to dessert, needless to say, the puritans have loosened up quite a bit. It's the cognac that does it.
Haute cuisine isn't the only cuisine. The roast beef sandwiches, fries and gravy at a 1960s Baltimore greasy spoon are central to the lives of Barry Levinson's characters, much as the quail in puff pastry shell with foie gras is to Babette. The diner is where Micky Rourke, Kevin Bacon, and other perpetual adolescents of this coming-of-age comedy go to chew the fat — and chew out each other. Especially Paul Reiser, the eternal mooch, whose passive-aggressiveness drives Steve Guttenberg crazy. "You gonna finish that?" Reiser asks. "Yeah, I'm gonna finish that," Guttenberg says, munching his sandwich. "I paid for it, I'm not gonna give it to you." "Cause if you're not going to finish it, I would eat it, but if you're gonna eat it…" Check please.
'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' (1971)
What "Babette's Feast" is for adults, the two movies based on Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" are for kids. A chocolate river! A chewing gum meal! Everlasting Gobstoppers! It's a candy-lover's fever dream. And don't forget the lickable wallpaper. The raspberries taste like raspberries! The snozzberries taste like snozzberries!
Jim Beckerman is an entertainment and culture reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to his insightful reports about how you spend your leisure time, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: 10 best food movies to watch instead of Oscars