Big Night (1996)
Directed by Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci
Shown: Stanley Tucci (as Secondo), Marc Anthony (as Cristiano), Tony Shalhoub (as Primo)
Food Movies – Roy’s Highest Rated and Favorite Dozen
Like Water for Chocolate (1992) (subtitles)
The sensuous Mexican film based on the novel by Laura Esquivel and directed by her husband, Alfonso Arau. Tita, literally born on a kitchen table, embraces cooking later in her life to release and express her emotions after her lover Pedro must marry her sister (per the mother, but he figures it will let him be close to Tita). A period piece set in Mexico during the early 20th Century, beautifully filmed. Food served among things carved like flowers – or was it real flower pedals? “Nectar of the Gods” Pedro says as he eats one of Tita’s meals, and that’s how she invades his body, though it belongs to her sister. Much more of a drama though than a food movie, but it’s a classic and still holds up fine. Oh, and the film became an international hit and its admirers paid tribute to it by cooking some of its recipes – and probably still do.
The Big Night (1996). Largely believed to be the best film in the little genre, two brothers (Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub) open an artisan Italian restaurant near the Jersey shore and try to compete with the big Italian place up the street that serves the average popular meals that cater to American taste and perception of fine Italian food. As one reviewer put it, this delicate comedy/drama is swatted in lemancholy and mozzarella. The food scenes are off the charts.
Chocolat (2000) Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who later does the wonderful The Hundred-Foot Journey (see below). A young mother (Juliette Binoche) arrives in a French village and opens the small La Chocolaterie Maya which begins to change the towns people. She casts a spell on them with both her charm and her confections. The story is complex and humorous, and very tempting to watch, even if you’re not a chocaholic!
Tortilla Soup (2001) Hector Elizondo plays a widower and father of 4 daughters in the warm-hearted tale of love that’s full of cooking and dining scenes that will make you want to elevate your cooking skills. Elizondo is a retired chef/restaurant owner who still loves to exercise his artistic skills at home by cooking a big family dinner each night….
Sideways (2004) The wine road trip movie that helped Paul Giamatti become famous and Pinot Noir prices go through the roof. The food is enjoyed at restaurant stops and during picnics, and the food with wine – or wine with food – experience is most inviting in this film.
Julie & Julia (2009) Amy Adams and Meryl Streep play Julie Powell and Julia Child, with Stanley Tucci appearing again as Child’s devoted husband. Charming, and it inspires us to still believe in Julia Child (whose memoir My Life in France is explored, detailing her discovery and mastery of French cooking), as it juxtaposes the story of Child in France in the 1950’s and Julie Powell as an inspiring blogger/writer in 2002 who sets out to cook and blog about all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s classic first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Another chick flick I have to say I most enjoyed, though there is much more to Child’s story! Did you know that in her younger days, she was a decorated researcher in the Secret Intelligence division of the Office of Strategic Services in Washington, D.C.? Furthermore, she met her husband Paul, also and OSS employee, while on assignment in Ceylon. In a reversal of the “Behind every great man there’s a woman” story, her New Jersey native husband had lived as an artist and poet in France for a time and was said to have an extraordinary palette. (They later built a home together in the hills of France). He introduced Julia to fine dining, designed the kitchen that was used many of her TV shows, and was her constant encourager and supporter as she evolved into a top chef and built her writing career. They were married for nearly 50 years.
Love’s Kitchen (2011) With Dougray Scott and Claire Forlani (married in real life in 2007). Scott (and chef Rob Haley) takes over a pub in the British Countryside in an effort to turn it into a legitimate fine food establishment (“gastropub”). Food critic Kate Templeton (Forlani-you’ll remember her from Meet Joe Black) is not an ally at first, but then she and Haley fall in love, all during which the pub turns into a very special place to eat. It builds to the conclusion of what planned visitor Guy Witherspoon (Simon Callow), renowned food critic, will think of the place. Love this little movie.
The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014). Chef Hassan Kadam (Om Puri) relocates from India to a quiet village in the south of France to open Maison Mubai restaurant, which soon starts a war among competing eateries. Helen Mirren plays the woman who runs the restaurant across the street and works tirelessly to undermine Kadam’s efforts to succeed. Somewhat lacking in food scenes, but the make-peace between rivals omelet preparation scene with Mirren and Kadam’s son Hassan (Manish Dayal) working together is both touching and inviting, and as the movie progressed, it charmed my socks off, down to the unexpected event that results from the combined efforts of Mirren and Hassan after he cooks for her for a time in her French restaurant. The movie is far from over at that point, with much more fun, drama, and extraordinary food to come.
Chef (2014) Jon Favreau as a chef who leaves a posh restaurant to start a food truck that serves perfectly prepared tacos. There’s a lot more to it than you’d expect, and it’s tons of fun…
And, three more, the last two of which I haven’t seen, but the praise by writers all over tells me these are special and I must see them soon:
Lady and the Tramp — Arguably the most romantic scene in the history of Disney, the Tramp takes Lady to an Italian restaurant where they share a gigantic plate of spaghetti and meatballs – and their first kiss. Yeah, I include this last one – just once scene – just for grins, but who didn’t love it!? For scene competition, with the nod to humor, one has to include the “hold the tuna, hold it between your knees” (by Jack Nicholson) scene in Five Easy Pieces, and the dialogue on tipping the waitress in the opening of Reservoir Dogs.
Eat Drink Man Woman (not my write-up: haven’t seen it): Before graduating to sensitive independent features like Hulk (OK, just kidding), Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee made his name with this depiction of an emotionally repressed Taipei family. The central character is a master chef whose only real means of communicating with his three headstrong daughters is via the elaborate Sunday dinner he cooks for them every week. By turns funny and poignant, this is a beautifully balanced study that well deserved its foreign-film Oscar nomination.
Babette’s Feast (not my write-up: haven’t seen it): Almost a quarter-century after the film’s release, the culminating scene of this quietly urgent Danish drama still stands as the most beautifully rendered depiction of a lavish meal ever committed to celluloid. But it’s not just spectacle for spectacle’s sake: The triumphant banquet sequence also communicates volumes about the movie’s central theme, the eternal tug-of-war between self-denial and sensual gratification.
Cheers, and Bon Appetit!