Celebrate the reopening of restaurants with the ten best films about food
Bring out the Michelin guide and the celebratory appetisers – the British government has announced that restaurants will reopen on 4th July. While lockdown might have prompted you to delve deep into your inner Gordon Ramsay, cooking up a storm to pass the furloughed days, it will be hard to claim regret at being able to sit back and let a trained professional take over again. To get in the mood for a bang-up feast at the local eatery (remember to support small businesses!), here is a mouth-watering selection of the best features about food and eating. Make sure you’ve got something in the house, though. Extreme hunger after watching is a guarantee.
Big Night (1996)
This criminally underrated gem has perhaps the most envy-inducing depiction of Italian cuisine to be found in cinema. Immigrant brothers Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub strive for perfection in their New England restaurant, only to be met with indifference from an unappreciative clientele. When a famous singer arrives in town, ripe for an endorsement deal, the brothers pull out all the stops for one final blowout before declaring bankruptcy. A touching and sometimes tense portrait of brotherhood, its subtlety is only reinforced by the splendour of the cooking.
Babette’s Feast (1987)
Denmark might not be everyone’s first choice for the culinary centre of Europe. But in this quietly stunning work by Gabriel Axel, it makes its case well, as the mysterious titular housekeeper introduces the puritan inhabitants of an isolated hamlet to the delights of French cuisine. Like Big Night, Babette’s Feast culminates with one spectacular meal: here serving to illustrate how sensual pleasure can be a worthy addition to an ascetic lifestyle upon occasion.
This essential family watch is zingy, tender and warm, like a well-dressed steak. Remy, a down-on-his-luck rat from the suburbs of Paris, is entranced by the work of celebrity chef Auguste Gusteau, whose motto “Anyone can cook” is carried to an extreme by his gifted acolyte. When Remy gets his chance to sous-chef at Gusteau’s own restaurant, he can’t pass up the opportunity to showcase his prodigious talent to the French dining public. If you can get past the extreme hygiene violations, this is a masterpiece of animated filmmaking: a paean to French cuisine that could only come from Hollywood.
Firmly in the tradition that brought America Man vs Food and Guy Fieri, Chef is the unlikely tale of a Michelin-starred gourmet who opens a food truck. Reeling from the tumultuous end to his career in an LA restaurant, Jon Favreau’s Carl Casper takes to the road to dole out classy ribs to eager patrons. Slight on plot and script and heavy on food porn, Chef is an easy and tasty watch with a host of elite co-stars, from Dustin Hoffman to Amy Sedaris.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
This animated children’s feature about an inventor who accidentally makes food rain from the sky is a lot funnier than it ought to be. With peppy voicing from Anna Faris, Bill Hader and Mr T, it zips along to its inevitably disastrous conclusion by way of some surprisingly tantalising animated comestibles. The real draw of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is its inventiveness with the food: the ice cream snowball fight is both captivating and a bit sickening. Worth a watch with the whole family.
Written and directed by Adrienne Shelly, whose sudden death preceded its release, Waitress is a heartbreakingly hilarious tribute to the underpaid, overworked women who keep American diner culture alive. Keri Russell gives the performance of a lifetime as the troubled, pregnant Jenna, stuck in the deep south with no prospects, an abusive husband and a talent for pie-making. With the help of her loving colleagues and a hunky maternity doctor, Jenna begins to take control of her life. If you don’t have access to American pies, you’ll wish you did after this.
If Seven Samurai, Nine and a Half Weeks and Jiro Dreams of Sushi somehow all had a baby it would be this movie. Billed as “the first ramen western”, Tampopo is rightly hailed as the ur-food movie for its miles upon miles of delectable food and serious attitude to the art. A widowed restaurateur (Nobuko Miyamoto) enlists the help of two truck drivers to bring her establishment up to the mark. What ensues is a wild ride through a variety of culinary scenarios, each more extreme than the last. For technical artistry (both within the film and in its own construction), wackiness, and pure entertainment, Tampopo simply cannot be bettered.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
This touching documentary follows a top Tokyo sushi chef during his process to attain perfection in his work while offering an enlightening glimpse of the battering that personal relationships take for the highly focused artist. Those looking for intricacy and extravagance should go elsewhere: Jiro Ono, proprietor of a tiny Michelin-starred establishment inside a subway station, is concerned purely with the highest heights of pure simplicity. Engrossing and touching.
Like Water for Chocolate (1992)
Alfonso Arau’s hyper-sensual food flick focuses on Tita, the disappointed lover who puts her heart into her cooking – literally. Though not groundbreaking, it explores the intersection of food and sex with a lavish hand, alternately funny and tear-jerking. Arau’s signature lush style is used to full effect, and the melodramatic tone is lightened by dark comedy.
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
It should by now be obvious that food in movies often stands in for family relationships. This is certainly the case in Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman. Three sisters in Taipei encounter men and struggle with their desire to escape the family house, where their emotionally distant father – a top chef – pours his emotions every week into an elaborate Sunday dinner. The sisters’ conflicts are tempered with unexpressed affection, and the food is as far from a Chinese takeaway as Hollywood is from Hove. Prepare for your mouth to water.