The Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences has just presented its "Academy Awards," which put Just Desserts into a movie mood. So this month we thought we'd take a look at the role of food, dining and food-related issues in the movies.
Of the five movies nominated for Best Picture this year, it was the sleeper-hit Little Miss Sunshine that used food mosteffectively in developing its plot and characters. Near the beginning of the movie, acommunal dinner scene reveals the many intra-family conflicts bubbling under (orat) the surface of the group whose road trip adventure forms the bulk of the story.
Later, at a second communal meal in a road stop restaurant, what each person orders (and says about the others' orders) reveals something about his or her character.
Of course, as one of life's most basic and pervasive necessities, food has been part of the movies since the beginning. Who could forget Charlie Chaplin dining on his shoe while starving in the Alaskan wilderness in the The Gold Rush? Food fights were a staple of slapstick comedy way before the Three Stooges. There is even a silent short called The Cook with Fatty Arbuckle as a chef and a young Buster Keaton as a waiter.
And of course, in Modern Times, Chaplain's factory worker character is made to participate in an experiment testing what may be the ultimate in B&I foodservice automation: a machine that feeds the worker while he continues to work!
Later, in the talkie era, food and drink supplied the subject for some of filmdom's most memorable lines: Scarlett O'Hara declaring "I'll never be hungry again!" in Gone With the Wind, Hannibal Lecter fondly recalling how "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti" in The Silence of the Lambs or that ultimate post-rubout dictum—"Leave the guns, take the cannoli"—from The Godfather.
Heck, even Humphrey Bogart's character in Casablanca ran a restaurant, and at one point we are informed that "the leading banker in Amsterdam is now the pastry chef in our kitchen."
Recent years have seen a flood of movies having to do with restaurants, cooking and eating. Perhaps it is a reflection of our Food Network culture, though many of the movies are foreign.
Now, if you really want to drill down into the depths of the food/film nexus, here are some real obscurities. Some might be available through Netflix if they are out on DVD. The best bet for finding others is a library with a real good video catalog.
301/302 (korean, 1995)—the story of a professional cook and her anorexic neighbor
Au Petit Marguery (French, 1994)— restaurateur stages a blowout feast to celebrate his establishment's closing
The Baker's Wife (French, 1938)— she runs off, leaving him despondent and not in the mood to bake, so customers hatch a plot to get her to come back
La Cena (italian, 1998)—an ensemble look at one night in an italian trattoria
A Chef in Love (1997, French/Georgian)—dr. Zhivago with a tocque
Chicken and Duck Talk (1988, chinese)—well, that's the translated title, but the movie is about a war between a local dive and a unit of a large fried chicken chain that opens across the street
The Chicken Rice War (2000, singapore)—romeo and Juliet with rival chicken rice stand businesses
The Chinese Feast (1995, chinese)—gangster runs off to canada to start a new life as a chef(!)
Combination Platter (1994)—young immigrant from Hong kong lands job in new york chinese restaurant as a waiter and learns about life in the u.s.
Eating (1990)—a group of women discuss men and food, not necessarily in order of importance...
A Feast at Midnight (1995, british)—kid at English boarding school forms midnight cooking club
Felicia's Journey (1999, british)— bob Hoskins plays the b&i director (called a "catering manager" in this british film) from hell in this creepy thriller
God of Cookery (1997, chinese)— Enter the Dragon meets The Iron Chef...
La Grande Bouffe (1973, italian)— four guys in a suicide pact by food
Love is All There Is (1996)—a young angelina Jolie stars in this romeo and Juliet story of the love between the children of rival italian restaurant owning families in the bronx
Of Cooks and Kung Fu (1979)— the title says it all...
Ribelli per Caso (2001, italian)—hospital patients on restricted diets stage a rebellion
The Story of Boys and Girls (1989, italian)—family secrets emerge during a massive wedding feast
Tampopo (1985, Japanese)— the search for the perfect Japanese noodle soup recipe
The Van (1997, irish)—a pair of unemployed blokes try to make a go of a mobile fish and chip business
Woman on Top (2000)—in which Penelope cruz escapes brazil to pursue a culinary career in san Francisco...
MAJOR FOOD FLIX
American Adobo (2001)