Monday, April 30, 2007

Food and movies: The perfect combo

Though it's not really a movie about food at all, I was inspired to think about this list after reading that adorable Isla Fisher will star in the upcoming flick "The Cookie Queen."

Fisher, who falls in that category of women I'll watch do just about anything on a movie screen, is just one solid movie from becoming a major star, and this one may be it. In it she plays Claire "Cookie" Taylor, who holds the all-time record for selling Girl Scout cookies. When a fifth-grader threatens to end her 20-year reign, Fisher's character sets out to sabotage her. Not sure why, but I find movies about being mean to children, when they're well-written, to be very funny.

But enough about that. Today is all about movies and food, two of my favorite subjects, so here goes.

If you can have spaghetti Westerns, why not a noodle Western? (Spaghetti was invented in China anyway, I believe.) Director Juzo Itami shows his love for not only Westerns but also gangster flicks in this very funny comedy about one man's quest to open a fast-food noodle shop.

Mostly Martha
Before this one becomes an American romantic comedy this summer starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart and young Abigail Breslin, do yourself a favor and rent the original German flick. In it, a headstrong chef has to take in her equally stubborn 8-year-old niece, and also begins knocking boots with an Italian chef. It's all much better than I make it sound here, believe me.

Big Night
I recently watched this again after my former fellow cubicle slave Dan Maley gave me a CD full of Louis Prima songs, which is just perfection. Even more fun than his silly songs is seeing Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub as two battling brothers who run a struggling Italian restaurant on the Jersey shore in the '50s.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
If nothing else, this flick from Peter Greenaway proves that food can be used for very disgusting ends on a movie screen. It also proves, of course, that Helen Mirren, Michel Gambon and Richard Boehringer are fantastic actors, and that Greenaway can find beauty in even the most decadently savage scenarios.

Bend It Like Beckham
OK, not a food movie per se, but it's one of my favorites, so just bear with me. Director Gurinder Chadha shows how important the making of "Indian dinner" is to the family of our heroine, played by Parminder Nagra, with great comedic effect. In one of the silliest DVD extras of all time, she also shows you how to make aloo gobi, which, if I remember correctly, is some kind of Indian chicken dish.

Of the shows that PBS used to show (and still might, I'm not sure) on Saturday nights, this and "Waiting for God" were always my favorites. Lenny Henry plays Gareth Blackstock, who runs "Le Chateau Anglaise" with a great culinary touch but the people skills of a dimwit.

Babette's Feast
Few movies celebrate the virtues of the gourmet meal with more verve than this flick from director Gabriel Axel. When the titular Babette arrives in a small village in Denmark and shows the locals what they've been missing out on, it's a delight to behold.

Before Jean-Pierre Jeunet made the adorable "Amelie," he teamed up with Marc Caro to director this perfectly black comedy about cannibalism. I'm not sure what it says it about me that now two movies on this list are about people eating people, but trust me that this flick is great.

I'm not sure exactly how big a role food played in this one, but it's just about the funniest movie to ever take place in Baltimore, so it had to make the list. Steve Gutenberg (yes, him) is hilarious, as are Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern, Timothy Daly, Kevin Bacon and others. If you haven't seen this gem already, there's probably nothing I can say to convince you to break down and just do it.

Simply Irresistible
OK, I know, there is not one single standard by which you could call this a great movie, and probably not even a good one. However, as lighter-than-air fare perfect for Saturday afternoon TV, it just perfectly fits the bill. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a chef who finds out she has magic powers, or something like that, and then uses them to pitch woo. It's even sillier than it sounds here, but I have to confess I enjoyed it.

And there you have it. Hopefully you found something to watch here, and please feel free to add any I might have missed. Peace out.


jeremy said...

Like Water for Chocolate. Eat Drink Man Woman. The Scent of Green Papaya. Tortilla Soup. The Cook the Thief His Wife and Her Lover.
But Big Night is still probably my favorite.

jeremy said...

Oh, and some good-ish news on Watch with Kristin about the beloved VM. here

Beth said...

I love Mostly Martha and was bummed to hear that Catherine got the lead in the remake. But I'll go see it, for comparison purposes. And Big Night is one of the all-time great food movies, brilliantly cast. The Cook, The Thief ... is a total trip. Strangely, it's the one I own, but I bought it cuz I know someone in it, and I buy all his movies. As for Like Water for Chocolate, I thought the book was better than the movie, but the movie, as adaptatations of books go, was rather well done.

Reel Fanatic said...

Like Water For Chocolate was indeed on that almost made the list, and probably should have instead of the simply silly Simply Irresistible ... I'm a sucker for magical realism, and that movie nails it almost perfectly

Marina said...

Great list! My favourite is easily "
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover". Truly bizzare yet completely watchable.

The Bloody Munchkin said...

Thank you for making me feel less guilty about liking Simply Irrisistable. I was beginning to think I was the only one...

Reel Fanatic said...

I think if there were more honesty in the world, munchkin, a lot more people would admit to liking that flick .. It's certainly not high art, but very entertaining nonetheless

Jennifer said...

I thought my high school best friend and I were the only people who loved Simply Irresistible! I own that movie!

Damian said...

I don't know whether they "count" or not but when I think of the subject of movies and food, I also tend to remember My Dinner With Andre and Fargo.

Oh, and Big Night is one of my all-time favorite movies with one of the greatest (and most moving) final shots of any film.

Divinity said...

Volver also used food imagery quite well.
I liked Maggie Gyllenhaal's food connection in Stranger than Fiction. My mother and I shared a rare moment of unity while watching The Joy Luck Club On a more gruesome side, the use of cooking and eating in The Grotesque (which I saw when it was first released as Gentlemen Don't Eat Poets) was the only redeeming feature of an otherwise disappointingly humourless movie. In the same vein, I might as well include Top of the Food Chain
The BF assures me that The Last Supper belongs on the list as well.
To look forward to, Bruce Greenwood bought the rights of Timothy Taylor's novel, Stanley Park a few years ago and planned on starring in the film adaptation. I haven't much about it lately but the novel's juxtaposition of the restaurant industry and homelessness made me look twice at my meals for a long time.

Neel Mehta said...

Aloo gobi = cauliflower and potatoes.

Simply Irresistible is as watchable as it is derivative. Saturday afternoon TV is the perfect way to describe it.

Sure, Sarah Michelle Gellar looks like she doesn't even know what food is. And Sean Patrick Flanery is given little to say other than "This is very, very, very good."

But if serious actors like Dylan Baker and Patricia Clarkson can have a little fun, why not?

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks for the clarification, Neel .. I watched the extra a long time ago, but couldn't remember what the ingredients were

I'm definitely with you on Volver, Divinity, but I'm afraid I have to draw the line at Chocolat .. it's just too sugary-sweet for my tastes, I guess

Nell Minow said...

I'm fond of the dinner scene in "Tom Jones" and there is something about the way Paul Sorvino slices garlic in "Goodfellas" (in jail!) that I think is worth adding to the list.

Reel Fanatic said...

The "Goodfellas" scene is a definitely welcome addition, Nell ... The scene from "The Godfather" where Clemenza is making the spaghetti sauce

Linda said...

Passionada makes interesting use of food in it's story. Beautifully filmed too!

Reel Fanatic said...

I usually have at least passing knowledge of the movies people mention in the comments here, Linda, but I have to admit you've stumped me with this one ... Looks like a definite addition for my always-stocked Netflix queue!

Nell Minow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nell Minow said...

I'm glad to see the reference to Passionada, an odd but appealing little film with a rare leading appearance by the wonderful Jason Isaac. It differs a great deal from the original script (a friend auditioned for it and told me the whole last third was completely different), which explains some huge holes in the story. But it has a wonderfully evocative atmosphere and great music and I think you will appreciate it.

Oh, and another great and underappreciated food movie, "What's Cooking," the pre-Beckham movie by Gurinder Chada.

Divinity said...

I think sugary-sweet is probably what they were going for... that imaginary kangaroo followed me around for awhile after watching that one.

Reel Fanatic said...

Wow ... I always enjoy it when my ignorance about movies is exposed ... I have heard the name "What's Cooking" for years now, but had no idea it was a Gurinder Chada movie ... That's a definite Netflix addition too

Deborah said...

Fried Green Tomatoes.

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