Tonight’s big win at the Oscars 2012 will be for The Help – no crystal ball needed here. It’s a great movie; I have familial connections to it and am biased for it to win, but its actors are terrific and deserve the statues.
The food angle, of course, is the infamous “chocolate” pie. Southerners have a wicked sense of humor that way – they don’t get mad, they get even – often with food.
Tales float in my own family of serving extreme heat chili, or vinegar in the coffee. A former preacher’s wife told of serving dishwater to her husband: “What do you want for dinner Sam?” “Anything is fine.” “Soup?” “That’s fine.” “Chicken?” “That’s fine.” “Dishwater?” “That’s fine…” And so it was written.
There are the barbecued ribs in Fried Green Tomatoes you wouldn’t want to go near. Watching them being chopped was enough for me. (The fried green tomato throwdown is a given as a great food scene.)
Food stars in winning movies
My other favorites food movies are in this list – imcomplete, for sure, but these are the top picks for enjoying food in at least a supporting role.
Babette’s Feast - probably my all-time favorite food movie – and it had to do as much with the incredible dinner reproduced from the movie by chefs at Cafe L’Europe after viewing. The story is set in 19th century Denmark, and has to do with a French woman fleeing France’s revolution. She lands at the house of two sisters and their father, an elderly minister. It’s an austere, prim and sacrificial life these Protestant church members lead. To mark the 100th birthday of the father after his death, Babette convinces them to allow her to make the meal. The dinner scene is nearly palpable on the screen. I smile every time I think of this quite unholy feast, and the repressed women trying not to express their extreme pleasure.
Eat, Drink, Man, Woman - Hilarious in parts, this is a tale of a retired chef raising three daughters in Taiwan. Food is definitely the fabric in our lives, as played out in the threads all wrapping around the chef and his loved ones – and those who lust for him. Directed by Ang Lee, it’s such a winner – from the opening scene of killing the fish for dinner to the charming ending. Made more fun for me because I went with a Taiwanese chef to see it.
Under the Tuscan Sun - You can’t go wrong with Italy – its style, its people and certainly, its food. Diane Lane moves lives everyone’s dream of dropping everything and following her highway of bliss, complete with winding roads, potholes and incredible views. Food is amazing — and can bridge all cultures. The cinematography is fabulous. Get your passport stamped before watching – you’ll want to at least visit.
Tampopo - Another Asian movie, this is a quest for the perfect bowl of noodles and the training of the cook – by two rowdy truck drivers. Dubbed a Ramen Western, it’s a hilarious romp with mobsters, housewives training in Western food etiquette, and office workers out to emulate their boss. The underlying story is of Tampopo, learning to achieve perfection in a bowl of soupy noodles. (Joy Noodles in West Palm Beach is the perfect pre-dinner meal for this one.)
Like Water for Chocolate - Star-crossed lovers in Mexico are the main characters in this drama. In a household where the oldest daughter always marries first and the youngest, never, we’re caught up in the tale of Tita and Pedro, living under one roof and passionately in love – yet forbidden to marry. Foods that Tita prepares with her mother represent her feelings toward her sister, her mother and Pedro. A heartbreaking love story played out in a fabulous Mexican kitchen. Plain tacos will never do for you again.
Chocolate - A woman opens a chocolate shop in a French town repressed by a mayor who coerces them to believe all pleasure leads to temptation and ultimately, abandonment. The shop owner has issues herself of commital but perseveres with the shop. It’s a love story several times over, and you’ll look at filled chocolates differently afterward.
Ratatouille – Ostensibly a kid’s movie, it’s a romp for adults who get the tongue – in cheese – humor. Animated hilarious tale of a rat that’s a goumand, hooking up with a wannabe chef who just doesn’t have the chops. The rats are responsible for the acclaim bestowed by the toughest critic around. This is famous chef Paul Bocuse’s favorite movie of all time.
Just as food throughout a movie can make the whole film, sometimes just a clip is all it takes. As a movie nut, I could list hundreds, but here are a handful of those that crack me up.
The donut scene in It Happened One Night. Streetwise newspaper reporter Clark Gable teaches spoiled heiress Claudette Colbert how to correctly dunk a donut in a cup of coffee.
Rain Man eating pancakes – cut up and with toothpicks in a diner – and counting the toothpicks when they’re spilled – earned Dustin Hoffman the OCD award and an Oscar.
Cool Hand Luke eats 100 hard-boiled eggs at one sitting. Even Paul Newman’s famous baby blues seem to bulge.
The Lady and the Tramp – the spaghetti and meatballs dinner the pups enjoy in the alley behind the restaurant is simply delightfully charming.
Jack Nicholson wants toast – his way – in Five Easy Pieces. No substitutions, unfortunately, at this diner. Waitresses still fear him.
Full-on duck Thanksgiving dinner in A Christmas Story. Who knew ducks had heads? Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra…
Shake a martini to a three-quarter waltz time, says William Powell in the Thin Man. Oh, heck – any martini scene with Powell and Myrna Loy is a winner – about half the scenes in all their movies.