From Mise en Place to Mise en Scène: Oscar-Worthy Films About Food
And the Oscar goes to...
We ordered up our favorite movies that are love letters to food: all peppered with sensory overload in the hustle and bustle of busy kitchens or bountiful food porn shots. Dig in! These food movies are worth the binge.
1 The Hundred-Foot Journey
Director Lasse Hallström follows up sensuous Chocolat with a feel good epicurean romp in the form of The Hundred-Foot Journey, an aesthetically pleasing film set in the South of France and painted with tastes and colors of Mumbai. The film follows two restaurants across the street from one another, the Michelin-starred French fine dining fixture Le Saule Pleureur, which is overseen by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) and a mom-and-pop Indian restaurant run by Papa Kadam (Om Puri). Not just a competition—the heartwarming tale is about an immigrant family who finds refuge and a home in France and its people in spite of trial and derision. At its saccharine center is Papa Kadam’s son Hassan (Manish Dayal), a prodigious Indian chef who is captivated by the French cuisine and La Saule’s sous-chef across the street. The movie comes together at the presentation of the Beef Bourguignon á la Hassan, a momentous symbol that marinates and marries the technique of France and the flavors of India.
Arguably one of Pixar’s best films, Ratatouille is a film about Remy, a rat with a rare and special talent. Armed with a keen sense of smell and a passion for cooking, Remy leaves behind the colony and makes his way to one of the world’s gastronomic centers—Paris. Rat and man come together when Remy forges an alliance with Linguini, a dish washer from Gusteau’s, in order to create a smorgasbord of culinary genius. Similar to the best dishes, Ratatouille is a film where each ingredient works in absolute perfect harmony with each other—from the animation, to the comedy, to the existential contemplation. In its warm center, it is a film about art and the passionate people that create it. Like the eponymous dish the film is based off of, people can become far more than what they appear—what was once a peasant dish is now someone’s childhood capsulated in delicious food.
3 The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel is the recounting of the misadventures of Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), the legendary concierge of the Grand Budapest, and Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori & F. Murray Abraham), the lobby boy who becomes his friend, partner-in-crime, and the narrator of the story. The death of a wealthy patron is the catalyst for an adventure involving stolen artwork and a prison break with cakes and pastries from Mendl’s bakery. One of the principal scene-stealers of this film is Herr Mendl’s Courtesan au Chocolat—a delicate little pastel-colored tower of choux pastry that fits dreamily amid the hues of the Grand Budapest. Innocent and harmless to look at, the Courtesan au Chocolat is a sinfully rich treat that, like Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) who prepares it, can take the role of crème fatale.
4 Eat Drink Man Woman
Every Sunday, master chef Chu (Sihung Lung) has a ritual of preparing a large, elaborate, and decadent dinner feast for his three grown daughters, who all attend with a degree of irreverence toward their father and his dinner. In critically acclaimed Eat Drink Man Woman, Taiwanese writer-director Ang Lee masterfully uses food as a symbol for human wants and a changing Taiwan. For chef Chu, when words fail to come out of your mouth, laboriously serving it on a dish and speaking to the stomach is your way of showing affection. While the foreground shows a large spread of mouth-watering Taiwanese fare, these constant Sunday feasts are but a backdrop to the globalization of Taiwan and the volumes of bottled feelings and self-imposed inhibition in the Chu clan. With tragedy leading to the acceptance of change, the once chore-like Sunday feast becomes a place for storytelling and eating delicious food as father and daughters individually seek their own recipes for happiness—all over a bowl of Dragon & Phoenix, a stir-fried amalgamation of lobster, chicken and vegetables with a garlicky bowl of stir-fried peas and asparagus.
5 Big Night
A critically-acclaimed movie directed by and starring Stanley Tucci, Big Night is a film about two contrasting Italian immigrant brothers (Stanley Tucci & Tony Shalhoub) who own a failing restaurant in the Jersey Shore, but are given the chance to keep the business afloat if they can turn up the heat on the Big Night to impress a concert-going crowd. The film is a story of family dynamics and migration at its core, where the bonds of family, brotherly affection, and love are all captured in the humble task of frying an egg. Big Night is decadence and gustatory pleasure on film with a starring role by the Timpano, a mountain of flawlessly cooked pasta, Italian meatballs, salami, eggs, bathed in a ragu sauce, and baked in a lithe dough.
Chef is feel-good food porn at its finest in the hands of Jon Favreau, who stars, writes, and directs the mouth-watering film. After quitting his job in an upscale restaurant past its prime, Chef Carl (Favreau) takes to the road in a food truck to start from scratch. Through a long journey from one coast to another, Chef Carl renews his relationship with food, friends and family along the way. While taking us from Miami to Los Angeles, ‘Chef’ becomes a degustation tour of America and its varied flavors, influences, and textures—from the sugary beignets from New Orleans, to the meltingly hot Cubanos fitted with pork, pickles, and Swiss cheese, to the smoky Texas-style long-barbeque beef brisket sliders.