Food and cinema have always paired well together. From a starving Charlie Chaplin consuming his shoe in Gold Rush to this summer’s food-centered movies, Chef and The Hundred-Foot Journey, film can be a great medium to convey the visceral experience of eating and cooking.
Whether the intense beauty of a lavish meal in movies like Babette’s Feast and Like Water for Chocolate, or the ick factor of ground-up bugs in Snowpiercer, watching someone else munch can have the power to make you salivate or cringe.
This list covers movies about food that have been mostly lost or forgotten to time or circumstance — wonderful pictures like Big Night have had their moment in the culinary sun. The unsung films covered here will make you hungry, nauseous or even inspired to tackle an unusual dish yourself. The stories will also make you think, feel and talk about the act of mastication. Why not grab some takeout, pour some wine and cozy up to one?
A charming love story, combined with a treasure hunt for the best noodles in Japan, makes Udon a perfect date night rental. It begins with Kosuke Matsui returning to his small town of Sanuki after failing to make it as a comic in New York. Never one to appreciate his own culture, including his father’s udon shop, Kosuke is reluctant to carry on the family business but he stumbles on a job writing about the noodles and discovers connections with himself and his family by exploring the local food. Definitely pair Udon with a trip to Little Osaka for maximum enjoyment.
Paul and Mary Bland, a fussy and pretentious couple with a penchant for French wine, dream of one day owning their own restaurant, with the uninspired yet amusing name of Chez Bland. Set during a peculiar moment in the early '80s, the Blands find themselves surrounded by an unwelcome debauchery. Living in an apartment complex filled with swingers, the prudish duo stumble on an unlikely way to raise money for their culinary venture: Lure horny men into their clutches, kill them and rob them blind. This black comedy takes the bizarre plot even further when the Blands meet the titular Raoul, a man who makes a living selling corpses. Perhaps not the most appetizing of food films, Eating Raoul brilliantly manages to poke fun at foodies, obsessions and the American Dream. Perhaps best to accompany with a vegetarian meal.
Mid-August Lunch is a comedie de cuisine. Gianni, a middle-aged man somewhat saddled with his aging diva of a mother, gets hornswoggled into taking in three more lady elders as his friends flee the heat of Rome for vacations and affairs in the countryside. Cheerfully accepting his unusual plight, Gianni dons an apron and cooks. He cooks pasta. He cooks asparagus. He cooks a light summer vegetable broth. The women literally eat it up. Dietary restrictions get thrown to the wind as the unlikely group while away the days communing over home-cooked meals and finding their way to friendship. The breaking of bread creates such a camaraderie that no one wants to leave. Miraculously, being saddled with senior citizens begins to look like a lucky break. Swirl spaghetti while watching for maximum enjoyment.
Burning Man begins with all the freneticism of a hot kitchen during rush hour — all jangle and confusion. Matthew Goode plays Tom, a chef at his wit’s end — is there any other kind in cinema? In this case, the temper tantrums, bad parenting, and woeful professionalism can all be traced to his wife’s terminal cancer. In between bouts of operatic emotion, the hunt for the perfect ingredients absorbs a lot of Tom’s attention. The trendy food scene in Australia’s Bondi Beach and the drive to create a nourishing, creative meal works as a perfect metaphor for the grind of daily life. The attempt to get through each day pulls Tom out of his downward descent. Burning Man will make you want to eat out somewhere fabulous where you can wear your finest threads.
From Bad Baby Pie (ham quiche) to Kick in the Pants Pie (cinnamon spice custard) to I Hate My Husband Pie (chocolate caramel), the baked goods in Waitress take on a lot of frustration from baker Jenna Hunterson (Keri Russell). Stuck in an abusive marriage and unexpectedly pregnant, Jenna pours all of her emotion into her pies, which luckily does not seem to effect their flavor. A waitress at Joe’s Pie Diner, a café serving 27 varieties of pie a day, Jenna loses herself in her work. All of the creating and mixing and rolling out dough help her forget her plight. Luckily, for Jenna, and for us, the magic intrinsic in her pies becomes her ticket to a different sort of life. Oh, and there's lots of pie. Buy some. Bake some. Whatever you do, eat some.
Somewhere between “Vegas and nowhere” exists Bagdad Café, the kind of place where you are more likely to get accidentally shot than find a good cup of coffee. In fact, when the movie begins, the rundown and rickety coffee shop, run by the deliciously grouchy Miss Brenda, is without even a coffee maker. Into this morass comes a stranger named Miss Jasmine. German, adrift and unexpectedly cheerful, Miss Jasmine throws herself into lightening everyone’s load. Don’t expect delectable tableaus of gleaming entrees; what is special about Bagdad Café is how it gets to the heart of why a restaurant can matter, why the true gift of a good watering hole is that it becomes a place for people to gather. Find your own favorite hang out and hang out.
Queen of Hearts
Queen of Hearts begins as a sort of fairy tale, with a young Italian woman spurning an arranged marriage for a chance at true love. The film’s flight of fancy continues as the newlyweds flee to London, open the Lucky Café and start a family. The romance of growing up in a coffee shop pervades director Jon Amiel’s story, with the youngest son, Eddie Luca (Ian Hawks), narrating as if reading a story aloud. Warm and inviting, the Lucky Café serves everything from risotto to burgers. A teapot boils incessantly on the stove and a secondhand cappuccino machine, dubbed La Bella Machina, froths milk and makes espresso. The small space in the café does double duty as the Luca’s living room, with a television often playing in the background and family dinners being served on the formica. Warm, frothy coffee with a side of your favorite cookies would be the perfect accompaniment.