What is it with Christmas movies and food? Whether it's George Bailey borrowing his mother's good dishes for the high school dance in It's a Wonderful Life or Ralphie's little brother showing Mom "how the piggie eats" in A Christmas Story, eating is inextricably linked with holiday festivities on screen and off. As research for his latest guide Have Yourself A Movie Little Christmas (Limelight) film critic Alonso Duralde watched more than 122 films. That makes him our official Yuletide movie expert. Here, Duralde ticks off ten memorable big screen Xmas food moments.
10. About a Boy
This Nick Hornby adaptation gives us two Christmas dinners that show exactly what's going on with the characters: midway through the film, there's a gathering that's cramped and awkward and tedious and quite possibly vegan, but then the film ends with a much more glorious meal, filled with wonder and warmth, and the characters happy and fulfilled, and the option of either meat or veggie main courses.
Christmas imagery runs rampant throughout Terry Gilliam's futuristic dystopia, from sinister Santas to the half-opened presents that people keep giving our hero, Sam Lowery (Jonathan Pryce). One of the film's many brilliant throwaway gags involves a swanky restaurant (which, like all the other public spaces in the film, has huge and ugly industrial ducts snaking from floor to ceiling) featuring light-up menus with gorgeous-looking entrees, even though patrons actually get served a brightly colored lump of what appears to be some kind of terrifying hominy-mashed potatoes hybrid.
8. La Bûche
The title refers to the rich Yule-log cake dessert -- although Charlotte Gainsbourg's holiday-hating character in the film says the treat "makes me want to throw up" -- but much of the movie revolves around Emmanuelle Béart knocking herself out trying to prepare the perfect holiday feast, not that anyone in her family appreciates her efforts, least of all her adulterous husband. (She's got her own thing going on the side with a wholesale grocer.) Catastrophe strikes when Béart finishes trussing up the turkey, only to discover that her sister Sabine Azéma has forgotten to stuff it with truffles, which apparently is French for "you've ruined Christmas."
7. Christmas in Connecticut
Barbara Stanwyck stars in this comedy as a 1940s version of Martha Stewart, a newspaper columnist beloved from coast to coast for her articles about gourmet cooking and looking after her husband and baby in a rustic Connecticut farmhouse. Trouble is, she's a sham -- a bachelor girl who can't even boil water, living in a Manhattan walk-up and relying on the restaurant downstairs to keep her fed. But when the magazine's owner sends a war hero to spend Christmas with her as a publicity stunt, she's got to come up with the house, the husband, the baby... and the ability to make a traditional holiday dinner from scratch.
6. The Dead
Almost all of John Huston's haunting final film, based on the short story by James Joyce, takes place at the annual Feast of the Epiphany dinner hosted by the elderly Morkan sisters in 1904 Dublin. While tales are exchanged over the table (and a great deal of port is consumed by some of the guests), it's the after-dinner entertainment that causes Gretta Conroy (Angelica Huston) to remember suddenly the lost love of her youth, bringing the tale to its stirring and poignant climax.
5. Fanny and Alexander
While the theatrical version of Ingmar Bergman's classic tale begins with one of the most sumptuous Christmas celebrations ever captured on film, the miniseries version made for Danish TV -- and now available on DVD via the Criterion Collection -- devotes its entire first episode to the Ekdahl family's Yuletide merriment. The most notable addition is a dinner scene shot around a huge table where both the family and their servants (who are shocked at such fraternization) share an elaborate feast.
4. Little Women
Gillian Armstrong's 1994 version features an early scene that establishes the generosity and compassion of the March sisters: it's Christmas morning, and after months of scraping by during the Civil War, the family is excited to tuck into a breakfast of sausages, oranges, bread, and butter, but they decide instead to take the food to an impoverished immigrant family who lives down the road. Given that most of us would probably plunge a fork into a stranger's hand before giving him a bite of our Cinnabon, this is an admirable display of kindness.
3. The Ref
Squabbling spouses, unbearable family members, and an irritable jewel thief holding them all hostage is bad enough, but then everyone has to sit around the table and try to choke down a meal of distinctly unappetizing-looking Scandinavian holiday treats made by Caroline (Judy Davis), whose crankiness is matched only by her lack of culinary skills. The fact that everyone at the table is wearing a flaming St. Lucia wreath on their heads just makes it funnier.
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2. The Santa Clause
Toy company executive Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) tries desperately to combat the weight gain and beard growth that comes with his new position as Santa Claus, but his new St. Nick instincts get the better of him at a business luncheon where his co-workers order salad (dressing on the side), and he asks for a Caesar with no dressing... and a warm chocolate chip cookie...and a little slice of cheesecake... and crème brulée... and a hot fudge sundae (with extra hot fudge on the side). Scott's salad, of course, goes uneaten.
1. This Christmas
This charming ensemble comedy about an African-American family gathering together for the holidays (in the gorgeous Victoria Park neighborhood of L.A.) features a series of tantalizing meals -- frequently shot from overhead -- being churned out by Ma'Dear (Loretta Devine) with an assist from housekeeper Rosie (Lupe Ontiveros). There's so much cooking and eating in this movie that there's actually a conversation about who's making dinner on Christmas Day versus who's going to cook on Christmas Eve, which leads to a disastrous attempt at gumbo by daughter Kelli (Sharon Leal), whose kitchen ineptitude is a family legend.