Given that it's Thanksgiving and that I'm in a cheery sort of holiday mood, I thought I'd relax today and look at some of the food movies that are currently playing.
I'm thankful for Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation (321 screens), which could have been another preachy, sociopolitical treatise on how badly big corporations, organized religion and crooked politicians are screwing up the world. Of course, this film is as angry as all the others, but Linklater knows how to package it and to make it as entertaining as his other multi-character piece, Dazed and Confused (1993). This film is bold enough to ask: what can we actually do, or should we bother to do anything at all? Of course, there's no edible food in this movie, but I'm thankful for Bruce Willis' great scene as a cattle supplier, scarfing down a giant cheeseburger (with a beer) and casually telling fast food burger chain rep Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear) that a little cow excrement in our burgers isn't going to kill anyone.
I'm thankful for Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette (286 screens), which has been misinterpreted as plotless and pointless, when in actuality, it's very simply a fetish movie intent on capturing boredom as an essence in itself. A boring movie and a movie about boredom are two entirely different things, folks. Either way, Coppola's movie has the best food of the year, with its mounds of pink cakes and cookies and sculpted, posed dinners. The film's intended tragedy is that the food doesn't actually represent flavor or pleasure -- only distraction.
Although I'm not thankful for Ryan Murphy's bungled adaptation of Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors (133 screens), I am thankful for the scene in which young Augusten (Joseph Cross) poignantly asks his surrogate mother (Jill Clayburgh) to make him some Hamburger Helper.
I'm thankful for Paul Giamatti's impeccable table manners, even while talking, in The Illusionist (116 screens).
I'm thankful for Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton's Little Miss Sunshine (109 screens), which makes such a strong case for eating ice cream, even for future pageant winners.
I'm thankful for David Frankel's The Devil Wears Prada (45 screens) in which Meryl Streep's chilly, sinister fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly is able to sniff out an onion bagel -- after Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) has eaten it. I'm also thankful for the great quantities of coffee beverages devoured in this movie.
I'm thankful for all the post-mortem lasagnas delivered to the doorstep of widower Jack (Len Cariou) in Susan Seidelman's Boynton Beach Club (10 screens).
I'm thankful for Douglas McGrath's Infamous (9 screens), in which Truman Capote (Toby Jones) consumes many a martini. (I plan to have one myself.) I'm thankful for the way the movie uses restaurants to define its characters, from high-society women in fancy hotels to the more working class Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock), dining in a greasy spoon. Perhaps I should also mention that, coincidentally, Capote is the author of perhaps the greatest Thanksgiving short story ever written ("The Thanksgiving Visitor").
I'm thankful for Byambasuren Davaa's The Cave of the Yellow Dog (3 screens), with its documentary-like view of the lives of a family of nomadic sheep farmers in Mongolia. Davaa only spends about half the time on the plot -- a girl finds a stray dog and may or may not get to keep it -- and spends the other half looking at how the family spends its time. Aside from taking care of three children and looking after the herd, the mother makes cheese. She stirs some milk in a pan in some scenes, and then in other scenes, she removes the hardened chunk from beneath a wagon wheel and slices it with a piece of string. I'm not sure it whetted my appetite for cheese, but it was certainly interesting. (At least there was no cow excrement in it.)
I'm thankful for Jan Svankmajer's Lunacy (3 screens), in which the Czech master animator revels once again in his obsession/disdain for meat. Every once in a while, he breaks from the story at hand to show images of meat crawling around, or eyeballs popping out of animal heads. It's not exactly appetizing, but no other filmmaker today has such an interest in food. (See also his amazing short film, Food, from 1992.)
I'm thankful for Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy (2 screens) in which much beer is consumed, if not exactly savored. And in a breakfast scene, Reichardt cleverly defines her two characters Mark (Daniel London) and Kurt (Will Oldham) by the way they order toast: dry or very wet.And although it's above and beyond my humble 400-screen limit, I'm thankful for the moment James Bond (Daniel Craig) munches a bit of caviar after surviving a near fatal drug-induced heart attack in Casino Royale. How thankful is that?