When epicurean delights hit the big screen, magic fills the air. The color is often magnified, and there's always a shining gleam in the eye. But you don't need faerie dust and magical spells to make this happen -- it's all within the food -- the hard, yet giving crunch of a piece of chocolate, the melting creaminess of aged cheese, the glistening slice of a fresh roast turkey, and even the refreshing bite of wine, or the calming warmth of tea to cap it off.
Although foodie movies are without their two greatest allies -- the sense of smell and taste -- some still manage to portray the enchanting spirit of fine feasts. Many films have food in them, but not as many delve into the passion of it -- the appreciation of flavor and texture, as well as the art. Stranger than Fiction has some tasty treats, but they're a side benefit of the film. Ying Ning's Perpetual Motion taps into it a little more -- detailing the creation of a feast, as well as the sensuality inherent in appreciative eating. But then there are others where it is all about the cuisine. It may seem picky, but in a world where we want the best of everything, is it really that snobbish to love a delectable piece of food?
The nibbles might bring people together, or drive them on the path of their lives, but either way, the films would be lost without it. In the wake of the holiday that makes gourmet gluttony a national celebration, here are seven films for foodies. They only tap into a small portion of both the world of cinema and culinary delights, but they hit many aspects of it, from the real drama of tea to the magic of chocolate. Nibble on these, and be sure to share your own.
It has been just over a year since Adrienne Shelly was murdered, but her final film still thrives, and will hit DVD shelves next week. One of the most recent selections, Waitress embodies the idea of food as a tool of expression. Keri Russell's Jenna is unhappy -- she is in a controlling and suffocating relationship, and she dreams of a way out. As she saves to make that happen, she expresses herself in her pies:
Earl Murders Me Because I'm Having an Affair Pie -- You smash blackberries and raspberries into a chocolate crust.
Pregnant Miserable Self-Pitying Loser Pie -- Lumpy oatmeal with fruitcake mashed in... Flambé of course.
Both the creation and process are important: creating the pies allows her to think and imagine beyond the narrow confines of her life, and making them allows her to calm herself. The pies are also a familial tool -- they link her to the memory of her mother, and are how she plans to connect with her own child. But it's not just in sap. Shelly throws drama, comedy, and quirk into Waitress, which makes it the kind of film you can laugh at and enjoy as a piece of art, or as a tool for baking inspiration.
Eat Drink Man Woman
One of Ang Lee's first films, Eat Drink Man Woman might sound like some sort of Cro-Magnon story of food and sex, but it is actually the story of a family who communicates through weekly dinners. Chu is the senior chef at a big restaurant, who meticulously prepares a feast every Sunday to connect with his three single daughters. He doesn't know how to communicate with them and relate to them, so he concocts impressive feasts each week -- putting great care into the preparation, cooking, and presentation of each dish. With his daughters, this tradition feels forced and awkward, almost unappreciated, but then he begins to make beautiful lunches for a young schoolgirl, and you can see the expression of his concern in his food. It's comfort food, but only because of the care placed in it, not it's sugary, fattening content.
All in this Tea
As a documentary, this film is much different than the others on this list, but Les Blank's latest work deserves its spot. Following the life and work of David Lee Hoffman, an American importer and exporter of fine, handmade tea, All in this Tea focuses on the delicate art of tea in its natural habitat -- China. The film delights in each and every area of the tea process -- the farming, drying, selection, brewing, and drinking. It's a wonderfully comprehensive film that educates, but also inspires -- it has an undeniable, hard-to-ignore passion and excitement to it, showing tea to be much more than a few bags thrown in a curving teapot.
Chocolat is both a passionate declaration of love for chocolate, and a fantasy-free fairy tale where pleasing the tongue leads to life and happiness. If only everything could be that simple -- and if only eating daily sweets could keep us all so healthy and attractive! Vianne and her daughter come to a dark, windy, pious town whose inhabitants are weary and unhappy. By opening up a chocolate shop and sharing specially-blended treats, she slowly brings life to the town. Darkness, fear, and apprehension is slowly replaced with passion, happiness, and camaraderie. It's also full of the delicate preparation of fine chocolate, and how the right, 'sinful' treat can be the perfect remedy.
When dysfunction meets taste-bud passion, you get Sideways. Sure, it's a zany comedy where two men go off for a final week of hurrahs before the one gets married, but it's also a comparison of food as life. Little educational nougats are thrown into the film, such as how to taste and smell a wine, but the truth comes into why it appeals so much to some of these characters. For Maya, it's the history and evolution: "I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today, it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day." Miles, meanwhile, is passionate in how the Pinot grape is like himself: " It's uh... It's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention." It makes you wonder just why each of us love certain foods...
While some might find their inner epicurean in adulthood, some fall for food as kids. There's not too many choices out there for these guys, but either way, Ratatouille is one of the best of the bunch. It's aimed at children (while also being fun for adults), it teaches them about the inner-goings-on of restaurants, and it shows them just how fun it can be to throw herbs and spices together into delectable concoctions. It's got the feel-good family fare balanced with lots of food appreciation and experimentation. What's particularly great is that it gets kids thinking beyond chocolate chip cookies and just maybe into food they would have never touched before.
Bella Martha/Mostly Martha
In Bella Martha, the world of food is a wall to hide behind. A head chef, she methodically prepares meals, but unlike the above Chu, who uses it to communicate, Martha uses it as her protection and her friend. She mourns and emotes in private, and stays stoic and tense on the outside -- cooking away the feelings and trials that bother her. Instead of talking of her problems in therapy, she discusses the fine art of food, and how ingredients must be prepared properly. However, when her sister is killed and her niece comes into her care, a young girl who won't eat, life begins to change amidst a mouth-watering collection of gourmet delicacies. (Well, delicacies except for the pigeon talk that is -- but to each their own!)