Top 5 foodie films

by Norman Wilner and Susan G. Cole | Last Updated 1 year ago

A great movie about food has to have more on the menu than beautiful plates that make you want to chow down after the credits. To mark a couple of recent foodie-friendly films – including The 100-Foot Journey and The Trip To Italy – and TIFF, of course, here’s our list of films that best combine culinary art with larger themes: friendship, family, collaboration, even spirituality. Bon appétit!

1) Big Night

(Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci, 1996)

In this movie about genius, compro­mise and brotherly love, Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) are trying to find customers for their Italian restaurant. Thing is, their Jersey shore customers want red sauce and spaghetti, not chef Primo’s sublime Tuscan dishes. When Louis Prima and his band plan to visit – which will surely change the resto’s fortunes – the boys prepare a fabulous feast with loving precision. In Big Night’s most poignant sequence – shot in one take and with not a word spoken – Secondo prepares a perfect omelette for Primo. There’s obviously something magical about that egg dish. SGC

2) Jiro Dreams Of Sushi

(David Gelb, 2011)

Most movies about food invite you to take pleasure in a given dish; David Gelb’s remarkable documentary lets you appreciate every step of that dish’s creation. Japanese sushi expert Jiro Ono, 85 when the doc was shot, approaches food preparation as a kind of Zen exercise. He believes there is one perfect way to do something, and finding that way is worth a lifetime’s dedication. Gelb illustrates that concept by talking to Jiro’s employees and family and shooting the fruit of his labours in glossy, high-definition close-up. By the end of the film, it’s hard to argue with the idea. NW

3) Chef

(Jon Favreau, 2014)

Returning to a low-budget, personal indie after a decade making big studio pictures like Elf and the first two Iron Man movies, Jon Favreau tells a little story about a Los Angeles chef who reinvents himself with a food truck after a public meltdown. (The story was inspired by the life of chef Roy Choi, whom Favreau hired to consult on the movie’s menu.) It’s a lovely picture, in no small part because it pays as much attention to the characters’ clear love of cooking as it does to the meals they prepare. Much as Big Night packs a world of emotion into that long take of one brother making breakfast for the other, Chef builds elegant beats of feeling into a scene in which Favreau’s Carl Casper teaches his young son (Emjay Anthony) to make the perfect Cuban sandwich. Ingredients, timing, patience: it all comes down to loving both the process and the people you’re feeding. NW

4) Ratatouille

(Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava, 2007)

This delightful Pixar comedy about a Parisian rodent (voiced by Patton Oswalt) who dreams of cooking for humans makes us understand the appeal of little Remy’s dishes without showing a single image of actual food. Writer/director Brad Bird knows it’s not about the meals themselves, but about the connections great food allows us to make in our hearts and minds. In the exquisite, wordless climax , critic Anton Ego tastes the epo­ny­mous dish and is instantly transported back to his childhood. If that’s never happened to you, you’re just not eating at the right restaurants. (Fun fact: a friend of mine who’s an actual chef refuses to see this movie to this very day because the notion of rats in a kitchen makes him ill.) NW

5) Babette’s Feast

(Gabriel Axel, 1987)

In Isak Dinesen’s short story set in the late 19th century, housekeeper Ba­bette (Stéphane Audran), who’s fled to a remote Danish village to escape France’s civil war, receives a financial windfall. She decides to spend it on an elaborate, extravagant meal for her Puritan hosts and an assortment of crabby villagers. The cooking is done almost entirely in silence – the sequence where she makes turtle soup is mesmerizing – and the source of tension ingenious: can Babette’s sumptuous feast be a transformative experience for her guests, who claim to be happier with a pickle up their bums than with sensuous food in their mouths? SGC

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