Food on Film: Why the Best Films Are Food Films

I was recently asked what makes a great book. An impossible to question to answer, no doubt, but for me, the very best writing includes long desriptions of food and eating.

I was recently asked what makes a great book. An impossible to question to answer, no doubt, but for me, the very best writing includes long desriptions of food and eating. We’re not talking straight lists of food here: that would be ridiculous. No, my favourite books have sections of text devoted to the slow consumption of simple food, enjoyed as a break from the narrative in which time the characters can re-fuel and reflect. Plus a reference to a cold glass of milk is essential.

It seems natural, then, that some of my favourite moments on film are those in which the characters take a break, pull up a chair and eat. It’s not just the pure enjoyment of food consumption which thrills me so. Rather, in these scenes (which are far too few for my liking in most films), I am at my most relaxed: I feel that I too am at home.

In light of this, I have been thinking (and eating) a lot this week to decide my top ten food moments on film. So here they are (enjoy with a glass of milk). 

10. Alice in the Cities (Wim Wenders, 1974)

One of Wenders’s stellar Euro road movies, Alice in the Cities follows a young girl and a journalist who set about trying to find her Grandmother from a vague memory of a photograph. Once again, Wenders proves his might as a member of the New German Cinema in this geographic traipse of 1970s Germany. Plus it’s scored by Can. This scene features two of the best things in the entire film: a kid humming tunelessly and a gloopy ice-cream. Drool. 

9. Kramer vs. Kramer (Robert Benton, 1979)

Even if you aren’t obsessed by Dustin Hoffman (haha, I know), this tale of a couple’s brutal fight for the custody of their rosy-cheeked, knicker-wearing son is completely devastating. After his wife leaves, Ted Kramer attempts to retain normality by making his son french toast. Cue heart-breaking scene of broken bowls and tears. The films ends in a return to this food, the father and son’s strengthened bond depicted in their harmonious breakfast activities. 

8. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)

This film can be more easily compared to a painting; the search for a dead body amidst the Turkish countryside soon turns into a musing upon the intricacies of existence. The best moment comes when the team take a break from their search to relish a midnight feast at a local’s home. Maybe it was the pace of the film, maybe it was because I was hungry when I watched it, but nevertheless, this scene will make you at once relish and crave the sweet silence of food consumption. 

7. Archipelago (Joanna Hogg, 2010)

Unlike the other entries, the eating in this film does not happen as a result of harmony. Rather, at the dinner table the painfully middle class family scream, scowl and stew in their mutual resent for each other’s idiosycracies. Hey! It’s family. Regardless of this, I relished these scenes for the muffled screams of the potato filled mouths. Make mine roasted. 

6. Short Cuts (Robert Altman, 1993)

An epic mash-up of the day-to-day lives of the residents of L.A., this film was inspired by 9 tales penned by the Daddy of the short story, Raymond Carver. The whole film’s a masterpiece, but my food fetish was sent wild over the diner scenes in which a brooding Tom Waits moodly watches his waitress wife as she is hit on by horny truckers. The butter pattys, the sound of the coffee cups, the words “butter patty”. It’s all I could do not to take a fork to a block of butter and eat it myself. 

5. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)

Dustin strikes again in what may be my favourite film ever. There’s no need to go into why this is so (Hoffman’s squeaking, the babes, Dave Grusin’s painfully accurate rendition of suburban bourgeouisie), so let me leave you with the scene. Ben and Elaine have just gone on the worst date ever in the history ever of anything and are now enjoying a drive-thru burger. From experience, I can vouch for Elaine’s enjoyment through her teary eyes, for there is nothing better than food after crying. Makes me want to go on a bad date, really. Unforutunately this scene is unavailable, so in the meantime, enjoy this painful suburban party. 

4. Babette’s Feast (Gabriel Axel, 1987)

The entire second half of this film makes me salivate. Not only does it painstakingly depict the production of a sumptious feast, but also, remains so calm and still that I experience the first signs of slipping into a coma. A relaxed, full coma, mind. 

3. Big Night (Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci, 1996)

Who knew that Stanley ran a restaurant after his brief foray into dog-napping? Not me. This film follows two Italian emigrants as they attempt to save their restaurant with one last party. A “big night”, you might say. Despite the stacks of glazed food-stuffs in the feast, the best moment comes in the last scene when the brothers know their last-ditch attempt has failed. Without comment, they cook a omelette and eat it together in brotherly affection. Proof that the best food is the most simple. 

2. Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985)

A musing on why noodles are so great (and they are), this film follows the attempts of a truck driver to make a single mother’s failing restaurant the best in town. With broth so sloshy it will quench your thirst, and noodles so noodly they will out noodle a poodle, this film may just be one of my favourite films ever, regardless of food. And here’s some great tips on how to eat that elusive noodle dish- the tip is to question your meal, it’s kinda philosophical, right. 

1. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (Peter Greenaway, 1989)

Because what would a food list be without a gag reflex? All of Greenaway’s films make me want to vomit due to their Baroque aesthetic, but none more than The Cook. I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen it, but let’s just say it cuts a little too close to the bone. Eh-hem. 

What do you think of this list? Would there be other moments you would include? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.