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The Reelist: Films to "Feast" On

In honor of the holidays, we've assembled a list of classic food movies that'll make your mouth water and your stomach rumble. Read all about them, and find recipes for meals featured in the films!

As people's palates have grown more sophisticated in recent decades, filmmakers have grown savvier about fulfilling viewer's culinary cravings onscreen, producing a veritable cinematic sub-genre of often-brilliant films that double as food porn. There's plenty of reason to be thinking about food right now: Not only is Thanksgiving just a week away, but the Pixar pic Ratatouille—described by Anthony Bourdain, among others, as the best food movie ever made—is now out on DVD, and it was just reported that one of the great Meryl Streep will portray the great Julia Child in Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia.

So we've cooked up this list of mouth-watering movie marvels for your viewing pleasure. Use them for cooking inspiration (we've included recipe links for some of the most memorable dishes), or just enjoy them as you digest your holiday meal!

Like Water for Chocolate

Dir. Alfonso Arau, 1993
Tita de la Garza is the youngest daughter of Mama Elena, who forbids her to marry her lover Pedro, since family tradition requires the youngest daughter to remain unmarried and care for her mother. When Pedro marries Tita's older sister instead, Tita unconsciously begins trying to seduce him with her brilliant cooking. They say a man's heart is through is stomach, and what man could resist quail in rose petal sauce, turkey mole with almonds and sesame seeds, chorizo, or champandongo? But Tita's kitchen skills throw the entire family into upheaval, and ultimately, her cookbook is the only thing left behind. [Recipe for Like Water for Chocolate rose quail]

Tampopo

Dir. Juzo Itami, 1985 Who can resist a film devoted to the pleasures of ramen? Of course, Tampopo is about much more than that—the film, which was described upon release as "Zen and the Art of Noodle-making" and the first "noodle western," also depicts unnatural acts performed with raw eggs, oysters, whipped cream, and fruit, while delivering a riotous and profound send-up of Japan's money culture of the 1980s.




The Chinese Feast

Dir. Hark Tsui, 1995
This Hong Kong action movie is one of the only films ever made that will appeal to both the foodie and the martial arts enthusiast. Filled with slapstick comedy and scenes of physical prowess, The Chinese Feast is a visual feast which also depicts all the exotic delicacies of Qing- and Han-dynasty imperial feasts, including shark's fin soup, beef fried noodles, bear claw, elephant trunk, monkey brains, and more. For a second helping of kung-fu and cuisine, check out The God of Cookery, made a year later.

FOOD MOVIES: THE DARK SIDE
  

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover
Dir. Peter Greenaway, 1989

Le Grande Bouffe
Dir. Marco Ferreri, 1973

Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?
Dir. Ted Kotcheff, 1978

Super Size Me
Dir. Morgan Spurlock, 2004

Fast Food Nation
Dir. Richard Linklater, 2006

Delicatessen
Dir. Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1991

The Exterminating Angel
Dir. Luis Buñuel, 1962

American Psycho
Dir. Mary Harron, 2000

Bad Taste
Dir. Peter Jackson, 1987

Scotland, PA
Dir. Billy Morrissette, 2001

Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle
Dir. Danny Leiner, 2004

Hamburger: The Motion Picture
Dir. Mike Marvin, 1986



Babette's Feast

Dir. Gabriel Axel, 1998
In this brilliantly layered tale of culture, religion, and food in 19th-century Europe, Babette Hertsard, a famous Parisian chef, flees the Franco-Prussian War and the sensuous culture of her native land for puritan Denmark. There she goes to work as a housekeeper and cook for two elderly Lutheran sisters. Years later, she wins the lottery and begs the sisters to let her use the money to prepare a feast for the entire village. Though the sisters are wary of Babette's decadent (and Catholic) dishes—which include turtle soup, blinis, quail, and rum cake—they accede and ultimately indulge in her earthly enjoyments. [Babette's Feast recipes here, here, and here]

What's Cooking

Dir. Gurinder Chadha, 2000
A straightforward cooking-as-metaphor-for-life film, What's Cooking shows the way four families with different cultural heritages and perspectives on the American Dream relate to Thanksgiving dinner. A turkey is the centerpiece in each, but the families' Vietnamese, African-American, Jewish, and Latino backgrounds make for vastly different approaches to preparation.

Mostly Martha

Dir. Sandra Nettelbeck, 2001
Martha Klein is a headstrong, workaholic chef at a renowned German restaurant who is famed for her exquisite pigeon-and-truffles dish. Her world turns upside down when her sister dies, leaving her in charge of her eight-year old niece; at the same time, the restaurant owner hires a new, unorthodox sous-chef who challenges all Martha knows about cooking and love. If this scenario sounds at all familiar, it may be because Mostly Martha was just remade as the American tear-jerker No Reservations.

Eat Drink Man Woman

Dir. Ang Lee, 1994
Ang Lee's follow-up to The Wedding Banquet (another gourmand's delight) tells the story of Chinese senior master chef Chu, who lives in Taipei with his three unmarried daughters. Life in their house revolves around his elaborate Sunday dinners featuring such traditional Chinese recipes as lotus flower soup, jade prawn, chicken wrapped in clay, and steamed deer spare ribs with ginger in a pumpkin pot. Chu's daughters' love lives, however, are less traditional, and eventually he recognizes that breaking with tradition can be a good thing. [Eat Drink Man Woman recipes]

Ratatouille

Dir. Brad Bird, 2007
In Pixar's latest masterpiece, Remy, a young rat living in the French countryside, dreams of becoming a great chef. Fate brings him to the Paris restaurant of his culinary idol. There, a young boy, who's useless in the kitchen but desperately needs to keep his job, discovers Remy and his cooking genius. Together, the unlikely pair become rising stars, turning the culinary world of Paris upside down with an unorthodox twist on one of France's most traditional dishes. [How to make ratatouille]

Big Night

Dir. Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci, 1996

It's the late '50s, and a cantankerous but gifted chef named Primo owns a traditional Italian restaurant with his brother, manager Secondo. Despite Secondo's warm demeanor and Primo's magnificent food, business is suffering, so Secondo turns to his mistress' husband Pascal, who runs a competing restaurant, for help. Pascal tells them famed trumpeter Louis Prima will dine at their restaurant, so the brothers cook everything they know how to make—including their legendary timpano, straight from Stanley Tucci's family recipe book—for the feast of a lifetime. [Recipe for Big Night timpano]

Vatel

Dir. Roland Joffé, 2000

An indulgent feast for the eye, Vatel is a sumptuous period piece about a prince in seventeenth-century France who invites Louis XIV to wine and dine at a chateau on Chantilly, hoping to win a commission as a military general. So he pushes his steward Vatel to prepare meals of unparalleled grandeur and decadence, including anchovies, melon with parma ham, lobster, lamb, and more, in an effort to impress the king.
[Vatel recipes]

Soul Food

Dir. George Tillman Jr., 1997

Told through the eyes of 11-year-old Ahmad, Soul Food follows the close-knit Joseph family, who come together through Mother Joe's Sunday dinners of fried chicken, sweet cornbread, smoke-cooked ham, deep-dish peach cobbler, and numerous other plates full of artery-clogging deliciousness. When she's hospitalized with diabetes (not surprisingly, given her diet), the family begins to fall apart , and it's up to Ahmad to bring them back together. Perhaps a little soul food is just what the doctor ordered.

Chocolat

Dir. Lasse Hallström, 2001
A mysterious young mother drifts into a devoutly Catholic French village and opens a chocolaterie across the street from the local church—just in time for Lent. The townsfolk respond with a mix of attraction and fear, increasing succumbing to her unique delights, while the town's pious mayor takes it upon himself to lead his citizens not into temptation. This light confection is a parable about the choice between abstinence and indulging in worldly pleasures, and the film's chocolate-making sequences and dazzling window displays make the decision a no-brainer.

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