The Ten Best Food Movies Ever (to Whet Your Appetite for Burnt)
Bradley Cooper plays a chef attempting to rebound from drug-fueled failure.
Burnt, a new chef movie starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, opens October 30 in Denver theaters. While early reviews haven't been mouthwatering, Cooper and Miller are always fun to watch, and seeing the two cook up something together could be the perfect appetizer before heading out for a night of restaurant-hopping. But maybe you'd rather spend your sawbucks on a few extra small plates or carefully constructed cocktails than sit in a sticky movie theater where the best food comes in the form of a slushy red drink. Here are our ten favorite food and/or drink movies on which to feast your eyes in the comfort of your own home before hitting your favorite local eatery.
10) Big Night (1996)
Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub play a pair of Italian brothers who operate a failing restaurant called Paradise. Heavy on schlocky Italian-American accents and hand gestures, the movie still has a few moments that capture the healing effects of food and cooking, including the climactic omelette scene. Extra points for the ensemble cast that also includes Minnie Driver, Isabella Rossellini and Ian Holm. (The film was particularly popular in Denver, where Shalhoub's brother Michael worked as a waiter at La Coupole, in the lovely space that's now The Lobby.) After watching this one, you'll want to head for your nearest classic red-sauce joint.
9) The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)
This movie is as difficult as it is gorgeous, capturing the excessive 1980s aesthetic of designer Jean-Paul Gaultier while alternating between sumptuous scenes of decadent dining and grotesque violence. Helen Mirren plays the wife of a vicious gangster who falls in love with a bookish customer at Le Hollandais, the scene of her husband's nightly feasting and fighting. This is not a foodie frolic with loving close-ups of carefully constructed dishes, but rather a study in extremes, many of which had theater-goers at the time of its release heading for the exits early. As a revenge film, though, it has one of the most shockingly apropos endings to ever hit the screen.
8) Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
This Taiwanese movie about a chef and his three daughters uses cooking as choreography, dancing through scenes in the home kitchen and the big-time restaurant. Sunday meals are the focus, where family tensions give way to sensuous pleasure. This is only the third film from director Ang Lee, released more than ten years before Brokeback Mountain was nominated for an Academy Award, although his expertise was recognized even at this point as Eat Drink Man Woman was nominated for the Academy's Best Foreign Language Film. Watch this one on a weekend morning and then head out for a dim sum brunch.
7) Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
This is the only documentary on our list, but it plays out like a well-constructed short story, with the quietness of the main characters slowly revealing a subtle family drama. Master sushi maker Jiro Ono, at 85, still commands the kitchen at his world-famous Tokyo eatery, Sukiyabashi Jiro. One of his sons patiently awaits his turn at the helm while the other — kicked out of the nest — has moved on to open a restaurant of his own. Director David Gelb lingers over each shot of sushi with the same love and patience as Jiro himself, and the soundtrack — featuring music by Philip Glass — only builds on each mouthwatering moment.
6) Like Water for Chocolate (1992)
Remember when Magical Realism was big — when the tears of a cook could mingle with her sauce to create an emotional response in those who she fed? That's the world of Like Water for Chocolate: passion, sorrow, regret and denial — all amplified by food. On second thought, that's not so magical after all...if you're eating at the right places. The movie reminds us that sometimes a meal is good enough to make us cry.
5) The Lunchbox (2013)
A widowed office worker starts receiving mysterious lunches from a woman who thinks her cooking is going to her husband in another office. The two connect without ever meeting through most of the movie, all because of the food in the little metal dishes. The movie doesn't linger over the cooking or the meals, making each dish that much more enticing, almost as if great food is one of life's givens and anything less is a disappointment.
4) Ratatouille (2007)
If we're going to include a sappy, feel-good, Hollywood story in our mix, it might as well have a talking, cooking rat voiced by Patton Oswalt. Ratatouille takes the cliches of the kitchen — the culinary savant who can taste his way to cooking the perfect dish, the pompous critic who announces his arrival, the overwrought executive chef — and makes the whole thing almost unbearably cute. It's like a sweet dessert that you can't stop eating. Our main complaint? Not enough sex.
3) Sideways (2004)
This is a wine movie more than a food movie, but it gives the same love and attention to the grape that our other favorites give to the plate. But it's also a movie about savoring wine — and life — at the exact moment you think you can't, which seems like a good idea to us: Paul Giamatti wasn't the first person to drink expensive wine from a paper cup in a fast-food restaurant.
2) The Trip (2010)
British actor Steve Coogan plays a fictional version of himself in The Trip, where he's hired by The Observer to eat his way through some of Northern England's finest restaurants. This is almost an anti-food movie; Coogan and his sidekick, Rob Brydon (also playing himself), yuck it up obliviously while diners all around them enjoy exquisite dishes. The motif is similar to Sideways in that two self-absorbed, middle-aged men bumble through a road trip dotted with moments of joy.
1) WIlly Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Skip the saccharine Johnny Depp version of the Roald Dahl children's classic and fire up the truly weird and creepy original, which dwells on greed, gluttony and straight-up goofiness. We dare you not to be scared when Gene Wilder goes wide-eyed and wacky as he pilots his tour boat through a tunnel surging with molten chocolate — or to not get a little misty when he sings "Pure Imagination."
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.