Jay Rayner, The Observer’s restaurant critic, runs down the ten best movies that do justice to such culinary delights as roast quail, fine wine, and even human brain!
What’s your favourite film focusing on food and drink?
10. The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925)
Rayner says: “There have been few better comic representations of starvation. Here Chaplin’s tramp and his prospector companion slip so disastrously into the maw of hunger that they decide to cook their own boots…”
9. The Private Life of Henry VIII (Korda, 1933)
Rayner says: “In Henry VIII, Charles Laughton sits atop his throne like an elephant on an Ikea sofa, gorging on chicken legs and chucking the bones over his shoulder…”
8. Chocolat (Hallstrom, 2000)
Rayner says: “Adapted from Joanne Harris’ novel, Chocolat is perhaps the ultimate (if least subtle) movie pointing up the feverish connection between sex and food. Juliette Binoche plays the wandering chocolatier who lands in a staid, rural French town in the Fifties and brings the town’s women to a sensual awakening. A film with a decidedly soft centre.
7. La Grande Bouffe (Ferreri, 1973)
Rayner says: “Many films indulge in a censorious, gross-out approach to eating: think Greenaway’s The Cook, His Wife and Her Lover or Jeunet’s Delicatessen. But La Grand Bouffe is, without doubt, the daddy of them all. Four men gather at a country villa to eat themselves to death. A classic of European cinema, mired in self-disgust, and not one to see before a dinner date.
6. Big Night (Scott/Tucci, 1996)
Rayner says: “One of the rare movies about restaurants, Big Night deals with the intense and caustic relationship between a perfectionist chef who hates the whole red-sauce-and-meatballs cliché and his brother trying to work the empty front of house
5. Tampopo (Itami, 1985)
Rayner says: “Japanese social mores and conventions. Tampopo is no different, save the forensic dissection takes place entirely in the world of the noodle. Itami’s point is pretty straightforward: that anything you want to know about life and love can be expressed through spanking recipes for pork-based noodle dishes.
4. Babette’s Feast (Axel, 1987)
Rayner says: “Axel’s intense and acutely observed film has it all: turtle soup (made from an 80kg live turtle), roast quail and pious nuns desperately trying – and failing – not to give themselves over to shameful pleasures of the feast. The food here is grand and classical, and perfectly suited to the oil-painting photography.
3. Goodfellas (Scorsese, 1990)
Rayner says: “As Mafia movies go Scorsese’s Goodfellas is the best stocked. In one scene, four hoods sit down to a major meal after brutally slaying a rival; later, when the family leaders all end up in prison, they dedicate themselves to the vital business of making the perfect pasta sauce, complete with garlic sliced with a razor blade so, as Ray Liotta’s voice-over explains, “it used to liquefy in the pan.” The director’s mother , Catherine, later published The Scorsese Family Cookbook.
2. Hannibal (Scott, 2001)
Rayner says: “Notable for the final scene in which Hannibal Lecter lobotomises one of his victims and then eats the off cuts. The idea is shocking enough, but what makes the scene is the precision with which Lecter prepares the scoops of the cerebellum, making sure to dip them in acidulated water first before sautéing them in frothing butter. Yum!
1. Sideways (Payne, 2004)
Rayner says: Few films about wine have ever succeeded: year of the Comet, be screenwriter and ardent wine collector William Goldman, was regarded as a total turkey. Sideways is a valiant exception, as Miles and Jack, trying to make sense of their lives, take a tour of the Californian wine country. Top scenes: Miles eulogy to the dogged survival instincts of the Pinot Noir grape and refusal to drink “fucking Merlot”.
Jay Rayner’s comments are published here as quotes. Copyright remains with Jay Rayner and UK newspaper The Observer (2007). List compiled by Rayner/The Observer; order by Top10Films.