Ahhh, the holidays. Call me an old softie (literally, phhhhbbbbt), but I love Thanksgiving and Christmas just because you get to stuff your head with all kinds of food you shouldn’t even touch until stuffing oozes out the sides of your eyes and the turkey has its final revenge by putting you in a week long coma. The best part is no one can tell you jack because if you’re not eating until your cholesterol weighs a metric ton, then you don’t really love your mother.
There are movies that express this same love for life. Food, like all of life’s great pleasures (sex, love, art, sex, books, music, sex and sex), can be a great expression for the joy of living. The act of enjoying what you eat, whether it’s a $200 portion of pate de fois gras or an Egg McMuffin that’s been sitting behind a refrigerator for a week, can produce endorphins and other joy toxins that will make you feel happy just to be alive.
So in honor of this hallowed holiday hobby, we present a belt loosening, pants unbuckling, vomit bucket filling list of the 10 greatest movies ever created about eating. Dig in.
10. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle
OK, so it’s not worthy of being on a double bill with “Bridge Over the River Kwai” or even any of the “Cheech & Chong” movies, but when it comes to celebrating eating, it taps into a nerve that anyone who ever had a jonesing for their favorite munchie, whether they were high or pregnant or both, can appreciate. The boys get high and get a raging craving for White Castle’s sliders and end up going on an over the top, county to country trek that tests their pot-dulled wits with a group of racist thrill seekers, a cougar and a coke whoring Neil Patrick Fucking Harris. In the end, the boys predictably get what they were after, but they learn to appreciate every savory bite right down to the last sip of their regular and diet Cherry Coke and the joy of a journey isn’t in reaching the finish line. It also didn’t suck quite as much as “Dude, Where’s My Car?”
Sometimes the tastiest morsel isn’t that one that’s comes with your favorite side dish or coated in your favorite flavor of Cheese Whiz. It’s the one that keeps you alive. In the case of this quirky underground black comedy, the only tasty food left on Earth is human meat. The owner of a butcher shop/apartment building provides his tenants with suspiciously fresh meat in a post-apocalyptic world where food is scarce unless you don’t mind giving up your own “leg” at the Thanksgiving dinner table. An ex-clown takes a job with the landlord as the building’s handyman and the landlord plans to carve him up like a Golden Corral ham until he falls in love with his daughter, which creates the most bizarre love triangle this side of the Kennedy compound. It’s a great story about love, power and gluttony as long as you aren’t watching it on a dinner and a movie date.
8. Fried Green Tomatoes
So it’s not a movie about cannibal zombies or non-stop gun violence or naked chicks who wrestle in mustard. We can watch a chick flick every once in awhile. We have feelings too, dammit. This Oscar nominated flick based on the book by Fannie Flagg features some great performances from Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy as an old woman who desperately tries to cling to her youth the only way she can – her favorite fried Southern dish. The movie flips back and forth between Tandy’s past and present but the thing that brings it back the most for her is a dish of those famous fried green tomatoes. The movie shows how a tasty homemade treat can produce images and memories just as vivid and detailed as any fully developed Polaroid. If only she knew that the high cholesterol from the grease and flour is what really killed her best friend.
7. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
If the American Dental Association wanted to make a propaganda film that would scare the children into avoiding those teeth warping sweeties, this is probably the movie they would make spliced together with the tooth torture scene from “Marathon Man.” If movies like “Harold and Kumar” and “Fried Green Tomatoes” explore the beauty and magic of food, “Willy Wonka” tapped into its dark side. Loosely based on the book by Roald Dahl, five children win the chance to tour the infamous recluse’s factory by buying thousands of bars of chocolate in the hopes of finding the golden ticket, all except a poor boy named Charlie Bucket. One by one, the winning children’s greedy and selfish ways get them picked off. In the end, Charlie, despite the promise of millions of dollars by a rival candy maker, proves to Mr. Wonka that not all children are sugar hungry, selfish chow hounds and the people who appreciate life’s pleasures and comforts the most are the ones who have so little of it. It’s also very satisfying watching Veruca Salt getting stuffed in a furnace after acting like the ugly Hilton sister for 90 minutes. The only way it could have been better is if they showed her being burned alive around a dancing chorus of Oompa-Loompas chanting, “Oompa-Loompa, doompity ditch, burn you crazy stupid dumb bitch.”
6. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The inevitable remake of George Romero’s most classic film wasn’t bad. It had plenty of gore, scares and zombie blasting that makes for a good summer blood feast. The problem is it was missing something that made the original unique, brilliant and fucking awesome – the eating. In the original film, Peter, Roger, Flyboy and Francine hold up in a shopping mall during the peak of the zombie outbreak. They clean out the zombies inside, barricade the entrances and proceed to consume (food, clothes, toys, you name it) while the rest of the world struggles to even keep the food supply high. Despite all this, the zombies still want to get inside, not because of the four measly human morsels that stand just out of the grasp. They want in because the mall was always the place where they could consume, take and shop for themselves whatever they wished when they were still human. Of course, greed ruins the whole deal when a renegade group of soldiers of fortune break in and Flyboy starts a war over the mall with a single shot. Then the zombies follow and proceed to pick the gang apart like they were Chinese pork dishes. In the end, greed and the need to keep costs everyone everything. So just think, remember when you wouldn’t share your ice cream cone with your sister when you were five? You could have indirectly caused a zombie holocaust. I hope you learn how to sleep at night, you son of a bitch.
5. Soylent Green
It’s the year 2022, the world is overpopulated and food is scarce. The only thing they have to eat are rationed water and a mysterious substance called Soylent. No one questions this until a nosy detective played by Charlton Heston and appropriately named Thorn makes the grisly discovery that “Soylent Green is people!!!!” It truly was one of the most terrifying twists on a movie involving cannibalism because, let’s face it, it could very well happen. Food supplies are dwindling everyday and are bad for our health and even deadly. Didn’t you see the Al Gore movie? If global warming destroys our crops and causes a massive food shortage in just a few years, we could be having our grandparents over for dinner – literally.
If there’s one human emotion most connected with food than any other, it is sex. Just sit down in any restaurant or airport café and watch a woman nibble on a slice of cheesecake or a man go after a batch of chicken wings and try not to think of the two of them getting it on faster than a pair of antelope on the Serengeti. “Chocolat” taps into this inner animal passion by the most sensual food in the universe if you don’t count the Polish dog – chocolate candy. It’s sweet, inviting, easy and almost always sinfully delicious and the movie knows how to portray these Viagra laced demon seeds as they go head to head with a local church in a needless battle over morality and common decency. It portrays how food can be a personal awakening to love, lust and life itself. It’s the greatest movie about the nature of sex and food since “Topless Tapioca Pudding.”
Pixar has been in the feature length film business for more than 10 years and they’ve never managed to make a stinker yet. In fact, like a fine wine or cheese, they always get better with age and “Ratatouille” is their best dish yet because it speaks to anyone with a passion about creating anything. The proof of the passion is in the voicing. Director Brad Bird picked comedian Patton Oswalt to voice the little rat after hearing one of his comedy CDs and listening to him rant about his love for movies with the same passion that Remy has for making food. Remy is a rat in Paris with a passion for good food and he’s willing to risk his very life to learn more about it or get his grubby little paws on it. After he’s discovered in a kitchen, he teams up with a down on his luck garbage boy named Linguini to take the food world by the hair, even if he has to tug on Linguini’s in order to get around without meeting the business end of a meat cleaver. They both learn that sometimes the greatest meal of your life isn’t the one you thought you couldn’t afford. It’s the one you thought you couldn’t create for someone else to enjoy.
2. Big Night
Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci’s co-directorial masterpiece features the same passion for making food as “Ratatouille” on a much grander scale. Tucci and Tony Shalhoub play two hot-headed brothers running an underground gourmet Italian restaurant in a part of the world where how much you eat, not what you eat, is on every customer’s mind. Just when they think they’ve hit the bottom, the boys get the once-in-a-lifetime chance to cook a grand Italian feast for a famous musician but they’ll have to put all of their eggs in one basket in order to pull it off. It’s the ultimate battle between art and commerce and part of the fun is watching the whole thing to see which one comes out on top. It’s the only movie that portrayed food with such a never-ending passion that it made me sick to my stomach. The only other time that happened was the horse milking scene from “jackass: number two.”
1. My Dinner with Andre
“My Dinner with Andre” is nothing more than an extended conversation between two people over a hearty dinner and every word, mostly improvised by writer/actors Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn better known in Hollywood as the voice of Rex from “Toy Story” and the “Inconceivable!” guy from “The Princess Bride,” about their lives hangs off the screen and over the audience’s noses like a fish being dangled over a show dolphin’s snout. It reminds us it’s not always the food that makes a meal great. It’s the people we share it with and whether or not they offer to pick up the check.