A feast of foodie films

Sit back and digest the holidays with these favorite culinary flicks.

By , Staff Writer

Food plays an important role in bringing family and loved ones together over the holidays. So why not enjoy family togetherness with entertainment starring your favorite Pixar rat or eccentric cook? The reviews on the following list have largely been pulled from Monitor archives.

Big Night (1996)

Make sure you have plenty of snacks before sitting down to this delicious tale, set in the 1950s, about two Italian brothers who stake their restaurant's future on a visit from Louis Prima. This feast for the eyes is sure to whet even the most jaded gourmet's appetite.

Chocolat (2000)

A peaceful French village gets more excitement than it bargained for when a feisty newcomer sets up a shop devoted to chocolate, and a local curmudgeon decides to combat her at any cost.

Babette's Feast (1987) 

A chef leaves Paris for an isolated village on the Danish coast, where she finds herself living in a community that's dominated by members of an austere religious sect. After living among them for many years, she decides to show her affection by preparing a special meal, which her friends find tempting but all too worldly.

Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)

Be prepared for your mouth to water as the camera pans the family feasts of Mr. Chu, a retired chef who has lost his sense of taste, who hopes sumptuous food will hold his family of three grown daughters together. But each daughter has a juicy romance simmering, making life less than rosy in the Taipei household.

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

A discontented wife pays regular visits to a feisty old woman, who tells her stories of friendship, family conflict, and murder that transpired years ago in the Alabama town where she grew up.

Julie and Julia (2009)

Julie Powell, who works a boring, stressful job for an organization involved in rebuilding the World Trade Center has brainstorm. In her off hours she will cook all 524 of the recipes in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child in 365 days, and blog about her experiences. A blog pioneer, she turns her writings into a book, "Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously." The film (which mentions the Monitor) intercuts the lives of these two cooks.

Kitchen Stories (2003)

A marvelously wry comedy about the odd relationship between a crusty Norwegian man and a snoopy Swedish researcher who's assigned to sit in his kitchen and chart his movements there. Acted and directed with a savvy understatement that perfectly matches the eccentric story. (In Norwegian and Swedish with English subtitles.)

Like Water for Chocolate (1992)

The unmarried youngest daughter of a Mexican family pours her unrequited love and longings into the food she cooks.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

Toula Portokalos is 30, Greek, and works in her family's restaurant, Dancing Zorba's, in Chicago. She falls in love with a non-Greek man – much to the horror of her parents, who proudly display ancient Greek statues on their lawn and rattle off the Greek origin of words like "kimono." A feast of fun and wacky family relationships that will leave you craving moussaka.

No Reservations (2007)

Kate, a loveless single woman, lives in a spacious New York apartment and devises culinary masterpieces for an upscale Greenwich Village eatery. Her life changes suddenly when she becomes the caretaker of her 9-year-old niece Zoe who comes to live with her after her mother, Kate's sister, is killed in a car accident. Nick, a newly hired, opera-loving sous-chef in Kate's kitchen, shakes things up – smitten by more than Kate's culinary confections. (This is a remake of the German film, "Mostly Martha," 2001.)

Ratatouille (2007)

For the first, and only, time in history, rodents and gourmet food make for a glorious combination in Pixar's Michelin-guide worthy confection. The film, about a rat who wants to be a chef, proves once again that no other animation studio pays as much attention to story and character as it does turning pixels into fine art.

Tortilla Soup (2001)

Similar to "Eat Drink Man Woman," Martin Naranjo is a Mexian-American widowed chef who lost his sense of taste. He shares a Los Angeles home with his three adult, single daughters. Lavish dinners for his loved ones serve as a centering and uniting force as each family members discovers, and rediscovers, the thrill of romantic love.

Independent films
Here are a few titles you may have missed but are worth checking out.

Perfect Sense (2011)

Edgy and fast-paced, a chef and a scientist fall in love amid the swirl and panic of an epidemic that causes people to lose their senses.

Today's Special (2010)

Samir is a sous chef who is gunning for head chef at an upscale Manhattan restaurant but loses out to someone younger and less experienced. Samir’s crisis in identity and career coincides with his father’s health scare and Samir is suddenly tasked with keeping the day-to-day operations of the family’s ailing Indian restaurant, Tandoori Palace. His mother, Farrida, (played by legendary cookbook writer and actor, Madhur Jaffrey), complicates every scene with her quest to find a wife for Samir, her only living child.

The Trip (2010)

A British journalist is assigned to test out high-scale restaurants on a week-long road trip. When his girlfriend backs out as his trip companion, he resorts to his aggravating best friend. A roadie food trip complete with hilarious impersonations ensues.

Documentaries
If you are interested in the food system and the major players in it, these films are a must.

Food, Inc. (2008)

A thorough look at how fast industrial growth in the 1950s has impacted our global food system.

Fresh (2009)

A sun-light filled documentary that showcases individuals working to create a healthy food system. Featured are: Will Allen, the recipient of MacArthur's 2008 Genius Award; sustainable farmer and entrepreneur, Joel Salatin, made famous by Michael Pollan's book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma"; and supermarket owner, David Ball, who challenges our box-store economy.

King Corn (2007)

Two college friends rent  acre of Iowa soil where, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America's most-productive, most-subsidized grain: corn. Through it all they learn about the world of  genetically modified seeds, powerful herbicides, factory farms and just how much corn is used in the food we eat (a lot).

If we've missed one of your favorites foodie films, feel free to recommend it in the comment box below.

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