Food-centric Films


Among everyone’s favorite food scenes, clockwise from top:Julie and Julia; When Harry Met Sally; Ratatouille; Annie Hall; Chocolat; Babette’s Feast.

There’s the moment in Big Night when the two chef brothers unveil their prize dish. Desperate to save their struggling restaurant, they are banking everything on the success of one special meal, and have cooked their hearts out creating a timpano, an elaborate layered pasta dish baked inside a domed pastry crust. With much fanfare, the siblings carefully lift the dish to reveal the timpano. At that moment, there’s an audible exhale from the audience, a kind of half sigh/half moan of relief, pleasure, and envy.

Food on film can have that effect.
Sex and violence are said to be the two vicarious pleasures that drive most films, but food is a close third. It often appears as G-rated erotica, lovingly-lit with lingering ‘money shots.’ It’s idealized fantasy, but unlike the other larger-than-life stars on the screen, it’s one that we can attain in our real lives.

Food is also used as a narrative tool in film.
The cinematic exposition of a relationship to diet and food preparation can cut right to the heart of a character. We see commitment and sacrifice when we watch Rocky Balboa gulp down raw eggs, and the ice water flowing through the characters’ veins in Goodfella’s, when they horrifically brutalize Billy Batts and then swing by Mama’s house for a late night supper. Or the bag lunches of the Breakfast Club— the privileged girl’s bento box, the soup thermos and crustless sandwich of the nerd, the Pixy Stix and Cap’n Crunch sandwich of the oddball—that tell us everything we need to know about the characters’ home life.

The pampered life defined by agonizing social restraint comes through in a single shot of the elaborately choreographed banquets at the heart of The Age of Innocence. The food fight in Animal House is an exuberant juvenile protest against everything and nothing. Babette’s Feast celebrates the need in all of us to nourish our souls.
Whenever food makes it way on to the screen, it tells us something about our existence.

Relive your favorite iconic food scenes with Feast, a video essay that was screened by the Museum of the Moving Image.

Time Out New York magazine recently compiled its list of the the 50 best food-on-film moments of all time, complete with links to the film clips.

Babette’s Feast can be your feast. The recipes in Cooking with the Movies: Meals on Reels recreate classic cinematic meals.

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One Response to Food-centric Films

  1. Monet says:

    I love food films! With the rainy weather we’re having in Austin…all I want to do is make some cookies and curl up with a movie. Thank you for sharing!

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