There’s a scene in the 2010 film Eat Pray Love where Julia Roberts’s character Liz basks in the experience of eating a guilt-free pizza. It was an important character moment for her–and for many audience members. And whatever your specific dietary preferences or requirements may be, we hope that you’ll enjoy whatever your guilt-free “pizza moment” is this Thanksgiving, surrounded by friends and family (chosen or otherwise).
Food, of course, has played as major a role in cinema as any other basic human biological function, from the sprawling bowls of pasta in the works of Martin Scorsese, to the last decade’s trend of thoughtfully investigative health-leaning food docs such as Food Inc. and Forks Over Knives. Today, though, we’re leaving the scare-mongering at the kids’ table and indulging in some seriously calorie-dense, celebratory depictions of food on film.
So cinch up that lobster bib and order another round of dinner roles. Here now are five of our favorite food-focused indies submitted for your immediate ingestion…
JULIE & JULIA (2009)
Director: Nora Ephron
Writers: Julia Child, Julie Powell, Nora Ephron
Producers: Nora Ephron, Laurence Mark, Eric Steel, Amy Robinson
Starring: Amy Adams, Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci
Why We Love It: Ephron’s final film before her death leaves a long-lasting impression. Based on two books, My Life in France and Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, Julie & Julia creates an immersive food-centric world, diving into the lives of Julia Child and Julie Powell. Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan commented: “A consummate entertainment that echoes the rhythms and attitudes of classic Hollywood, it’s a satisfying throwback to those old-fashioned movie fantasies where impossible dreams do come true.” You can never have too much butter, says Amy Adams’ Julie, as she puts three large cubes into the frying pan–a moment in the film not to miss.
Where To Watch: The CW
JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI (2011)
Director: David Gelb
Producers: Kevin Iwashina, Tom Pellegrini
Featuring: Jiro Ono
Why We Love It: Arguably the best nonfiction portrayal of a singularly obsessed creative mind since Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb, David Gelb’s hit 2011 doc about the life and work of 80-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono will make your mouth water while also calling into the question the necessity of being quite so dogged in the pursuit of culinary perfection. Operating Tokyo’s famed Sukiyabashi Jiro out of an unassuming subway corridor, Jiro is legendarily obsessed with perfecting the seemingly simple preparation of the dish, even conscripting his own son into a demeaning, decades-long apprenticeship that has taken literal years just to learn how to cook rice properly. Meanwhile, Jiro’s younger son has struck out on his own, much to the old man’s chagrin. Jiro is hard to like, but it’s hard to argue with his results—at least based on the testimonials of those who have actually eaten at Sukiyabashi Jiro, reservations at which must be planned years in advance.
Where to Watch: Fubo, Hulu, AMC+, Hoopla, Kanopy
Director: Brad Bird
Writers: Brad Bird, Bob Peterson, Kathy Greenberg, Emily Cook
Producer: Brad Lewis
Starring: Patton Oswalt, Will Arnett, Peter O’Toole, Lou Romano
Why We Love It: From the creator of The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, Brad Bird’s unlikely Pixar hit highlights the irony of a rat aiming to become an exquisite chef. This irony is powerful and necessary, blurring the line between the proletariat “Us” and the elite “Them.” A.O. Scott of The New York Times called Ratatouille, “A nearly flawless piece of popular art, as well as one of the most persuasive portraits of an artist ever committed to film.” This film empowers us to pursue our passion against all odds.
Where To Watch: Disney+
MILDRED PIERCE (2011)
Director: Todd Haynes
Writers: Todd Haynes, Jon Raymond
Executive Producers: Todd Haynes, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon, John Wells
Starring: Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce, Evan Rachel Wood
Why We Love It: Two-time Spirit Award winner (and bazillion-time nominee) Todd Haynes’ five-part HBO adaptation of James M. Cain’s 1941 literary classic isn’t exclusively about food, touching on a wide range of social issues—including parenthood, workplace inequality, death, business and marriage. But as in Waitress, cooking acumen provides a way out for our female protagonist from her domestic stagnation. Set in Depression-era Los Angeles, Mildred (Kate Winslet) leverages her waitressing experience and culinary skills to launch a thriving restaurant business and establish an identity for herself apart from her dud husband (Brian F. O’Byrne) and spoiled, narcissistic elder daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). You’ll learn more about operating a success chain of fried chicken restaurants in the 1940s than you ever thought possible. Which, hey, could come in handy.
Where to Watch: Max
THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014)
Director: Lasse Hallström
Writer: Steven Knight
Producers: Juliet Blake, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey
Why We Love It: In the opening scene, an Indian mother and her young child, Hassan, shop for sea urchins in a fish market. Hassan smells the sea urchin and tastes it, offering an auspicious reaction. Later, her mother later says, “You cook to make ghosts.” Variety‘s Justin Chang called the film, “The most soothing brand of cinematic comfort food.” Breaking cultural boundaries, Hassan learns the French style of cooking–and makes it look like magic!
Where To Watch: Rental, all platforms
Writer, Director: Juzo Itami
Producers: Juzo Itami, Yasushi Tamaoki, Seigo Hosogoe
Starring: Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Koji Yakusho, Ken Wantanabe, Rikiya Yasuoka
Why We Love It: Tagged as the first “Ramen Western” (instead of Spaghetti Western—get it?) Tampopo is writer/director Juzo Itami’s vibrant exploration of how preparing, eating and even talking about food is a critical, inextricable part of the human experience. Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Gun (Ken Watanabe) star as a pair of truck drivers waylaid at a flailing noodle shop run by the widowed Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). The food is bad, and the truckers—a pair of culinary ronin—offer to help Gordon Ramsay the joint. What follows is an insightful, process-oriented look into both the art and business of professional cooking, interspersed with several lively subplots each revolving in some way around food. Punctuated with humor and eroticism, the film is a beautiful testament to nourishment in all its definitions. Definitely worth the carbs.
Where to Watch: Max, The Criterion Channel
THE LUNCHBOX (2013)
Writer, Director: Ritesh Batra
Producers: Arun Rangachari, Anurag Kashyap, Guneet Monga
Starring: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Bharti Achrekar, Nakul Vaid, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Why We Love It: Late actor Irrfan Khan, who passed away earlier this year, shines in this epistolary-style romance. A wrong tiffin gets delivered, leading to romance between two individuals through food. Critic Rajeev Masand of CNN-IBN gave a rating of five out of five stars to the film, stating: “The greatest love stories are the ones that make you root for the protagonists to come together, despite their destinies. This film illustrates how love transforms the unlikeliest of people.” This masterpiece makes you believe in love in the purest of ways, love can transcend physicality, and this movie emphasizes just that.
Where To Watch: Rental, all platforms
EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN (1994)
Director: Ang Lee
Writers: Ang Lee, James Schamus, Wang Hui-ling
Producers: Hsu Li-kong, Hsu Kong
Starring: Sihung Lung, Kuei-mei Yang, Chien-lien Wu, Yu-wen Wang
Why We Love It: A feast for the eyes (especially in the opening scene), the intricate detail of the traditional Chinese style of cooking is remarkable. In her review in The New York Times, Janet Maslin praised Ang Lee as “a warmly engaging storyteller,” writing: “Wonderfully seductive, and nicely knowing about all of its characters’ appetites, Eat Drink Man Woman makes for an uncomplicatedly pleasant experience” Eat Drink Man Woman was nominated for Best Feature, Best Director, Best Female Lead, Best Male Lead, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography at the 1995 Spirit Awards.
Where To Watch: Tubi
Writer, Director: Adrienne Shelly
Producer: Michael Roiff
Starring: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines
Why We Love It: A lighthearted bit of indie fluff unfortunately colored by writer/director Adrienne Shelly’s tragic murder prior to its release (sorry for bringing the room down), Waitress is the perfect lolling-on-the-couch-in-a-tryptophan-haze entertainment for baked goods enthusiasts. The winning, lightly fantastical dramady tells the story of Southern waitress Jenna (Keri Russell), trapped in an abusive marriage and coping with an unwanted pregnancy while also engaged in a complicated affair with her gynecologist (Nathan Fillion). To escape, Jenna buries herself in her talent for pie making—photographed with a fetishistic love that practically makes you want to lick the screen, type 2 diabetes be damned. Jenna eventually finds an out courtesy of pie making contest in a neighboring town. All this, plus Andy Griffith is in a supporting roll. Shelly also received a posthumous Film Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Screenplay in 2008.
Where To Watch: Starz, Direct TV
WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)
Director: Mel Stuart
Writers: Roald Dahl, David Seltzer
Producers: Stan Margulies, David L. Wolper
Starring: Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum
Why We Love It: This 1971 adaption of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) is a visual treat. Beneath the richness of the film, themes such as self-indulgence and greed play an important part of the film. Roger Ebert gave the film a perfect four out of four stars, calling it: “Probably the best film of its sort since The Wizard of Oz. It is everything that family movies usually claim to be, but aren’t: Delightful, funny, scary, exciting, and, most of all, a genuine work of imagination. Willy Wonka is such a surely and wonderfully spun fantasy that it works on all kinds of minds, and it is fascinating because, like all classic fantasy, it is fascinated with itself.”
Where To Watch: Max
GARLIC IS AS GOOD AS TEN MOTHERS (1980)
Writer, Director, Producer: Les Blank
Featuring: Garlic, and lots of it!
Why We Love It: Clocking at a breezy 50-minutes, Les Blank’s love letter to everyone’s favorite pungent herb/vampire repellant is a humane, well-observed multi-character portrait in the mold of early Errol Morris classics like Vernon, Florida. The film’s subject—other than garlic itself—is the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Northern California, filmed at a time in American history before “the stinking rose” was as omnipresent in national cuisine as it is today (sort of like if a documentary had been made about kale in 2012). Blank devotes huge chunks of screen time to his quirky ensemble of home chefs, restaurant owners, farmers and foodies evangelizing on the plant’s behalf—“garlic euphoria” as described by one. The rest of the film is equally lively, full of music, dancing and shot after shot of appetizing, garlic-forward dishes. Just be sure to bring a breath mint.
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel
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