Just in time for the weekend, here’s a compilation of some of our favorite foodie movies. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!
This 1985 Japanese gem is a ramen Western centered on the noodles that have become ubiquitous in the thirty-plus years that have followed its release. The hero has been likened to Shane only with a different goal — to establish the world’s best noodle shop.
9. Kings of Pastry
This documentary focuses on several pastry chefs who are competing for the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, France’s top pastry prize, in a brutal competition, held every four years, that makes the sommelier exams featured in “Somm” seem like a tic-tac-toe tournament. One review likened the doc to a “culinary Hurt Locker” and it’s difficult to imagine why people would put themselves such a ridiculously exacting ordeal. But it makes for a great film.
A young rat named Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) is the hero of this Pixar animated film, which The New York Times described as a “nearly flawless piece of popular art.” Remy follows his passion for haute cuisine from the French countryside to Paris. A kids’ movie that’s also a treat for adults.
7. Eat Drink Man Woman
Directed by Ang Lee, the 1994 film focuses on a widowed father, Mr. Chu (Sihung Lung), and his three beautiful daughters. Chu is an obsessive cook who prepares elaborate Sunday dinners for his daughters. But rather than joyous occasions, the family get-togethers are tense and serve as a backdrop for the characters’ unfulfilled lives.
6. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
If Kings of Pastry is about obsession and competition, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is about obsession fueled not by prizes and medals but by one’s own uncompromising standards. The star of this David Gelb documentary is Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi chef who runs a spare but celebrated Tokyo sushi restaurant. He is a genial, exacting workaholic who holds his sons to the same standards.
4 & 5. The Trip & The Trip to Italy
Though it inspires fewer guffaws than our #3 pick, The Trip is another wonderful buddy trip film. Comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing lightly fictionalized versions of themselves, set out on a restaurant tour of northern England. While they pretend to draw inspiration from the great poets who had also spent time in Lake Country, their meals are punctuated by insecurities, light-hearted insults, and a running contest over movie-star impressions. Lightly but deftly directed by Michael Winterbottom, it’s a great watch with a glass or two of wine.
Another helping of Coogan and Brydon, this time with better food and scenery—in Italy. The reunion recalls the Richard Linklater Before Sunset trilogy, but with more laughs.
Eminently re-watchable, this Alexander Payne adoption of a mediocre novel of the same name gives prominence to wine, but food is also a notable accompaniment. Among the most noteworthy scenes in this buddy romp through Santa Barbara wine country is the rant Miles (Paul Giamatti) delivers to his pal Jack (Thomas Haden Church) before they share a meal with the lovely Maya (Virginia Madsen) and Stepanie (Sandra Oh).
“I am not drinking any f***ing Merlot,” shouts Miles. (Astonishingly, the popularity of the movie and the fame of Miles’ pronouncement really did set back Merlot sales.)
2. Babette’s Feast
A decade before our top pick came Babette’s Feast, set in a cold, repressed 19th-century Danish village. A family takes in a French refugee, Babette (Stephane Audran), as a housekeeper/cook. Over time, she penetrates the Lutheran sternness of her employers, and the movie culminates with a gourmet feast that Babette prepares.
1. Big Night
We saw this movie when it opened in 1996, and more than 20 years later it remains the pinnacle of “restaurant movies.” Two Italian-American brothers — smooth-talking, front-of-the-house, assimilated Secondo (Stanley Tucci) and old-world, uncompromising Primo (Tony Shalhoub) — open a small, Italian restaurant in New Jersey. The restaurant struggles, largely because of Primo’s refusal to dumb down his food, and the brothers’ last chance is a banquet for town luminaries and a famous celebrity, bandleader Louis Prima. During scenes like this one, you could hear the stomach growls of the audience, and I’m sure after finishing the movie many of them, like us, immediately rushed to their favorite Italian restaurant for dinner.