Cinephiles, rejoice! From Ratatouille to The Platform, we have curated a list of food-centered films guaranteed to whet your visual appetite.
January in Singapore may be notorious for its thunderstorms, but we take rainy season as a fortuitous excuse to close the windows, butter some popcorn, and indulge in our favourite pastime: a food-themed movie marathon. For those of you wondering why food? Well, why ever not – especially when one can just look to the hearty Cubanos in Chef, formidable Il Timpano in Big Night, and the fanciful chocolate bars in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory – all proof that some of the silver screen’s most iconic moments could not have been without a little culinary inspiration. And in this article, we peer deeper into the annals of Hollywood, and beyond, to look at some of the other films about food that informed our appetite.
1. TAMPOPO (1985)
It was the late Anthony Bourdain who so famously said, “Food is sex.” Long before any musings of the renegade chef, however, it was Tampopo which embodied it. The world’s first ‘ramen Western’ focuses on widow Tampopo, who, under the tutelage of truckers Goro and Ken, strives to make the perfect bowl of ramen. Along her journey, we peer into the lives of numerous others, from the fiendish Yakuza gangster – star of the lucratively sensual egg scene – to non-conformist corporate lackey to grey-bearded broth master, all of them profoundly and uniquely connected to food.
2. LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE (1992)
This landmark Mexican film brings new meaning to the saying ‘You are what you eat.’ Heroine Tita de la Garza, scorned in a love triangle between romantic interest Pedro and her own sister, discovers that she can impart emotions unto others through the food she prepares. Some, like the cried-into wedding cake, sends guests into despondency; others, like her rose sauce, incites such arousal that a building quite literally catches on fire. With its trademark whimsy, Like Water For Chocolate is a testament to the visceral and emotional impact of good food.
3. RATATOUILLE (2007)
Ratatouille is a movie as beloved as its culinary namesake. The animated Pixar film follows Remy the rat on his trying odyssey from the sewers of the French countryside to the fine-dining restaurants of Paris, all the while embracing the tender ideal that, oui, anyone can cook. It is a feat of animation – everything from the quiver of Remy’s whiskers to the droplets on washed zucchini – but, more importantly, a feat of storytelling. Moralising, but not hackneyed; fun-loving, but not juvenile; fictional, but somehow deeply relevant, Ratatouille is the tale of an artist, made by artists.
4. JULIE & JULIA (2009)
Julie & Julia tracks the lives of two women. Julie is the erudite, sophisticated wife of a diplomat living in 1950s Paris. Julia is an aimless, troubled young writer residing in Queens. Their story is an unlikely one, converging upon the recipes in Julie’s cookbook, which Julia seeks to recreate almost a decade later. It is here where French cuisine truly shines, with classic dishes like boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin which assume, along the way, greater importance. The dishes unite the two women; they learn, as we do, that cooking can be cathartic and a form of self-fulfilment; transcendent of time and circumstance.
5. EAT, PRAY, LOVE (2010)
Based on the bestselling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love is the empowering retelling of a woman on a quest for self-discovery. Plagued by insecurity and anxiety from her past relationships, Gilbert decides on a year abroad. Starting in the trattorias of Italy, then the ashrams in India, and finishing in Indonesia, Gilbert’s globe-trotting sees her wrestling with her own singleness while attempting to master the art of pleasure, devotion, and balance. The movie certainly has its downfalls – and viewers should watch with a certain class consciousness – but it does prove, if anything, that spaghetti and pizza can fill any emotional void.
6. JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI (2011)
Jino Ono, it seems, exists solely for sushi. The 89-year-old Tokyo native, regarded by many to be the greatest sushi chef alive, is the founder of the restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, which holds three Michelin stars. In this intimate documentary, viewers come to know the culinary force that is Ono – whose expertise, discipline, and pursuit for perfection are truly inspiring. But, in video as in Ono’s mind, it is sushi which takes centre place. Expect vivid scenes of preparation, with close-ups on flashing knives and silken fish – fresh from Tsukiji market.
7. SAUSAGE PARTY (2016)
Come for the supermarket orgy, stay for the profound commentary on organised religion. Sausage Party’s insights are delivered through Frank, the animation’s protagonist: a sausage whose initial obsession with consummating his relationship with a New England sausage bun, and leaving the market – for what he and his fellow produce refer to as the “great beyond” – quickly go awry. The brutal and raunchy expedition that ensues prompts Frank’s gradual enlightenment, as he comes to realise the true nature of the food system and the dangers of uninformed faith. This philosophical comedy is Plato’s Cave at its best and dirtiest.
8. THE PLATFORM (2019)
With a generous helping of blood, guts, and gore, it’s easy to see why Spanish thriller The Platform topped Netflix charts. Its premise is simple: prisoners, two to a floor, exist in the fictional Vertical Self-Management Centre, through which a platform of food descends each day. Those on the top enjoy prioritised access; those on the bottom resort to murdering and cannibalising their floormates. Level placement changes at random. The political commentary – that deals with classism, capitalism, and food scarcity – may not be subtle, but is nonetheless haunting.
9. UNCORKED (2020)
To liken Uncorked to a fine wine is an understatement. The film is full-bodied and refined with a sweetness that stays with you long after the bottle is spent. It tells the story of a young Black Elijah Bruener – a timely change from the old, white faces traditionally associated with wine movies – whose desire to become a master sommelier is upended by his father’s expectation that he inherits the family business, a Memphis barbecue chain. Like Cabernet and baby back ribs, theirs is a generational tension between obligation and ambition, unpacked with nuance.