My instructions for this week weren’t very specific — I was simply assigned to write up something “food-related” to stay with the theme of this week’s Lodi Living. And when I’m not given ironclad instructions, I tend to take advantage of the situation and use it as an excuse to get a little weird. So, I present to you a painstakingly assembled hodgepodge of awesome food-related things in movies, in no order and adhering to absolutely no rules or guidelines. Bon appetit?
Best directorial commitment to food: Quentin Tarantino
No other filmmaker makes such subtle but effective use of food in his movies. From the Big Kahuna burger and Douglas Sirk steak from “Pulp Fiction” to Stuntman Mike’s super-nachos in “Death Proof” (not to mention that damned strudel from “Inglourious Basterds,” and countless other examples), Tarantino speaks to both the cinephile and foodie in all of us.
Best film set in a restaurant: “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover”
Alright, so the grotesque excess on display in director Peter Greenaway’s razor-sharp critique of the British social class structure isn’t exactly appetizing. But the opulent set design and Michael Gambon’s venomous performance as an ill-mannered restaurateur make it worth the effort.
Best film about the pursuit of food: “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”
Best marketing tie-in ever? Offering fresh, funny and endlessly sympathetic stoner heroes coupled with some surprisingly imaginative writing, this flick will leave you jonesing for your own favorite fast-food treat.
Best film involving people as food: “Delicatessen”
Not only the best cannibal movie ever, but also undoubtedly the funniest. Before “Amelie,” Jean-Pierre Jeunet (working with former collaborator Marc Caro) gave us this quirky study of a post-apocalyptic future in which the denizens of a small French town go to extraordinary lengths for their protein fix.
Best movie starring food: “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters”
This movie proved that Master Shake, Frylock and Meatwad are probably best enjoyed in quick 10-minute bursts and not as the focus of a feature-length film, but can you honestly name a better movie featuring food as the primary characters? I can’t.
Best subtly horrific film about food: “Drag Me to Hell”
Think this is a standard schlock-fest and throwback to ’80s-style horror? Think again. Sam Raimi’s film is ostensibly a pot-boiler about demonic possession, but when examined carefully it reveals itself as a cleverly veiled examination of the perils of bulimia. I’m telling you, this thing is chock-full of jaw-dropping subtext if you’re paying attention.
Best “wacky waiter hijinx” movie: “Slammin’ Salmon”
This isn’t the greatest sub-genre to focus on, but any excuse to recommend a Broken Lizard flick is good enough for me.
Best cooking scene: “Big Night” and “Eat Drink Man Woman” (tie)
Two sequences that showcase the beautiful simplicity of cooking. Ingrained with a passion for the art that you won’t find in many other films, these scenes (the closing of “Big Night,” depicting two brothers cooking an omelet together, and the opening of “Eat Drink Man Woman,” showing a man preparing a traditional Taiwanese meal) may just make you want to become a chef.
Best food fight: “Animal House”
“I’m a zit. Get it?” It simply can’t be topped.
Best “gross-out” food sequence: “Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom”
Often imitated but never equaled, this revolting bit of cultural cuisine — featuring Indy and pals dining on bugs and brains at Bangkok Palace — is admittedly a little racist. But hey, it was the ’80s, so dig in for some guilt-free snake surprise, won’t you?
Best food expulsion scene: “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life”
A completely over-the-top and ultimately pointless minutes-long puking scene, but good luck keeping yourself from laughing, even after the 20th time seeing it.
Best food-related sex scene: “9 1⁄2 Weeks” and “Troll 2” (tie)
The “91⁄2 Weeks” scene is flat-out hot, with Kim Basinger and an in-his-prime Mickey Rourke making creative use of the fridge. That “Troll 2” popcorn scene, though? It’s among the most inexplicable and disturbing things you will ever encounter in a film. Just warning you.
Best dinner singalong: “Beetlejuice”
“Day-O! Daaay-O!” You can tell the cast had a blast filming this thing.
Best scene involving terrible cooking: “Bridget Jones Diary”
Awful cooks are a dime a dozen in the movies, but few scenes pull off the cliche with such cleverness and genuine heart. Bridget may endanger your life with her home-cooked meals, but you still can’t help but love her just the way she is. Awww ...
Best death by food: “Se7en”
I was just watching this other night. While eating spaghetti. That didn’t last too long.
Best dinner as social commentary: “The Bicycle Thieves”
This is a much more wholesome spaghetti-based scene, featuring an impoverished father treating his young son to what is presumably the youngster’s first dinner out. I’ve never been much for Italian neo-realism, but this classic sequence is both an accomplished bit of social commentary juxtaposing the manners and attitudes of different social classes, as well as a great, simple scene of family bonding.
Best non-dinner as social commentary: “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”
If you’ve seen it, you get the joke. If not, then I would say you need to brush up on your Spanish surrealism.
Best food-service character: Kino the pizza delivery guy in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze”
Here’s a delivery guy who will not only get you your pie on time, but will also help you do battle with throngs of ninjas when he arrives. Service with a smile, man.
Best villainous chef: Chef Louis in “The Little Mermaid”
The movies have given us plenty of chef villains, but none compare to the needlessly sadistic Chef Louis from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” He even gets his own musical number!
Best food-obsessed movie character: Sara Goldfarb in “Requiem for a Dream”
In Darren Aronofsky’s brilliant study of addiction and the death of the American Dream, Ellen Burstyn delivered what is, for my money, the best screen performance ever seen from an actress. Mentally unbalanced due to a dependence on dangerous diet pills, her character is as vivid and involving as any of cinema’s great tragic anti-heroes.
Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.