Friday, November 24, 2023

Notes on Film: Thankful for Film

 by Anthony King

A top ten.

It's 10pm on Thanksgiving. In America, many of us are going to bed having eaten far too much food. I’m proud of myself this year because I didn’t overeat, so I’m not sitting here regretting this day’s decisions. I’m still thinking about food, actually. Thus, a list of my ten favorite food-related movies or divine moments of food in cinema.

Chef (2014, dir. Jon Favreau)

This is a perfect movie, and I'm not even being hyperbolic. It's a sweet story, but not too sweet. It's very funny, but not overly silly. There is no great tragedy that would turn some people off. It's a wonderful travelog. All but one character is remarkably likable. Favreau stars as a hot L.A. chef named Carl Casper who receives a mediocre review and refuses to bend to the restaurant owner's (Dustin Hoffman) whims. He quits the biz for good... until his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) convinces him to buy a food truck. Along with his sous chef (John Leguizamo) and his young son (Emjay Anthony), Carl hits the road selling Cuban sandwiches and local fare depending where they land for the day. It's insanely rewatchable with one of the greatest soundtracks ever. You’ll never see a sexier moment in cinema regarding a grilled cheese sandwich.

Waiting... (2005, dir. Rob McKittrick)
I remember going to see this on a Sunday night after work with a couple other cooks and waitstaff when I was still in restaurants. We laughed our asses off that night because we saw ourselves up there. No other movie nails the restaurant business better than Waiting... It's inappropriate and hasn't aged well. But then again, the restaurant business is inappropriate and doesn't age well. Ryan Reynolds and Justin Long star as waiters at an Applebee's-type of joint where they're training a new waiter (John Francis Daley). It's a night of debauchery and bad taste and I still laugh my ass off every single time I watch it.

Habit (1995, dir. Larry Fessenden)
This is not a movie about food, obviously. It is about a vampire feeding on people, but that's not why it's on the list. There's a scene in Habit where Sam heads out to Long Island to spend Thanksgiving with his friends. In a very short scene Sam is sitting at a picnic table trimming green beans while he's hearing voices from afar. There's something hypnotic about that moment: Sam trimming the ends off the beans, cutting them in half, tossing them in the bowl, and zoning out while a sad song plays softly on the soundtrack. We eat lots of green beans in the King house and every single time I begin to trim them, this moment pops in my head. Every. Single. Time.

Goodfellas (1990, dir. Martin Scorsese)
You know the moment. Everyone knows the moment. Actually, there are two. But you know the other one, too. Henry's in prison with Paulie, Vinnie, and Johnny. Paulie's slicing the garlic with a razor blade. “He used a razor, and he used to slice it so thin that it used to liquefy in the pan with just a little oil. It was a very good system.” (BTW, that doesn't really work.) The other is towards the end, when Henry's making the sauce. I have made that sauce. It's a very good sauce.

In the Weeds (2000, dir. Michael Rauch)
The original Waiting... you might say. It's not as funny as Waiting... nor is it as inappropriate as Waiting... but it's just as good, if not better. Ellen Pompeo is being trained at an upscale NYC restaurant. It's another night in the life where we meet all sorts of fun characters including a veteran waitress (Molly Ringwald), a romantic interest (Joshua Leonard), a psychotic chef (Kirk Acevedo), and the biggest prick of a general manager (Eric Bogosian). I first saw this while I was still in the biz, so it's hard for me to divorce my original feelings from it. Is it good? Is it bad? I don't know. You'll have to find out for yourself. That is, if you can find it.

Phantom Thread (2017, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
This is one of the most romantic movies I've ever seen. I'm almost always in the mood to watch it. I have the biggest crush on Vicky Krieps in it, and it's my favorite Daniel Day-Lewis performance. You know what's not my favorite? Mushrooms. Especially poisonous ones. I hate mushrooms so much. No matter what kind you cook or how you cook them, they always taste like dirt. And I don't want my food to taste like dirt. But I have never seen tastier-looking mushrooms in my life than when Miss Krieps cooks them in Phantom Thread... even if they're for nefarious reasons (I think it's one of the most romantic gestures ever put to screen, actually).

It's Complicated
(2009, dir. Nancy Meyers)
Is this one of the last romantic comedies made for adults about adults? I'm a sucker for a rom-com, especially a rom-com about people over the age of 50. And I'm a sucker for Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, and Alec Baldwin. Streep is the owner of a bakery in Southern California. Her and Baldwin have been divorced for a decade and have grown children. She begins to date Martin and Baldwin gets jealous. Like Chef, there isn't any sort of overly-dramatic or tragic set piece that drives a portion of the story. It's just all around sweet. Speaking of sweet, the reason it's on the list: Street takes Martin to her bakery one night after hours and bakes him chocolate croissants. They are maybe the most delicious thing I've ever seen on film. I shit you not, every time we watch this (which is a lot), I have to make chocolate croissants the next day. Listen, I don't make the rules. Nancy Meyers does.

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