12 January 2018 - When good films and food go together, it's like having, well, the best oysters and Muscadet combo ever. And with the 90th Academy Awards nominees announced, the award season is officially upon us. In that spirit, we have rounded up some of the best award-winning films that showcase chefs, food, ingredients, cookings, and everything in between. Have a look, and satisfy your cinematic cravings!
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
In 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomed the then US President Barack Obama to Tokyo, Japan, by taking him to the greatest sushi restaurant in the world, the three Michelin star Sukiyabashi Jiro. The unassuming restaurant is located in the basement of an office building off a subway station and seats just 10 people! Owned and operated by Jiro (and his son), who's now 90+ years old, Sukiyabashi Jiro is notorious for its minimalistic sushi with no additional soy sauce or wasabi as sides, and its lengthy waiting list, usually around three-month wait -it's a three-star Michelin restaurant, by the way. A typical meal costs more than $300 for one person and takes just 20-minute to finish.
The film portrays the discipline of sushi-making not only in the sheer detail with which it observes the processes, but also, to a certain extent, through technique: the repetitive nature of the sushi-making montages and scenes (with camera placements and editing schemes often repeated), and even the prominent use of Philip Glass’s minimalistic music on the soundtrack. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary about world-class sushi, this film is definitive -it runs only 81-minute, but the subject is finite, its story is evocative, and its cinematography is crisp. Jiro Dreams of Sushi received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, including a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes
Director David Gelb would later on create a series for Netflix, Chef’s Table, showcasing the works of world’s renowned chefs, such as Gaggan Anand, Massimo Bottura, and Alain Passard, in each episode. Chef’s Table has just been renewed for its fourth season after a successful three-season run from 2015 to 2017.
Director: David Gelb
Awards: Best Documentary - Denver Film Critics Society (2013), Detroit Film Critic Society (2012)
Red Obsession (2013)
Narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Russell Crowe, Red Obsession takes us through the background of the wine-producing capital of the world, Bordeaux, its history, its dependence on capricious elements (weather, global economy), and the challenges facing the area due to increasing production cost -one of the real issues in recent years is that the prices of the bottles of wine have risen so dramatically that they have become too valuable to drink. People now buy bottles of wine as investments, rather than something to be shared at a special occasion.
The film portrays the economic collapse of 2008 and 2009 which has impacted the Bordeaux region in an immediate way. Americans stopped buying expensive wine en masse, and up until then America was the major market for Bordeaux wines. But another market has exploded, almost overnight, in China. The second half of the film is focusing to the wine-mania in China, the jaw-dropping wine auctions in Hong Kong, and the entrepreneur whose wine collection is worth USD 60 million.
Though China’s wine fever has cooled recently. Still, the film raises legitimate concerns about the cultural and economic implications of status-minded overconsumption.
Director: David Roach & Warwick Ross
Awards: Best Feature Length Documentary and Best Direction in a Documentary - AACTA Award (2013)
Julie & Julia (2009)
Julie & Julia is a film based on real life characters of the same name, Julia Child, the adorable and legendary America’s first master chef, played by Meryl Streep, and blogger, Julie Powell, played by Amy Adams.
Originally working as a volunteer in a newly formed US intelligence agency, Julia Child were married to her colleague Paul Child. Julia and Paul reassigned to the American Embassy in Paris. While there, Julia attended the world-famous Cordon Bleu cooking school for six months. With a goal of adapting sophisticated French cuisine for mainstream Americans, Julia and her two friends collaborated on a two-volume cookbook. The original publisher rejected the manuscript due to its 734-page length but another publisher eventually accepted and releasing it in 1961 under the title Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book remained the bestselling cookbook for five straight years after its publication.
Julia promoted her book on the television station near her home. Displaying her trademark mannerism and hearty humor, she prepared an omelet on air. The public's response was enthusiastic, generating letters and countless phone calls. She was then invited back to tape her own series on cooking for the network, initially earning USD 50 a show -the first cooking TV show was born.
Julie Powell began the Julie/Julia Project, a blog chronicling her attempt to cook all the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in 2002. The blog quickly gained a large following, and a book, Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, was published in 2005
Director: Nora Ephron
Awards: Best Actress (Meryl Streep) - Golden Globe Awards, Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, Satellite Awards (2010), and nominated for 1 Academy and BAFTA Awards in similar category for Meryl Streep
Everybody knows this film. But did you know that it took a long hard work to achieve a delicious-looking CGI food? For six years, members of Pixar Animation Studios took classes at Bay Area cooking schools and channeled the artistry of Thomas Keller, the chef/owner of critically acclaimed French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley, San Francisco.
The animators were also working closely with various cooking and gourmet consultants to learn about food, textures, and how kitchens are arranged. The same lighting technique that was used on skin in The Incredibles was used on fruits and vegetables to give food and ingredients a hyperrealism in Ratatouille. More than that, the characters talk about food and how it tastes and feels. There is also the use of music and abstract imagery to show what a certain taste is like. The result? Tons of award and USD 600 million global box office! Ka-ching ka-ching
Director: Brad Bird
Awards: Best Animated Film – Academy Awards, Annie Awards, BAFTA Awards, Golden Globe Awards (2008), and nominated for 4 Academy Awards
Food, Inc. (2008)
Perhaps the most definitive and provocative cinematic investigation of the modern American food industry, the Academy Award-nominated documentary Food, Inc. exposes the demands of mass production which have led to diminished quality standards, and have placed the health of consumers in peril. The film strongly highlights the inhuman and unsustainable practices of meat production, the legal issue in labouring, packaging, and chemical usage, and irresponsible marketing.
Food, Inc. has been highly rated by film critics but received intense rebuttals from food companies depicted in the film. The filmmakers don't let consumers off the hook, however. After all, the industry is only responding to the public's insatiable cravings for more food at cheaper costs in a quick and easy serving. Many of us are not aware of the consequences exposed in the film. That's just one reason why Food, Inc. is required viewing.
Director: Robert Kenner
Awards: Best Documentary – Gotham Awards, Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards (2009), and Emmy Awards (2011), and nominated for 1 Academy Awards
Big Night (1996)
The story of the film exists in the real world, where you can go broke selling great food. Set in the 50s, Big Night tells the story of two brothers, recent immigrants to America, who run an authentic Italian restaurant named Paradise. The older brother, Primo, is a genius and idealistic chef, and his younger brother, who acts as the restaurant manager, Secondo, knows it. Early in the film, Primo works all day to create a perfect seafood risotto, but a customer complains she cannot find the seafood and then asks for spaghetti and meatballs as a side dish. Primo is enraged. He don’t want to serve spaghetti and meatballs in his restaurant. Nor will he put meatballs on spaghetti in any event.
Just right across the street, a man named Pascal runs an enormously successful "Americanized" Italian restaurant by giving his customers what they want; spaghetti? checked, meatballs? checked, live music? checked! Desperate to keep Paradise in business, Secondo asks Pascal for a loan, and story gets more complicated from there.
Big Night is an intriguing film. It is gloriously funny and ironic, but sentimental and visually luscious at the same time. Aspiring chefs and restaurateurs will love this film, but the plot lines about financial stress really give more depth and realistic weight to the film. In the end, Big Night is a treat probably best enjoyed after business meeting, maybe with a bottle of wine.
Director: Campbell Scott & Stanley Tucci
Awards: Best Screenplay - Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, Sundance Film Festival (1996), Film Independent Spirit Awards (1997)
Unser Täglich Brot (Our Daily Bread) (2005)
Director Nikolaus Geyrhalter shot the film himself in high-definition digital video. He takes us inside worlds of wonder and of terror in Our Daily Bread. Between 2003 and 2005, he and his crew travelled across Europe recording scenes from the industrial food chain. We can only guess where we are on the continent at any given point, since the exact locations and names of the companies where the footage was filmed are purposely not shown. Just as radically, there is no narration throughout the film; nor does he even translate the snatches of some spoken languages we hear, probably because these voices soon melt into the motoric sounds of food production machines.
Our Daily Bread is a compilation of coolly framed, static and slow panning shots of hi-tech farming in various colossal bio-factories throughout Europe. Vast production lines of animals, and some plants and flowers, are shown being harvested in huge rows, seen from dizzying perspectives. It seems like fiction, like a mad set for some sci-fi nightmare inspired by Fritz Lang, Stanley Kubrick, and Christopher Nolan, and yet it is all real. We might have never seen anything like it in all our life, and yet we put the results of it in our mouths every day.
Our Daily Bread can be extremely difficult to watch, but the film’s visual elegance, moral underpinning and intellectually stimulating point of view also make it essential. You are what you eat. As it happens, you are also what you dare to watch.
Director: Nikolaus Geyrhalter
Awards: Best Film - Ecocinema International Film Festival Athens, Grand Prix - Festival International du Film d'Environnement Paris (2006)
Basically a love story set in a tranquil French village, Chocolat tells the story of single mum slash chocolatier who seeks to establish new life by running a chocolaterie. Gradually her attitude to life and the delicacies that she prepares in her chocolate shop have a marked effect on the local people, bound as they are by the forces of religion and politics.
Chocolat is the sweetest, heart-warming and treat-filled film with gorgeous visual flair. And if it's not sweet enough for you, Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp are there, talking about love trading their French and Irish accents talking about love and of course, chocolate.
Director: Lasse Hallström
Awards: Excellence in Production Design Award Feature Film Contemporary Films – Arts Direction Guild Awards (2000), Best Screenplay – San Diego Film Critics (2001), and nominated for 5 Academy Awards, 4 Golden Globe Awards, and 8 BAFTA Awards