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Movie? Food? Not popcorn

What is the best food movie ever made? A.O. Scott thinks its Ratatouille. Okay, maybe; good cartoon. But I don't think it's the very best. I nominate Babette's Feast, and if that's toooooo, well you know, religious, how about Tampopo. Your nominee. Scott's not very depthy case Here.

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I really enjoyed "Big Night", though I can't really remember whether that's because it was a great movie or just a great evening at the movies.

A second vote for 'Babette's Feast' - her cooking (and liquor) certainly changed (at least momentarily) the lives of some pretty dour Lutherans.... wonder if she'd cook for the curia in Rome?'Like Water for Chocolate' is interesting to watch someone's deep sexual attraction be sublimated into some amazing dishes...

Tampopo. No contest. And I am surprised that it was never remade in some American form.

Food can be an art in itself. But as much as the human person does take such a great deal of pleasure in the act of eating, and as popular as the food TV shows are, there really have not been many, if any, good films on food. Maybe it is because the intense pleasure of that first bite of prime rib, the kind of pleasure that makes you go "mmmm," does not translate well to two-dimensional visual depictions.I suppose Night of the Living Dead and Soylent Green do not count, but they are quite enjoyable. Babette's Feast was disappointingly slow and ultimately unsatisfying (it definitely suffers from high expectations after being overrated).

Eat Drink Man WomanRunner up Spanglish, if only for the late night sandwich.

Babette...Seeing that again recently helped me appreciate the meal as much as the "message"... of course on the negative side, there was "supersize Me" -that movie about the guy who lived on McDonald's for a month...never wanted to eat again after that one!

It's surprising how two different people - in this case, AO Scott and me - can watch the same film and get two very different takes on what it's actually about. I saw Ratatouille as the struggle of a gifted outsider - in this case, positing it in its absurd extremity by making him a rat - to break into the closed, hierarchical world of art. "Anyone Can Cook" is as heretical as "Anyone Can Paint", "Anyone Can Dance", "Anyone Can Design A Skyscraper". Or, to broaden it somewhat, "Anyone Can Play Be an NFL Tailback", "Anyone Can Do Advanced Mathematics", "Anyone Can Manage a Hedge Fund".Also, the artist's struggle to reconcile her place in the artistic world with her un-artistic family and community roots.

Not exactly a food movie, but still one of those movies in which I could practically smell the meal when it was served (and started salivating), I nominate "Daughters of the Dust".

Do vampire or zombie movies count?

Oh, sorry, I see that Bender already raised the question. Night of the Living Dead is an amazingly effective movie in spite of (or maybe partly because of) its low production values and poor acting. What about Suddenly, Last Summer? Or, more seriously, Julie & Julia?

My hackles were briefly raised when you dismissed Ratatouille as a "good cartoon". But the more I think about it, the more I agree -- it's not about food in the way the rest of these films are. It's about some characters who work at a restaurant and one who feels called to be a chef artiste. When I think of all those other movies, I remember the long, sensual scenes of people actually eating, but I can't imagine that in a cartoon. Maybe as we can grant cartoon characters the ability to love (as in that montage in Up) but not to show it beyond the odd peck on the lips, so we can grant them the desire to cook but not the ability to actually enjoy eating.

I also liked the Big Night (which turned me on to Louis Prima; I had never heard of him before). And my favorite 'food venue" movie would be Diner.

The restaurant scene in Jacques Tati's 1967 film Playtime. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Play_Timeand excerpts on YouTube.

"Chocolat," though I know many people view it as anti-Catholic. I don't think it's any more anti-Catholic than "Babette" is anti-Lutheran. Critics weren't fond of it, but Johnny Depp was charming.I found "Babette" too slow going and I didn't care much about the characters. I appreciate that it was supposed to be communal and sensual. But, somehow, watching people suck the brains out of tiny birds with their heads cut off didn't do much for me.Then, of course, there's "Sweeney Todd" or "Titus Andronicus" or "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover" (I don't recommend eating popcorn or anything else while watching any of those.)

"I saw Ratatouille as the struggle of a gifted outsider in this case, positing it in its absurd extremity by making him a rat to break into the closed, hierarchical world of art."Interesting. We have never seen "Ratatouille" because Raber finds the idea of a rat in a restaurant a sick idea. He has a personal problem with rodents.

1) Eat Drink Man Woman2) Like Water for Chocolate

Jean, has Raber ever worked in a restaurant? One evening at closing time at the eatery where I toiled for minimum wage as a teen, the manager, suspecting a varmint had found its way into the stockroom, set out eight mousetraps. The next morning, every one of them was filled.FWIW - Ratatouille has its charms, but it would struggle to make it into my Pixar Top 5. The critics loved it more than I did. The drama of how-does-it-taste has to be portrayed as watching other people's reactions to delicious food. Not being able to taste and smell the food oneself is rather like watching a musical performance on TV with the sound turned down.

Jim, if we get a mouse in the house, I have to set the traps and check them. I also have to get rid of all the spiders. Other people will deal with dust bunnies. If asked to do so in a real loud voice ...

Jean, we have a couple of cats, one of whom is actually a pretty good mouser, and that without his front claws. He's also the terror of all the bunnies, squirrels, chipmunks and other diminutive furry critters in the neighborhood whom the suburban neighbors mostly view as living and moving lawn ornaments. Once, when he was able to get outside (we go to incredible lengths to keep him indoors), my wife and I were chasing him all over the neighborhood in our clumsy, human fashion, while he toyed with us as is his wont, allowing us to creep close and then scampering out of reach. At one point, he dove into a nearby hedgerow, emerging on the other side with a bird in his mouth, pretty much without breaking stride, and resumed toying with us as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.Our other cat eats spiders and moths, which is useful when living in a houseful of arachnaphobes, as I do. I'm the only human in the house who can screw up the gumption to grab a Kleenex and go squish.

There has been a parade of cats through here in the last 30 years and exactly two of them have actually caught anything. One of the current ones tries to catch flying insects, but she doesn't seem to have enough sense to look UP when they fly out of her sight line. The other one will chase things and, when satisfied he cold deliver the coup de grace, falls in a heap and starts licking his paws. He belongs to the International Feline Conspiracy: Serve no purpose, obey no master.

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.