Chef (and the Top 10 films about food)
Out next week on DVD & Blu-Ray, Chef is heart-warming new comedy written, directed by and starring Jon Favreau. These days, Favreau is big business; he's been behind some of the biggest hits for the Marvel universe in recent years, including the Iron Man and Avengers franchises, and is currently working on a big-budget reimagining of Disney's animated classic The Jungle Book.
Rewind a few years though and Favreau's career looked very different. For much of the 90s he had been a jobbing actor scratching out a living on bit parts in films like Batman Forever and appearing in episodes of Seinfeld and Chicago Hope, but his break came in 1996 with Swingers, which Favreau wrote himself. One of the best-loved indie comedies of the decade, Swingers showcased Favreau's obvious writing talent and before long he was bringing his brand of comedy to much larger audiences.
For Chef, Favreau has gone back to basics somewhat, working with a much smaller budget than he has become accustomed to, but the result is a charming and absorbing film that feels much closer to his earlier work. Favreau himself stars as the Miami-born chef Carl Caspar, a man whose culinary talents have propelled him to the position of head chef at Gauloise, a swanky restaurant in California's Bay Area owned by a a man called Riva (Dustin Hoffman).
When the restaurant is due to be visited by a highly influential food critic, Carl is ready to wow him with his cooking skills, but Riva has other ideas, forcing him to cook food from the restaurant's uninspiring menu. When the food receives a panning as a result, Caspar reacts badly - and publicly, via social media - and soon finds himself looking for a new job.
However, what initially seems like a disaster soon turns into an opportunity, and thanks to a little help from his friends, Carl decides to open up a travelling food truck, touring the country and selling his own brand of street food, and his food truck becomes a surprise hit.
Favreau has lost none of his personal touch when it comes to comedy writing and the script is as sharp and well-measured as you would expect. What really makes the film though are the great performances from the film's talented cast, which along with Favreau and Hoffman counts the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson among its ranks.
For our money, Chef is one of the feelgood flicks of the year, but be warned; it will leave you hungry for more. Fortunately for you, we've cooked up a list of ten more food-related morsels for you to get your teeth into...
Chef - Official Trailer
Based on the autobiography of TV chef and food writer Nigel Slater, Toast is a made-for-TV film directed by SJ Clarkson, a woman whose credits include a host of hit TV shows from Dexter and Heroes to Eastenders and Bad Girls. Oscar Kennedy and Freddie Highmore each star as the young Slater at various stages of his childhood and adolescence, and in particular the story details the chef's relationship with his father, the death of his mother when he was just nine years old, and the resulting battles with his father's new wife, Mrs. Potter, played by Helena Bonham-Carter. The story sees the young Slater competing with his new stepmother for his father's affections through cooking, detailing the chef's attempts to figure out her recipe for lemon meringue pie. Brilliantly written and acted, it's well worth a watch for foodies and budding chefs alike.
9. Big Night
Probably one of the lesser-known films on this list, Big Night stars Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub as two Italian brothers who open up a restaurant in New York. When the business starts to falter, the two brothers find themselves in trouble with the bank, and so with the help of one of their friends they plan a big event at the restaurant with a famous jazz musician as the star attraction. Co-written and directed by Tucci along with Campbell Scott and Joseph Tropiano, the film is both touching and funny in an understated way. It may have gone under the radar of most, but we'd highly recommend giving this film a chance.
8. Super Size Me
The premise for Morgan Spurlock's documentary is simple: if, as the McDonald's restaurant chain claims, their fast food is 'nutritious', then surely a person can survive perfectly well by eating just McDonald's food for one month, right? Well, that's exactly what Spurlock does, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at the chain's restaurants for 30 days, during which he sees his body mass increase by 13%, his cholesterol rocket to 230 and his liver turn into what his doctor describes as 'pate'.
As funny as the film is, against a backdrop of some of the world's worst child obesity statistics Super Size Me has a serious message about the way fast food is marketed, both in the U.S. and other developed countries, and even if you're partial to a Big Mac every now and then, this film will certainly make you think twice about eating one.
7. The Hundred-Foot Journey
Released in cinemas earlier this year, The Hundred-Foot Journey is one of two films on this list directed by Lasse Hallstrom, this time starring Helen Mirren as the proprietor of a Michelin-starred restaurant in the south of France. When an Indian family moves to the area and opens and Indian restaurant right across the street, a rivalry develops between the two establishments, but the resulting culture clash also leads to curiosity about each other's food. Mirren is excellent as the haughty Madame Mallory and is ably assisted by the likes of Om Puri, the patriarch of the newly-arrived family, and Manish Dayal in the role of his son, the young, talented chef Hassan. Due to be released on Blu-Ray and DVD in December, this is one to look out for.
6. Food, Inc.
While most of the films on this list are likely to leave you pretty hungry, Robert Kenner's 2008 documentary is likely to have the opposite effect. The film takes an unflattering and unpalatable look at the food industry in the U.S., particularly focussing on the kind of mass-produced foods found in supermarkets and fast food outlets, and how the desire to produce food in this way has lead to an epidemic of obesity, especially in children and young adults. What makes the film compelling is that Kenner doesn't just focus on the corporations producing the food, but also how our lifestyles and changes in society have impacted the way we eat and the types of food we consume. It's often uncomfortable viewing and paints a pretty grim picture of the food production industry, but it's essential viewing nonetheless and is sure to provide some inspiration for anyone looking to lose a few pounds.
5. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Even though there's a more recent interpretation of Roald Dahl's classic children's book, we still prefer Mel Stuart's original screen adaptation starring Gene Wilder as the eccentric and often cranky owner of the weird and wonderful chocolate factory. This is probably one of the most iconic children's films ever made, but it's just as much fun for adults, and we can never watch it too many times.
4. The Green Butchers
This low-budget Danish film directed by Anders Thomas Jensen stars Nikolaj Lis Kaas and Mads Mikkelson (who Bond fans will remember as the blood-crying villain from Casino Royale) as two employees of a butchers shop, working for an employer who they both despise. Tired of being bullied by the shop's owner, the pair decide to set up shop on their own. They open a new shop, create a new range of sausages and even market the business with flyers and posters, but despite all this they are struggling to attract customers. But then, an accident caused by the pot-smoking Bjarne finds some of their food contaminated with Marijuana, and soon customers are flooding to the shop to get their hands on the pair's sausages, unaware of their secret ingredient. Funny, slick and a lot less dumb than your average 'stoner flick', this comes highly recommended.
3. Sweeney Todd:The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Ok, we're stretching the definition of what a 'food' film is here, but while Mrs. Lovett may sell the 'worst pies in London', there's no getting away from the fact that her grim recipe forms a crucial part of the story, and with the city's scariest barber cutting the throats on the next floor up, all that meat has to go somewhere. Tim Burton's film is one of a long list of his outings to star Johnny Depp, but the actor's impressive performance as the tormented barber and his surprisingly good singing aren't enough to save him from being completely upstaged by the excellent Helena Bonham Carter in the role of the pie shop owner. Grim and grisly, but heaps of fun.
The second apperance on our list from Lasse Hallstrom, the man behind The Cider House Rules and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, Chocolat stars Juliette Binoche as a woman who moves to a small French town with her young daughter and opens up a chocolaterie opposite the local church. However, the highly religious townspeople are far from welcoming, taking a dim view of her business venture thanks to her policy of opening on Sundays and boycotting what they see as the 'immorality' of her products. Curiosity soon gets the better of the villagers though and it isn't long before her chocolate treats start winning hearts and minds. Featuring an impressive cast that includes Johnny Depp, Alfred Molina and Dame Judi Dench, this heart-warming film was nominated for no fewer than five Academy awards in 2000.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet has churned out some of the most unusual and imaginative films of of the last two decades, including the likes of Mic-Macs and the superb Amelie, but before that he released Delicatessen, co-directed with Marc Caro, in 1991. The film's grim plot details a post-apocalyptic world in which food is in short supply, using grain and basic foodstuffs as currency. The landlord of an apartment building, a butcher named Clapet, also runs a delicatessen on the ground floor. Some of the meat on offer however is less than Kosher and Clapet has a habit of luring tenants into his building, only for them to find themselves on the menu. Described by the filmmakers as a homage to Terry Gilliam, the film has a unique and surreal vibe that the former Python would be proud of. It won't be to everyone's taste, but Delicatessen is as magical as it is disturbing.