What's Your Favorite Film About Food?

The 2009 TOTN summer movie festival concludes with a look at our favorite films about food. Movie expert Murray Horwitz and food lovers nominate their picks for the best films that made their stomachs growl and mouths water.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

If you're heading out to the movies this weekend, chances are you'll dine on buttered popcorn while you watch a famous chef handle an equally buttery omelette.

(Soundbite of movie, "Julie & Julia")

Ms. MERYL STREEP: (as Julia Child) I'm going to try to flip this thing over now, which is a rather daring thing to do.

CONAN: That's right. Meryl Streep inhabits the role of Julia Child in the movie "Julie & Julia," which opens this weekend. In it, you'll see boeuf bourguignon, poulet anglais a l'estragon and a mountain of freshly chopped onions after a bad day at the Cordon Bleu. Do not go to see this movie hungry. It is, however, only the latest in a long line of films for gourmands; we're gluttons for food flicks.

For years, we've been going to the movies to watch other people cook, eat and fall in love each at the end of a single strand of spaghetti.

So in our final installment of this year's TOTN Summer Movie Festival, the icing on the cake, the Hollandaise on our Benedict, is food on film.

What's your favorite movie about food? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail us: talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our Web site at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Murray Horwitz, NPR - TALK OF THE NATION's favorite film buff, joins us today from the studios of WYSO, the member station in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he's sampling - what are you sampling, Murray?

MURRAY HORWITZ: Well, I just ate at Yellow Springs' finest restaurant, The Winds, courtesy of WYSO, the little station that could here. And I just had a wonderful, wonderful meal of - listen to this, we finished it with sweet corn ice cream with wild blueberries.

CONAN: Wow. That's interesting. But anyway...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: ...nobody has made a movie about that place. What are our groundrules about food movies?

HORWITZ: Well, there's really only one big groundrule. I mean, there's a groundrule we always use, Neal, which is, of course, no TV. We're talking about films, the things that you go to the theater to see. But also, this one, we're talking about no human flesh, okay? No cannibalism movies so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, what, you don't want to get invited to the Donner party?

HORWITZ: Right, exactly. The people who wanted the Donner party, "Soylent Green," all that, uh-uh, no, no.

CONAN: No, no, no.

HORWITZ: That's not we're talking about. That's not food movies.

CONAN: And then there's the how much food has to be in it? For example, there is one of the greatest movies of all time that opens with a feast and includes this amazing scene where in "The Godfather," the family goes to the mattresses and Clemenza reminds Michael, hey, someday you may have to look to - learn to cook for 25 guys.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Godfather")

Mr. RICHARD S. CASTELLANO (Actor): (as Peter Clemenza) You start out with a little bit of oil, then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes and tomato paste. You fry it, you make sure it doesn't stick. You get it to a boil, you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs, eh? A little bit of wine and a little bit of sugar, and that's my trick.

CONAN: And that's my trick. Is this a food movie?

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: It is, it is. It just makes you want to go out and shoot somebody, doesn't it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: This is the great Richard Castellano as Clemenza. And - there are a couple of things that that clip brings up, Neal. One of them is that, for one thing, for some reason, there are a lot of gangster movies that have food in them. There's a great scene where - in "Goodfellas" where they all go back to somebody's mother's house. It turns out to be the mother of the director Martin Scorsese. But there's a lot of...

CONAN: And, well, we happen to have that clip, so we're going to cut you off right there.

HORWITZ: Oh, good. Good. Good.

CONAN: We want to play this clip from "Goodfellas" where, indeed, they show up and Joe Pesci is covered in blood. He has a reason.

Ms. CATHERINE SCORSESE (Actress): (as Tommy's Mother) You haven't even called or anything. Where've you been?

Mr. JOE PESCI (Actor): (as Tommy DeVito) Mom, I've been working nights.

Ms. SCORSESE: (as Tommy's Mother) And?

Mr. PESCI: (as Tommy DeVito) Well, tonight we were out late. We took a ride on the - out to the country and we hit one of those deers. And that's where all the blood came from. I told you. Jimmy told you before. Anyway, that reminds me, Ma, I need this knife. I'm going to take this, it's okay?

Ms. SCORSESE: (as Tommy's Mother) Okay, yeah.

Mr. PESCI: (as Tommy DeVito) I just need it for a little while.

Ms. SCORSESE: (as Tommy's Mother) Bring it back though, you know?

CONAN: Eww.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: Well, it's - and that's the second point. Maybe one of the reasons so many gangster movies take place in restaurants or around, you know, food tables, is that food used a lot to kind of grease the wheels of a plot.

There are films that are about food itself, and we'll get into some of them. There's, you know, "Ratatouille," a great animated film. It's about food really; films that somehow build up to a big meal. One of my favorites is "Babette's Feast" or the wonderful independent film from the United States, "Big Night."

But then there's these films for which food is a kind of a highway on the film. I keep using these transportation metaphors. But it's a kind of a lubricant for the plot, like "Eat Drink Man Woman," "The Godfather," "Fried Green Tomatoes." There are bunch in which food helps us get to the story. And I'm sure...

CONAN: And, at least, one film where I don't think anybody ever gets to eat. It's all about a meal and I don't think any fork, actually, makes it to the mouth, "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie."

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: It's true. And that brings me to another one. It's right. They do sit down at the dining room table at the end, I think. I don't know if anybody gets any food. But for some reason, Neal, maybe it's just because we all have to eat and food is basic to human life, but, interestingly, some of the greatest movies ever made have important meals or important food scenes in them: "Citizen Kane," "The Bicycle Thief," "The Godfather" all have important meals in them. And I'm sure our listeners will think of others.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

Cathy(ph) is calling from Troy in Michigan.

CATHY (Caller): Well, hello, Neal. I love your program. I listen daily.

CONAN: Thank you.

CATHY: Yes. And you did mention two of my very favorites I was calling about. I rarely buy DVDs, but I have "Babette's Feast," "Big Night," and the third one I wanted to mention was "Tampopo."

CONAN: "Tampopo," the great noodle movie.

CATHY: Yes.

CONAN: That's set in Japan. And - well, we don't have a clip from it because it's in Japanese.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: It's true. But...

CATHY: I understand.

HORWITZ: In search of the perfect bowl of ramen and more besides, it's - a lot of people - when I start asking friends about this particular category, they agree. They talked about - "Tampopo" is the first name they came up with.

CONAN: And you mentioned also "Big Night." This is a film about two struggling restaurateur brothers. And in one scene, they're dealing with a customer who wants a side order of spaghetti with her risotto.

(Soundbite of movie, "Big Night")

Mr. TONY SHALHOUB (Actor): (As Primo) Why?

Mr. STANLEY TUCCI (Actor): (As Secondo) She likes starch. I don't know. Come on.

Mr. SHALHOUB: (As Primo) How can she want? Look, maybe, I should make mashed potato for her other side.

Mr. TUCCI: (As Secondo) Primo, look, don't, okay? Because they are the first customer to come in two hours…

Mr. SHALHOUB: (As Primo) No. She's a criminal. I want to talk to her.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: She's a criminal.

HORWITZ: And I think, if memory serves, that's Stanley Tucci who's also in "Julie & Julia."

CONAN: It is, yes.

HORWITZ: Yeah.

CONAN: And thanks very much for the call, Cathy.

CATHY: Yes. I'm looking forward to "Julie & Julia" as well.

CONAN: Okay. I'm told you need to pack a lunch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CATHY: I might.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this will be Bill. Bill, with us from Charlottesville in Virginia.

BILL (Caller): Hi. How are you doing, Neal?

CONAN: All right.

BILL: I'm just calling to plug my own favorite movie which is, I believe it is called "Last Supper" starring Wesley Snipes. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Wesley Snipes did not star in "The Last Supper." Courtney B. Vance was the movie's star.] And it's about a bunch of thirtysomethings, all living together in this house. They're a bunch of young politically correct, politically active professionals. And it starts out as an accident, but, a guest, a dinner guest they have over starts espousing political views, which they do not like, and sort of accidentally, on purpose gets killed. And it leads to this idea that they will somehow purge the world of future Hitlers by inviting potential candidates over to dinner. And if they do not pass the correct political test, they get to serve some not-so-healthy wine and end up - they...

CONAN: So, it's a vehicle for murder is what you're telling us.

BILL: Right, right.

CONAN: I'm unfamiliar with "The Last Supper." Murray, you?

HORWITZ: Yeah, I know. It's news to me, but I like the idea of having to please Wesley Snipes or else. I don't think this is the first movie that does that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, a device that's working on the movies as you point out. Yeah.

HORWITZ: It's true. And - but there are - Bill's right in bringing up this sort of idea of political correctness and politics in general, because the movies themselves are subject to some of our mores and some of our ways of living. For example, in general, in the movies, food demonstrates appetite in men, right, but domesticity in women. You know, the women are preparing the food and the men are devouring it, you know? You rarely see a movie where women are really lustily eating, the exception of course being "Tom Jones," where I think a joint of chicken is a method of seduction. But somehow, it's reflective of our own kind of political and gender prejudices, I think.

CONAN: And there is, of course, the famous scene in "When Harry Met Sally" that takes in a diner, and I think does cover this aspect of moviedom.

(Soundbite of move, "When Harry Met Sally")

Ms. MEG RYAN (Actor): (As Sally) Yes, yes, yes. Oh, oh, oh. Oh, God. Oh.

Ms. ESTELLE REINER (Actress): (As Customer) I'll have what she's having.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Of course, that's Meg Ryan and Rob Reiner's mother.

HORWITZ: That's right. Rob Reiner's mother with the great rejoinder and that is Katz's Delicatessen in New York City on Houston Street. And the table is marked. You can eat at that table, at the table where Harry and Sally ate.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in. And let's go to Eric(ph), Eric with us from Savannah, Georgia.

ERIC (Caller): Hey, how is it going?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

ERIC: Okay. One of my all-time favorite movies is - and I know you said no cannibalism, but keep in mind this is, you know - the couple in this movie are trying to open a restaurant and they need the money from the bank.

CONAN: Oh, I think, you're - I know where you're going and they also need a main course.

ERIC: "Eating Raoul," yeah.

CONAN: Indeed, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I get, you know, - for all the cannibal - there are a lot of cannibalism movies, come to think of it, that...

HORWITZ: Right. "Sweeney Todd" last year, a couple of years ago.

CONAN: Couple years ago, yeah. And I forget the French one. Anyway, Eric, we'll give you points for that one.

ERIC: Okay, thank you.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much. And, Murray, we have to mention - we'll get back to food movies in just a second. But it's hard to mention movies today and not remember the fact of the passing of the great screenwriter Budd Schulberg…

HORWITZ: You bet.

CONAN: …and novelist. Of course, he's best remembered for "On the Waterfront." You're going to hear a lot of I could have been a contender…

HORWITZ: Right.

CONAN: …throughout the day. We wanted to play a clip from a movie that was made from one of his novels called "The Harder They Fall" - not "The Harder They Come" the Jimmy Cliff movie - "The Harder They Fall," late Humphrey Bogart, where he plays the trainer of a palooka who thinks he's a great fighter. And to convince him at the end that he's not a great fighter, Humphrey Bogart introduces him to a 53-year-old loser of a fighter who's going to knock him out - knock him out just to prove to him that he's not the fighter he thinks he is.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Harder They Fall")

Mr. HUMPHREY BOGART (Actor): (As Eddie) You'll be doing him a favor. He thinks he's King Kong. He won't believe the truth. I want you to belt some sense into him.

Mr. ROD STEIGER (Actor): (As Nick) Go away, George. I don't want to hurt you.

Mr. BOGART: (As Eddie) Belt him, I said.

Mr. STEIGER: Go away, George. I don't want to hurt you.

Mr. JERSEY JOE WALCOTT (Actor): (As George): Watch it big fella.

(Soundbite of fight)

HORWITZ: Hmm.

CONAN: "The Harder They Fall."

HORWITZ: It's a - yeah. No, and it's a really wonderfully written movie based, I think, on the story of the real heavyweight champion Primo Carnera. The other one of his movies that it's worth mentioning, I think, is "A Face in the Crowd," with Andy Griffith, which is another -just terrific, edgy, sort of proletarian movie. I mean, he was one of the great - you know, and he did not write a whole pile of movies. He's not like, you know, one of the prolific screenwriters, but he's - what he did was choice.

CONAN: And go see "A Face in the Crowd," you'll never think of Mayberry quite the same ever again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We're talking with Murray Horwitz on our summer movie festival. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's get another caller in on the line, Sherry(ph). Sherry, calling from Pompano Beach in Florida.

SHERRY (Caller): Hi, Neal. How are you? Hi, Murray.

CONAN: Good. Hi.

HORWITZ: Hi.

SHERRY: One of my - I think this is my all-time favorite, it's called "Tortilla Soup." Have you heard of it?

CONAN: Ah, yes. We have an email on "Tortilla Soup," too. Somebody saying: growing up in an Hispanic family in Los Angeles, I have to say there's no movie that can compare to "Tortilla Soup." Food is such a main part of my family's life. I can almost smell the spices from the family kitchen. Definitely, not a movie to watch if you're trying to diet.

SHERRY: It's...

HORWITZ: It's a really lovely movie. It's a - and we talked about gender roles before. This is a movie directed by a woman, Maria Ripoll, from 2001. A great cast - Hector Elizondo who's one of my favorite actors. And it's - and Raquel Welch makes an appearance. It's a favorite of a lot of people.

SHERRY: Yes. That was - it's - I can watch that movie over and over again. It just has such a great theme and a great, you know, it's -kind of has like - it has lots of humor, it has lots of - a little bit of a love tale, a little bit of drama between the sisters. And of course, it all revolves around food because the father turns out to be a chef. So…

HORWITZ: Well, and if you're watching…

SHERRY: (Unintelligible) daughters.

HORWITZ: …if you're watching "Tortilla Soup" over and over and over again, just make sure you have a gym membership to go along with it, that's all I ask.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Sherry, thanks very much for the call.

SHERRY: Thank you. Take care.

CONAN: It's interesting, the film opening this weekend, "Julia & Julia," is about, of course, the famous Julia Child who became a television chef, a famous chef. There's - going back a little ways, "Christmas in Connecticut." That features Barbara Stanwyck as the famous - country's most famous food writer who, as it turns out her secret is, cannot cook. Her editor, Sydney Greenstreet, shows up to watch her make some pancakes.

(Soundbite of movie, "Christmas in Connecticut")

Mr. SYDNEY GREENSTREET (Actor): (As Alexander Yardley) I hope I'm in time to see you flip the flapjacks.

Ms. BARBARA STANWYCK (Actress): (As Elizabeth Lane) I'm not in a flippy mood this morning, Mr. Yardley. Norah will attend to breakfast. Norah, Mr. Yardley wants to watch you flap. I mean, flip the flapjacks.

Ms. UNA O'CONNOR (Actress): (As Norah) I don't flip them, I scoop them.

Mr. GREENSTREET: Won't you flip just one for me, please?

Ms. O'CONNOR: (As Norah) I've never flipped in me life. And I'm not going to start flipping now for nobody.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's good stuff.

HORWITZ: Barbara Stanwyck and the leading man, I think, is Dennis Morgan. It's…

CONAN: Yes.

HORWITZ: …all these, sort of old players that are in it. Reginald Gardiner's in it. And it's just one of the most unrepentantly in-love-with-food movies that you can find. I mean, you will be hungry when you watch "Christmas in Connecticut."

CONAN: Sam(ph) is with us on the line from Rochester, New York.

SAM (Caller): Oh, hi. I wasn't sure I'd make it on the air. It's great to talk to you. I love your show.

CONAN: Thank you.

SAM: I was very excited to hear that you ate at the Winds Cafe because I went to school near there and went to the Winds as often as I could possibly afford...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I'm sure there are actually no jokes whatsoever about the title of that restaurant. But anyway…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAM: Oh, no. No, not at all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: Only when you walk out.

SAM: The - right. The movies that I - that came to mind immediately were, "Like Water for Chocolate," and "Chocolat." Of course, they both have to do with chocolate, which I adore. And when you were talking about cannibalism, of course, Hannibal the Cannibal comes up.

CONAN: Well, yeah. But again, that's another category.

HORWITZ: I'm so glad we established these…

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: …these groundrules. Only on TALK OF THE NATION, Neal - only on your show will we find "Chocolat," "Like Water for Chocolate" and Hannibal the Cannibal mentioned in the same sense.

CONAN: In the same breath.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAM: Well, thank you for this show. It's great.

CONAN: Thank you, Sam. And I'm asked to plump for my favorite, Murray, and I'd have to go, well - I'm going to cast an absentee ballot for "Babette's Feast." But I really have to go for "Ratatouille," where, of course, the rats are the greatest chefs in Paris.

(Soundbite of movie, "Ratatouille")

Mr. PATTON OSWALT (Actor): (As Remy) Oh, you got to taste this. This is - oh, it's got this kind of - hmm, cream, melty, it's not really a smoky taste. It's a certain - oh - it's kind of like a - it's kind of a - that kind of taste, don't you think? What would you call that flavor?

Mr. LOU ROMANO (Actor): (As Linguini) Lightning-y?

Mr. OSWALT: (As Remy) Yeah. It's lightning-y.

CONAN: It's lightning-y. And Murray, your favorite food film of all time?

HORWITZ: It'll be - I challenge you to come up with tape for this one, because it is in Charlie Chaplin's silent classic, "The Gold Rush." Neal, there are two great scenes in this movies having to do with meals. One of which…

CONAN: Do you challenge? We've come up with a response.

HORWITZ: Uh-oh.

CONAN: Here's Charlie Chaplin in "The Gold Rush."

(Soundbite of movie, "The Gold Rush")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) (Unintelligible) with hunger and here it was, Thanksgiving Day. Nevertheless, there was something to be thankful for.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: And here, he's eating his shoe, I believe, Murray.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: That's right. He and Mack Swain share a boiled shoe, which Charlie loves and Mack Swain incredulously just looks on. And there's another one where he's going to entertain...

CONAN: Got to go, Murray.

HORWITZ: Okay. See you, Neal. And have a wonderful meal sometime today.

CONAN: I will. Murray Horwitz, thanks very much, with us from WYSO, our member station in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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Correction Sept. 18, 2009

In a response to the question, what's your favorite film about food, a caller answers "Last Supper, starring Wesley Snipes." Wesley Snipes did not star in Last Supper. Courtney B. Vance was the movie's star.

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