In 2018, when it was announced that FilmStruck would shut down, cinephiles (myself included) let out a collective wail — and with good reason: it was the exclusive home of The Criterion Collection. Amid the outcry, Criterion and former corporate parent Warner Bros. carved out a deal that would allow the films on FilmStruck to be made available through the Criterion Channel. Since its debut last year, the platform has boasted an impressive rotation of programming, as well as access to its permanent collection.
As many of us continue to shelter in place, we increasingly miss the things that make us happy, from dining out to traveling. But if you let it, a movie can scratch that itch, or at least get close. The beauty of the Criterion Collection is that its curated films are guaranteed to delight. You can marvel at the grandeur and energy of New York City, observe sweeping romances set in Italy, follow a family’s adventures in Taipei, and more from the comfort of your couch. And if you’re feeling famished, you can indulge in a sensory meal, too. While no platform is without its share of food movies (you can watch Eat Drink Man Woman on Amazon Prime and Fantastic Mr. Fox is scheduled to debut on Disney+ later this month), I believe that Criterion Channel is the best hub offering a consistent number of works that glorify food on film. Here now is a list of the best food movies on the platform:
Babette’s Feast (1988)
Babette’s Feast is a celebration of cooking and what it means to be a cook. Set in a small village on the desolate coast of 19th century Denmark, the film follows sisters Martina And Philippa over the course of several decades. As the daughters of a devout clergyman who preached salvation through self-denial, the two sisters sacrificed everything to faith and duty, keeping their father’s teachings alive long after his death. But with the arrival of Babette, a French refuge of the Paris Commune, life in the village begins to change.
Best food scene: Apologies in advance for not picking the titular feast, but watching the arrival of Babette’s ingredients in the days leading up to the meal is just fantastic. The white-haired villagers can only watch in horror as Babette leads a procession of red wine, live quails, and more exotic ingredients to her kitchen. For years, these people have denied themselves countless pleasures and the thought of indulging in this meal (Martine refers to it as a “witch’s sabbath”) means exposing themselves to dangerous forces (turtle soup! caviar blini! cake!) that may bring evil upon them. It makes the events that unfold over the course of Babette’s feast that much more delightful to watch.
Vera Chytilovà’s Daisies is considered one of the great works of feminist cinema — and it’s as relevant today as it was more than 50 years ago on its release. The absurdist farce follows the adventures of two dangerously bored young women, Marie I and Marie II, who set out to create mischief because the world is ruined and values are worthless. What follows is a series of strange but delightful pranks, including a number of dinner dates with stale old men, during which they insult them while eating a lot of food.
Best food scene: The two Maries, in search of nourishment, stumble upon a feast. They indulge in the finest of foods and then — food fight! The scene is no more than three minutes but it escalates from pastries flying across the room to the Maries destroying the banquet hall and dancing on the table, pressing their high heels into roast chickens.
Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers (1980)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the base to all good food is garlic. Without it, you don’t bring out the true flavor of food. Les Blank’s mouthwatering documentary, Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers, is a love letter to the stinking rose. Featuring interviews from Chez Panisse owner Alice Waters to members of the garlic appreciation society Lovers of the Stinking Rose, Blank’s documentary is a 50-minute foray into the history and consumption of garlic in the United States.
Best food scene: The documentary is intercut with a variety of cooking scenes. My favorite one features legendary Flamenco dancer and singer Anzonini del Puerto, who prepares sausage links from start to finish. Closeups of each step — cloves of garlic grinded repeatedly in a mortar and pestle, ground beef hand mixed with vibrant spices and red wine — guided by the sounds of a flamenco band in the background will leave you feeling hungry.
Life Is Sweet (1990)
Mike Leigh’s bittersweet comedy is a portrait of working class malaise in suburban London and at the center of it all is a loving family of four. Andy is a cook who purchases a rundown food truck from his drinking buddy on a whim and his wife, Wendy, is sensibly skeptical. Their twin daughters have varying opinions: Natalie thinks it’s fine as long as it makes him happy while Nicola dismisses the idea. If you’re looking for something wonderfully optimistic, this is it.
Best food scene: The disastrous opening of family friend Aubrey’s the Regret Rien, a French restaurant promising “tres exclusive” fare. Oh yeah, it’s as bad as it sounds.
The Secret of the Grain (2007)
At the center of Abdellatif Kechiche’s film is a story that explores the modern day immigrant experience. Slimane Beiji is the divorced patriarch of a Franco-Arabic family living in Sete. After being forced out of his job at the local shipyard, he is determined to leave his family a legacy and follows his dream of opening a port side restaurant — a meeting place where members of their community can gather — that specializes in his ex-wife’s fish couscous, a meal that she prepares for her friends and family every Sunday. What follows is a restaurant opening that becomes a family affair.
Best food scene: The last 40 minutes of this film — the night of the restaurant’s soft opening — is incredible. When the screen finally cuts to black, you will sit there wondering what happens to these characters the morning after. I’m still thinking about it.
Still Walking (2008)
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s gentle, human drama Still Walking follows the Yokoyama family over the course of one summer day as they gather for a commemorative ritual to mark the anniversary of the death of the eldest son, Junpei. Unlike the narratives of most family reunion dramas (A Christmas Tale, Rachel Getting Married), Still Walking isn’t particularly eventful. While there is an undeniable cloud of melancholy, the Yokoyamas do not exchange explosive accusations or drop any bombshells. Rather than focus on big dramatic moments, Kore-eda relies on simple moments (looking through old family photos, cooking and eating together) to paint his portrait of a grieving family.
Best food scene: When the family prepares corn tempura together, the sound of batter sizzling in oil reaches the far corners of the house and the grandchildren come running into the kitchen to indulge in their grandmother’s cooking.
The premise of Juzo Itami’s Tampopo is simple: Two Japanese drivers help a restaurant owner learn how to cook great ramen — but the overall film is one hell of a ride. On the surface, Tampopo plays like a satire of Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti Westerns, but deep down it’s a surreal yet heartwarming exploration of the human appetite and the joys of nourishment. Make sure the volume is up nice and high because many of these scenes are ASMR at its finest
Best food scene: Tampopo’s narrative is interspersed with a number of stories, each one exploring a character’s relationship with food. The focus of one of these stories is a young gangster and his mistress. For this couple, food plays an important role in the bedroom. You might be wondering, “Like whipped cream?” Sure, they use whipped cream. But in perhaps the most erotic food scene ever filmed, the two pass a raw yolk from his mouth to hers back and forth until, finally, it bursts.