Voting for best use of food in film

Hollywood serves flick fans smorgasbord of savory symbols

March 19, 2003|By Beverly Levitt | Beverly Levitt,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's that time of year again, when we're bombarded by award ceremonies -- the Golden Globes, the Writers Guild, Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild awards, and finally, this Sunday, the Academy Awards.

Now, with all those folks of all those persuasions rushing around voting in a dizzying array of categories, wouldn't you think that just one group would give out that one prize we've been waiting for? Because we know that a great food scene is often worth a thousand words.

Let's get out our ballots and vote for Best Use of Food in a Film.

Screenwriter Bill Condon, intrigued by the idea, revealed the favorite food scene that he wrote for Chicago.

"When Velma [Catherine Zeta-Jones] tries to ingratiate herself to Roxie [Renee Zellweger] by presenting her with a box of triple-creme caramels, it's bad enough the dazzling star has to grovel to the wannabe starlet. Roxie picks this moment to extract her pound of flesh from her rival. She turns up her nose at the luscious sweet, then exultantly zaps Velma, `Here's a bit of advice from me to you: Lay off the caramels.' " Condon chuckles at the zinger. "The subtext: `I'm not only more famous than you. I'm thinner.' "

Although there were many savory symbols in this year's flock of Oscar-nominated films, my nominees are: Frida, Adaptation, The Hours, Catch Me If You Can, About Schmidt, Gangs of New York and The Pianist.

Frida. Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) loves his ex-wife's cooking so much, he installs the beautiful Lupe (Valeria Golino) upstairs so she can continue to make him breakfast. (Lupe thinks the way back to a man's heart is through his stomach.) A Marxist bohemian who disdains convention, Diego shamelessly serves his new bride, Frida (Salma Hayek), Lupe's posole. Stars in her eyes, Frida eats with abandon until she discovers the unusual cooking arrangement. Philosophy be damned, she grabs both plates, hurls them into the trash and orders Lupe out.

Lupe warns Frida, "This is his favorite. If you're here to stay, you better learn to make it."

And so Frida has to persuade Lupe to teach her how to cook; they bond over the stove, then commiserate about their idealistic genius who is incapable of loyalty to just one dinner table.

Adaptation. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) works himself into such a kerfuffle he can't eat the sandwich in front of him. So he creates a twin brother, Donald (Nick, too) to eat it for him. Although the seasoned screenwriter is much too busy obsessing to eat, his alter ego enthusiastically writes his first script, all the while happily stuffing his face with dagwoods, shrimp cocktails -- everything Charlie wishes he could eat. The first time we see Charlie chow down is when his script is finished. Maybe that's because bro isn't there anymore. Maybe it had nothing to do with the script.

The Hours. The act of eating or not eating breakfast telegraphs the characters' state of mind. The film is really three interwoven stories about the writer of the novel Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf, (Nicole Kidman); the reader, '50s housewife Laura Brown (Julianne Moore); and a woman who is nicknamed Mrs. Dalloway but lives in present-day New York, Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep).

Both Virginia and Laura don't eat -- they're too depressed. The only food that interests Virginia is sugared ginger for her sister's children, her only source of light.

Laura prepares perfect meals for her husband and young son, trying to play perfect housewife, a role she can't abide. She even makes a cake for hubby's birthday, but it sags in the middle -- you can't fool a smart cake batter.

Clarissa gives a party for her ailing ex-lover Richard (Ed Harris), who has stopped eating because he's so depressed. Trying to make him feel better, Clarissa coos, "I'm making the crab thing, not that you care." For her sake, he pretends, "Of course I care. I love the crab thing." But alas, nobody is really happy and lots of perfectly good food goes to waste.

Catch Me If You Can. When the impressionable teen-ager Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) catches his mother with his father's best friend, first she panics, then she reaches into her refrigerator: Food is her best ally. Finding the fixings for her son's favorite sandwich, the guilty guardian offers to make it if he swears secrecy. "You won't tell your father, will you?" she smiles ingratiatingly.

About Schmidt. The complacent life of the hapless retiree, Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson), takes a slippery slope downward when his wife of 42 years suddenly drops dead in the kitchen; his daughter marries a buffoon who shovels his food at an alarming rate, and when the first new woman to make Schmidt dinner in half a century, confesses, "I see inside of you a sad man." Then his daughter's new mother-in-law, Roberta (Kathy Bates), brings him a bowl of comforting chicken soup, and seductively feeds it to him, while graphically describing Schmidt's daughter and her son's sex life.

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