As an appreciator of the culinary arts (a "foodie" or whatever), my favorite type of visual storytelling is always food-based. There's so much a single dish can tell in terms of story: Attention to detail unlocks the psyche of its chef, while the grade of meal in specific scenarios conveys particular emotions. Food may just be food to some people. Still, movies and television shows have long found unique ways to incorporate five-star narrative devices that are flame broiled, served fresh, and intricately layered beyond what's visible from the outside.
As we conclude another year in media entertainment, let's look at some of the year's best incorporations of cinematic cuisines.
10. Meatball (Fresh)
Sebastian Stan plays a most charming cannibal in "Fresh," where he butchers women for their delicious cuts of human meat. In it, Stan's "Steve" or "Brendan' — depending on who he's talking to — indulges prisoner Nora's (Daisy Edgar-Jones) questions about cannibalism. This leads to a date night where Brendan prepares delicacies made from people's parts meant to possibly woo Nora further into the cult of cannibalism. His first attempt? A meatball placed atop pasta that looks like an Italian restaurant's staple.
Director Mimi Cave dares embellish the sophistication of Brendan's one-percenter cannibal club because — coming from a Jersey Italian — the plating looks delicious. A juicy meatball smothered with vibrant tomato sauce atop a creamy fettuccine mound starts to toy with our minds because of the visual familiarity. Cannibalism is often barbaric, like in "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" or "The Green Inferno," where there are no stirred feelings by hunks of red, raw flesh — but "Fresh" dares elevate cannibal cuisine to make Brendan's addiction seem less ... repugnant? It's a brilliant little trick that humanizes Brendan as just another man cooking for the lady he's trying to impress, like a twisted "meat" cute.
9. Pie (Soft & Quiet)
I'm not sure there's a more abrupt, hard-right turn in 2022's movie catalog than Beth de Araújo's "Soft & Quiet." It's quite early, too. All the film's synopsis reveals is "an elementary school teacher organizes a mixer of like-minded women." We see Stefanie Estes' Emily walk into a community recreational room for an after-school group session with a foil-covered baked good, just like any PTA mother. Caucasian women trade sheepish pleasantries, present pink frosted cookies, and giggle about gossip — then Emily reveals what she brought to share.
Emily's "perfect thing" as a first impression, her "way of saying thank you," is a pie with a decorative swastika carved into the top.
None of the attendees protest. It looks "amazing." One woman exclaims, "is that serious," to which Emily complains that no one can take a joke. It's our first indication that these women are Daughters of Aryan Unity and have sought community in an attempt to combat inclusivity. De Araújo needs a way to open our eyes quickly and prepare us for the hateful depravity to follow while playing into her "Soft & Quiet" title.
It's just some knife marks stabbed into a homemade strawberry pie. What's the big deal?
Well, what starts with a Nazi dessert ends with xenophobic murder. The pie is a massive red flag that some want you to believe is harmless, but it's the first step in allowing hate speech that inspires violent escalation.
8. Hot Dog Fingers And Everything Bagel (Everything Everywhere All At Once)
Sometimes visual storytelling is nothing but an image you can't get out of your head. Maybe it's celluloid nonsense that causes you to chuckle or provokes more questions than answers. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert attempt to answer the universe's existential unknowns with nothing but hot dogs and bagels, which might sound daft — but A24 is making a killing at $36 bucks a pop before shipping on rubbery hot dog hands. "Everything Everywhere All At Once" has to be the first Oscar hopeful with barbecue-ready body parts (not in the cannibal way), somehow becoming an iconic 2022 look.
It's in one of Evelyn's (Michelle Yeoh) alternate dimensions where everyone has flappy, cylindrical hot dog fingers. Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis must act out meaningful romantic sequences while using plump encased fingers like that's normal, and audiences went crazy. Maybe even more than when Jobu (Stephanie Hsu) reveals she's created an everything bagel black hole that threatens every multiverse. Evelyn can eliminate all her versions by walking into the everything bagel's nothingness — the representation of Jobu experiencing all multiverses simultaneously. It's all so obscure from a common standpoint but becomes heartwarming as the film engulfs its audience with everything, everywhere, all at once. Hot dog fingers and deadly dough circles are just another spice in the pot of life, as weird as they may seem.
7. Coffee And Pepto-Bismol (Night's End)
Jennifer Reeder's "Night's End" is a pandemic production that relies on Zoom conversations and minimal background swaps, which means Reeder has to define her characters without much support. Ken Barber (Geno Walker) is a recluse, a nobody YouTube "celebrity," and an all-around odd fellow. That's easily readable by his inability to command online viewers, or his loner habits, but Reeder makes sure to go above and beyond in characterizing Ken. Especially during his morning ritual.
How much can we learn about someone who drinks coffee every morning? Black or with cream, steaming hot or lukewarm, yadda yadda. How much do we learn about Ken, though, when he chugs a glass of coffee mixed with Pepto-Bismol each morning? We learn about his anxieties, his thought process, his tolerance for disgusting drinks in the name of preventative measures — it's not just a morning pick me up, it's a way of life. Ken's way of life. Ken's very obscure, very ... unique way of life.
6. Ultimate Chili Dog (Sonic Adventures 2)
In "Sonic the Hedgehog 2," we get deeper into the Sonic lore we know and love. Tails and Knuckles both show up, interrupting a Master Emerald plot that would bestow ultimate power. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) builds a Kaiju robot that threatens Green Hills, which Sonic and his buddies have to defeat. The tides swing towards Robotnik until Sonic does what needs to be done and goes all Super Saiyan to become the golden-glowing Super Sonic.
The question is, has Sonic been corrupted by the shattered Chaos Emeralds that caused his transformation? "He's no longer the Sonic you once knew," says Idris Elba as Knuckles. Super Sonic reaches toward the sky as an ominous black cloud swirls above like an apocalypse awaits. Electricity bolts rain from the heavens as Sonic's family watch their innocent hedgehog yield to corruption as he — conjures a yummy chili cheese dog. Nope! Same old Sonic who drops another chili cheese dog from the sky onto Knuckles. The goofball video game character we know and love, proving as much with his favorite comfort food.
5. Cola-Braised Short Rib And Risotto (The Bear)
I know Christopher Storer's "The Bear" focuses on a greasy Italian beef staple in Chicago, but its meaty sandwiches aren't my favorite dish in the series. That'd be Sydney's (Ayo Edebiri) Cola-Braised Short Rib with Risotto. Don't get me wrong, Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) roasts a mean Italian beef that I'd smash into my face, but Sydney's dish is the narrative atom bomb that explodes in everyone's face. Sydney's, Carmy's, and everyone else in their blast radius.
The entrée makes your mouth water via sight alone — the short rib meat looks tender with developed, rich flavors — but Carmy says the sauce is a little tight. Sydney is frustrated by her "tremendous" dish that still gets denied, so she gives the leftovers to a "random" customer — a food critic, unbeknownst to Sydney, who gushes about the new addition in his review. Carmy plays cool, hothead Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) thinks Sydney's declared mutiny, Sydney believes she doesn't need Carmy — a single dish tears "The Bear" apart in episode 7 when the team most needs to work together. Despite its tummy-tempting appeal, the short ribs bring out everyone's worst personality traits.
4. Pig Roast (Pearl)
Ti West's "Pearl" is the prequel about how delusions of grandeur poison Mia Goth's titular star in training. She dreams of immortality by preserving herself on the screen as a chorus girl, but given "X," we already know that's not in the cards. "Pearl" is about how the unstable farmhand abuses her family, commits murders, and stops at nothing to achieve the life she thinks she deserves. West investigates what happens to those who don't have any "it" factor and can't rise above those who've been blessed with "it" — plus, there's food involved.
Early in "Pearl," the lead character's mother-in-law brings over a roast swine that Pearl's mother refuses as charity. It sits outside on the farm's front porch, slowly rotting as Pearl loses control. Each time Pearl or someone passes the no longer glistening pig, there's something new that's grossly wrong. Maggots chew through the roast, mold grows, and the nastier everything becomes, the more it reflects Pearl's worsening mental state. Eventually, the disgusting leftovers find their way to Pearl's family dinner table, a centerpiece in front of Pearl's slain mother and father. Nothing can survive Pearl, especially the once-delectable pig roast.
3. Cheeseburger (The Menu)
We're not here to drool over Mark Mylod's Michelin star courses in "The Menu." Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) obsesses over the "art" in "culinary artistry," which drives his celebrity notoriety and the prestigious reputation of his private island restaurant, Hawthorne. Breadless bread plates with side dish flavors and al pastor tacos with incriminating tortillas leave Slowik's kitchen, yet none of those are what "The Menu" best delivers. None of that is cooked from the heart.
Anya Taylor-Joy's doomed guest is running out of options for escape until she notices Slowik's smile in an old picture where he's nothing but an early-career burger flipper. She tells Slowik she's still hungry — he's aghast — and that she desires an ordinary cheeseburger. Slowik says he'll make the best damned cheeseburger she's ever had, and he does. His passion for cooking is rekindled, once stolen by pretentious critics, tasteless consumers, and brainless Instagram wannabes. Slowik remembers what it felt like to make someone happy with a comfort dish, just as we should never forget to love our passions for what they are — not to be consumed by quests for unattainable perfection and never-ending renown.
2. Hot Chocolate (Pinocchio)
Guillermo del Toro orchestrates a darker "Pinocchio" for Netflix, which shouldn't be a shocker. Del Toro starts with Geppetto losing his son to military bombings in fascist Italy. A drunk Geppetto carves Pinocchio in a fit of depressed loneliness, which leads to the puppet coming alive. Geppetto now must care for his wooden idiot son who's sought after for his performance appeal and supersoldier ability not to die — a bit of a departure from the Disney cartoon. So beautifully del Toro, down to the fantastical creatures and Cate Blanchett voicing a monkey.
Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) bounces through days with a joyous sense of wonder, appreciating the most mundane happenings through the eyes of someone discovering every single thing for the first time. His affection toward hot chocolate is bittersweet because the rich beverage was also beloved by Geppetto's dearest Carlo. Del Toro brings us back to our youths when we'd warm our souls with a mug of hot chocolate after a day of sledding or winter activities. It's such an easy choice, humanizing Pinocchio as another son who sips hot cocoa by the fire — subtlety doesn't matter when the obvious tells us everything we need.
Korean Corn Dog (Decision To Leave)
Park Chan-wook handles romance and deception as only he can in "Decision to Leave." A detective catches feelings for a suspect who might be killing her husbands like a serial black widow, which is worse because he's also married. It's a sticky web of betrayals and due justice, still deeply emotional despite the broken hearts in play. Chan-wook uses every inch of the screen to describe how his characters feel at any moment, even when they're not allowed to emote to their desired extent. Hence why we're talking about "Decision to Leave" on a food list.
Det. Jang Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) interrogates suspect Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei) about her second dead husband. Their first flirtatious meetups in Busan's interrogation rooms were far more cordial, which we gather because Hae-jun springs for premium sushi combo lunches that'd center stage any couple's afternoon date. Seo-rae expects the same treatment in this second investigation (or at least hopes), except when lunch arrives, it's a street-ordered corn dog pulled from a plastic bag. Hae-jun must act professionally around his bosses and coworkers in the station, but the expensive lunchbox splurge told Seo-rae everything she needed to know — same for the batter-fried hot dog like a fast-food slap to the face. One a sign of affection, the other a wooden stick to the heart.
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