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The Best Old Food Movies That Were Snubbed by the Oscars

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It’s been a few hours since the Oscar nominations were announced, and I’m still having palps. Isabelle Huppert and Ruth Negga were both nominated for Best Actress; thank God. Sausage Party wasn’t nominated for Best Animated Feature, which, well, isn’t terribly surprising. Sausage Party has a crass, lewd streak that may have proven too iconoclastic for the Academy’s stiff-collared, more traditional members.

But it got me thinking about the countless food movies that have been snubbed through the years. The word "snub" can mean much of anything these days, and its definition has widened with each awards season—but as time passes and the stock of certain films rise, some oversights from awards bodies, those would-be arbiters of taste and prestige, start to look even more glaring. For every Eat Drink Man Woman, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, or Babette’s Feast that cleans up nicely on nominations morning, there have been many other food movies that get passed over, if they had the privilege of being in the conversation at all. Here’s a trip back looking at movies that have been overlooked through the decades.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

The only nomination this Mel Stuart-helmed adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book received was for Best Original Score. A shame! Gene Wilder’s performance is an unmitigated delight. Most obituary writers this past year focused on Wilder’s portrayal of Willy Wonka as his most indelible; they're right to single this out.

La Grande Bouffe (1973)

This dark comedy, from Italian director Marco Ferreri, concerns four older men who vow to eat themselves to death, resulting in some spectacularly gross happenings. It’s philosophically similar to Spanish director Luis Buñuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which won the Oscar for Foreign Language Film and got nominated for Best Original Screenplay, if a bit more gluttonous.

Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978)

Here's a genuinely funny murder mystery that centers on a spate of grisly, oddly specific murders of Europe’s finest chefs (they're each killed in a manner that references their most famous dishes). I'm a fan of Robert Morley's work here. He got a few Supporting Actor awards that year from critics’ groups. Golden Globe-nominated Jacqueline Bisset is pretty immaculate, too.

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My Dinner with Andre (1981)

French director Louis Malle made a bunch of movies in his native France before moving to the United States, shacking up with Susan Sarandon and collaborating with her often (Pretty Baby, Atlantic City). In this period, he filmed My Dinner with Andre, which is among the most fascinating movies he's directed. The conversation between these two old friends, played by Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, nearly lasts two hours, but it’s never anything but engrossing. It should've at least factored into the Best Original Screenplay category.

Eating Raoul (1982)

It took a recent Criterion Collection restoration for this film, about a married couple so desperate to open their own restaurant that they resort to murder, to get its due. It’s a black comedy that more than holds up.

Diner (1982)

Diner, centered around a group of male friends reuniting at their old small-town haunt in their twenties, is a pretty rich document of the past for one reason: Mickey Rourke. The film garnered a Best Original Screenplay nomination, but it also gave a breakout role to Rourke, who certainly should've been nominated for his work here. (He ended up getting his first for The Wrestler in 2009.) Watch this movie to understand what the big deal about him was.

A Private Function (1984)

No one dislikes Maggie Smith. Here, in this comedy about food rationing in postwar Britain, is one of her best performances, which earned her a BAFTA (the British analog to the Oscar) for playing a wife who steals a pig. It’s quite funny, and she’s superb.

The Scene That Underscores the Brilliance of Ramen Western 'Tampopo'
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The Scene That Underscores the Brilliance of Ramen Western 'Tampopo'

Tampopo (1985)

This "ramen Western" wasn’t Japan’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category, but I wonder if it should’ve factored more prominently into the Oscar race, considering it was a sleeper hit in the United States. Its import has only grown in recent years.

Mystic Pizza (1988)

Before Julia Roberts became an American institution, she was a gangly, wide-eyed ingenue slumming it in small indies. This 1988 film, about three teenage girls working as waitresses in a small fishing town's pizzeria, augured the arrival of a huge movie star.

When Revenge Becomes Justice in This Cult Classic Food Film
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When Revenge Becomes Justice in This Cult Classic Food Film

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

This is a wickedly macabre movie. Most of the credit should go to director Peter Greenaway, the kind of arthouse director who’s rarely on the Academy’s radar, but this film has got two dazzling lead performances from Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon, careful art direction, and note-perfect cinematography.

Frankie and Johnny (1991)

Michelle Pfeiffer hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar since 1992’s Love Field. How? I don’t know. And she somehow wasn’t even considered for the role as the de-glammed, frazzled diner waitress, originated on stage by Kathy Bates. Some believe she was passed over because she was “too beautiful” to play the role, but she brought urgency and life to it. I think it’s the best thing she's ever done.

When the Kitchen Goes Quiet, 'Big Night' Comes into Focus
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When the Kitchen Goes Quiet, 'Big Night' Comes into Focus

Big Night (1996)

Stanley Tucci should direct more movies. This one is, as others have pointed out, divine.

Marie Antoinette (2006)

I’m still waiting for this unfairly maligned Sofia Coppola movie to get the critical reconsideration it deserves. Critics were less than kind to Marie Antoinette in its time, conflating its presentation of this young woman’s lush, ostentatious lifestyle with an endorsement of those behaviors. (Leave it to Coppola to mine the lives of one-percenters for plight.) The film's so much more than that, and it becomes apparent in the scenes, well, with food. I'm fascinated by the role food plays in this movie —no one has forgotten the film’s most iconic refrain, “Let them eat cake.” It's a moment so widely-quoted that, like the film it belongs to, it has become somewhat misunderstood.

The Secret of the Grain (2007)

This co-production between Tunisia and France got its star, Hafsia Herzi, many breakout awards in France. The film’s tension centers on a patriarch’s decision to open a restaurant where he’ll be cooking his ex-wife’s classic fish and couscous, and it's a consistently engaging film about immigrant foodways in a new land.

Waitress (2007)

It’s rather sad that it took director Adrienne Shelly’s death for her to be taken more seriously. Waitress ended up being her swan song—she was murdered the year of its release. It’s a generous, spirited movie with a totally charismatic lead performance from Keri Russell, who was, back then, not known as much more than that girl from Felicity.

Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)

Is this a food movie? Yes. This film, directed by The Secret of the Grain’s Abdellatif Kechiche, is a sprawling coming-of-age tale that centers on lower-class Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and her dramatic relationship with a blue-haired woman (Lea Seydoux). It got a lot of press for its languorous sex scenes that were very obviously directed by a man. But the film’s most memorable scenes are the many where Adele is eating spaghetti: Call these sequences carnal or ferociously intense, but Exarchopoulos tells us everything we need to know about her character's motivations through these small physical gestures, and the pleasure she derives, simply, from consumption of food.

The Lunchbox (2013)

This Indian movie with Irrfan Khan had a real shot at a Best Foreign Film nomination until India’s notoriously bureaucratic committee (which decides which film to submit for Oscar consideration each year—each country is only allowed one choice when it comes to the Foreign Language category) decided to forgo it. It’s a shame, because I wish more Americans had seen this sweet, funny movie about a woman writing notes to her husband and sticking them in his lunchbox, only for those notes to find their way to another man’s lunch, bringing these two strangers closer.

Labor Day (2013)

This Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) film was supposed to be Kate Winslet’s post-Oscar win comeback role. That didn’t happen. Adapted from a Joyce Maynard novel, this film has a particularly sensual scene where Winslet's lover (Josh Brolin), a fugitive who just escaped from prison, helps her make a pie. I see in that scene what everyone else sees in that pottery scene from Ghost.

What are your favorite food movies, overlooked by the Oscars or not? Let us know in the comments.

Tags: food and film