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Film feasts

Measuring up Julie & Julia Add to ...

1. Ratatouille, 2007

This animated tale about a food-obsessed rat who teams up with a clueless garbage boy to restore the reputation of a once-great Parisian restaurant may be the most precisely rendered depiction of a professional kitchen of all time. Thanks to meticulous research, drawn from cooking classes, field trips to famed kitchens in France and such esteemed culinary consultants as Guy Savoy and Thomas Keller, the film nails every tiny detail - from fancy wrist flips to the discriminatory gender politics behind the copper-bottomed pans.

Gastro highlight: The rarefied ratatouille, a slow-roasted vegetable confit delectably fanned out accordion-style, which wins the crusty heart of food critic Anton Ego.

Gastro lowlight: Disbelief can only be suspended so far. There is no food critic in the world who would so casually order a 1947 Cheval Blanc, which sells for about $14,000 a bottle.

2. Eat Drink Man Woman, 1994

Director Ang Lee deserves a culinary Oscar for this mouth-watering film about a master Taiwanese chef who slaves over his "Sunday night torture ritual," as his three grown daughters call the elaborate family dinners. Unlike most food flicks, which lazily rely on quick cut before-and-after cooking shots, this smorgasbord of Chinese delights gives all the grunt work of chopping, poaching and frying their own exhilarating close-ups.

Gastro highlight: The opening scene follows a fish on its entire journey from water bucket to serving platter, building a hearty appetite as it is realistically killed with two chop sticks through the eyes, scaled, gutted, scored, dusted in flour, blanched and steamed.

Gastro lowlight: Taking pity on a young family friend whose divorced mother can't cook to save her life, chef Chu begins swapping lunches with the school girl (and finishes every last flavourless bite). How heartbreaking to see this passionate gourmet gnawing on dry, gristly spareribs.

3. Babette's Feast, 1987

A tour de force for the taste buds set in 19th-century Denmark, where a Parisian exile delivers a magnificent French meal to the simple home of two pious spinster sisters. The detail devoted to the preparation and devouring of this transcendent repast allows us to overlook the egregious historical error of making a woman the head chef in a high-society restaurant.

Gastro highlight: The entire climactic dinner scene, which cuts back and forth between the kitchen and the table. The camera closes in on Babette's hands as she cuts rounds of puff pastry and stuffs quail with foie gras, then later turns to an astonished guest as he crunches into the little bird's head and enthusiastically sucks out its brains.

Gastro lowlight: The melodramatic nightmare caused by a hissing soup-bound turtle.

4. Big Night, 1996

Two immigrant brothers running a restaurant in 1950s New Jersey are having trouble convincing their philistine customers that there's more to Italian food than spaghetti and meatballs. Nearly bankrupt, they decide to risk everything on a huge feast for a special guest. Skilled cooking takes centre stage throughout the film, but the final, uninterrupted take of the younger brother silently preparing a simple omelette easily ranks as one of the most profound - and authentically culinary - moments in foodie cinema.

Gastro highlight: The woman sprawled on top of the table smoking a cigarette at the end of the big night perfectly captures the blissful post-coital feeling that an extravagant meal with good friends and great music can induce. Gastro lowlight: The timpano, a deep-dish pie that includes layers of pasta, salami, provolone, meatballs, egg and tomato sauce is the star of the film. But would a chef who considers his food "the bread of angels" really resort to this home-style, peasant dish for such an important occasion? Although impressive to look at, timpano isn't any more difficult to make than lasagna.

5. Julie & Julia, 2009

The delightful new comedy intertwines the true stories of Julia Child, the legendary cookbook author and television personality, and Julie Powell, a 30-year-old "renegade foodie" from Queens, N.Y., who blogged her way to fame while attempting to cook all 524 recipes in Ms. Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But aside from the occasional glimpse of dimpled trussed chickens and burnt boeuf bourguignon, there are surprisingly few cooking scenes. Meryl Streep, who plays Ms. Child, obviously spent more time practising her pitch-perfect vocal impersonation than her kitchen skills. Even after her character has supposedly aced the technique of dicing onions, she still wields her chef's knife like an axe.

Gastro highlight: A toss-up between Julia's squeals of delight during the tableside deboning of a beautifully browned sole meunière and Julie's screams of horror when three thermidor-bound lobsters refuse to go quietly into a pot of boiling water.

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