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Staff Picks: The Five Senses
Movies that appeal to taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing.
Feature Presentation’s Staff Picks is not a best-of list. How do you even craft a list of the best of something as subjective as film? This is a list designed to highlight films (and occasionally television shows or other mediums of entertainment) of a certain theme or topic. It’s a watchlist, they are suggestions. Movies on this list will very in quality, length, genre, and home video or streaming availability.
This list’s theme: The Five Senses
Taste: Chef (2014)
When Chef Carl Casper suddenly quits his job at a prominent Los Angeles restaurant after refusing to compromise his creative integrity for its controlling owner, he is left to figure out what’s next. Finding himself in Miami, he teams up with his ex-wife, his friend and his son to launch a food truck. Taking to the road, Chef Carl goes back to his roots to reignite his passion for the kitchen — and zest for life and love.
Sometimes you watch a movie and on that specific day and time, it feels different than it normally would. It’s personal, inspiring, direct. It fuels the mind, body, soul. It’s warm and tastes that much better than any other.
Chef is that movie for me every single time I watch it.
I love to cook and Chef reminds me why.
Favreau’s passion is so vibrant that it’s inspirational. The movie is a tad idealistic, but what is romance without idealism? Both this movie and the companion piece on Netflix, The Chef Show, are always just what the doctor ordered for me when I need some inspiration. They’re fun, dedicated, and full of spirit. The art of cooking shows that the hard road is always the right road — that’s why it’s hard.
And if you really want to taste the movie, they cook many of the recipes present in the movie on The Chef Show. Make the grilled cheese and thank me later.
Touch: Awake (2007)
While undergoing heart surgery, a man experiences a phenomenon called ‘anesthetic awareness’, which leaves him awake but paralyzed throughout the operation. As various obstacles present themselves, his wife must make life-altering decisions while wrestling with her own personal drama.
When I was a kid, I would play an online instructional game that would, in flash animation, walk you through the steps of how to perform knee replacement surgery. I would click through all of the elementary-level background information and get straight to the good stuff, the step-by-step drag and drop surgery. It would give me the willies — it made me really physically uncomfortable. But I was interested in the way my body had reacted, so visceral and so shivery.
I felt the same way when I first discovered Awake, which I checked out via my first Redbox rental. When Hayden Christensen’s character is paralyzed from anesthesia but completely awake during his heart transplant, I couldn’t believe the physical reflex I experienced. My body tingled, like a mild version of the pins and needles feeling.
I’ve been that way ever since. Anytime I hear a detailed description of a surgery, accident, health anomaly, or medical nightmare — I get that feeling. Awake did that for me.
As for the movie itself, it’s a tight 78 minutes to the credits and it’s much more than diet torture porn. As Christensen lies there, the movie becomes a conspiracy thriller he must solve while immobilized. Wooden performances bring the film down (neither Christensen nor Jessica Alba are known for their charisma), but director Joby Harold, in what is unfortunately his sole directorial afford, finds interesting ways to play with the theatricality inside Christensen‘s mind as he moves from memory to mystery while completely unable to move.
An underrated fun time that will give you a chill and thrill in its speedy runtime.
Smell: Mr. Meaty (2005–2009)
Mr. Meaty follows the adventures of teenaged slackers Josh and Parker. These two friends work miserable jobs at the local food court while nursing dreams of girls and film making careers, along the way, Josh and Parker must learn to survive the lunch rush, robbers, and wedgie giving kids.
This show is about the stinkiest people on the planet (teenage boys) who work in one of the stinkiest establishments (fast food). And you know exactly what those two things smell like.
Not only that, but this show is straight-up gross. It’s a show for kids, but those who watched it as a kid (me and folks around my age) remember it less for the wacky situations and ridiculous puppetry, and more for the vile nature of many episodes.
Remember that time they accidentally stuck their hands in the fryer and started to eat them because they liked the taste? Or the time that a tapeworm grew in Josh’s stomach? Or the episode where Josh is depressed because no girls will talk to him because he smells bad?
I would never say that this show appeals to a viewer’s sense of taste because you would never want to eat anything on the show. (The show was notoriously protested by vegetarian parents who believed it glorified the meat industry, which is weird because, if anything, it makes you want to eat meat less). Therefore, you’re stuck with the smelly smells of adolescence and angus beef.
Sight: The Comfort of Strangers (1990)
A couple retreat to Venice to work on their relationship, but an encounter with a stranger leads them into a world of intrigue — where their darkest desires are in reach.
This underrated Paul Schrader classic is all about the juxtaposition of beauty. Shot just as beautifully as its two young leads, Natasha Richardson and Rupert Everett shine in the paradise that is Venice. Every frame is photographed to perfection (cinematographer Dante Spinotti is clearly in love with Venice) and Richardson is particularly stunning against that backdrop.
But what lays beneath a beautiful exterior can sometimes be haunting. Juxtaposed with the unsettling duo of Christopher Walken and Helen Mirren, Richardson’s beauty becomes thematic in and of itself. The psychosexual subtext those characters offer contrasts perfectly with the natural beauty ever-present in the film.
The Criterion Collection Blu-ray really helps that beauty shine. I highly recommend it.
Hearing: The Aristocrats (2005)
One hundred superstar comedians tell the same very, VERY dirty, filthy joke–one shared privately by comics since Vaudeville.
This is a movie about a joke.
Elise Czajkowski of Variety explains that joke:
A guy goes into a talent agent’s office. He describes the most vile and disgusting family act that you can possibly imagine. “That’s a hell of an act,” the agent says. “What do you call it?” “The Aristocrats.”
But it’s about so much more than a joke. It’s about how the joke has changed over time, how each person who tells it makes it their own (there are multiple comparisons to jazz throughout the film), and how and why the joke shines after all these years.
It’s a movie about the way we tell stories. In fact, the entire documentary is based on the oratory alone.
Celebrities are sprinkled throughout but aren’t identified until the credits — it’s not about them, it’s about the way they tell the joke. The joke is told in offices for The Simpsons and dressing rooms for The Daily Show, but it’s not about those institutions, it’s about the institution of the joke. Everyone gives the joke their own flavor, but the joke is always the joke.
The comedy here is vile, crude, unbelievable, and ridiculous, so the humor is definitely not for everyone. But this is a movie all about the recitation and the repetition and because of that, it’s a movie for the ears. You could close your eyes and listen and you would get the same thing out of it. It’s good for the soul as well — that is if you find it funny.
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.