If movies are a visual feast for the senses, movie kitchens satisfy a different kind of craving. More than medicine chests or bedrooms, kitchens feed our voyeuristic curiosity about the day-to-day lives of the fictional characters on the silver screen. In honor of the Oscars, I thought I'd take a stroll through the hallowed celluloid halls (and pantries) and offer up some of the most memorable kitchens in recent cinematic history.
Oh, that glorious first scene as Casey Becker (played by a badly bewigged Drew Barrymore) pops popcorn in her family's swank suburban kitchen before trying to figure out who's prank calling her. Sure it’s scary, but a lot of the fear builds from the fact that we’re distracted by the gleaming suburban kitchen with its rows of neatly arranged cookbooks, farmhouse cabinetry, and red lacquered chairs. I dare you not to covet that perfect butcher block island or the matched set of knives, including the one Casey grabs to confront the mask-wearing killer.
Gosford Park (2001)
If you love the upstairs/downstairs machinations of "Downton Abbey," consider this flick by the creator of the hit mini-series. There’s murder, an A-list cast, and a kitchen that feeds both the haves and have nots. As befits a crime thriller, colors are monotone with large, dark built-in cupboards, black-and-white tiles, and lighting that casts all kinds of ominous, dark shadows.
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946 and 1981)
Admittedly, it's not the diner (gritty, with the cheapest midcentury design) in the original or the kitchen (flimsy, faded, sad) in the remake that captures our fancy, but rather the steamy scenes that transpire in these settings that make this movie, probably the noirest of the noir, come to mind. In the original, there’s a languorous camera pan over the baked goods and Lana Turner as perfect as a ‘40s cheesecake. In the remake, Frank, played by a young Jack Nicholson, sweeps everything off the counter and heats up the kitchen with Jessica Lange's Cora.
Something's Gotta Give (2007)
The beach house kitchen in this rom-com starring Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson sets the standard for dream movie kitchens (especially with my social network; it was the nearly unanimous favorite). The dark hardwood floors and black granite countertops are offset by the rest of the kitchen in hues of white, cream, taupe, or ecru. And if it isn’t white, it gleams. Like a perfect cashmere sweater or custom made shoes, it screams luxury and elegance, but in a decidedly restrained fashion.
It's Complicated (2001)
Take a film with a baker as a main character, add a love interest who's an architect, and you're guaranteed to have one of the most covetable kitchens in cinematic history: The perfect gently veined marble counter that can be used for grabbing a morning snack or kneading dough; the well-used pots and pans that convey to the viewer that a professional lives here; the bowls of fruit and matching table runners that make the entire space seem warm or cozy.
Julie and Julia (2009)
The movie that could have been called "A Tale of Two Kitchens" tells the stories of Julia Child and Julie Powell, the blogger who attempted to cook every single one of the 524 recipes in Childs' cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. While neither kitchen is particularly extraordinary (though the gleaming racks of copper pots at Le Cordon Bleu caught our eye, Julie’s cramped New York kitchen feels like home, and we're paying attention to Meryl Streep as Julia Child no matter where she's holding court), we love the idea that even the most ordinary kitchen, or presumably ordinary women, can produce masterpieces.
Babette's Feast (1987)
Based on an Isak Dinesen short story, this movie takes place in 19th century Denmark and tells the story of two elderly sisters who have all but given up on life. Fast forward through some plot twists and there’s a feast. A really big feast. And the loving preparation of this extravagant meal transforms the kitchen from a necessary cooking space with low ceilings and dark concrete walls into a place where magic happens.
The Holiday (2006)
There's actually a zingy little musical interlude on the soundtrack for the film called "Dream Kitchen," and if you've watched this movie in which Iris (Kate Winslet) and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) switch lives (and kitchens) you'll know why. The sleek, monochromatic tones and state of the art appliances in Amanda's L.A. kitchen are perfectly veneered—like the rest of her life—though it takes the down to earth Iris to warm the proverbial hearth. And if you're into a less chrome, more chintz, Iris' English cottage kitchen, with its Aga stove and charming china, is just as covetable.
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
When you're preparing a birthday meal of "blue soup to start, orange pudding to end, and, well, for a main course you have, uh, congealed green gunge," you really do need a kitchen that fits the bill. Instead of perfect granite counters and hardwood floors, you have ugly wallpaper, dowdy curtains, and tiny counters. But really, who needs anything more than a stove and a space that encourages cozying up to Colin Firth as Mark Darcy?
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
When a film revolves heavily around a family’s cooking and eating habits, in this case widowed Master Chef Chu and his three daughters’ weekly Sunday dinner, the kitchen becomes almost like another character in the movie. And this character is all about the tools: The wall of prominently displayed knives arranged in size order from the smallest paring knives to wicked looking butcher knives, steaming (and sometimes flaming) woks, and enormous serving platters designed to hold mass quantities of food to feed the family as they try to hold onto their traditions—and each other.
Like Water for Chocolate (1992): Emotion, tradition, mysticism and recipes all come together in the kitchen.
Ratatouille (2007): This animated love letter to the culinary arts made a rat the most welcome part of this perfect restaurant kitchen.
Father of the Bride (1997): The house. The family. The kitchen. Movie magic at its gustatory finest.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): The smears of futuristic food on trays better resemble artists' palettes than anything edible, but it's the closest thing to a cinematic version of the kitchen of the future as envisioned on "The Jetsons."
Big Night (1996): This delicious comedy starring Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci proves that even the most well-designed kitchens can produce inedible results.
The Big Chill (1983): There's dancing, weeping, reminiscing, and yes, even cooking in one of the best movie kitchens of all time.