Sunday, February 14, 2010

Top 25: Romance Films You Should Know

Let’s talk about the top 25 romantic films you should know. Why? Because it’s Valentine’s Day and Commentarama loves you! What makes a film romantic? A romantic film pulls at your heartstrings. It gives you the warm fuzzies or the “Spock can’t die?” weepies. But most importantly, it’s about love, baby, love.

Romances began in ancient Greece as comedies, i.e. not-dramas. But it wasn’t until western Europe’s medieval period that romances came into their own. Not coincidentally, many of the conventions that we ascribe to romances today were created at that time. For example this period gave us the white knight stories and the noble sacrifice. The Shakespearean era added romantic mix ups and the star-crossed lovers. And the Jane Austen era finished us off with the cross-class romance, the couple who are already pledged to others, and the ugly ducking. With those final pieces, romances had everything they needed, and they’ve developed little since.

1. Gone With The Wind (1939): I don’t want to die, so I’m giving the mob what it wants. Yet. . . there are legitimate reasons this film belongs at the top of the list. With a stellar cast, an interesting story, and one of the most memorable lines in film, this film, one of the all time highest grossing films, continues to transcend generations. But even more importantly, this is the only film on the entire list that doesn’t fit into the conventions discussed above, and that makes it truly special. “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

2. Casablanca (1942): Boy meets girl, Nazis invade Paris, boy loses girl, boy meets girl again, girl is married to unappealing jerk, boy and girl make sacrifice for greater cause, boy keeps Nazis as parting gift. Described by many as Hollywood’s finest moment, this is THE movie for anyone who’s ever been dumped without a lot of explanation. It also contains the most famous line never said: “Play it again, Sam.” “We’ll always have Paris.”

3. Pride and Prejudice (1995): Ok, I’m cheating because this was a miniseries, but rules were meant to be bent, and this miniseries brings Jane Austen’s classic novel to life better than any other version or remake. Pride is the classic struggle of two people who fall for each other despite initially disliking each other, and then can’t ever seem to get together because neither can express themselves -- though they are quite good at arranging the lives of others. Pride is one of the most copied works, as seen again in movies like Clueless, The Sound of Music and many others. “In vain have I struggled, it will not do. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

4. An Affair To Remember (1957): Ranked as the most romantic film of all time by the American Film Institute, this Spock-weepy classic staring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr presents a true star-crossed lovers tale. Two strangers fall in love, despite being engaged to others, and promise to meet in six months to start anew. But things go wrong, as one suffers an injury, and fear of rejection threatens to keep them apart. “There must be something between us, even if it's only an ocean.”

5. Beauty and the Beast (1991): Am I kidding? A cartoon? Nope, not kidding. Show me a little girl. . . or a big girl for that matter, who doesn’t know this movie by heart? Beauty and the Beast is the classic princess fairy tale, mixed with a little Pride and Prejudice, a heaping dose of unrequited love and lovers' misinterpretations, and it plays on the idea that the right woman can turn a frog into a prince. “She’ll never see me as anything but a monster. It’s hopeless.”

6. Pretty Woman (1990): Pretty Woman is the most recent version of Pygmalion, later to become My Fair Lady. My Fair Lady, which I vastly prefer, could easily have taken this spot, but I chose Pretty Woman because of its more recent vintage and because it wasn’t a musical. This story embodies the modern version of the white knight tale, with Richard “Gerbil” Gere, the heartless corporate raider, rescuing Julia Roberts, the hooker with the heart of gold. This movie made Roberts into America’s Sweetheart, gak. “I want the fairy tale.”

7. Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994): The highest grossing British film up to that point, and the film that made Hugh Grant into an international star, this film follows Hugh Grant, who falls for Andie MacDowell after a one night stand. They keep running into each other thereafter at weddings and a funeral, each time with one of them engaged to another, until they finally put it all together. “The castle beckons.”

8. Ghost (1990): Ghost is the classic story of the separated lovers, with an interesting twist -- they are separated by Patrick Swayze’s death. Moreover, Swayze must work to protect his wife from his own killer. Add in the fact that he’s unable to tell his wife that he loved her until after his death, and this turns into one of the most memorable romance movies. This movie even makes Whoopie Goldberg likeable. Will miracles never cease? “Ditto.”

9. Titanic (1997): I found this cliché-riddled movie ridiculous, but it is known the world over. The highest grossing film of all time until Avatar, this film made Leonardo DiCaprio a star outside gay circles and it showed that nothing is more romantic than dying in a disaster after a gun fight. “I’m the king of the world.”

10. Dirty Dancing (1987): Here is one of the travesties of these kinds of lists. This is an ugly duckling story similar to Strictly Ballroom, but Strictly Ballroom is far superior on so many levels -- from the believability of the romantic interests, to the more sensual dancing, to the more intelligent humor. Yet, Dirty Dancing is on the list, and Strictly Ballroom is not, because it is more known. “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

11. Princess Bride (1987): How can a movie that pokes fun at romantic movies be in the top eleven? Because it manages to create one of the sweeter romantic movies of modern times. Everyone knows this movie, and even kids are ok with the kissy parts. “As you wish.”

12. Say Anything (1989): Lane Meyer, er. . . Lloyd Dobler is the classic underachiever. He wants to date Diane, who is going places, like England. Soon they fall in love. But her father does not approve. Will Lloyd have what it takes to win the girl? We do know one thing, he’s got a boom box and a Peter Gabriel cassette, and he knows how to use them to up the ante for teenage stalkers everywhere! “What I really want to do with my life - what I want to do for a living - is I want to be with your daughter.”

13. When Harry Met Sally (1989): Ok, full disclosure -- I hate this one. I’ve never see two less appealing people. . . they should have been hit by a train. Harry Sally follows two shallow, self-centered jerks over a twelve year period, and it introduces concepts like “the high maintenance girlfriend” and the “transitional person.” Oh goody. “Can men and women ever just be friends?”

14. The Philadelphia Story (1940): This one is listed at No. 5 on the AFI’s list of romantic movies, though I see it more as comedic than romantic. Still, this sharp-witted comedy provides plenty of romantic sparks as socialite Katherine Hepburn’s wedding plans are complicated by the arrival of Cary Grant, her ex-husband. At a time when the Hayes Code blocked any mention of extramarital affairs, Story was considered one of the best comedies about “remarriage” -- the 1930s/1940s substitute for affairs.

15. While You Were Sleeping (1995): Along with Speed, Sleeping launched Sandra Bullock’s career, and didn’t do too badly for Bill Pullman either. Sleeping is a mistaken identity story involving the perfect girl who is mistaken for the fiancé of a man in a coma. She meets coma-boy’s family and falls for his brother, Bill Pullman. But when coma-boy wakes up, the jig is up. Disgraced, Bullock goes back to her sad, sad life. Will love conquer all? “I want you. . . not to be unhappy.”

16. Shakespeare in Love (1998): This clever comedy deals with the forbidden love of William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) and Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow). With an amazing cast that includes Geoffrey Rush and Judi Dench, this movie delivers both a hilarious take on Shakespeare and a parody of many of his works, and a touching star-crossed lovers story. This is perhaps the one movie that best encapsulates the entire Shakespearean era version of romance. And any move that makes cold-fish Gwyneth Paltrow seem human deserves to be on the list. “I love you, Will, beyond poetry.”

17. You’ve Got Mail (1998): A famous instance of product placement, AOL was a remake of 1940’s The Shop Around the Corner, where two letter-writing lovers don’t realize that their sweetheart penpals happen to be the co-workers they can’t stand. AOL updates this concept for the internet age. Starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as competing book store managers, this film also was heavily influenced by Pride and Prejudice. “You’ve got mail.”

18. Sleepless in Seattle (1993): Before they managed competing book stores, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan remade An Affair to Remember without the complexity. . . forget the disability, eliminate Hanks’ wife with extreme prejudice, and cue the compliant, cute kid to reflect the single-parent environment of the 1990s (and to give the easy seal of approval to Ryan). “Destiny is something we've invented because we can't stand the fact that everything that happens is accidental.”

19. Notting Hill (1999): Hill is a serviceable romance except for the twenty-minute smirkoff near the end, which significantly raised my tolerance for violence. Hill brings together smirking heavy-weights Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts under the guidance of the same writer as Four Weddings, to give us the highest grossing British film since Four Weddings. This tale of two people who don’t fit in each other’s lives but decide they can’t live apart revived the sagging careers of both smirkers, and showed that formulaic pabulum continues to sell. “Look at me, I’m smirking.”

20. Officer and Gentleman (1982): There were a series of romantic films that were huge about 20 years ago, but which seem to be slowly fading. This includes The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Love Story, but the best of this group appears to be An Officer and a Gentleman. Richard Gere woos Debra Winger as he goes through aviation officer candidate school. This one ends in the iconic scene where Gere walks through a factory to find Winger as the UAW applauds. “I got nowhere else to go!”

21. My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997): In this tale of unrequited love, Smirker Roberts and her college buddy Dermot Mulroney agree that they will marry if neither is married by the time they turn 28. But at 27, Mulroney tells Roberts he wants to marry Cameron Diaz. . . for some reason. This of course convinces Roberts that she really loves Mulroney. Thus, she must pretend to be the dutiful maid of honor while secretly trying to sabotage the wedding. “This is my one chance at happiness. I have to be ruthless!”

22. The English Patient (1996): How can a movie with the talented Ralph Fiennes, the beautiful Juliette Binoche, Mr. Pride Colin Firth, and two Jesuses -- Willem Dafoe and Jurgen Prochnow -- go wrong? I don’t know, but this one bored me to tears. . . not Spock-tears, but tears none-the-less. Maybe you liked it better than I did, many people apparently did. Enough in fact, that it makes our countdown. “Why are you so determined to keep me alive?”

23. Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001): Yet another Pride and Prejudice adaptation, this one centers around a woman who works in the publishing industry, where she fantasizes about her boss until she meets a lawyer she can’t stand (Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. . . again). He thinks she’s a fool. So naturally, they need to fall in love. This film is mostly famous for capturing the angst of single-women in the 1990s. Avoid this one if you have a Y chromosome. “Bridget Jones, wanton sex goddess, with a very bad man between her thighs... Mom... Hi.”

24. City of Angels (1998): Angels is a remake of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, in which Nicolas Cage gives up being an angel so he can be with the ill-fated Meg Ryan, a surgeon who is anguished by her inability to save one of her patients. “I would rather have had one breath of her hair, one kiss of her mouth, one touch of her hand, than eternity without it.”

25. Breakfast at Tiffanies (1961): Breakfast gives us Audrey Hepburn’s most memorable role as she plays the naive, eccentric gold digger Holly Golightly, who seems afraid to fall in love. “Well baby, you're already in that cage. You built it yourself.”

Again, these are not necessarily the best romantic movies, but these are the ones you should know to be conversant in our culture. If you want a couple of great ones that aren’t on the list, try the Korean My Sassy Girl, which I’ll review at some point. Or, surprisingly, try Jet Li’s Hero, a martial arts film centered around a very strong love story. Or how about WALL-E, a touching romance between two robots? I’ve been told Until the End of the World is pretty good too.


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Anonymous said...

Well... I still haven't seen Gone with the Wind (ducks flying objects). I saw Casablanca for the first time at film school and it definitely deserves its reputation."I'm shocked...!" I enjoyed Beauty and the Beast very much, having seen it for the first time in 2002.

Speaking of Four Weddings... and Notting Hill, I have to say I enjoyed Love Actually very much. Writer (and later director) Richard Curtis makes it look easy!

I like Titanic. There, I said it. I know it's not for everyone and it makes a big target but I enjoyed it for the spectacle it is.

They're releasing a Special Edition DVD of Strictly Ballroom with all the bells and whistles. Comes out April 6th.

I only saw The Princess Bride and Say Anything for the first time around 2002-03 but I enjoyed both very much. (Nice Better Off Dead reference!)

And I think When Harry Met Sally is a great movie! I actually saw it in a speech class in community college. We were studying verbal and non-verbal communication.

They aren't romances per se, but I'd have to throw The Lady Eve into the ring. And the first ten minutes of Up are a heartbreaker.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and no Annie Hall? One of my favorite Woody movies is his mid-90s musical: Everyone Says I Love You. The usual neuroses, missed connections, false starts, etc. But it's a very romantic movie and the last ten minutes are better than most movies: dancing Groucho Marxes singing "Hurray for Captain Spaulding" (Groucho's theme song) in French, followed by Woody and Goldie Hawn dancing along (and above) the Seine.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Re: Annie Hall, there are a lot of films that I had to leave off the list -- it's already a Top 25, but could have been much longer (just like Sci-Fi).

You can like Titanic, many, many people do. I didn't, but that's a matter of taste -- it's on the list because it was an enourmously popular film.

Love Better Off Dead, and I couldn't resist the reference!

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I figure a lot of people will like Harry Met Sally as well, but it just left me annoyed.

Also, I agree with you about Up -- very emotional start. That's something Pixar seems to be quite good at!

Unknown said...

Andrew: Since I've already admitted that I'm not very romantic (or so my ex said), my favorite romantic movie is a comedy--Bringing Up Baby with Grant and Hepburn.

I liked many of the movies on the list, but almost always for some reason other than the romance. Hated Pride and Prejudice, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle and Titanic (except where the ship was the star, which would cut this snooze-fest to about forty-five minutes).

The only one I actually like a lot for the romance (and it was as much tragedy as romance) was An Affair To Remember. Never mind the mega-boring Sleepless In Seattle, the actual re-make of Affair to Remember was even worse --Love Affair with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. Sadly, there was an original movie with the title Love Affair. The 1939 version inspired the Grant/Kerr version, and starred Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne.

Breakfast At Tiffany's remains a favorite of mine since it came out in my senior year of high school, and the theme, Moon River, was the theme song for our senior prom. It might have been a bit different if made today. They could just go back to Capote's original concept in which all the characters are gay males.

Writer X said...

Well, I'm glad GWTW made the list! It's probably the only movie on the list without a happy ending--which is usually a prerequisite for successful romance movies, including a box of Kleenex and flawed characters.

Another romance movie that I thought was suprisingly hilarious was HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS. I thought that was Kate Hudson's best movie. I would also add URBAN COWBOY, LOVE STORY, and ROMEO & JULIET (1968 version).

Writer X said...

BTW, Andrew, I love the GWTW poster graphic!

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, There was no way I was going to leave GWTW off the list. . . not with this crowd! LOL!

Seriously, it does deserve it's place. In terms of unhappy endings, there are a couple -- City of Angels comes to mind.

Urban Cowboy? Hmmm.

I didn't add How to Lose A Guy because it struck me as one of a whole series of recent romance movies that are here today, gone tomorrow. But maybe I'm wrong?

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Have to say that Breakfast at Tiffany's bores me. It's very much a movie of the 1960s.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Writer X, We aim to please!

Writer X said...

When I saw HOW TO LOSE A GUY, I went in with such low expectations. But I can honestly say that I laughed my way through the movie. It was predictable but the writing was funny. So many good one-liners. It'll never be a classic but it was better than I think it was meant to be.

I liked URBAN COWBOY because both characters were believably flawed. I think it was Travolta's post-GREASE stage. Besides, how can you not like Texas and cowboys?

Unknown said...

Andrew: That's OK. After all, you liked Beauty and the Beast. LOL

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I enjoyed it, but it didn't stick with me honestly. In terms of romances, I group it with a whole herd of movies from the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Katherine Heigel, and Reece Witherspoon, that are entertaining enough (though some make me gag), but really aren't aiming very high. The one that stick out for me of this whole group is 10 Things I Hate About You. . . don't know why, but I liked that one the best.

I liked Urban Cowboy, I was just surprised to see it mentioned! (Loved Grease!)

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, You don't like Pride and Prejudice and you don't like Beauty and the Beast. . . hmm. I take it your movie hero is the Grinch (before he went soft)?

Unknown said...

Andrew: Nope. Ebenezer Scrooge.

StanH said...

GWTW I don’t see as a love story. But like Lawhawk romantic comedies are not my forte. A couple that perhaps could make the list, “Love Story, Kate and Leopold, and I also liked Bringing Up Baby.”

A GWTW anecdote: My grandparents attended the first showing of the movie at Melhana Plantation in Thomasville, GA. at The Showboat, a private theater, as guest of Mr. Hanna, and Mr. Whitney. This was before the premier in Atlanta in ’39. Mr. Whitney, and Mr. Hanna financed the movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, Cool. I wonder if they knew how historic the film was going to be?

JG said...

All winners. And that version of Pride and Prejudice is the best :)

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks JG! I completely agree about Pride and Prejudice. I've seen others, but that one is truly definitive. Anything you would add?

StanH said...

Good question, my grandparents are gone now or I’d ask. I would imagine yes - - a Hollywood movie, private screening, and all the hoopla with Gable, Leigh and the premier in Atlanta soon afterwards. I know she loved the movie, and my brothers and myself several forced viewings, LOL!

BevfromNYC said...

See Andrew, you're learning re: GWTW!

I didn't get the greatness of Titanic - DeCaprio and Winslet were not a winning combination for me. And the English Patient? Boorrrinng.

What about "Brian's Song". That was a tear jerker bro-mance!

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Glad to hear that I wasn't the only one to find the English Patient, just boring.

I didn't include any Bro-mances because. . . well, because. Actually, few people I know care for them. It's not a "guy thing" and I suspect women are more intereted in the classic romances.

As for GWTW, I do think it truly stands out from the rest for many reasons.

Individualist said...

“Can men and women ever just be friends?”

There was a movie recently out that I thought was rather compelling. 500 Days of Summer. It is a movie aobut the girlfriend you have before you meet girl of your dreams.

I thought the end of the movie where the two who have broken up finally get to a place where they can explain to each other why it was not meant to be and acknowledge the time they shared was touching. It was not really a sad ending because both found someone else. Very good movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, I haven't seen that one yet. I'll watch for it though.

Unknown said...

Maybe they could dig Capote up and have him write a new bromance, and Brian's Song would be the perfect vehicle(although I don't think Piccolo or Sayers would have been too pleased finding out they shared the love that dares not speaks its name). LOL

I have to admit that the original Brian's Song was the only movie my ex actually got weepy at, and wanted to see whenever it showed up later on TV. The theme song was a grabber, too. I like the re-make better (Sean Maher and Mekhi Phifer), but I'm among the very few who do.

Either version is proof of the old saying that women love movies where one character dies slowly where men like movies where a whole lot of people die quickly. Just kidding ladies (or am I?).

StanH said...

Lawhawk, that would give Brian’s Song some much needed levity.

USArtguy said...

After having said I've seen nearly everyone of your top Sci-Fi movies, I can only fess up to seeing less than half of these... just 10.

Typical guy ;-)

I'm going to throw a curve here and nominate "It's A Wonderful Life" to the top 25. Yes, the Christmas flick. We all know about how Clarence the angel helps the despairing businessman George see what the world would be like had he not been around to touch so many lives, but we also see a romance story. We see how George and Mary meet, date and plan their lives together and how they marry then meet life's challenges. We identify with the characters when the romance has gone cold, but rejoice when the fire returns. Whose heart doesn't go out to George when the Mary in the alternate reality Clarence provides doesn't recognize him? Who can not admit to a little lump in the throat or mist in the eye when Clarence returns George to reality and he runs up the stairs to embrace her?

BevfromNYC said...

Hey I wasn't saying that Piccolo and Sayers should be gay! I just meant that they had a special bond - a bro-mance. :-D

LawHawk - I can't say that I liked it better, but I liked the redo version of Brian's Song too. It explained the real hell Piccolo went through with his cancer treatments.

AndrewPrice said...

USArtguy, Excellent movie, and good point. Although it's not really considered a romance, it certainly could qualify. That wouldn't be a bad addition to the list!

As for not having seen most of these, that's life. I do recommend them, but I fully understand if your tastes don't run that way -- as you can see, I really didn't like some of these!

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Bro-mances are ok, crossing over into Brokeback Mountain territory is not.

Random_Reader said...

Im 25 years old (big woman)that loves Beauty and the beast, and yes i know it by heart!

And yay for GWTW to be numero 1, oh and it's **still** the most grossing movie of all time.

The Butlers own the entire gender.

DCAlleyKat said...

I really really really enjoyed this fellas!!
Somewhere I would have to insert:
Holiday or
Sentimental Journey or

just sayin....

AndrewPrice said...

Random Reader, Welcome! I'm glad you like the list! The Butlers certain seem to be popular! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

DCAlleyKat, Thanks! Good suggestions. I was sure I missed a couple! LOL!

El Gordo said...

I´m not keen on romantic movies but I had to have the blu ray disc of GWTW that came out recently. It looks unbelievably gorgeous. The Wizard of Oz too.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo -- I love Technicolor and both GWTW and Wizard of Oz are absolutely, visually beautiful films!

CrispyRice said...

K, I'm waaay late to the party, but I gotta add --

Somewhere in Time. Awwwwwwwwww...

Who can resist star-crossed lovers stuck across decades?

And, Andrew, you mentioned City of Angels, did you know that that is a remake a German movie by Wim Wenders called Wings of Desire, with Peter Falk. Sort of a romance, but definitely the kind of movie to touch your soul.

Wim Wenders -- same guy who did Until the End of the World, which I and about 3 other people on the planet adore.

Great list. I've got tons of movies I'm going to have make Mr. Crispy watch now. Mwahahahaha!

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, Better late than never! I'm glad you liked the list. Good addition "Somewhere in Time."

I did know about "City of Angels", just didn't think it was well enough known here to make the list.

Poor Mr. Crispy. LOL!

Anne said...

Excellent List.

Have seen GWTW, Beauty& Beast, P&P, Affair To remem, Princess Bride, Pretty Woman, While you were Sleeping, Tiffanies and I am fan of all.

Plus I have seen Casablanca, Jones Diary, Best friends wedding but i did not like them much.

In my opinion Casablanca is too over-rated. Glad to see Our very own Scarlett O Hara defeat it. :P

AndrewPrice said...

Anne, Thanks! And welcome. I'm glad you liked the list. We have a lot of fans of GWTW here, and deservedly so. It's a fantastic movie, and it's so easy to get lost in it. :-)

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