Let's face it guys, whether you're dating, have a girlfriend, or are married at some point you're going to have to watch a 'chick flick.' So with St. Valentine's Day just around the corner I thought I'd do a public service and post a list of movies that are actually pretty good (if not great) and will get you bonus points with the little snuggle bunny in your life for being romantic. And yes it's because of the overuse of words like 'snuggle bunny' that I'm single this year on the so-called most romantic day of the year. So if you're single as well these films also provide a good tonic to all the candy hearts and chocolate sappery (yes it's a word) going on.
So let's start with #1 which is of course, The Notebook, no, no I'm kidding. Seriously from lowest to highest here are the best romantic movies you can watch alone or with your partner and still retain a sense of masculinity.
10. Play it Again Sam (1972), Woody Allen in his pre-Mia Farrow days plays a neurotic (surprise) film reviewer in San Francisco who goes on a series of disastrous dates after his wife leaves him. He wishes he could be more like his idol Bogey (who shows up from time to time to advise him) yet he can't get past being his new agey, nebbishy self. Still he does end up in the arms of the young and beautiful Diane Keaton, at least for awhile. In the end Allen observes (to his fantasy Bogey) "If someone as short and ugly as you can get all those babes, then someone as short and ugly as me should be just fine." Gives hope to short ugly people everywhere and all the rest of us.
9. The Sure Thing (1985), directed by Rob Reiner post Spinal Tap and pre Sleepless in Seattle. Basically a take off on It Happened One Night, which should be included on this list but I realize not everyone shares my affinity for all things black and white. Just as in It Happened One Night mismatched travellers John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga are thrown together on a cross country journey during their college spring break. Cusack is on his way West to get his 'sure thing,' a beautiful young coed in her experimental phase (a very young Nicollette Sheridan) and Zuniga to see her straight laced fiance. Ahhh but surely these two bickering contradictions couldn't really be meant for each other could they? And what about that 'sure thing', the girl in the white bikini on the poster, huh what about her? In my adolescence I would have been to hell with 'soul mates' I want the blond in the bikini, but now I see it for the sweet romantic film it is (not not really, but still fun to watch)
8. Sixteen Candles (1984), yeah I know, but I can't help it I have a soft spot for 80s teen romances and this was the original John Hughes/Molly Ringwald collaboration. Poor Molly Ringwald wakes on the morning of her sweet 16 to find that everyone, in the midst of planning her sister's wedding, has forgotten it's Molly's birthday. All would be well however, if the high school hunk would just notice quirky Molly and leave the statuesque blond cheerleader he's dating (those blonds seem to have been a theme in the 80s). And yes, this is the movie that ends with Ringwald and her new boyfriend sitting cross legged on a table with a cake between them. Also a 90lb Anthony Michael Hall as the school nerd ends up with the aforementioned cheerleader and a Rolls Royce. That was always Hughes forte, making completely implausible romances seem plausible - that and a good eighties soundtrack.
8b. High Fidelity (2000) an older but no more wiser John Cusack plays a record store owner who has been recently dumped by his live in girlfriend. Based on the book by Nick Hornby and portrays dating, romance and heart break in the new millennium, which as it turns out, is pretty much like dating, romance and heartbreak in the previous millennium. Also notable for Jack Black's breakout performance.
7. Broadway Danny Rose (1985), another Woody Allen flick, and you know why? because clearly the Woodster is an incurable romantic (and I don't care what you say about him). This one features Allen as a hapless talent agent who ends up escorting his best client's girlfriend to a show so as not to raise the ire of his best client's wife (with me so far?) Unfortunately said girlfriend (Mia Farrow) used to date a gangster who is extremely jealous and who wants the new boyfriend (who he mistakenly thinks is Allen) out of the way. Still with me? Anyway through it all these crazy kids somehow fall for each other for real, but does it mean they'll end up together? I'm not going to ruin the ending on this one.
6. Rushmore (1999), director Wes Anderson's second feature, which follows precocious teenager Jason Schwartzman as a student at Rushmore Academy battling millionaire industrialist Bill Murray for the affections of a widowed Kindergarten teacher (played by Olivia Williams). Schwartzman eventually concedes the battle to his older friend, recognizes the affections of Sara Tanaka (finally, geez) and puts on a great play about the Vietnam War. On a side note piranhas rarely, if ever win you the girl.
5. About a Boy (2002) Despite it's anemic sounding title this Hugh Grant romcom was actually a pleasant surprise. Grant plays a shallow, self-absorbed womanizer and is not above using small children as props to win his way into a woman's heart, really stuff I can get behind. Of course he falls for Rachel Weisz and it gets a touch sappy at points but still a good example of how being shallow and manipulative is no barricade to finding true love or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.
4. His Girl Friday (1940) Rosalind Russell at her 1940s tough talking gal best and Cary Grant at the peak of his not inconsiderable charm. This movie has razor sharp dialogue delivered at a machine gun pace and yes it's in glorious B&W. Based on the play The Front Page. Grant plays the hardboiled editor of a NYC daily who lures back his star reporter (Rosalind), who just happens to be his ex-wife, for one last big story. Hildy (Rosalind Russell) can't resist the lure of a front page scoop but she's well aware her ex-husband may have plans for her beyond journalism talents. In the end her fiance (another theme, cross-generational this time) Ralph Bellamy finally realizes he's no match for the unscrupulous Grant and that his would be wife is really his [Grant's] perfect match. So Grant offers to remarry Russell and off they go to Niagara Falls...as long as another story doesn't stop them on the way.
3. Pride and Prejudice (2005). This version featured Keira Knightly as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen as the aloof Mr. Darcy. Jane Austen had a very good take on romantic love, probably because of the bittersweet events of her own life. Pride and Prejudice is her masterpiece and the book that most closely hews to Austen's own life, although the book (and movie) have a happy ending. A great version of the Austen classic with a stellar cast.
2. Shakespeare in Love (1998). Well the title says it all, what better premise than the world's greatest playwright in love with a woman, playing a boy, playing a woman. Throw in Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth telling Shakespeare she had never seen a play that accurately depicted romantic love - and a wager that he couldn't write such a play - and you have perhaps the greatest premise ever for a romantic comedy. And no they don't end up together since as we all know Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway (not that Anne Hathaway, it was over 400 years ago...sheesh) at a very young age and famously left her his 'second best bed' in his will (so in real life maybe not such a romantic).
1. Casablanca (1942). was there really ever any doubt this list would end with any other film? Come on it's Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains and Ingrid Bergman. This movie is so good Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet are just supporting players. What says romantic love better than Bogart as the world weary, cynical bitter saloon keeper Rick Blaine? Well maybe that's just me, but still Sam (Dooley Wilson) playing 'As Time Goes By' will forever be a classic and a sign that no matter how bitter and jaded one might be, if 'she' out of all the bars, out of all the gin joints, in all the world walks into yours then maybe just maybe you can still fall all over again. Then again maybe you'll ditch her and go off with Claude Rains to join the Resistance.
1b. Okay if not Casablanca then, yes once again that apparently incurable romantic - the Woodster, with Midnight in Paris. This time it's Owen Wilson playing a successful yet unfulfilled Hollywood screenwriter on vacation in Paris with his wife Inez (Rachel McAdams). Wilson wonders what life might have been like if he'd lived a 'real' bohemian writer' life in an attic apartment on the Left Bank. Or better yet, if he'd lived in Paris in the 1920s. While wandering the streets alone one night he gets his wish when at the strike of midnight he is transported (via a Peugeot Type 176) to the Paris of his dreams. He meets Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and the intriguing Adriana (Marion Cotillard). The latter ostensibly the lover of Pablo Picasso nevertheless falls for Wilson. Back in 2011 he finds out his wife is having an affair with the pedantic Michael Sheen and so he travels back to 1920 to claim Adrianna. Things go awry when her wish to live in Paris in the age of Belle Epoch to drink absinthe with Toulouse Lautrec and Paul Gauguin comes true. Poor Owen Wilson, ah but there's still the lovely Gabrielle an antiques dealer who shares his affinity for Cole Porter tunes and walking along Pont Neuf in the rain, which when you think about does beat walking into the fog and mist with Claude Rains.
Honourable mention: Sleepless in Seattle Meg Ryan dumps her fiance Bill Pullman (on Valentines Day no less) to run into the arms of Tom Hanks, who up until that point she has never met. So clearly in the world of Romcoms being someone's fiance is just their plan B till they find the love of their lives and dump you, damn, and people say I'm unromantic.