* Note: From my website, back in February 2014.
Hello, readers. This Friday is Valentine’s Day, and in honor of Hallmark’s “Black Friday”, I’m counting down my picks for the best romantic films ever made.
I know what some of you are thinking. “Hey, hold on. You claimed Safe Haven and other Nicholas Sparks films to be crap. You’re just a cynical, cold-hearted bastard.” Well, I did say that, and I’m sticking to it, but I don’t hate romantic films. I hate the saccharine, sappy, overly-sentimental, choke to death on their fluffball cutesiness crappy ones.
Rant aside, this list will prove my naysayers wrong. Also, keep in mind, some of the films on this list will contain spoilers. You’ve officially been warned. Let’s begin, starting with…
10) As Good as It Gets
1997 – Even this film deserved Best Picture over Titanic (my pick would’ve still been Good Will Hunting, though). Oscar winning writer/director James L. Brooks followed up two previous hits with Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News with another smartly written, excellently acted gem, As Good as It Gets. As the biggest OCD douche in the world, Jack Nicholson owns every scene he is in. He and Helen Hunt (both won Oscars for these roles) share some of the best onscreen chemistry of the past twenty years. Like Jerry Maguire, a year before it, As Good as It Gets has a fairly conventional ending, but the dialogue is trademark Brooks sharp, and the way he and Nicholson have us gradually sympathize with an unlikeable prick such as Melvin shows just how strong of a writer Brooks is and how great of an actor Nicholson is.
1987 – Led by two great performances from Nicholas Cage (in one of his best performances) and Cher, Moonstruck is an energetic, offbeat comedy that features a wide array of wonderfully developed characters. It has an old-fashioned romantic quality to it, but avoids being sappy, thanks largely in part to Norman Jewison’s direction, John Patrick Shanley’s script and a terrific supporting cast (Danny Aiello, Olympia Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia), who are just as much involved in delivering the laughs as Cher and Cage are (hilariously displayed in a great breakfast table scene). Neither Jewison or Shanley are Italian, but they still manage to create an authentic Italian family that never comes off forced or over-the-top caricature. Regardless of your nationality, though, the film’s appeal is universal.
8) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2004 – From the bizarre minds of writer Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a perfect 50/50 blend of cynicism and romance. We expect great things from Kate Winslet, but the surprise here is Jim Carrey in one of his best performances (up there alongside The Truman Show and Man on the Moon) as a man who gets the same “relationship memory erasing” procedure like his ex-girlfriend has, but finds it hard to let go during the process. Carrey and Winslet and perfect together, and are also backed up by a strong supporting cast featuring Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst and Tom Wilkinson. It’s quirky, bizarre, one of the most creative films I’ve seen in the past 10 years, but also profoundly touching.
7) Forrest Gump
1994 – To be fair, Forrest Gump isn’t strictly a romance, but the relationship between the title character and the girl of his dreams, Jenny Curran, is a pretty big part of the film. You can even argue that Jenny, unlike the other characters that come and go, is the one constant running through that simpleton’s mind for all of the movie. Most normal guys would probably give up on a girl like Jenny and tell her, “Who needs you anyway?!” Forrest, though, proves to be the most persistent man in the universe, even though, who are we kidding, Jenny doesn’t deserve a man like Forrest. What makes her such a great character is that even she admits that, in a way, later on in the movie. The scene with Forrest at her graveside is one of the most genuinely real and moving moments in film. It’s pretty much Forrest talking to her like it’s a typical dinner table conversation. When you see him finally break down while talking to her about their son – taking into account how emotionally flatline he was for most of the movie – you realize just how much this woman meant to him. Confession time: it’s one of the few moments in film that can choke me up.
6) Broadcast News
1987 – Hey! A love triangle! Easily James L. Brooks’s best film, Broadcast News is sharply written by Brooks and has three great lead performances from William Hurt, Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks. It’s a familiar plot device: girl stuck in between the hunky reporter and the longtime friend, but Hurt, Hunter and Brooks elevate what could’ve been just another set of cheesy character tropes in lesser hands. Hunter, in particular – whose role was initially offered to Terms of Endearment’s Debra Winger – is both spunky and extremely charming in all her word-slurring glory. James L. Brooks certainly knows characters and relationship, but he also shows a knowledge for the TV newsroom world, and the way he blends the two is pure character-driven entertainment at its best.
5) The Philadelphia Story
1940 – Ooh! This time it’s a love square! You’ll get it when you see it. It stars Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart. I should just leave it at that. Hepburn steals the show here, not an easy feat for anyone to accomplish when going head to head with Grant and Stewart. I should also mention Ruth Hussey in a terrific supporting role that tends to get overlooked for the three leads. Set around a socialite wedding threatened by scandal, with three men vying for the affection of Hepburn’s Tracy Lord, The Philadelphia Story is witty, charming and has Hepburn and Stewart playing off each other to perfection.
1955 – By far, the most underrated film you’ll see on this list, but just as heartfelt, still slightly bittersweet, and charming as the rest, Marty is carried by Paddy Chayefsky’s great script and the late, great Ernest Borgnine’s spectacular performance (for which he won Best Actor). It’s Borgnine’s film, but special attention should also be given to Esther Minciotti and Betsy Blair as Marty’s smothering mother and the girl of his affections respectively. Marty is one of those “likeable losers” we’ve seen before, yet Borgnine plays it just right, never once pandering for our sympathy.
3) Annie Hall
1977 – Star Wars fanboys will forever disdainfully view this film as “the one that beat their beloved classic for Best Picture“. That’s an argument for another day. Regardless, Annie Hall is, without a doubt, Woody Allen’s best film and also features Diane Keaton’s best performance (although, The Godfather Part II is close). Some might find the lack of structure annoying, but Woody compensates any lack of structure with his brilliant dialogue, characters, a talented cast, and all the quirky touches he provides to the narrative. In lesser writing hands, Woody’s Alvy Singer would’ve been as annoying as nails on a chalkboard. Allen, though, is somehow able to get the viewer to feel for Alvy in spite of his babbling. Films like (500) Days of Summer owe quite a bit to this 1977 classic.
2) Gone With the Wind
1939 – Allen’s Alvy Singer and Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara would be a match made in hell. Sherman didn’t set the South ablaze. Leigh and Gable’s chemistry did. As two of the most headstrong, or should I say stubborn, characters in both film and literature, it’s hard to imagine two performances more dynamic than Gable’s Rhett Butler and Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara. Granted, it’s not quite the happy ending people usually associate with romantic films, but frankly, I too don’t give a damn. That said, it’s still the most sweepingly epic romantic film that all succeeding romantic films look up to… Yet, it’s not the greatest.
Here we are, the #1 spot. And the winner is… Tristan and Isolde. Oh, my bad. Don’t remember that film? Neither do I… I’m sure James Franco doesn’t either. Okay, let’s try this one more time.
1943 – I said it’s hard to top Gable and Leigh, not impossible. I just reviewed it yesterday, so you probably saw this coming. Casablanca tells the story of nightclub owner Rick Blaine. Upon being reunited with an old flame, his one true love Ilsa Lund, Blaine must make the tough decision of whether or not to rekindle that flame or help her and her new husband Victor Laszlo escape back to America. The chemistry between Bogart and Bergman is downright electrifying and that alone is more than worth the watch. No they don’t end up together, but they’ll always have Paris.
Well, there you have it, lovebirds. If you’re upset that The Hottie and the Nottie with Paris Hilton didn’t make the cut, you can always send your hate mail to my email address in the contact section. Feel free to let me know your picks in the comment section.