Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Top Ten Most Romantic Films of All Time - Sweet and Dysfunctional Versions

Snuggle up with your favorite honey and your rescue animals on the couch and spend the evening entrenched with these tales of enduring and true love.

Here's my personal top ten best romantic movies. By the way, I only picked movies where the leads end up together; where neither one of them is a prostitute; where Tom Cruise isn't in it (because he's annoying); and the overall theme of the film is the love story, not, you know, like running from the Nazi's in the Austrian Alps.

10. The African Queen
Hard to imagine a romantic love story being effective between a crotchety old Humphrey Bogart, and a haggard Kate Hepburn playing a splinster, but this film will draw you in.

Is there a better backdrop than fighting Germans for two souls to find true love? As they battle each other, WWI German boats and mosquitoes, the two form an unlikely attraction that grows into something deeper.

Set in 1914, Hepburn plays a British missionary who gets stuck in a German occupied African jungle when her brother is killed by soldiers. To her reluctant rescue, comes a crusty boat Captain left to helm his own ship, The African Queen, when his crew deserts after hearing WWI was started.

The two hate each other, of course, but have to bond together to make the perilous journey up the river. So this doubles as a road trip movie!

Great chemistry that will have you routing for them.

9. The Way We Were
The Communist Jew and the goyish blue-eyed frat-boy - she's got a lot to say, him...not so much, but holy Jesus, the sparks fly when they get together. I didn't want to include a movie where the two leads don't end up together, but this is too much of a classic not to mention just for the sheer melodrama/romance of it all.

"But you must'nt be too serious." Redford seduces Streisand

Set against the backdrop of the Hollywood Blacklist, Sydney Pollack took this otherwise pedestrian, swirly-letter romance and managed to elevate it - no offense to gay author Arthur Laurents, who said he based it on a girl he knew in college (he also penned West Side Story, another classic love story). Pollock admits he had to coerce Redford into playing the rather shallow lead because he knew he could give more to the character.

If you've ever loved someone so much, yet it just will never make sense, you'll get this movie and cry along with great lines like, "You expect so much, Katie," "Yes, but look at what I've got."

Cue Marvin Hamlish score.....See ya, Hubbell.

8. An Officer and a Gentleman

A classic romance, with a gritty undertones, that manages to show the darker, vulnerable side of the characters, while still retaining a silver screen romance standard (Love indeed lifts them up where they belong!).

A Navy cadet (Richard Gere) with "nowhere else to go" gets wooed by a local factory girl (original crazy-bad-girl, precursor to Lindsay Lohan, Debra Winger) looking to snag an officer, and in the middle of struggles, tragedy and a bucket of white trash atmosphere, find real, true love.

Great secondary love story - Gere and drill Sergeant Louis Gossett Jr.

7. Bound

Before helming The Matrix films, the Wachowski brothers pulled-off this fantastic noir homage with a lesbian twist.

The chemistry between bad girl butch Gina Gershon and mobster honey Jennifer Tilly (aptly named Violet) is top notch, and the film takes place in the confines of one apartment building in a few days.

Do yourself a big favor, if you haven't done this already - watch it with the director's track ON. It is like a whole other form of entertainment as the directors describe technical things whilst Suzy Bright explains all the sexual parts with blunt detail ("Ya see, a woman's hands are her dick") and Joe Pantoliano keeps offering to drop his pants. HYSTERICAL!

6. Random Harvest
This was one of my favorite movies as a kid (I was a big Ronald Coleman fan - I know, go figure. The other kids liked Shaun Cassidy and Robby Benson) and this is a BIG TIME MELODRAMATIC LOVE STORY (hence the all caps).

Ronald Coleman and Greer Garson

Even just looking at some of the stills from this film now made me practically break out weeping. I don't know whether it's the impossible journey these two have to undertake to be together, or the incredible vulnerability, charm and all around hotness of Greer Garson.

Set against the backdrop of war-torn Britain post WWI, Coleman plays a soldier who has suffered complete amnesia and wanders into the loving and accepting arms of Garson in the country side. The two fall in love, get married and proceed to be sickeningly perfect and fabulous together. UNTIL... cue hokey drama music... one day in town, Coleman regains his memory, only to forget all of his recent history!

He returns to his previous life in the big city, being a successful businessman from a rich family but he can't seem to get out of his mind that he's forgetting something important. After her husband goes missing, Garson's character finally finds him then - get this - takes a job as his secretary in hopes that they'll either fall in love again or he'll finally remember.

Then this goes on FOR YEARS. Ending is brilliant and touching.

It's from the same author that brought us Lost Horizons, Goodbye, Mr. Chips and the screen adaptation of Mrs. Miniver. MUST RENT, although a warning (I know, NOW a warning?)... no straight man in history has ever been able to sit through this one!

5. White Palace

What a surprise this sleeper little romance ditty was back in 1990.

Mexican Director Luis Mandoki took this low budget romance novel and cooked it up into a surprisingly touching and sexy film, with help from mutlilayered performances by heavyweight thesps James Spader and Susan Sarandon, and a screen adaptation from Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People, Spiderman 3, Julia).

Spader plays a 27 year old persnickety yuppy who has a one-night-stand with 43 year-old, burger joint counter girl, Susan Surandon. Two different tax brackets, two different age groups, yet somehow they find themselves wanting to make a go of it.

You start to learn they do have something in common, though. Both have suffered immeasurable and crippling losses which have seriously affected their ability to connect through love, or even to allow themselves to feel happiness.

It is a little dated in the time period (I can't forgive the 1980's for that hair, the shoulderpads and that insipid soundtrack!), but this film will also just suck you in. Supporting actors include the always fantastic Eileen Brennen and Kathy Bates.

4. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

The chemistry quotient between the crusty old sea captain and the sweet, young widow is just outstanding. This meets all my standards of a good romance because you just know these two have to be together and it's a joy to watch the bond grow as two opposites form a mutual respect and deeper love for each other. And technically, if you've seen this film, they do end up together!

Cranky, old sea captain Daniel Craigg (Rex Harrison) continues to haunt his old house from the afterlife and tries his best to get rid of the new tenants - a sweet yet unusually independent widow (Gene Tierney) and her daughter (Natalie Wood).

After he's unsuccessful (because she's awfully plucky) he ends up helping her keep the house when financial crisis strikes by dictating to her his stories from sea, which she publishes as fiction. What follows is sacrifice, sadness and eventually... well, you'll just have to see it. To boot, the film is very witty with some clever and sometimes naughty one liners.

3. The Goodbye Girl
From the moment Richard Dreyfus states, "You don't keep the panties hanging on the shower", I fell in love with this classic 1970's style rom com about a down-and-out actor who rents a room from an unemployed single mom.

Written by Neil Simon (and starring his then wife Marsha Mason), the film depicts love in NYC between a broke and broken romantic and a struggling actor.

It also introduced the world to the too-clever-for-her-age little girl character which no one ever got just as right as Quinn Cummings (sorry Jodie Foster). And that catchy emo '70's theme song, "All your life you've waited, for love to come and stay...."

2. The Notebook

Okay, I'm only human!

You can not avoid the allure of Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdam's sizzling and simmering chemistry in Nick Cassavetes' deeply romantic film that somehow rides the line between schmaltzy and engaging.

The tale is a love story that could not be more cliched - poor boy falls for rich girl, rich girl's parents forbid it and whisk her away.

Set against the backdrop of the 1940's, the story is narrated in present day by Jim Rockford himself - James Garner - to his nursing home buddy (played the director's mother, Gena Rowlands). Great use of the split time storytelling outside of LOST.

The by-the-book romance gets some slight indie street cred with supporting actor turns by Sam Shepard and Joan Allen.

A modern day classic!

1. Say Anything
Not since Romeo appeared below Juliet's window has there been such an iconic declaration of boyhood love as when John Cusack held up his boom box outside Ione Sky's window and "In Your Eyes" played.

Lloyd is a dork, and the object of his high school affection is the seemingly unattainable good girl, Diane Court. The film is riddled with common cliches from other films of the period (mainly John Hughes originated) including the sassy best girlfriends who coach Lloyd, and the caring father (played by John Mahoney).

Then this film takes a few surprising turns to hit an indelible mark with bits like the dinner table scene, "I don't want to sell anything, buy anything or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed...." and the infamous, "He gave me a pen" line/metaphor.

Lloyd doesn't know what he wants to do post high school, and that isn't going to work for the overprotected Diane, whose father keeps a strict fence around her with high expectations. But true love is definitely the thing that wins out in this film, directed by Cameron Crowe (Jerry McGuire and Almost Famous).


Okay, let's face facts. Hollywood romances are the reason we have such ridiculous expectations of love and marriage in this country, and in real life, none of this shit really happens.

And for those of you looking for the unhappy ending, there's always the brilliant Casablanca (unless you were routing for Louie), Dr. Zhivago and The English Patient.

The best romances where they don't end up together: 500 Days of Summer and Truly Madly Deeply.

I thought I'd better balance that saccharine with a strong dose of celluloid reality. Now, the underbelly of the love story. A place full of desperation, mental illness, shame, guilt and sexual perversion. Basically, all the things we probably recognize in our own lives more than what is depicted in any of the films I mentioned yesterday.

So curl up this February 14th with that person who refuses to commit to you; cheats on you; and/or the person that annoys you the most but is wonderful in bed.... with a strong cup of rot gut, a little passive/aggressiveness and Happy Valentine's Day!

10. Donnie Darko

God, I just love this film! It takes you on what you think will be a predictable route, but instead pulls you on a journey through the meaning of love and some of Einstein's more popular theories.
Plus it's one of the most effective tales of modern white boy teenage angst ever depicted.
AND it's the best use of an imaginary rabbit since Harvey.
Jake Gyllenhaal is a troubled teen on meds (Ordinary People like) and he lives in the kind of cookie-cutter neighborhood that ET and Poltergeist made famous. One night he's contacted by a voice that tells him to do things. Bad things.

It starts out like a horror thriller, but then veers into a wonderfully romantic love story between this troubled boy and a girl from school that accepts him the way he is.
The film has fantastic, quirky characters including a Self Help Guru (Patrick Swayze), a liberal teacher (Drew Barrymore who also produced), Grandma Death, Frank the Bunny Rabbit and the curt, clueless shrink (Katherine Ross...hey, it's Sundance's girlfriend!). It's quite fun watching all the storylines weave together into the story to form an acute essay on the absurdity of Americana life and the isolation it tends to breed.
The film has reached cult status which has a lot to do with the main character being depicted as a sociopath, when he is in reality, a hero. Certainly identifiable for any angsty teen boy with a penchant for scifi.
By the time you get to the end, you realize it's one of the most tender love stories in years with a main character that loves his girl unconditionally. Seriously, you'll want to cry!

9. Marnie
This Alfred Hitchcock flick is creepy in more ways than one, as Sean Connery tries to seduce the cold and compulsive Tippi Hedren as the title character.
Casting one of the most attractive leading men of the time was no mistake! One wonders why the psychologically damaged Marnie doesn't seem to fall in love with him, no matter how much he tries.
Marnie is a thief and distrusts men terribly. When she robs Connery's character, instead of turning her in, he blackmails her into marrying him. Obviously this was made years before the song, "I Can't Make You Love Me If You Don't". On their honeymoon, she won't sleep with him so he rapes her, and the next morning she tries to commit suicide. Eventually, they both decide to make the marriage work.
So a great little fucked-up Valentine for you!

8. The Days of Wine and Roses

This is one of the best films about alcoholism ever made.
Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick star as a young couple who get married then slowly start to spiral into alcoholism in this remarkably honest film by director Blake Edwards.
The scene where Lemmon is looking for his hidden bottle is just brutal, as is the scene where he strikes his own baby.
The painful part of the movie is that fact that Lemmon's character introduces his young wife to alcohol, but then has to make an impossible decision - should he abandon her to save himself? Jack Klugman costars as his AA sponsor.

7. Wristcutters: A Love Story
This is a love story that takes place in the afterlife in the way-station for people who have committed suicide.
Dig-ding-ding... we have a totally brilliant fucked up love story setting winner!
I mean - the film takes place in hell, and everyone in it has killed themselves! Yet, this is a stunning and sweet little film with a touching love story at it's core dealing with the usual litany of teen concerns.
Patrick Fugit stars as Zia, who after slitting his wrists, finds himself in a world similar to his own, only without much joy to it. It is hell indeed. He teams up with a group of other souls (some very fun and interesting characters) on a cross country journey to try to figure a way out of this purgatory. On route, he meets a girl, Mikai, who believes there has been some terribly mistake since she didn't kill herself.
This is the third film on my list from The Sundance Film Festival (High Art and Good Dick are the other two). It's certainly the only feel-good film ever made about suicide!

6. High Art

"I have a love issue and drug problem, " Lucy tells her mom and that sums up this $60,000 budgeted little indie gem by lesbian writer/director Lisa Cholodenko.
Sydney has a nice boyfriend, is young and bright-eyed, so naturally she gets attracted to her neighbor - a recluse lesbian photographer (Ally Sheedy) who is addicted to all forms of drugs and alcohol.
The film is fantastic and was the break out role for Patricia Clarkson, who plays the heroine addicted girlfriend.

5. Good Dick
He's a very committed stalker, and she's addicted to porn.
This film is so perverse in it's commitment to telling a sweet, by-the-books romance with two characters that are so damaged and quirky, it's hysterical.
Jason Ritter plays the video store clerk who follows the claustrophobic recluse, played by the film's writer/director Marianna Palka. The two eventually, sort of have a romance.
It's dysfunctional to the nth degree! It's a first time film that I saw at Sundance, and it surprised me how much I laughed. It certainly gets you shouting, "Oh no, they did NOT just do that!"

4. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
Behind the veneer of this creepy, psychological horror film, is a surprisingly touching little teen love story!
This has everything a good fucked-up romance should have: a pedophile (Martin Sheen), murder, polio, and the torture of innocent hamsters.
Jodie Foster plays an eerie little girl who lives alone, and has no problem doing the ole arsenic and old lace bit on anyone that jeopardizes that. Along comes neighbor boy (Scott Jacoby) - who is rather sickly and enjoys magic. A friendship develops to the point where she can tell him where the bodies are buried, literally and a strange bond is formed between these two damaged kids.

If you've ever wanted a boyfriend that will help you bury the bodies, this is the film for you!

3. Sid and Nancy
"I look like fucking Stevie Nicks!" And so goes Nancy (Chloe Webb), on a spiral down with punk boyfriend Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) in this true biopic that is a tender love story between two British drug addicts.
Sid was the bass player for The Sex Pistols and Nancy was the woman he loved, then killed. Their romance is the definition of a train wreck, and the film is unapologetic in it's tale of two rude, desperate, damaged and heroin addicted people.
The film was based on a book by the real life mom of Nancy.
If you've every loved someone so much you want to stab them, this is the love story for you!

2. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne

Oh my god, the characters in this are so unbelievably pathetic, it's almost hard to watch at points.
Maggie Smith gives one of the best performances of her career as a Catholic spinster in the 1950's who endeavors to engage a local man (Bob Hoskins) into a romance. It seems all very sweet - love later in life and all, until you find out he's a pervert and she's an alcoholic. On top of that, he's just trying to grift her, and he's such a loser he's not even any good at it.
The film was produced by Beatle George Harrison under his Handmade Films shingle and co stars one of my all time favorite actresses Wendy Hiller.

1. The Night Porter

This controversial erotic flick by female director Liliana Cavini is the tender love story between a Nazi prison guard and the concentration camp victim he rapes. This one is often nearly impossible to watch, so it gets the #1 spot.
Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling give two stellar and horrifyingly sensitive performances as two damaged people, who have lived through so much horror that they can only find comfort in each other's company. I mean, they are way beyond anything Dr Phil can do to help.
The film takes place thirteen years after the end of WWII, and former concentration camp victim Lucia Atherton is now married to a prominent violin player, and living an affluent lifestyle which includes travel and posh hotels. At one such hotel in Vienna, she spots a familiar face in the Night Porter. He is the Nazi guard that continually raped her when she was in a concentration camp!
Instead of reporting him, the two begin a torrid affair. Maximillian is living a poor, simple life and is still friends out of need with a circle of Nazis-in-hiding. He has insurmountable guilt and shame about his past, and obsessively buries himself in his work.

It's as disturbing as it is sad, and deals with human souls so marred in guilt and pain that defies reconciliation. It's exploitive, deals with sadomasochism and is frequently hard to watch. But I have to admit, by the end of the film, I felt I just wanted these two to end up together, as fucked up as that seems. It's truly a fantastic film, albeit risky, and certainly the saddest most fucked up love story ever!

Those that didn't make the list, but are also fucked-up favorites include: Prick Up Your Ears, Sex, Lies and Videotape and You, Me and Everyone We Know.