6/03/2009

Most Romantic Movies Ever Made


What exactly makes a movie "romantic"? Is it romantic tension or sexual tension (or both)? Also, how are you supposed to compare classic explorations of love like West Side Story with frivolous romantic comedies like Sleepless in Seattle?  I've decided that the only way to be fair and comprehensive is to divide the genre into types, which gives me an excuse to include all my favorites ...
  1. Star Crossed Lovers. The most venerable of all genres, this one has been around since well before Shakespeare penned Romeo & Juliet. Goodness knows why we enjoy being tormented by stories of love and lovers torn tragically asunder, but we do. We love it so much, in fact, that over the years this genre has spawned a host of subgenres, each well-represented by romantic classics.
    1. First, there's the Married to Someone Else subgenre, as represented by Casablanca, Out of Africa, Bridges of Madison County, Now Voyager and Frenchman’s Creek. You’re not just crying because of love thwarted, but also because the characters who make the anguished decision to place marriage, duty and honor above their own happiness are just so damned noble.
    2. There’s the Dead But Not Forgotten subgenre, in which the lovers are separated by that whole pesky not being alive thing. Think The Ghost & Mrs. Muir and City of Angels. But at least you have the consolation of knowing that eventually the lovers will find themselves on the same side of the Great Veil; and I, for one, like to think that Mrs. Muir is going to have the time of her non-life when finally reunited with the Captain.
    3. The granddaddy of them all, however, is definitely the Separated by Class or Race subgenre. It was good enough for Shakespeare, and it was good enough for the directors of such blockbusters as Titanic, West Side Story, Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman, and Dirty Dancing. Tony and Maria, separated by race. Rose and Jack, separated by class (and, eventually, a whole lot of water). Edward and Vivian, separated by the whole legitimate businessman/skanky woman of uncertain virtue thing. For obvious reasons, movies in this category have a tendency to end badly. Tony gets shot. Jack drowns. But sometimes the screenwriters take pity on us and seemingly insurmountable circumstances are surmounted by a grandiose gesture, as when Richard Gere whisks Debra Winger away from her dreary factory life in Officer and a Gentleman, or when he climbs up the ladder to rescue Julie Roberts from her tower. And no one puts Baby in a corner …!
  2. Moving On. Who would have thunk it … a whole genre devoted to spouses who die and the loved ones they leave behind. Always. Sleepless in Seattle. Ghost. Truly Madly Deeply.  PS: I Love You. While we all say that we would like our spouses to find a way to be happy if – God forbid – we should predecease them, don’t we really want them to ache for us the way that Holly Hunter aches for Richard Dreyfuss in Always? The way Demi Moore aches for Patrick Swayze in Ghost? The way Juliet Stevenson aches for John Rickman in Truly, Madly, Deeply? Don’t we secretly want them to call radio stations and talk about how unforgettable we were, a la Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle? Of course, after an appropriate amount of time we also want them to nobly give us their blessing to move on … and all the better if moving on means new love in the arms of a hunky, square-chinned Adonis a la Brad Johnson in Always. (Sorry – you guys have to settle for Meg Ryan.)
  3. Sweet, Sweet Torment. They simmer. They glare. They brood – oh, how they brood! Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck. Lawrence Olivier as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Not the kind of guys you want to take home to mama, but don’t we all secretly wish that we had the power to drive men mad with desire for us?
  4. Bad Boys & the Women Who Love Them. Bad boys, bad boys … whatcha gonna do? They revel in their own irredeemibility, and yet we can’t help loving them. Gone With the Wind's Rhett Butler is an unabashed scoundrel, but did you see anyone else at that ball worth dancing with? Dennis Quaid in The Big Easy is another rascal, but there’s something about that Cajun accent and that wicked smile that makes us willing to forgive him anything.
  5. Waiting for them to Figure It Out. Sometimes the romantic tension is there from the start, but it takes a whole movie for one or more of the characters to wise up. In When Harry Met Sally, Harry meets Sally at the beginning of the movie, but it takes a whole reel before he realizes that he is in love with her. And thank goodness for Cuba Gooding Jr.'s performance or I’m not sure any of us would have had the patience to stick around long enough to see Jerry Maguire finally figure things out. For all my irreverent bashing, however, I discover that two of my favorites -- Emma and Strictly Ballroom —fall into this category. We should all be so lucky to have a Mr. Knightly or a Fran out there waiting for us to notice them.
  6. Lovin’ the Wrong Man. Related to the previous category but deserving of a category of its own, this one is all about the ones who are in love with Mr. Wrong, while all the time Mr. Right is right there, under their nose, just waiting for them to come to their senses. It’s enough to make you want to reach into the screen and give them a good shaking. At least in While You Were Sleeping and Sabrina, Sandra Bullock and Audrey Hepburn do eventually hook up with the right brother. But what is Julia Ormond’s problem in Legends of the Fall? Okay, so Brad Pitt is gorgeous, but why can’t she see that Aidan Quinn is the only one capable of making her happy?
  7. Workin’ My Way Back To You. You have to love a guy willing to jump through hoops to prove that he is worthy of his inamorata’s love. Whether it’s leaving their guitar behind (Goodbye Girls) or reliving the same day over and over again until they get it right (Groundhog Day) or possessing the desperation (not to mention the upper arm strength) to hold an enormous boombox over their heads while Peter Gabriel croons In Your Eyes (Say Anything), there’s something irresistably compelling about a man who wants your love badly enough to work for it. (Be honest now – doesn’t hearing that Peter Gabriel song on the radio still make you want to take Lloyd Dobler to bed?)
  8. Save Me, I’m Yours. Of all the genres, I confess a weak spot for this one. It may be primitive, but give me a guy with courage, strength, and moral fiber and I will go weak at the knees every time. (And if he happens to be wearing a loincloth, a breastplate, or a mask, my bodice may just bust of its own accord.) Daniel Day Lewis in Last of the Mohicans. (“Stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you.” – Oh, you will find me – I’ll make sure of that.) Russell Crowe in Gladiator. (“Leave this place and never think of me again.” If he really meant it, then he shouldn’t contrive to look so damn good-looking in that torn tunic.) Cary Elwes in Princess Bride. (“As you wish.” Enough said.) Be still my beating heart.
  9. Going, Going, Gone. Man meets lady. Man and lady fall in love. Man (or lady) falls sick and dies. The end. While a part of me resents movies in this category for being unabashedly manipulative, some of them are so well done that I find myself able to forgive them, even as I am reaching for the nearest box of tissues. Love Story. Finding Neverland. Hint: If a characters coughs early in the movie, assume they’re a goner and start emotionally preparing for the inevitable.
Want to suggest a movie I’ve neglected, or propose a category that I may have overlooked? Let me hear from you!

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