Mark Moorhead’s ‘Best of’ listing of all-time romantic film classics
Flowers wilt. Candy endangers the waistline. Jewelry endangers the credit card.
But a good romantic movie can make for a world-class Valentine’s Day.
Choosing the right Valentine’s movie is an art, however. Every taste must be taken into account, of course, but so must the danger of over-familiarity. Few would question that, say, Casablanca or The Shop Around the Corner or West Side Story or King Kong or Moonstruck or Room With a View or An Officer and a Gentleman are fine love stories, but such obvious choices may land with a thud. Here are a few choices that may set the heart aflutter:
French Kiss (1995)—Meg Ryan, as an uptight American expat in Canada, pursues her straying fiancé Timothy Hutton to Paris, gets stranded, and falls in with scruffy, shady Frenchman Kevin Kline. Guess what happens? This wry, mature comedy, hinging on Ryan’s best performance and one of Kline’s, may be the most underappreciated movie romance of the last two decades.
Roxanne (1987)—Steve Martin wears the big schnoz in this 20th-Century American version of the Cyrano myth. Daryl Hannah is the glorious title character, and Rick Rossovitch is the unworthy clod to whom Martin feeds silver-tongued eloquence. Martin also scripted this delightful small-town comedy.
Pride & Prejudice (2005)—Deftly directed by Joe Wright, this version of Jane Austen’s masterpiece has speed and informality and lush visual beauty, and it’s full of eccentric, genuinely funny performances, by Keira Knightley as Lizzie and touching, sad-faced Matthew Mcfadyen as her Darcy, but also by Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland as her parents, Judy Dench as Darcy’s disapproving aunt, and Tom Hollander as the excruciating Mr. Collins, among many others. Ang Lee’s superb 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility is a fine choice too, if you and your sweetie are in an Austen sort of mood.
The Goodbye Girl (1977)—Richard Dreyfuss won his Best Actor Oscar for his performance in the Neil Simon comedy. Marsha Mason plays the title character, a former dancer and single mother who’s forced to share her Manhattan apartment with charming-if-hyper actor Dreyfuss. She’s recently been dumped by another actor, so Dreyfuss is swimming upstream in his efforts to win her heart. With Quinn Cummings as her daughter, with whom Dreyfuss bonds, and Paul Benedict, hilarious as an addle-brained Shakespearean director.
Same Time, Next Year (1978)— Meeting once a year for a quarter-century at a cottage on the Pacific coast, a man and a woman, both married, catch each other up on their lives before spending the night together. Bernard Slade’s theatrical conceit about this improbably tidy annual adultery is made convincing, trendy ‘70s dialogue and all, but the heartfelt work of its cast of two: Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn at her most beautiful.
Imagine Me & You (2005)—Piper Perabo is on her way up the aisle to marry Matthew Goode when she spots florist Lena Headey and they fall in love. The complications that arise from this startling development make up the rest of this civilized, good-hearted, sometimes wistful comedy. Celia Imrie stands out in the supporting cast as Perabo’s Mum.
What’s Up, Doc? (1972)—Peter Bogdanovich’s homage to classic screwball comedies has become a classic itself. Ryan O’Neal is a mild-mannered musicologist whose world is rocked by wacky Barbara Streisand; the two of them get caught up in an intrigue involving mixed-up identical luggage. The terrific cast includes Kenneth Mars, Austin Pendelton and the great Madeline Kahn, and Streisand and O’Neal sing one of the best love songs ever, “You’re the Top,” over the end titles.
Jackie Brown (1977)—I know, this is a crime movie and it includes several murders, but I include it here because the last thing anyone, fans or detractors alike, expected from director Quentin Tarantino was a mature love story. But this caper, based on Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, hinges on the growing love between middle-aged bailbondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster, in the role of his career), and the title character (Pam Grier), a middle-aged flight attendant in peril. If you haven’t seen it, check it out.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)—Disney’s animated musical-comedy version of the classic myth is quite wonderful, but don’t forget Jean Cocteau’s exquisite live-action version of 1946, with Josette Day and Jean Marais in the respective title roles.
The Princess Bride (1987)—Title character Robin Wright is rescued from marriage to rat-fink Prince Chris Sarandon by dashing ex-pirate Cary Elwes in Rob Reiner’s fairy-tale parody, from William Goldman’s highly quotable adaptation of his own novel. It’s a broadly funny film, but like most really enduring romantic comedies it has a wholehearted emotional depth, and an amusingly matter-of-fact faith in the ultimate triumph of love—not just romantic love, either, but also friendship and family loyalty. “As you wish!”