So Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. (And even if it’s not Valentine’s Day now.) “That bwessed awaingement, dat dweem within a dweem.” Ok, maybe not quite so dweemy, but Valentine’s Day certainly is the day every year where we are supposed to celebrate love. What do you mean sweetest day? You mean restaurants, candy companies, flower shops and gift shops haven’t made enough money already with their one holiday? They have to create a second faux Valentine’s Day?!?! Sheesh! Greedy!!!
I know some people try to come to the defense of Valentine’s Day. They want to try to prove that this is an important day every year. I am not in denial that romance is essential. I believe that romance is a requirement for the health of maintaining any committed relationship. Without romance, the relationship falls apart. If you are just a roommate, you begin to wonder why you are married or committed to this person in the first place. But if you need a day to remind you to be romantic, how successful is your relationship at this point?
On the other hand, if your relationship isn’t very successful, or you have misplaced some of your romantic feelings somewhere between August of 2004 and July of 2006, there is no time like the present to try and rekindle them. So if eating a bunch of food doesn’t put you in the romantic mood (Food coma is a thing, seriously), then a romantic movie with a glass of wine and a nice fire might do just the trick. And if you are in California . . . summer all year long, baby!!! So take out the bubbly, give your significant other a nice foot massage, have chocolates ready for her to snack on, and pop in a romantic film to heighten the mood.
You don’t know which film to add to your romantic fervor, you ask? I am going to list my top ten romantic films of all time. And you should definitely give one of these a try if you have not already. So how do I grade my romantic films? I would say every great romantic film should cut to the heart of what true romance is. There are plenty of romantic films out there. But the films I love say something great about what it means to be romantic. Also, as much as I like a good remake or a movie that steals from other movies, I am going to not list any movie that is derivative of another amazing romance. (Sorry Sleepless in Seattle, that leaves you off this list.) I am looking for things I feel are original, and speak to what it means to love someone else.
So here are my list of Romance films, from 10 to 1.
Top 10 Romantic Films Of All Time
10) Up (Pixar) –
Not classically considered a romance film, I believe the first 20 minutes of that movie did something that I have never found any other movie to do. After the end of the segment where Carl Frederickson is sitting on the steps of a church with balloons in his hand and a downcast look, my three-year-old daughter turns to my ex and tells her, “He loved her mommy.”
Those first twenty minutes, without almost any dialogue at all, show the beginning middle and end to a relationship. It talks about romance as being goals, making sacrifices, remembering the small things and being there in sickness and in health. Here is a couple who planned a life together but things always seemed to get in the way, and ultimately, they were not able to fulfill their wishes. Life is kind of like that.
Eventually, Mr. Frederickson decides that he wants to live out his dreams, now that his wife passed on, and accomplish what they never could before. Through self-sacrifice, and a little bit of the impossible, he lifts his house off the ground with balloon power and is headed to these amazing falls in South America, to see the sights that his childhood hero saw. He is accompanied along the way by Russel, the fatherless kid who needs to earn the honor and respect of someone to feel validated, Kevin, the rare bird who is only looking out for his offspring but also shows love and sacrifice to Russel and Mr. Frederickson, and Doug, the Dog who just wants to belong and be part of a family.
By the time that Mr. Frederickson finds a new family to love, the parting note from his deceased wife moves him to see a beautiful new family. Love is not only what you give to a person, but it’s the ability to let go and find new adventures of your own when the time comes. Up covers love of family, love of spouse, and ultimately a way to love yourself that honors the other two.
9) Gone with the Wind –
For me, usually Gone with the Wind would fall under period dramas. It gives us the opportunity to look into another world and see what was going on at the time. But Gone with the Wind is not a simple period piece. Yes, the movie focuses on what it was like for people in the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. It tells the story of Scarlett O’Hara, rich spoiled Southerner who marries because she feels like she must, and the person she wanted to marry runs off with someone else. Along the way she runs into Rhett Butler, a scoundrel for his day, who decides to make money off the war by running supplies back and forth across the lines.
The South was as hypocritical as any other nation who treated a war profiteer badly, and yet desperately needed him for their cause. Scarlett, the petulant flower from the south, would eventually marry this man considered an interloper by many. But somehow their personalities and demeanor mesh in a way that you cannot help but root for the two as a couple. Their parting at the end of the movie has one of the most quotable lines in cinema, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
You can guess how this relationship turns out. But along the way, we learn about love of family, love of neighbor, and about the love of our significant other. The one thing that you learn most from this movie is to never take advantage of the love that you have along the way. Life is about moments. If you don’t take the time to say that you love a person, eventually they will leave you. Never let a moment go by without reminding those you love of your love for them.
8) About a Boy –
Hugh Grant plays Will Freeman (ah the beautiful use of allegory), a well to do playboy who discovers that dating single women with kids can be a bonus to his life. He can pretend to be a single father, manipulating all the single mothers out there, and have no responsibility when they leave him because they have too many other things going on in their life to worry about whether or not Will was playing them. This goes swimmingly for the character until he has two things happen in his life.
First, he meets a 12 year old boy named Marcus who is dealing with problems at school as well as his own dysfunctional single parent, who once dated Will. And secondly he meets Fiona, a woman way out of his league but intrigued by this single dad who seems to be engaged in his 12-year-old son’s life. While it does eventually come out that Will is not a father to Marcus, which does damage to the budding relationship with Fiona, he finds a capacity to love that goes beyond himself as he begins to care for Marcus and his well-being.
This means he finds himself involved in Marcus’ mother Susie’s life, making sure that the depression she experiences effects Marcus as little as possible, encouraging her to live for her child. It also means facing the pain and ridicule that Marcus is sure to receive at his school for performing in the talent show the song “Killing Me Softly,” as it is one of his mother’s favorites. Will joins Marcus on stage at first to ridicule and then to applause. He learns to love someone more than himself. And in that moment, as Fiona conveniently shows up, she sees Will as someone who can actually love someone more than himself, and is in turn worth loving.
7) The English Patient –
This is another one of those movies that can go in the category of period drama. There is a sumptuousness and beauty to the desert that is reflected in all of the film. It is a land without maps, without rules, except to those handed down to us by nature herself. The movie is a dual tale, one with Hana (Juliette Binoche), a nurse who loves a British-Indian officer but cannot reconcile herself to finding love, or even believe that she was meant to love. The other is the tale of Count Laszlo de Almásy (Ralph Feinnes), who falls in love with a married woman while out doing excavations of the desert and drawing maps to outline discoveries.
When the husband eventually finds out, he decides to take revenge on the situation, crashing his own plane with his wife aboard and trying to take out the Count along with his wife and himself in the ultimate murder-suicide. He fails getting the Count but his wife is badly injured and Laszlo tried to get her shelter in the hot desert while he gets help. His temper rules him and he finds himself lost. These two stories are intertwined as the year later badly burned Count is being taken care of by Hana and recalls the tale of his lost love. Hana, and the audience learns that love exists where we find it. We do not always plan for it, but you have to give it a chance in order for it to blossom.
This Jane Austen comedy/drama covers the story of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, sisters of entirely different sentiments. Played exquisitely by Emma Thompson and a young Kate Winslet, the Dashwood sisters deal with love in various different ways. There is the romantic, passionate, Marianne, who is whisked away by the dashing Mr. Willoughby, as she sprains an ankle while out in the countryside. Their attraction is immediate and passionate, but it lacks any of the sense that society requires. And then there is Elinor, who is attracted to Edward Ferrars, but is unsure of the attraction or about whether the arrangement is sensible, since she does not have a dowry with which to offer him, and his relatives would surely object.
Ultimately, we find that attraction is fickle but love is enduring. Mr. Willoughby cannot marry Marianne because of her lack of money, which suggests that his “love” was definitely not of the enduring variety. Elinor almost loses the man she loves because Edward believes she does not love him. Her sense got her into trouble. As with all Jane Austen tales, everything seems to work itself out in the end. But what you learn from this beautiful romance is that true love endures all things, and that which does not endure is not love.
5) When Harry Met Sally –
Told beautifully by director Rob Reiner, When Harry Met Sally features Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) as two people who are forced to endure a long road trip together from Chicago to New York City. Along the way they get into a heated debate about whether a man and a woman can really be friends. As I have had so many different conversations with both men and women about this very topic there is something both amazing and human in their conversation that cuts to the heart of what it means to have a relationship with another person.
We get a man’s and a woman’s perspective about what it means to be in a relationship and what draws them into relationships. Eventually they part and are trying to establish lives of their own when they finally reconnect. The two, who seemed to abhor one another on the long car ride, eventually develop a friendship based on mutual interest and affection for one another. Everyone around them can see how perfect they are for one another, but they cannot see it themselves. Eventually they end up connecting but then they face the ultimate question: can their friendship survive the intimacy that will ensue? Will you truly be able to make lovers out of friends?
Interspersed in the hilarity of their getting together and parting they tell a bunch of stories of older, married couples and how they met. What you get is a beautiful tale of how romance blossoms in the most unlikely of circumstances, and that the testing of any good relationship is the friendship that blossoms at the same time. Whether there is instant attraction, or the attraction takes years to develop, friendship is at the core of every romance. There is something amazingly beautiful and poignant in that lesson.
4) Casablanca –
One of the classic romances of all time, although it can be easily confused with a 1940’s war movie, Casablanca is the Tale of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), owner of a popular night club in North Africa during the early 1940s. The German’s have taken over half of the European Continent. (The Germans still occupied most of Europe when they released it in 1942.) They were moving into northern Africa and many other places as Hitler had world domination on the brain. Rick had left Paris earlier in the war when the Germans took over Paris.
When we finally met Rick, he is the jaded nightclub owner who only looks out for himself. He cannot be bothered about another woman. He cannot be bothered about what is happening in the world around him. Enter Ilsa, a beautiful Czechoslovakian woman in the arms of Victor Lazslo, a well-known anti-Hitler freedom fighter. We see immediately that Ilsa haunts Rick, which they tell us through flashbacks. And we begin to understand the pain that has placed him where he is now.
Eventually they both have to confront their past in order for them to move on from this very place. For Rick this is emotional and for Ilsa this is literal. There is a beauty with them grappling with an awful situation and learning to find meaning through it all. What we learn about here is the sacrificial nature of love. In order for you to love someone else, you need to be able to give of yourself in a way that does not place you first. There is no better movie than Casablanca to explore that aspect of love.
3) The Apartment –
When you think of Billy Wilder and Jack Lemon the first thing that comes to your mind is probably not melodrama. It’s more like Jack Lemon running away in drag getting married to the ship captain of his dreams. Ok, Billy Wilder has directed the odd thriller or mystery, but melodrama? The Apartment is just that, but with just enough touches of humor and humanity that it does not get bogged down in sentimentality. Yet it touched my heart strings in ways that I can barely express.
C.C. Baxter (Lemon), has been working for his company for years, surrounded by employers that have found ways to use him for every ounce of humanity that he has. He finds himself sucked under by the corporate world he inhabits. Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), is the elevator operator that Lemon loves from afar, hoping in his mind to stand out to her in some way. When his Baxter’s married boss (Fred MacMurray), decides to borrow the apartment for his mistress, little does Baxter know that this is Fran. When he discovers that this is Fran, Baxter has a crisis of conscience.
Not only is Baxter upset about how he feels that the woman of his dreams has debased himself, he realized that he too has debased himself for the favor of upper management. There is a wild collision course to the conclusion and ultimately a bittersweet ending for the pair of lost souls. But they both find that love does not seek its own and that everyone deserves love. Finally, they learn that true love doesn’t take into account wrongs suffered at the hand of another. No one earns love. People give love.
2) The Princess Bride –
If you haven’t seen this movie . . . I don’t know. I suppose there are women out there who haven’t seen Star Wars yet, any episode. In fact, I knew someone who had never seen It’s a Wonderful Life, when they used to show it a million times every Christmas. Oh wait, that was my ex, but I digress. I must have seen the Princess Bride a hundred times throughout my lifetime. The year after it came out I probably saw it 20 times in that same year. And with every watch, it was movie magic. If want to show your significant other a special movie about romance, love, and family, you can do no better than The Princess Bride.
Another Rob Reiner classic, The Princess Bride tells the tale of Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright), once a lowly farm girl who loved her farm boy Wesley (Cary Elwes), but raised to the level of Princess as Prince Humperdinck wants to ensure that his people will go to war on the capture of this beautiful maiden. Wesley went missing for the previous five years and Buttercup presumes killed by a Pirate out on the seas. She feels compelled to marry Humperdinck, but she doesn’t feel it in her heart of hearts that she should.
Before the wedding takes place, a band of thieves kidnap her. And upon her kidnapping, the pirate who killed Wesley goes after the Princess, to kill her, or rescue her, or something. Only a Spaniard bent on revenge, a crazy magician who deals with the “almost dead”, and a six-fingered Lackey really know.
But even with this incredible tale of beauty, honor, and love, Reiner throws in a side tale about an old grandfather (Peter Falk), who only wants to read his sick grandson a story. In this tale, we learn the definition of true love by those who exemplify it. What is love? Love is the giving of one’s self with no expectation of return. We find love in the words, “as you wish.”
I thought a lot about what I wanted to say about this film. When I put together this list, this film I never questioned. Not even what position it was going to be in. Pure melodrama, An Affair to Remember, catches both the romantic spirit and the spirit of what it means to love in all of its facets. Cary Grant plays Nickie Ferrante, an Italian American playboy who has decided to settle down with a socialite. He is going on one last cruise before tying the knot. Deborah Kerr plays Terry McKay, an Irish American nightclub singer, who a rich American tycoon won over by his consistency.
Neither of them is marrying for love; both are marrying for convenience. When they meet each other on the ship, they try, unsuccessfully to resist each other’s charms. When they finally can resist no longer, there is only one last day for them aboard their ship. But once knowing love, they can never go back to the way it was. Nickie sees in Terry the beautiful performer, who had worked hard to make a life for herself. Terry sees in Nickie the sensitive artist, seeking approval and inspiration in others. They both see in each other something no one else sees.
But they know they need to make a life for themselves. They give each other six months to work and put together something where they no longer rely on others charity, but through hard work can support each other. At the end of the six months, they agree to meet at the Statue of Liberty. There they agree to begin their life together in earnest. What happens next, I do not want to spoil. The ending is such an amazing display of raw emotion on the part of Grant. Even the hardest of hearts will find it difficult to keep composure. There is a moment of terror, beauty, and relief as well as sadness all at the same time. It’s cinema at its finest. This movie displays all of the amazing aspects of love in one beautiful package.
Continue The Conversation
As with all of the other lists, I could come up with quite a few honorable mentions here. But there would be too many to name. These are just some of the most amazing one’s that I know. I could pretend that I never shed a tear through any of these because I am the macho guy! But I would ultimately be lying. Watch these with a significant other and find inspiration. And watch them get a personal glimpse of the sensitive soul that you are. What better Valentine ’s Day gift could there be? Other than Chocolates . . . and roses . . . and that diamond ring you were going to show her while asking her a big question. What was that question again? Oh Yeah!
I would love to hear some of your favorite Valentine’s Day movies or romantic pictures. Just don’t say your favorite romance is Highlander 2: The Quickening. Because we are going to have to have a talk about that with you outside . . . with the men in dark sunglasses, straight jackets, and black helicopters. Because seriously!
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Until next time, “As You Wish.”
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life.