Who doesn’t love romance movies? Actually, lots of people — and I’m one of them.
Cookie-cutter, formulaic movie plots just aren’t my bag and romance flicks are the worst perpetrators.
However, not all hope is lost for those of us who want to get a little snuggly on the couch this Valentine’s Day with a cinematic love story or two. Despite the film industry being rife with assembly-line movies, there are plenty of flicks out there about the power of love which can transform us into gooey, heart-on-the-sleeve saps and not wince with bad plot-line predictability.
In no particular order, these are some of my oldie-but-goodie favorites:
1) The Princess Bride
“She gets kidnapped. He gets killed. But it all ends up okay.” How can we not love a tagline like that?
One of the things I adore about this movie is that it is such an all-encompassing love story. It isn’t just about the romance between two lovers; it’s also a love story about the relationship between friends and family. No one can deny the enjoyment derived from watching the heroics and derring-do of Inigo and Fezzick and the entirety of the story itself is actually being read from a book by a grandfather to his grandson who is sick in bed. The grandson initially balks at the idea, but in the end asks his grandfather to please return to read the story to him again, to which the grandfather replies, “As you wish” which, as we know from what we learn earlier in the movie, really means, “I love you.”
The book, written by William Goldman, is an excellent read, containing countless details and situations that were omitted from the film, such as the full back story of Inigo’s intense study of swordplay and quest to avenge the death of his father; it also tells what happens after the foursome ride off into the sunset—Prince Humperdinck, great hunter that he is, does not lose their trail and is in fact in hot pursuit of his runaway bride. What happens next is, well, inconceivable.
2) True Romance
I love this movie because it’s violent as hell—without being gratuitous. I can’t say I’m much of a fan for violence or gore, but when done well, it can really put the audience in the moment and enable us to empathize with the characters even more.
The bloody showdown between Clarence and Drexel, the deadly banter between Vicenzo and Clifford, the duel to the death between Alabama and Virgil, the raging shootout at the hotel—each scene is more violent than the next, but we can sit through it all and cheer them on because it’s all for love.
The tagline says it all, “Not since Bonnie and Clyde have two people been so good at being so bad.”
3) The Crow
Ah, The Crow. To this day I can recall the melancholy narration:
“People once believed that when someone dies, a crow carries their soul to the land of the dead, but sometimes something so bad happens that a terrible sadness is carried with it and the soul can’t rest…then sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to put the wrong things right; real love is forever.”
Before this was a movie, The Crow was a graphic novel created by James O’Barr; he wrote and illustrated The Crow to help cope with the loss of his girlfriend who was killed by a drunk driver. Gritty and raw, the comic, like the movie, is a dark and gothic story imbued with a melancholy sadness that strikes the chords of many a tender soul.
Another thing I love about this movie is the soundtrack: Violent Femmes, Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against the Machine, Henry Rollins, The Cure, Helmet, Pantera, Nine Inch Nails covering Joy Division. Ahhh—thank you.
A surreal biopic wrought with sensuality, Frida is heady eye and ear candy. Her tumultuous life is beautifully captured in this film, sharing with the audience an intimate portrayal of her trials and triumphs.
The life of Frida Kahlo was riddled with disaster and despair but also brimming with passion and zeal. An intense fervor is present throughout the film as Frida and Diego paint their way through war and revolutions with an array of lovers to accompany them on their artistic journey. I love this movie, not so much for all the steamy sex and the lilting soundtrack (although they are yummy bonuses), but rather for the inspiration it gives to live life how one sees fit regardless if it is approved or accepted by others. Frida loved herself and made no apologies; may we all be that brave.
Unicorns. Fairies. Tim Curry is the Devil. ‘Nuf said.
6) Stand by Me
I love this love story and it’s one of the most heart-breaking ones. Four young boys embark on a mission to locate the missing body of a kid their age who was killed when struck by a train. They banter, crack jokes and give each other hell along the way in a manner only kids can do, but as the story progresses we come to learn they each carry within themselves personal demons that are looming at the forefront of adulthood as their childhood innocence slowly approaches the end, waiting to make all their fears come true.
Stand by Me is about the kind of love we feel is invincible and will never go away, that goofy care-free love we have with friends when we are children. Precious few are able to maintain a hold on that once grown up. This movie is also an excellent rendition of the Stephen King short story it was based on, The Body. If you love the movie, you’ll love the read even more.
Heralded as “The feel-good movie of the year” when it was first released to theaters, Amelie is about a solitary young woman who connects with the people in her life by way of discreet random acts of kindness. Her path leads her to an equally day-dreamy young man, and as we watch the story unfold we hope she is able to break out of her protective shell while wondering if we ourselves would have the courage to do so.
An excellent foreign movie to watch with that friend who hates watching foreign movies.
8) Thelma & Louise
I’ve only seen this movie once because the ending just about broke my heart. Like Stand by Me, this is a friendship love story, only instead of four young boys we have two grown women.
The gal pals set off on a road trip that comes to an abrupt and horrific end on the first night out. As the plot develops so does their friendship, and we are left wondering how far we ourselves would go for a friend in need. Would we be willing to die for them? How far does our love go? And why?
9) Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Ah, don’t we all wish for that huckleberry friend waiting just around the bend? I love this romance movie for its absolute simplicity. If I’m going to watch a “formulaic” lovey-dovey film, I’ll do it Holly Golightly style, lovingly portrayed by the late, great Audrey Hepburn.
Holly, as it turns out, has one goal in mind: to marry rich. We furrow our brows and crinkle our noses over such a tawdry ambition, particularly since it’s so obvious her endearing, struggling author neighbor is ga-ga for her. However, we come to find out Holly has a brother in the Army…
“Everybody thought it was dotty, the way he gourged himself on peanut butter…but he wasn’t dotty, just sweet and vague and terribly slow; he’d been in the eighth grade three years when I ran away…poor Fred…”
…and we learn he is the reason Holly wants so much to marry rich, so that she can save and take care of her brother. Tragedy strikes, hearts are crushed, but it all ends with a kiss in the rain.
The novella of the same title by Truman Capote is quite different from the movie (no happy ending kiss in the rain there), but great to read nonetheless. Despite being so different, the adaptation from page to screen is done quite well and a person can come away from both film and book feeling satisfied with the experience.
10) West Side Story
What can I say about this movie that hasn’t already been said? If Amelie is the foreign movie to watch with the friend that hates foreign movies, then West Side Story is the musical to watch with the friend that hates musicals.
Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, West Side Story takes place in 1950’s NYC with the rivalry existing between two gangs of different ethnic backgrounds, the Sharks and the Jets. I could spend a happy day giving a synopsis of every single scene, song and dance number, but instead I’ll just say this film is truly a show-stopper and pulls on the heart-strings like no one’s business. You will be thrilled, you will be dazzled and you will be snapping your fingers.
What are some of your favorite romance movies?
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: elephant journal archives