If you’ve been following this list over the years, you might’ve picked up on the fact that romance is one of this writers all time favorite genres and including, to an extent, romantic comedies. A genre that is unfairly picked on as being “lesser,” romantic comedies often don’t receive a critical response they deserve, and, even more worrisome, it’s a genre that the power players in Hollywood have begun to believe they can phone in, increasingly turning in sub-par material.
Before Valentine’s Day, here are 15 movies worth watching that span from traditional romantic comedies to romantic tragedies to anything that falls in between. Let us know in the comments which film is your go-to watch for the Hallmark Holiday.
What’s Your Number?
I am of the opinion (perhaps the minority opinion) that What’s Your Number? starring the Anna Faris and Chris Evans is a great romantic comedy. It thrives a bit on its innate silliness and the suspension of disbelief regarding the plot, but the characters are refreshingly frank and upfront about their shortcomings. On top of that, Evans and Faris share a delectable chemistry that oozes off the screen from the moment their eyes lock across the hallway of their apartment complex, and the utilization of the Boston setting adds another layer of authenticity as we can feel the humidity rising from the streets and hear the noise that comes in through the apartment windows. It may not be a film that relies on intelligent jokes, but it’s a film that understands how to make its audience fall in love with its characters, and sometimes, in a romantic comedy, that’s all that’s needed.
The romance that took
film twitter viewers by storm in 2016, Todd Haynes’s Carol is a masterclass in mood and subtlety, creating a buzz of electricity the second Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett are within viewing distance of one another. Capturing every blink, every tentative touch and corner of their eyes glance, Carol was a smoldering and intimate look at a love story that transcends time, capturing both the fear of consummating their love in that era, but also capturing the timeless understanding of what it means to fall head over your heels in love.
Romeo + Juliet
You either love him or hate him, but Baz Lurhmann has made a career for himself by creating pictures that reject the norm of narrative storytelling and goes for something less linear and more erratic. With that energy came Romeo + Juliet, a retelling of the classic tragedy which put Shakespeare’s words in the mouths of modern, angst ridden teenagers. Vibrant and kinetically shot with a wonderfully campy performance from a fresh-faced Leonardo DiCaprio, this version of the age old tale drew further focus into just how misguided these teens were, and how much more foolhardy and misguided their eventual deaths were.
How to Marry a Millionaire
An often missed classic and the vehicle for one of my favorite Marilyn Monroe performances, How to Marry a Millionaire is both a somewhat satirical romance as well as a biting comedy, with much of the broad laughs going to Monroe and the stinging one liners to a delightful Lauren Bacall. The slight shallow nature of the film is outdone by the chemistry of the three leads and just how clever the writing is, with the film understanding that the women’s want for support-financial and emotional-doesn’t come from them necessarily believing in the necessity themselves, but in how society presented that as an ideal in the first place. Smarter than the title might suggest, if you’re looking for a film that doesn’t strictly follow classic romantic convention, this might be the pick for you.
Far From Heaven
Lush, warmly shot and featuring a tremendously powerhouse performance from Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven deceptively presents itself like a postcard from decades earlier, promising wholesome images of perfect front yards and a house that holds even a more picture-perfect family. However, despite the faded corners and soft focus, the vibrant reds and greens can’t hide the fact that every character is hiding something, shying away from their true desires in fear of what society will think of them. Painfully longing and depicting that want with a visceral edge, the film might visually be director Todd Haynes’s most beautiful.
The late Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones made for a winsome pair in Like Crazy, so much so that much of the audience was able to forgive some of the rather frustrating logic jumps the writing made to justify the dilemma the characters found themselves in. The touching moments of quiet intimacy, especially those of which that were captured in the frame of their bedroom allowed viewers to grow close to them, understand their romantic journey and root for their happiness even though every instinct was telling us that it was misjudged and naive. Love is powerful in its ability to blind and distract those caught in its web, and Like Crazy is a testament to that.
The Way He Looks
Telling the ultimately sweet and fresh story of a blind teenage who falls for the new boy at school, The Way He Looks is unlike much of what we’ve seen in the past few years, telling a familiar will they, won’t they story with a modern and refreshing turn on who the leads get to be. This little-seen film is delightful from start to finish, refusing to fall down the oftentimes expected pit of despair that happens in so many of the higher profiled LGBTQIA stories. Instead of breaking narrative convention, The Way He Looks embraces many of the romantic archetypes but makes sure that it’s relatable and worthy of rooting for.
Middle of Nowhere
Ava DuVernay over the last few years has become a mighty presence in cinema, and an important voice that shines a light on diversity in her films and the stories she tells and while I Will Follow came first and Selma counted as her big break out moment, Middle of Nowhere is what officially started the stir. Emayatzy Corinealdi is positively captivating, and she and a magnetic David Oyelowo have an instant chemistry that makes us want to root for them. An infatuation complicated by Ruby’s history, the film isn’t strictly a romance but the themes of love, in all its forms, help keep the pace moving.
Maid in Manhattan
Maid in Manhattan is somewhat dismissed these days, and I can’t help but chalk it up to all of the televised airplay it used to get, becoming a film that, if we hadn’t seen from start to finish in its entirety, we’d no doubt seen all of the pieces, if at different moments and out of order. Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes (in what feels like a rare turn) have palpable chemistry, and the film is shot with the sweeping air of off your feet romance that we desperately want to see in our romantic comedies. It’s pure escapism, which is what it should be.
A recent film to make way onto this list, The Handmaiden was one of my personal favorites of 2016, slowly rising in the ranks of my top ten. Playful, witty and soulful, the film is purposeful in its choreographed love scenes and it’s utilization of female sexuality and agency, making sure that one always comes with the other, always making sure to never step over that line into the vision of exploitation. These women and their love story is about healing and finding truth in a world that has so often beat them down and kept them captive, be in figuratively or literally, and their journey offers them a chance to take their love, sexuality and future into their own hands.
Summer of Sangaile
One of the greatest assets of Alante Kavaite’s Summer of Sangaile is its understanding of the playfulness that comes along with first, young love. The images of the two girls frolicking in overgrown fields, or lounging in bedrooms, totally at ease with one another best captures the energy and exuberance that goes into their infatuation. The other greatest strength of the film is the intense character exploration, where the leading lady goes through her own journey separate to her romance.
In 2014, Amma Assante directed one of the greatest homages to classic romance with a modern spin in the Gugu Mbatha-Raw vehicle Belle. Based on true events, the romance doesn’t take the spotlight of the film’s tension and plot, but it makes a strong enough impression to worth mentioning, especially on the strength of Mbatha-Raw alone who might just be one of her generation’s strongest actresses. The romance, however slight, is charming and impassioned and is added greater weight due to just how fleshed out Belle is by the time they’re coupled, and just how much we care about her outside of the romantic pairing.
One of the greatest films of the last 15 years, Jane Campion’s Bright Star is a nearly understated tragedy about a couple so physically chaste by emotionally vulnerability and pulsing with love that the ending nearly bowls the viewer over. Based on the real life romance of John Keats and Fanny Brawne, the contrast alone between the two is warrant discussion, her warm colors and impressionable, high fashion outfits to his demure blues and willowy frame. Their’s is a romance so sweet that the chemistry is felt from the mere mirror images of them touching a wall that barricades them from one another. Ben Whishaw is fabulous, as always, but it’s Abbie Cornish who delivers a performance of such might that when she weeps “I can’t breathe” we as the audience too feel as if we’re desperately trying to catch our breath. Visually poetic and enhanced by lyrical dialogue, Bright Star is both a tremendously effective love tragedy but also, simply, a work of art.
If you haven’t seen this film, I was just delighted to find out it’s now on Netflix, so go watch now! An under-seen gem of a film, TiMER is a film that asks the hard questions about whether soulmates really exist, if there’s a chance you can have more than one and if destiny is a fabrication we make up as a comfort to when life goes wrong. Deceptively clever and possessing an innate understanding for the follies of human nature, the film is a romantic comedy that offers up more thoughtful questions than one with pre-conceived judgments may expect.
In the Mood For Love
Considered one of the greatest films of the 21st century so far, Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love is, as its title suggests, also a remarkable mediation on love and pains one goes through to catch up for missed moments. A love story explored through a sense of longing and questions of what might’ve been, there’s a sense of tragedy in all of the unanswered questions that help allow the film to be more than just another unrequited love story. Here, both parties are aware of their feelings but for one reason or another, fail to fully act on them, leading them both to their own lives full of questions and near misses. It’s beautifully shot with breathtaking frames which could pass for a piece of artwork, rather than a still in a film. Hauntingly rendered and immediately immersive and captivating, In the Mood for Love wasn’t just a great film but one that has gone on to influence many a filmmaker in the following years.