Romance requires overcoming obstacles.
We have to defy the odds against our meeting the person who is right for us. Then we have to convince them we're right for them.
Sometimes there is someone else our would-be loved one loves, or at least they think they love. Families might not approve. Our entire culture might oppose us, either because we love someone of the same sex or someone of a different nationality or faith.
A love that could be perfect might never come to be. The movies reflect this. Part of the thrill of movie romances is hoping that the people we know should be together actually do end up together, but knowing that sometimes they don't.
1) CASABLANCA (1942)
writers: Julius G. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch adapting the play Everybody Comes to Rick's by Murray Burnett
director: Michael Curtiz
Academy Awards: Won three (picture, director and screenplay) and was nominated for five others, including acting nods for Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains and a nomination for Arthur Edeson for his black & white cinematography.
Putting this at number one: predictable. But clichès develop because they are useful and usually true. This richly deserves its reputation as the best-loved love story Hollywood has given us.
They were in love in Paris and then the German army drove them apart. Now she is back and married to someone else. Will his youthful idealism be rekindled by the need to help the love of his life and her husband save the free world? Or will his middle-aged cynicism prevail? The lives of two people amount to a hill of beans and a whole lot more in probably the greatest romance movie ever.
2) DAVE (1993)
writer: Gary Ross
director: Ivan Reitman
Kevin Kline only looks like the president of the United States. Sigourney Weaver is married to the real president. That's a significant obstacle that could keep them apart, despite the warm chemistry they share. One hopes for them to live together happily ever after but recognizes that their overriding responsibilities might lead to a Casablanca or Roman Holiday sort of ending.
This delightful comedy features an inspired cameo by filmmaker Oliver Stone. He outlines an outlandish conspiracy theory. This time, he's right.
3) YOSSI & JAGGER (2002)
writer: Avner Bernheimer
director: Eytan Fox
The romance between two young Israeli soldiers begins with exuberant promise. It ends with one of the lovers wistfully recalling his beloved's favorite song and a mother regretting how little she knows about her son. In between, the movie is touching and inspiring, sad and memorable. About the secret love between two men, it gives a powerful suggestion that much is gained when people can be honest about their love.
4) SHADOW MAGIC (2000)
writer: Yixiang Chen
director: Ann Hu
A young man caught up in the excitement of bringing motion pictures to early 20th-century China falls for a woman. The spark of new love combines with the spark of magic in a new medium to suffuse this beautifully told story with a gentle glow. The woman's father is wary of the technology. He is even less impressed by the upstart who wants to marry his daughter.
5) THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940)
writer: Philip Barry (with uncredited help from Waldo Salt), adapting the play by Barry
director: George Cukor
Academy Awards: Won two (for the screenplay and Best Actor, James Stewart) and was nominated for four others (picture, director, Best Actress for Katharine Hepburn, Best Supporting Actress for Ruth Hussey).
After the commercial failure of Bringing Up Baby (1938) nearly destroyed her career, Katharine Hepburn came back triumphantly with a smash-hit comedy about a four-sided romantic triangle. She is engaged to one man, intrigued by a newcomer and irritated by her ex-husband in the way that can mask lingering affection. Some of the dialogue to suggest that Hepburn's character doesn't know her place is sexist, but her seemingly spoiled heiress has "unsuspected depth." She tells one of the men they can't be together because she would make him unhappy: "That is, I'd try my best to."
6) IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)
writer: Robert Riskin, adapting a story by Samuel Hopkins Adams
director: Frank Capra
Academy Awards: It was the first movie to win all the major prizes (picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay).
Claudette Colbert is an heiress on the run from a pending marriage she has reconsidered. Clark Gable is the newspaper reporter hunting her story. He thinks she is pampered, she thinks he is rude. Their initial antipathy could mask a growing attraction, but the walls of their disdain might be too solid to come tumbling down.
7) NOTORIOUS (1946)
writer: Ben Hecht (with uncredited help from Alfred Hitchcock and Clifford Odets)
director: Alfred Hitchcock
Ordinarily I would include a qualifier ("arguably" or "widely believed to be") in a sentence like the following to allow for the possibility that others might have differing opinions. Not this time. It is unfortunate but anyone who disagrees is mistaken: Notorious features the best movie kiss. Censors imposed a limit of four seconds for screen kisses so Alfred Hitchcock has his characters kiss and then talk, kiss and then talk and then kiss and talk again. The director's audacious end-run around puritanism makes the scene both suspenseful and infectiously romantic.
Cary Grant wants Ingrid Bergman. He also wants her to spy on a Nazi collaborator, even if it means compromising herself sexually. When she does, he still wants her. But he doesn't want to want her any longer. She might have wanted him but after he asks her to prostitute herself, she doesn't want him. Or at least not as much. It is complicated. There is no guarantee that anything good can come of it, except a movie tinged with the most powerful regret and a bit of fragile hope that love actually can conquer all.
8) FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953)
writer: Daniel Taradash, adapting the novel by James Jones
Academy Awards: It won eight, including picture, director, screenplay, supporting acting awards for Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed and the prize for Burnett Guffey's black & white cinematography.
Burt Lancaster is a non-commissioned Army officer. Deborah Kerr is an officer's wife. There are military rules against their being together and there are her wedding vows too. That's not enough to keep them from rolling around in the sand and surf in one of the most passionate couplings in movie history. But there is much to keep them from staying together, and even more after the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor.
9) I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! (1945)
writers/directors: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
The delightful Wendy Hiller is a young woman determined to marry a wealthy industrialist. When stormy weather keeps her from her fiance, she meets a man who seems to have nothing. She has no interest. At first. Scottish legend adds to the magical suggestion that when it comes to romance, none of us can know where we're going.
10) JU DOU (1990)
writer: Heng Liu
directors: Fenliang Yang and Yimou Zhang
It takes a skilled moviemaker to inspire us to want two people to fall in love even though we don't like them. Yimou Zhang, the creative power behind Raise the Red Lantern (aka Da hong deng long gao gao gua, 1991) and Hero (aka Ying xiong, 2002), is such a filmmaker. The story is about an abusive wife who falls for the stranger who helps her get back at her husband. Together, they are hit by unexpected consequences. It is stark and grim, but Zhang cloaks it in billowy, iridescent splendor.
His Girl Friday (1940)
Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant and Ralph Bellamy form a romantic triangle in director Howard Hawks' re-imagining of The Front Page (1931). Russell has divorced Grant and left behind their fast-paced life on a big-city daily newspaper. She plans to marry Bellamy, but will she be happy as the wife of an insurance salesman? Grant doesn't think so. He schemes to get her back. The jokes and wisecracks come so quickly they practically trip over each other.
An Ideal Husband (1999)
A wife's solid faith in her husband's integrity is tested in this stylish adaptation of Oscar Wilde's play. Cate Blanchett and Jeremy Northam have a comfortable chemistry that suggests they might overcome their obstacles. Far less certain is the outcome of a potential romance between their friends (Minnie Driver and Rupert Everett). He has no aspirations beyond being witty and living off his father's money. She is too good for him and everyone knows it. That might matter more to everyone than it does to her.
All Over the Guy (2001)
They argue over everything from whether In & Out (1997) is homophobic to how properly to emphasize the words in "Fuzzy Wuzzy Was a Bear." So it is not clear they belong together. Even so, an on/off/on/off relationship between two men might be headed toward a happily ever after ending. So might the love between their heterosexual friends who played matchmakers.
Singin' in the Rain (1952)
This is the one with Gene Kelly dancing in the rain with an umbrella and Donald O'Connor dancing with a dummy to "Make 'Em Laugh." One of the most exuberant and arguably the best movie musical features Kelly as a big Hollywood star trying to make the transition from silent pictures to talkies. He falls for an aspiring actress (Debbie Reynolds) who is not as indifferent to him as she tries to seem. But Kelly's acting partner thinks she is his true love off-screen as well. She's not as dumb as she delightfully puts on and maybe she can figure out how to keep the lovebirds grounded.
The African Queen (1951)
Humphrey is a rough and unkempt riverboat captain. Katharine Hepburn is a proper and very kempt missionary. They have nothing in common and so are perfect for each other. Gradually they come to recognize this, but then the Nazis come up with a plan that could ruin everything.
To Have and Have Not (1944)
The Bogart/Bacall legend starts here. This is the one where Lauren Bacall reminds Humphrey Bogart how to whistle. Their suggestive banter enlivens this and the classic The Big Sleep (1946), and it reflects their real-life romance. They flirt and we fall in love.
Same Time Next Year (1978)
They are married, but not to each other. So Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn arrange to meet one weekend each year for what starts as an illicit sexual rendezvous and develops into much more. The comedy, both amusing and touching, traces their time together and it suggests some of what their lives are like when they must be apart.
This comedy highlights the absurdities of Cold War espionage and is largely absurd itself. It would be fun even if it didn't have a romance. It has a crackling one between genial Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson, displaying her striking blend of British reserve and erotic suggestion. The affection between them strikes sparks, and some of the movie's humor comes from the unlikeliness of their pairing.
One of the movie's jokes works better if you know something from behind the scenes. A young woman says that Matthau seems "like a nice man. You remind me of my father." He answers, "That's always been my problem." She is played by his stepdaughter.
Notting Hill (1999)
The world's biggest movie star falls for a bookstore owner. There are many improbabilities in this comedy. They don't mean a thing. Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant delight in each other's company and they delight us too. She's a target for relentless papparazzi and we can only hope it hasn't made her so distrusting that she'll pass up what could be something special.
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
Bridget Jones (Renee Zellwegger) is something of a flake. Her quirky charm attracts both an untrustworthy but charming cad (Hugh Grant) and a respected but reserved lawyer (Colin Firth). It is obvious who should end up together. It is not at all certain whether Bridget will end up with either of them. Where rams butt heads ferociously to display their mating prowess, the two men engage in a riotously funny fight in which they are more like clumsy baby pacifist rabbits.
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