In anticipation of Valentine’s Day (yeah, guys, it’s next Friday; write it down), the Internet and a variety of show-biz magazines have been bubbling over with their choices for the “best romantic movies,” and some of them are laughably strange.
“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”? “Lost in Translation”? “Big Night”? “Love, Actually”? “Friends With Benefits”?
Are they kidding?
Despite some airs of romantic desire in each film, and whatever else you may think of them in terms of quality, none of these movies fit my definition of “romance.”
As old-fashioned as this may sound, to me romance involves meeting someone, finding yourself attracted to him or her, dating, having actual conversations, getting to know him or her, becoming closer, getting serious, declaring exclusivity. And at some point, expressing love and fidelity.
Not, as Hollywood would have it, meeting, having sex and then, maybe, pursuing a relationship. Maybe. And saying “I love you” seems to be the most difficult thing, spoken hesitantly, if at all.
Since the “freedom” of the 1960s, ’70s and then even more aggressively since the ’80s, Hollywood has increasingly confused “romance” with “sex.”
Sorry, they aren’t the same thing. Romance is in the wooing, the courting, not in the bedding.
But you wouldn’t know it to watch movies and TV shows these days. Perhaps because, in Hollywoodland, a long-lasting relationship might get you lunch the next day.
This is especially true of so-called “rom-coms.” I mourn the dearth of comedies about finding love in favor of comedies about finding a sex partner — graphic, profane, scatological, raunchy and otherwise R-rated. Or for that matter, PG-13-rated.
Note to Hollywood: Just because you can show everything these days doesn’t mean you should.
Anyway, I’m going to offer some suggestions for romantic-movie viewing, and I’m purposely avoiding the obvious. Not that there’s anything wrong with going back to “Sleepless in Seattle” or “Pretty in Pink” or “The Princess Bride” or “Gone With the Wind” or any version of “Cyrano de Bergerac.”
But the 10 (well, 11, actually) suggestions here — listed alphabetically and not necessarily the “best” — are all personal favorites about finding true and lasting love. And to me, each one of these uniquely accomplishes the kind of cinematic romance that sweeps you away to another time and place and leaves you feeling fulfilled, even when tragedy enters the equation.
And with any luck there’s something here you can discover or rediscover and enjoy with someone you care for.
“The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946, b/w). Three World War II veterans meet as they return home on the same flight, each damaged in a different way. The film is about readjusting to civilian life but at its heart there are three romances: Dana Andrews, reeling from a faithless marriage, is attracted to a younger woman (Teresa Wright); Fredric March has trouble reconnecting with his loving wife (Myrna Loy); and Harold Russell, having lost his forearms in battle, tries to spare his fiancé (Cathy O’Donnell) the difficult road ahead. All three sets of relationships are compelling and heartfelt as they realistically unfold.
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