To me, the perfect movie romance is a character tango. Two people or two entities discover they - and no one else - are destined for each other. When they are together, loving, dancing or fighting, the outside world becomes a faint hum.
"Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) - There are no women in David Lean's rapturous desert symphony, but there is palpable romance between the almost impossibly blue-eyed Peter O'Toole and the desert. As T.E. Lawrence, the British military officer who led the Arabs to independence against their Ottoman oppressors in World War I, O'Toole enjoys the performance of a lifetime. What is it about this sandy, burning furnace? "There's nothing in the desert," observes Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness), puzzled at Lawrence's rapture. But for Lawrence, the desert is more than just a personal odyssey. It's the only great love of his life."Casablanca" (1942) - It's a fruitless exercise to say something original about one of the best-known and most-beloved love stories in movie history. It just takes viewing the film to feel the glow between American expatriate Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and old flame Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), who disappeared from his life in Paris only to reappear in his Casablanca gin joint - with another man on her arm. There's something unfathomably magical about Bogart when he's courting a lady - or more accurately, when he's trying not to. "We'll always have Paris," he tells Ilsa ruefully. And we'll always have "Casablanca."
"Choose Me" (1984) - Only writer-director Alan Rudolph, in what remains his masterpiece, could find an enchanted, dreamlike world inside the sun-washed vapidity of Los Angeles. In this extraordinary fantasy, lovelorn eccentrics of the day and night, including the serenely vulnerable bar owner (Lesley Ann Warren) and the husky-voiced, personable radio advice-show host (Genevieve Bujold), search for the love that has thus far eluded them. And the smoldering, velvet-smooth songs by Teddy Pendergrass are enough to make anyone wobbly at the knees.
"L'Atalante" (1934) - Boy-genius Jean Vigo died shortly after crafting this disarming, surrealistically charged fairy tale. But what a swan song this was - a sweeping love affair between Jean (Jean Daste), a barge captain, and Juliette (Dita Parlo), a beautiful village girl he meets on his river route. The film seduces you on a dreamlike level as the newlyweds exchange dovelike whispers in each other's ears and share palpable longings. And it's awash with extraordinary visual moments, such as Juliette's initial walk on the top of her floating home, her dazzling bridal dress luminous against the black barge.
"Adam's Rib" (1949) - There's a ton of great screwball romances, including "The Philadelphia Story," "His Girl Friday," "Woman of the Year" and "The Awful Truth." But this one wins my vote because, while Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn weave their special magic together, screenwriters Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin make a superb, sophisticated comedy about the war between the sexes.