Recommendation: nine of the best American romantic films

Summary: Our world is whirlpool of hate and fear, driven by lust and greed. Films about love show us glimpses of a better world. Here are nine of my favorite romance films, most relatively recent (i.e., doesn’t include Casablanca). You might enjoy some of them, something different for your holiday entertainment.

Most romantic films

Passengers
Now in theaters.

Passengers

Director: Morten Tyldum.
Writer: Jon Spaihts.
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen.

Bien pensant critics went berserk over this, the most anti-feminist story since the Rape of the Sabine women — to which this is somewhat similar. It’s a powerful story in the science fiction tradition of putting people in extreme situations — and watching them make choices (most critics refused to accept the situation, despite its plausibility). The film is tightly plotted. It has good dialog, fine acting, and a strong ending. I recommend it as a modern love story.

 

Leap Year
Leap Year.

Leap Year

Director: Anand Tucker.
Writer: Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont.
Stars: Amy Adams and Matthew Goode.

One of the best romantic films of this generation. Of course, the critics hated it. Amy Adams plays a young woman who values romance above worldly goods and the society of America’s elites — and who gambles much to get what she wants. She plays a free-thinking and independent women, free of the upwardly-mobile princess mentality of most American romance films. The critics reacted to it much as vampires do when force fed garlic.

The two leads have understated yet electric chemistry, with Goode providing a solid acting foundation for Adams’ usual superlative characterization.

The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride.

The Princess Bride

Director: Rob Reiner.
Writers: William Goldman (the 1973 book & 1987 film).
Stars: Cary Elwes and Robin Wright.

An off-beat film for those who prefer their romance in a non-standard form. It is not my cup of tea, but it is a brilliantly executed film by some creative people.

As a fun but traditional sarcastic riff on traditional romance, critics loved it (97% on Rotten Tomatoes). The public was less impressed; it grossed only $31 million.

It’s well worth seeing.

 

Stardust
Stardust.

Stardust

Director: Matthew Vaughn.
Based on a 1999 book by Neil Gaiman.
Writers: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn.
Stars: Charlie Cox & Claire Danes.

This is another of my favorites . It’s the romantic equivalent of a sugar high, a traditional romantic adventure — without the almost  obligatory post-modern syrup that proves the writers are above the material. It is a fun film.

It’s the kind of film critics hate, but couldn’t. The Rotten Tomatoes score was 76%. It won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form in 2008. Audiences also liked it, grossing $136 million on a $88 million budget.

Megamind
Megamind.

 

Megamind

Director: Tom McGrath.
Writers: Alan Schoolcraft, Brent Simons.
Stars: Will Ferrell, Jonah Hill, Brad Pitt.

This is one of the best children’s animated films, ever. It is a comedy for the kids, containing a fun romance for the adults. Megamind is a real family film. Hollywood films tend to be unimaginative and derivative. This is a shining exception. It’s worth seeing just to see something creative.

Like most creative films, it received absurdly low ratings from critics — for a 73% TomatoMeter rating.

You've Got Mail
You’ve Got Mail.

 

You’ve Got Mail

Director: Nora Ephron.
Writer of the 1937 play: Miklós László.
Writer of the screenplay: Delia & Nora Ephron.
Stars: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Greg Kinnear.

It’s one of the great modern American romantic films. You’ve Got Mail is based on Miklós László’s 1937 play “Parfumerie”, from which many romantic films and plays — including The Shop Around the Corner (1940). If you like romance films, you should see this one.

 

An Affair to Remember
An Affair To Remember.
Sleepless in Seattle
Sleepless in Seattle.
Pride and Prejudice
The greatest romantic film of all time: the BBC mini-series of Pride & Prejudice.

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10 thoughts on “Recommendation: nine of the best American romantic films

  1. Good list. I was actually planning to skip Passengers because the reviews were so bad, but now I’m reconsidering. Is it important to see it in the theater to appreciate the cinematography, CGI, etc?

    I just watched Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society” on a plane. Also not a critical (70% RT) or commercial ($11M domestic gross) success, but I really enjoyed it.

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  2. Coming to this way late but oh well. Good list. (for the ones I’ve seen) The Princess Bride is fun to break down, who’s the protagonist? Wesley is mostly dead for the middle third, Buttercup doesn’t do anything, Inigo is not followed and it’s the end of his story but he’s the only one with a clear goal, but it’s still great.

    I’d include High Fidelity, Father Goose and His Girl Friday on my list.

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    1. The Murr,

      If you watch the other films, please comment on your reactions.

      I agree about Father Goose (I should have included it on the list). His Girl Friday is great, but lacks something essential imo for a good romantic story — comedy or not: character development. It keeps them from being comic books. Cary Grant is the same abusive dick at the end as at the beginning. If he had changed a bit it would have been a great film!

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  3. They’ve been added to the list, but the list is extensive so it might be awhile before I see them. Can’t argue your point about His Girl Friday in terms of romance but I think Rosalind Russell is so spectacular that it makes up for the lack of progression in Cary Grant. It’s a contender for my top 5 greatest movies list, but you’ve made me rethink how I categorize romance movies. (how do the rules differ for a romantic comedy?)

    I also wanted to comment on ‘You’ve Got Mail.’ It would have been a great movie if Tom Hanks had lost and Meg Ryan had kept her store.

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    1. the murr,

      “how do the rules differ for a romantic comedy?”

      That is a great question, and worth some thought! As a follow-up, are romantic stories still possible today — in the post-feminist era? Hollywood still makes them, but not many — and most are strange. To see some really interesting film, look at the Hallmark romance films. Some are quite daft, trying to fit the scripts from a bygone age into our time — when little girls are told they can fight giant angry bulls (how many films have you heard the lead girl say “I can take care of myself” when threathen by dangers that would make a squad of Marines worry), and dating has often become a fight in which many girls seek asshole guys (who treat them badly) and crush beta’s egos for fun (most of us are betas) and betas reply with Game (harsh, dark strategies to fake being alphas).

      “It would have been a great movie if Tom Hanks had lost and Meg Ryan had kept her store.”

      The greatest romantic stories are grounded in the realities of life. Such as Pride & Prejudice (and Austin’s other novels) foundation in recognition of ealry 19thC England’s class structure. Getting to a happy ending with a touch of realism keeps them from being totally wild fantasies, like children’s stories (e.g., Cinderella).

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  4. I guess I see having Meg Ryan keep the store as more realistic while allowing the happy ending rather then ending up with her hopes and dreams crushed in large part due to the man she ends up with. On second thought there are plenty of stories, fiction and real life of marriages ruining dreams, Al Bundy in Married with Children and the pilot episode of Louie come to mind. But that strain of story telling colors You’ve got Mail in a different light.

    Up until now I’ve not watched any Hallmark films. I’m not sure I want to change that, but you make a decent argument why that could be interesting. (If only there were an MST3k for bad romance flicks to improve the experience)

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    1. The Murr,

      You’ve Got Mail is a story about transitions in life, mirroring the changing NYC seasons it shows. Meg Ryan gets a great job at a publisher, so it is firmly in the modern romantic tradition — she has her careen and marries a nice rich guy.

      More interesting are the romances between beta guys and feminists. They’re a Hallmark speciality. But the hit TV show Castle is my favorite example. The commonplace American romance shows the domestication of a mustang man. In Castle we see an alpha transformed into a pitiful buttmonkey beta.

      Watch Designated Survivor to see how the male lead’s arc plays out. He starts as a typical weak beta. Fired from his job. Backstory of his fiancee telling him she’d pregnant — probably with a bad boy’s child (being a beta, he still marries her). Will this mark an inflection point, the introduction of Game into American fiction — showing the evolution of a beta into an alpha?

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