You already know the obvious romantic films
– BY DANIEL NEMAN –
Sure, I could take the easy way out.
I could come to you with a list of the top 10 romantic movies to watch on Valentine’s Day, or whenever you want to snuggle with your best squeeze, and they could all be predictable, the movies you’d expect to see on just such a list.
Casablanca. Gone With the Wind. Maybe a curveball like Sid & Nancy, just to prove my arch ironic hipness.
But no. You deserve better than that. You deserve this list of 10 romantic movies for Valentine’s Day that are not, as they would say in Casablanca, the usual suspects.
Random Harvest (1942) – The plot is a little preposterous, relying on more than one case of amnesia. And because there are some things you simply can’t do in movies, the big surprise has to come in the middle, rather than the end, as it does in James Hilton’s book. But this story of the shell-shocked WWI vet Ronald Colman being nursed to health by the luminous Greer Garson still has one of the most gratifying endings of all time.
Once (2007) – Utterly charming. Glen Hansard stars as a poor street musician in Ireland who falls in love with Czech immigrant Markéta Irglová. But she’s married, and he misses his girlfriend. As they struggle with what to do, they make beautiful music together – literally. The film won an Oscar for best song.
To Have and Have Not (1944) – At first glance, this looks like a quick knockoff of Casablanca. And that’s how it started: It’s an action film shot two years later starring the same actor in much the same role. But this is the movie where Bogie met Bacall, and their extraordinary love absolutely lights up the screen. This is also the film with the timeless line “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”
Brief Encounter (1945) – A masterpiece, and one of England’s finest movies. Trevor Howard and the inestimable Celia Johnson meet at a train station and promptly begin that British thing of expressing emotion without expressing emotion. This intimate little gem is directed by David Lean, who would go on to make the biggest and grandest of epics.
The Painted Veil (2006) – OK, maybe this isn’t one to watch while snuggling, since it is set during a cholera epidemic. But it has a romance all its own, of sorts. Edward Norton and Naomi Watts play a married couple who hate each other. After she has an affair, he drags her to the middle of an epidemic to teach her a lesson. But the lesson they learn is not what they expect.
Much Ado About Nothing (1993) – One of Shakespeare’s brightest comedies is given its best filmed production. Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh, then married, are perfection as Beatrice and Benedict, antagonists whose insults for each other are so skilled the two accidentally fall in love. The joyous, long final shot is utter genius.
Pillow Talk (1959) – It isn’t nearly as corny as you remember; it is actually very funny and kind of sweet. Rock Hudson and Doris Day were never so Rock-Hudson-and-Doris-Dayish as in this story of a prudish young woman scandalized by the roguish young man with whom she shares a party line.
Only Angels Have Wings (1939) – One of my favorites. Cary Grant is at his dashing best as the owner of mail planes in South America. It’s a dangerous job and he has no time for a mere woman who lands on his doorstep. But she’s Jean Arthur, after all, and a man can only resist so much.
A Little Romance (1979) – Don’t call it puppy love. Diane Lane was just 12 when she starred as an American in Paris who falls in love with a schoolmate played by Thelonious Bernard (who soon left acting). Spurred on by Laurence Olivier, they run away to Venice in search of a satisfying way to express their love.
Roman Holiday (1953) – If you haven’t seen it lately, see it again. Audrey Hepburn is heartbreakingly gorgeous as a bored princess looking for freedom in Rome. Instead, she finds Gregory Peck – not so ugly, himself – a reporter who could cause a scandal if he prints what he knows. But if he did, the film wouldn’t be so romantic, would it?