It is a truth universally acknowledged that an American male in possession of his critical faculties must deride all films about romantic love.
The term "chick flick," narrowly construed, refers only to a film that appeals to female viewers but not to males. But more often than not in practice, the term "chick flick" means a love story - a film detailing the twists and turns of dating, engagements, marriage, and/or other emotional/physical entanglements.
Speaking as an American male, I’d like to say that I am not averse to films about male-female relationships -- even though it’s true that, yes, I loathe the vast majority of films described as "chick flicks."
It’s not the subject matter that I abhor; rather, it’s the way that it’s treated in those films. I dislike films that expect me to believe in two characters’ mutual adoration simply because violins well up when they gaze at one another. I dislike films that try to get me to buy into climactic scenes without developing a relationship enough to give those scenes any meaning. I dislike films in which the characters seem to have no guiding purposes in their lives other than contemplating who is involved with whom. I dislike films that treat something as complex and torturous as adult love as worthy of nothing more than the most trite directorial clichés. I dislike films that brazenly sweep aside every complication of real life for the purpose of facilitating the main characters’ convenient union. Personally, I’ve had what I imagine is a pretty typical romantic lifetime ranging from glorious, cherished moments to tragic, heartbreaking disappointments, and I resent it when romantic involvement on film seems so much more banal and trivial even than the real-world experience of a typical guy.
Thus, there are plenty of "chick flicks" I find infuriatingly awful. "Pretty Woman" -- dreck. "The English Patient" -- oh, please. "Sleepless in Seattle" -- ecch. "Jerry Maguire" -- OK at isolated moments, but not at all because of the romance. And these aren’t even the worst offenders. . . there’s "Waitress" (don’t get me started) or that shameless collection of every cinematic banality ever concocted, the criminally cheesy "Love, Actually," the recollection of which still causes me to clench with rage years after having seen it.
As it happens, the other day I was engaged in a conversation about films, in which I was put on the spot: so which films do I consider to be great love stories? That’s actually quite a good question. So here goes.
It takes a lot more guts to praise such films than it does to condemn them. So, come on, you overwhelmingly male BGG denizens. It’s time to step up to the plate and to confess to the cinematic love stories that you like. And, for the benefit of the group, explain what makes them great. (Obviously, I’m hoping that our female BGGers will comment as well.)
This is probably my favorite film of all time. I find it perfect in every detail -- every scene, every gesture, every cut, every nuance of the film score.
This is probably the one film I’ve seen that best captures the agony of romantic indecision -- as well as the consequences of romantic decision -- from the male perspective.
Its foundational element of greatness is that it makes abundantly clear why Michelle Pfeiffer’s character (the Countess Olenska) is so alluring to Daniel Day-Lewis’s. She sees, questions, and articulates conceptions in ways he has fleetingly contemplated but is himself too inhibited to voice. His own fiancee’s lack of perspective and imagination doesn’t fully become clear to him until his exposure to the Countess.
Where this film really excels is in conveying the mindset of a man falling in love. In one particularly evocative scene, she for the first time orally acknowledges a romantic gesture from him -- his having sent her yellow roses. As she speaks, all of the other activity in the building fades away -- to silence and to black, leaving her and her whispered words spotlit. It’s exactly the way that the first words of a love interest imprint themselves on the man’s mind at such a moment.
The film is also brilliant in recording how romantic choices are about the weighing of values, about taking risks or not taking them, about selfish desires competing with concern for others, and more than all about lost opportunities. The main character ultimately lives with and honors his own choices (with an ample assist from the society around him) but forever in the background of his mind is the memory of the chance that got away. A magnificent film.
Chaplin’s greatest silent film, defiantly made after the invasion of sound.
Even if you haven’t seen it, you probably know the story: the tramp falls in love with a blind flower-selling girl, is first mistaken for and then later poses as a millionaire suitor. Chaplin’s tramp is in every film all about the pursuit of elusive dignity and respect; here it manifests itself in his determination to acquire the money to save her home and to secure an operation to restore her sight. He is too ashamed of his own situation to pretend that delivering her from her trials is anything but easy for him.
Contrived though it is, it feels much less so than many contemporary comedies today. Its themes are timeless, ennobling and thus intensely engaging. It’s also a brilliantly hilarious film in many places. The final scene– which I won’t give away here – is one of the most affecting in film history.
By description alone, I should have hated this film. Had several strikes against it – the heart-of-gold hooker character (a too-persistent cliché), plus its bleak theme of a depressed guy determined to drink himself to death.
Yet – it worked for me. Even unattractive scenarios can work in a film if the characters are real and the situations in which they find themselves feel believable. By the end, I bought this love story much more than most film romances – perhaps in large part because it was a love tested brutally by events, rather than simply floating on contrived scenes and musical scoring. By the end, I cared about each character, and I felt their relationship “mattered” (at least within its fictional context.) That’s hard to pull off.
Most classic Disney films don’t offer males much in the romance department – the romantic “lead” is often a prince who is a one-dimensional character, there to swoop in at the end and not much more.
When this film appeared, I was impressed by how much more care was taken with the relationship, which I cared about more than most live-action romances. The characters reluctantly come together after initial dislike – well, there’s nothing unusual in film about that, I suppose – but here it works especially well in part because the Beast’s motivations are shaped and ennobled by events.
Let’s face it, most of us enter into romantic attraction for initially selfish motives – our attractions are usually symptoms of our own various desires for gratification or validation. It’s when those initial attractions ultimately allow for the development of unselfish giving that our attachments have deepened into love. That’s very much the point of this film, which isn’t bad for animated Kid-friendly fare.
Was that me up above in the intro, criticizing films for trying to get us to buy into romance via schmaltzy music, fine dining, nights on the town and atmospheric effects? Well. . . even I can fall for it once in a while, when done right.
This film serves it all up to you – the emotive Puccini, the looming full moons, the over-the-top acting of Nicholas Cage and Cher, the whole opera verismo styling. And I ate it up in big ravenous gulps.
My favorite scene in the film – and one of my favorite scenes in all films – is the one in which the full moon incites an old, decidedly unglamourous married couple to have what seems to be their first, uh, episode, in many a, well, moon. It’s sweet and it’s charming and it’s believable, and it offers hope for me and the missus a few decades from now.
You know, I’m sick to death of this genre now – you know, the urban romance -- affluent, educated, artsy, somewhat jaundiced cosmopolitan professionals, speaking in wry witticisms, barely overcoming their self-absorption long enough to come together. Lord, am I sick of them.
But Annie Hall -- the pioneering film of the genre, really -- remains great. Part of the reason is that it’s just much funnier than the wannabes that followed – thanks to its surreal asides a la Fellini and Bergman. One terrific moment is when the little kids lurking in Woody Allen’s elementary school memory all stand beside their desks and earnestly state what eventually happened to them: (“I used to be a heroin addict. Now I’m a methadone addict.”) Or when the main character’s solitary musings seamlessly flow into conversations with one passerby after another: (“We use a large vibrating egg.”) – Well, I guess you had to be there.
Annie Hall also works because it captures how difficult romance can be, in that two people may be suited for each other in some wonderful ways, just not right for each other in a few others -- and then the different directions of their lives pull them sadly apart. But we just have to keep trying, because we need the eggs.
I suspect I’m going to get some ribbing for this one. This one is a convenient target for ridicule – first, because winning Best Picture plants a big target on it. And it’s easy to take shots at a film that throws together a cast of glamorous twentysomethings, including Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow, warpped up in a costume drama suffused with literary pretension.
I don’t claim it’s the greatest film ever, but I did greatly enjoy it, and in particular I enjoyed the romance – in the truest sense -- of it all. What I love especially about Shakespeare is his jovial mixing of comedy and tragedy and foolishness; how he pokes fun at our mistakes and pretensions and vulnerabilities, but somehow makes us feel as though it’s all going to be OK, and isn’t it great solace that we have art to uplift us?
I loved how this film reveled in that sentiment, right on down to borrowing the little Shakespearean elements – the forbidden romance, the cross-dressing, the doting nursemaid, the sword duels, and so forth – the film doesn’t take any of this too seriously, it just has good fun with it, and for me it successfully created a giddy atmosphere in which one is, indeed, more susceptible to falling in love. “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Indeed.
Sometimes I think that it’s easier to do true romance when leaning on certain dramatic crutches – with the assistance, say, of animation, or of period costume, or of the anthropomorphizing of other species.
It’s just plain difficult to depict true, straight-ahead courtship in a way that doesn’t look ridiculous. One of the things for which I thank God is that (as far as I know) no videocamera ever recorded me trying to win the heart of my spouse (or of any previous girlfriend). I think I’d rather be recorded going to the bathroom than hitting on someone – it’s less embarrassing.
I think this is why I love the Italian restaurant scene in Lady and the Tramp. OK, OK, it’s really over the top – him nudging the little meatball over to her, the two of them accidentally sucking on the same spaghetti noodle until their lips meet and she jerks away blushing. And the Italian restaurateurs serenading them under a cobalt-blue starry sky.
If you tried to capture all this with live human actors, you just wouldn’t be able to pull it off; it would look too silly. But that kind of magic evening is a real phenomenon, and it’s wonderful that we have animation around to capture its essence.
I have some misgivings about picking this one. This film is a classic, though it’s obviously a classic within a very specific genre – and some people find that genre too silly for our modern cynical world. OK, it’s corny.
Still, the heart of the film is a love story – in theory the love story between the Captain and Maria, but also between Maria and the children, and even more importantly between the Captain and his children. Budding love is so much the core of this film that it seems worth listing here.
Truth be told, as I’ve aged, my sympathies in this film have shifted. When I was little, I rooted for Maria, and against the seemingly cold baroness. Now when I watch it, my sympathies are entirely with the baroness; she’s entirely justified to try to maneuver Maria out of the picture (just ask Christie Brinkley or Sienna Miller), and when she loses her battle for the Captain’s heart, she steps aside graciously with her dignity intact.
Let me be clear on this one: I’m not condoning the relationship at the core of this film. It’s sick, and it’s criminal. It became even more obviously so when Woody Allen latched on to his own real-life stepdaughter. Now that I’m a parent, I find the premise of this film even more appalling.
That being said, it’s affectingly and brilliantly portrayed. The scene in which Mariel Hemingway has her heart broken is very difficult to watch without tearing up a bit. Even if you disapprove of the relationship (and you should), it’s conveyed with immediacy and realistic force.
1993 Map of the Human Heart I love this movie so much. Here is Roger Ebert's review: ------------------------------------ Map Of The Human Heart
BY ROGER EBERT / May 14, 1993
Cast & Credits Avik: Jason Scott Lee Young Avik: Robert Joamie Albertine: Anne Parillaud Young Albertine: Annie Galipeau Walter Russell: Patrick Bergin
Directed By Vincent Ward. Running Time: 95 Minutes. Classified R (For Some Language And A Scene Of Sexuality). "Map of the Human Heart" tells a soaring story of human adventure - adventure of the best kind, based not on violence, but on an amazing personal journey. It is incredible sometimes what distances can be traveled in a single human life, and this is a movie about a man who could not have imagined his end in his beginning.
The story begins in the 1930s in the Arctic, where a young Eskimo boy is fascinated by the map-making activities of a visiting British cartographer named Russell (Patrick Bergin). The boy is named Avik (played as a boy by Robert Joamie, and as a man by Jason Scott Lee). Because Avik says "Holy Boy!" when he means "Holy Cow!" he comes to be known as Holy Boy in the movie.
The mapmaker arrives at the Eskimo settlement by airplane, an astonishing sight, and when he leaves he takes the boy with him - because Avik has tuberculosis, and can be treated in Montreal. The city itself is an unbelievable sight for Avik, who did not imagine such places existed. And in the hospital, he makes a lifelong friend - Albertine, played as a girl by Annie Galipeau and later, as a woman, by Anne Parillaud (from "La Femme Nikita").
She is half Indian, half white. Avik is half Eskimo, half white. And the movie shows them standing halfway between their two worlds. For Avik, the meeting with Russell will change his life forever, setting in motion a chain of events that eventually leads to Britain during World War II, where Avik becomes an aerial photographer on bombing missions against Germany. And it is in England that he meets Albertine once again - only to find that she is involved with Russell.
This sort of romantic triangle could easily have collapsed into soapy melodrama, but Vincent Ward is too intelligent to go for the obvious treatment of this story. He doesn't allow his characters cheap sentiment, and indeed as Avik and Albertine renew their love from so long ago, we see two of the most astonishing romantic scenes I've ever seen in a movie - one on top of a barrage balloon, the other inside the hollow ceiling of the Royal Albert Hall.
The entire story of Avik is told in flashback. The movie begins in the present, with a new mapmaker (John Cusack) visiting the Eskimo village, where Avik, now an old man, tells him his story. The device at first seems unnecessary, but by the end of the film, as we see how Ward uses it to come full circle, it becomes a strength.
Ward is a young New Zealander whose previous film was also strange and original. "Navigator" (1988) was about medieval adventurers in the time of the plague, who begin to tunnel to what a mystic tells them is salvation, and somehow find their way through a time warp into a modern city - where they begin to climb the spires of a cathedral.
Oddly enough, this theme is very similar to "Map of the Human Heart," where once again the hero flees disease and finds his destiny in a modern city. Where "Navigator" was sometimes bleak and obtuse, however, "Map of the Human Heart" is a juicier, more involving film.
Much of its power comes from the charisma of the actors.
Jason Scott Lee, a newcomer who also stars in the current "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story," brings a joy and freshness to the early scenes, and makes a good contrast to the older Avik, who has lost his way.
Anne Parillaud, as in "La Femme Nikita," is a combination of warmth and steely courage, and she is best in those scenes where she feels empathy for Avik, so far from home. And Patrick Bergin handles a difficult role with delicacy; he is not precisely the villain, and in some ways is a hero in this story, but when the heart is involved all motives can grow murky.
Robert Joamie and Annie Galipeau, the actors who play the young characters, also have special qualities. When Avik and Albertine become friends in the hospital, for example, there is a magical scene, played in a tent made of bed sheets, in which they exchange their deepest secrets. And when Avik leaves the hospital, he takes with him an odd photograph - Albertine's X-rays, which will figure throughout the film. It almost makes sense, later, that they communicate through notes on aerial photographs, which Avik takes and Albertine catalogues, and that in turn is the link that leads to an extraordinary scene involving the fire-bombing of Dresden.
One of the best qualities of "Map of the Human Heart" was that I never quite knew where it was going. It is a love story, a war story, a lifetime story, but it manages to traverse all of that familiar terrain without doing the anticipated. The screenplay, by Louis Nowra, based on a story by Ward, deals with familiar emotions but not in a familiar way. The best movies seem to reinvent themselves as they move along, not drawing from worn-out sources, and "Map of the Human Heart" is one of the year's best films.
In the spirit of the season and one of my all time favorite movies, the romance is somewhat ancillary. However, I enjoy it because I can relate to George Bailey in many ways and, having yet to truly find love (I usually relate best to characters that are likable but get screwed in the end such as Edward Scissorhands or the Phantom of the Opera) would absolutely love to quixotically catch a woman like Mary Hatch!
I believed the whole Kyle Reese - Sarah Conner - Terminator love triangle. The Terminator, see, was just jealous that Reese was human. In fact all the robots were jealous of us humans because we can love and they can't, so they devised a plan in the future to kill all humans so they could live a peaceful, emotionless existence without love. Have you ever tried to be emotionless in a world of love? It's tough and degrading. Anyways, the robots' plan hinged on the idea that Sarah Connor couldn't make love again, but they didn't take into account the possibility of a one night stand. Little did the robots know amidst the fires of their destruction it was really the flames of passion that were to be ignited. Shortly after a romantic evening of making nitroglycerin pipe bombs a love child was conceived between Reese and Sarah Connor.
A dashing officer of the guard and romantic poet, Cyrano de Bergerac falls in love with his cousin Roxane without her knowing. His one fault in his life, he feels, is his large nose and although it may have been a forming influence in his rapier-sharp wit, he believes that Roxane will reject him. He resorts to writing letters to her on behalf of one of his cadets, Christian, who is also in love with Roxane but just doesn't know how to tell her. She falls for the poetic charm of the letters but believes that they were written by Christian.
Great love story, it is also far more real in the sense that is not wine and roses at the end.
(English titles include Comrade, almost a love story and Hongkong Love Affair, none of which have much to do with the original title).
This film actually captures two true love stories in one film, both involving the glorious Maggie Cheung. There are very few films I have watched more often than this one, and I don't think I will ever grow tired of its directness. Some interest in Chinese culture helps to appreciate this film, although I guess it doesn't leave anyone cold.
The African Queen, an oldie but a goodie. Set in German East Africa in 1914 during the onset of WW1 it throws two of the most diametrically opposed characters together just as their world goes pear-shaped. They can barely tolerate each other at the outset but through shared adversity and their determination to survive at all costs they gradually grow to accept and appreciate the strength and weaknesses in each other character. The two have a chemistry that is dynamic and even though I must have watched this film 20 or more times it still makes me tear-up every time I watch it.
As Good as it Gets with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. Nicholson, one of my favourite actors, has starred in some truly terrible films of late. This however is an absolute gem. Nicholson takes on the role of a highly successful romantic novelist living in a Manhattan apartment. Although successful in his professional life his personal life is a total disaster. He is a compulsive-obsessive, racist homophobic just to name a few of his character traits. The outside world slowly imposes itself upon him when his neighbour, a homosexual is beaten up and Jack has to look after his dog.At more or less the same time he is faced with losing the service of a waitress (Helen Hunt) at the only diner he will eat in. Helen is the only waitress who will put up with his rudeness and idiosyncrasies so when she tells her boss she has to leave because of the health of her son Jack pulls out all the stops to retain her not out of sympathy but she has become an integral part of his routine. I could waffle on for ages about this film but I won’t. Suffice to say it is the gradual peeling away of external layers of Jack’s character and the gradual kindling of the bond between the two that I love to watch. Great film.
Other favourites are The Lion in Winter with Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn a great love film though most definitely not a chick-flick, Driving Miss Daisy (more a case of unrequited love) and Bridges of Madison County.
Good intentions are no substitute for a good education.
I take my fun very seriously.
Of course, lots of movies have romances in them, but that does not make them romance movies. Bringing up "Blade Runner" or "The Terminator" on this list is, I think, missing the point. Personally, I'm not a big fan of "pure" romance movies. The big problem is that they tend to be pretty predictable. There are exceptions, however.
My favorite exception is Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King. The movie is, at its core, a matchmaking movie where two unlikey characters are destined to meet up. Of course, as in all Gilliam's movies, the promise of happiness only leads to ultimate disaster. Terribly painful and terribly beautiful.