Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson
Best quote: 'I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.'
Defining moment: When Barry tells Lena that he wants to smash her face with a sledgehammer – in the most charming way imaginable…
Love is strange
How lovely it is to see Anderson’s unsettling, unpredictable, completely unique romantic comedy in the top 10. Descending from the emotionally draining dramatic heights of ‘Magnolia’, Anderson micro-sized his world, zooming down to two characters adrift in a dream of love, escaping reality through one another.
Sandler proves definitively that he can act (he’s since proven that he’d rather not, if he can avoid it) as the frustrated-to-the-point-of-mania white-collar warehouse worker who falls – truly, madly, weirdly – for Watson’s fragile jetsetter. The result is a gloriously unhinged and mesmerising film, a window into another world, where gravity isn’t quite as powerful and the regular rules – about romance, family, work, aggression, competition entries – don’t seem to apply. TH
Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet
Best quote: 'I've never felt that before. I'm just exactly where I want to be.'
Defining moment: That final conversation in the hallway, in which the repetition of the simple word ‘okay’ means so much more than just ‘I love you’.
Brainwashing for beginners
You might see this extraordinary film, a joint career peak for Michel Gondry, writer Charlie Kaufman and its improbably but perfectly matched leads, described in generic DVD catalogues as a romantic comedy. It’s a term that seems wholly unequal to its dizzying conceptual acrobatics, not to mention the profound sadness in its absurdist excavation of post-romantic trauma.
But a rich, tragedy-tinged comedy it is: Kaufman has essentially given a scruffy sci-fi makeover to a ‘Philadelphia Story’-style farce of second chances and destiny denied, without letting the film’s beating screwball heart get overly chilled by its wintry New York cool. No longer just the hipster’s choice, it’s become the go-to love story for an entire generation of, to paraphrase Kate Winslet’s Clementine, fucked-up girls – and guys – looking for their own peace of mind. GL
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Cast: Kim Hunter, David Niven, Roger Livesey
Best quote: 'Nothing is stronger than the law in the Universe, but on Earth nothing is stronger than love.'
Defining moment: The beginning. David Niven is a British wartime pilot, crashing down to earth; Kim Hunter is an American radio operator, falling in love with his voice in his final seconds.
All’s fair in love and war
Trust Powell and Pressburger to find a way of exploring love that is teasing, heartfelt and totally imaginative – while also being timely for an audience recovering from six years of war, separation and strain. When Niven’s pilot plunges to the ground, we enter two worlds: one of them celestial (in monochrome) and one of them real (in colour), although the distinction is in fact much more playful.
After narrowly cheating death (or did he?), will Niven remain on Earth with his new love, Hunter? Or must he succumb to fate? In the end, Powell and Pressburger’s idea is age-old and simple: love conquers all. But they explain this with the bonkers-brilliant concept of putting this idea on trial in no less than a heavenly court. The climax couldn’t be more stirring. DC
Director: Billy Wilder
Cast: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine
Best quote: 'That's the way it crumbles... cookie-wise.'
Defining moment: C.C. Baxter decides to take the advice of his doctor and become a mensch.
When life gives you Lemmon...
Romance-wise, there’s never been anything quite like ‘The Apartment’. Reuniting director Billy Wilder, scriptwriter Iz Diamond and star Jack Lemmon just one year on from the seemingly unbeatable ‘Some Like It Hot’ (1959), Shirley MacLaine’s melancholic heroine Fran Kubelik was the perfect bittersweet counterpoint to Marilyn Monroe’s Sugar Kane, a strong black coffee after dizzying champagne.
Not many romances could get away with a suicide bid by the leading lady in the second act and succeed in turning it all around for a perfectly-pitched ending without feeling phoney, but Wilder pulls it off. It’s no surprise the film continues to influence advocates ranging from ‘Distant Voices, Still Lives’ director Terence Davies to ‘One Day’ author David Nicholls. CB
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway
Best quote: 'I wish I knew how to quit you.'
Defining moment: When Jack and Ennis make love in a tent.
A camp romance
Lee’s adaptation of E Annie Proulx's short story is a desperately sad account of gay love beaten into submission by society’s attitudes and conventions. Jack (Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Ledger) are two ranch hands in early 1960s Wyoming who spend one glorious summer out in the wilderness falling in love and sleeping with each other.
It’s a golden age – a long-lost arcadia – that can never be recovered by this unlikely romantic pair as the years go by and Jack and Ennis live separate lives (though they occasionally meet up for secretive fishing trips to rekindle their passion). As they age, Jack is more successful at holding down an everyday life with a job and family, but Ennis seriously struggles, and his story is all the more tragic for it. It’s a brilliantly acted film, and Lee finds time to celebrate and explore the love at the core of his story as well as creating space to mourn its fallout. DC
Director: Hal Ashby
Cast: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort
Best quote: 'Oh, Harold, that's wonderful. Go and love some more.'
Defining moment: In a field of daisies overlooking a vast military cemetery, Maude explains her philosophy of life.
Age shall not wither them
The hippy era was full of movies that attempted to confront square society, to shock viewers into some undefined form of action. How many of them are still effective today? But ‘Harold and Maude’, the gentle flipside of the revolutionary dream, is every bit as charming, affecting and surprising as it must have been on its first release.
Partly this is because none of its themes have gone out of date: we still live in a world of empty privilege and rigid hierarchy, petty authority and relentless conformism. So the idea of a teenage boy (Cort) shacking up with a batty old woman (Gordon) is still a challenge to social norms. Best of all, ‘Harold and Maude’ is also still devastatingly romantic: a story of soulmates, in the most literal sense. TH
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Diane Keaton, Woody Allen
Best quote: 'Don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone I love.'
Defining moment: Call the lobster squad! Dinner has escaped.
Irrational, crazy and absurd, ‘Annie Hall’ gives us love in its all its messy glory. It’s the anatomy of break-up. ‘Where did it all go wrong?’ asks Woody Allen’s neurotic comedian Alvy Singer after his split from scatterbrain singer Annie (Diane Keaton, enjoying a killer fashion moment in boyish slacks and a fedora).
Allen has said that ‘Annie Hall’ was his first film to go ‘deeper’. And at its heart is the sad message that finding your soulmate doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. Or, as an old woman tells Alvy: ‘Love fades.’ But for all that, ‘Annie Hall’ is hands down the most hilarious film ever made about love, hysterically funny and packed with gags. CC
Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung
Best quote: 'Feelings can creep up just like that. I thought I was in control.'
Defining moment: Leung whispers his secret into the ruins of a wall.
The agony and the ecstasy
No one understands the ache of love like Wong Kar-Wai, and ‘In the Mood for Love’ is his masterpiece. In 1960s Hong Kong, two of the most glamorous leads ever to grace the screen – Leung and Cheung – move next door to each other. His wife is cheating on him with her husband, and out of this betrayal a friendship develops. Should they have an affair of their own?
Leung, impossibly handsome, is a study in reserved pain. Cheung is unutterably elegant. Honestly, they make the ‘Mad Men’ cast look like scruffy students. At the heart of this muggy, sensual story is the feeling that love is a matter of timing – that a moment missed can never be recaptured. And Leung whispering his secret into the ruins of a wall is an exquisite image of pain and yearning. CC
Director: Michael Curtiz
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman
Best quote: 'We’ll always have Paris.'
Defining moment: Bogey tells Ingrid Bergman to get on the plane with her husband, or she’ll regret it. Maybe not today…
The fundamental things
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into his. Humphrey Bogart’s choice between the woman he loves and doing the honourable thing is one of the most wrenching you’ll ever see on screen. Seventy years on, it gets the heart racing every time.
Bogey is Rick, a hard-drinking American in Casablanca, a city full of refugees fleeing the Nazis. Most of them wash up in Rick’s bar, including his great lost love Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). With her is a Czech Resistance leader who’s escaped a concentration camp.
‘Casablanca’ is full of famous lines, but my favourite is Rick’s description of himself heartbroken and abandoned on a train platform – ‘a guy standing in the rain with a comical look on his face, because his insides are kicked out.’ CC
Director: David Lean
Cast: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard
Best quote: 'This misery can’t last… Not even life lasts very long.'
Defining moment: That most restrained of farewells, Alec squeezing Laura’s shoulder goodbye.
Make tea not love
You’d think that Lean’s tale of stiff-upper-lip emotion would be frightfully and unwatchably old-fashioned today. A married woman falls in love with a married man and they do the decent thing. And…? Unlike ‘Casablanca’, the future of civilisation isn’t hanging on the outcome. Just the happiness of two families. And not to mince words, they’re an unglamorous pair.
She’s Laura (Johnson), a not especially pretty housewife. He’s Alec (Howard), an earnest doctor. So why do we continue to find Lean’s much-loved classic so unbearably moving? Because it’s still thrilling to watch the continents of emotion beneath Laura and Alec’s icy properness. Celia Johnson is like a silent movie star with her huge eyes, showing so much emotion with barely a rustle of an eyelash.
Adapted from a Noël Coward play, ‘Brief Encounter’ is a brilliantly crafted film, beginning with a goodbye in a railway café – the end of an affair that never really was. From there, Lean flashes back to the lovers’ first meeting in the same café. Laura has grit in her eye. Alec gallantly removes it. Later, they run into each other in a restaurant. They have luncheon (this is the 1930s), take a trip to the cinema, drive in the countryside. He borrows a flat for the afternoon for them to meet in, but embarrassment takes over and they don’t make love.
It’s all so very innocent. We listen to her innermost thoughts – as she narrates a kind of an imaginary confession to her sweet but dull husband: ‘I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people.’ Laura and Alec know in their heart of hearts that leaving their families and running off together will not make a happy ending. And so they must part. He accepts a job in South Africa. Our hearts stop with the lovers’ when a busybody crashes their last few precious minutes together. Unforgettable. CC