Director: Jean Vigo
Cast: Dita Parlo, Jean Dasté, Michel Simon
Best quote: 'Paris, Paris! Oh, infamous, marvellous city!'
Defining moment: Jean leaps into the river and sees a vision of Juliette dancing in the water.
Life is but a dream
The French are famed as a romantic nation, but for those of us raised in a more reserved culture, their occasional tendency towards sweaty-crotched Gitane-smoke-in-the-face Gainsbourg-isms can seem a little, well, aggressive. Not so ‘L’Atalante’: this is a love story with the lightest touch, managing to be spiritual, sensual, serious and strange all at the same time.
Its 29-year-old director famously died before his debut feature was completed, but there’s more in this one film than most directors manage in a lifetime: more meaning, more emotion, more intensity. Perhaps it’s the out-of-the-past setting – a narrowboat plying the canals of rural France – or the weirdly disconnected central couple, or even the presence of Simon’s crusty, irascible Pere Jules. But something in Vigo’s film is not quite of this earth, and to watch it is the closest we may ever come to experiencing someone else’s dreams. THRead more
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep
Best quote: 'You look so beautiful I can hardly keep my eyes on the meter.'
Defining moment: The stately black-and-white shots of the city cut to Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’.
A hell of a town
There’s so much in ‘Manhattan’ that’s familiar from Woody Allen’s other films, not least Woody himself playing a writer, Isaac, with endless hang-ups and a variety of women in his life. Here, those women are his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tracy (Hemingway); another love interest, Mary (Keaton); and his ex-wife, Jill (Streep).
For Woody, romance is fluid, complicated and alive. Yet by far the biggest romance in ‘Manhattan’ is Woody’s affair with the city itself. New York is often the backdrop for Woody’s films, but here a sense of place is more important than ever. There are those famous montages of the Manhattan skyline, lent a rare beauty by Gordon Willis’ loving black-and-white photography, and at the film’s climax we see Isaac running through the streets that have shaped him – and Woody Allen – and continue to do so. DCRead more
Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette
Best quote: 'And all I could think was, you're so cool!'
Defining moment: To free his hooker wife from bondage, hero Clarence guns down her dreadful, dreadlocked pimp.
There are few more blatant examples of personal wish fulfillment in the movies than Quentin Tarantino’s script for ‘True Romance’. A comic store clerk and exploitation movie nerd (hey, write what you know) meets a gorgeous, sweet-natured hooker who immediately falls madly in love with him. They head off on the run, taking in all the sights from Hollywood directors to bloodthirsty gangsters, all the while exchanging dynamic repartee and having great sex.
It’s thanks to Scott’s unwillingness to indulge the script’s excesses that ‘True Romance’ works as well as it does: avoiding both smugness and sentiment, this is a breeze of a film, coasting on terrific dialogue, charming performances, pacy plotting and sheer, coke-fuelled joie de vivre. Sure, it’s a teensy bit shallow, but damn it’s entertaining. THRead more
Director: Jean Cocteau
Cast: Jean Marais, Josette Day
Best quote: 'Love can turn a man into a beast. But love can also make an ugly man handsome.'
Defining moment: As if in a dream, Belle bursts into Beast’s castle, walking on air.
Love is the beauty of the soul
The miracle of ‘La Belle et la Bête’ is how its tricks are still so magical – even in today’s age of CGI. Director Cocteau was a poet first and foremost and he brings to the traditional ‘Beauty and the Beast’ fairy tale pure movie poetry: Belle crying tears of diamonds; the castle lit by disembodied human arms holding up candelabras.
It’s unforgettable, although you might side with Greta Garbo on the ending. Legend has it that when she watched ‘La Belle’ with Cocteau she cried out at the end, as the curse is lifted and Beast is restored to his princely self: ‘Where is my beautiful Beast?’ Garbo, like Belle, had fallen for the matinee idol Beast – and the smarmy-looking prince left in his place doesn’t quite cut it. CCRead more
Director: David Lynch
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern
Best quote: 'The way your head works is God's own private mystery.'
Defining moment: After dancing like a maniac to speed-metal combo Powermad, Sailor Ripley busts into a swoonsome version of Elvis’s ‘Love Me’.
No one does romance quite like David Lynch: just think of Sandy and the robins in ‘Blue Velvet’, or Henry and the radiator lady in ‘Eraserhead’. There are those who write him off as an ironist, but this uniquely intense and unabashed worship of love as an otherworldly, all-consuming and dangerous state of higher consciousness is anything but detached.
Lynch loves love, and he loves lovers, none more so than Sailor and Lula, the star-crossed, whisky-fuelled, sex-crazed, emotionally scarred couple that are the wild heart of his madcap kaleidoscopic road movie. This is all-American love reimagined as a carnival show: brutal and beautiful and completely barmy. THRead more
Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek
Best quote: 'Little did I realise that what began in the alleys and backways of this quiet town would end in the Badlands of Montana.'
Defining moment: Kit sees Holly ‘standin' on her front lawn, just a-twirling her baton’, as Bruce Springsteen put it in the ‘Badlands’-inspired song, ‘Nebraska’.
There’s a killer on the road
Boy meets girl. Boy kills girl’s family. Boy and girl run away together. Like ‘Natural Born Killers’ (1994) and ‘Kalifornia’ (1993), ‘Badlands’ was inspired by the eleven killings committed by young couple Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in 1958.
Unlike those films, there is a dreamily lyrical romanticism to ‘Badlands’, with Sissy Spacek’s detached, child-like narration giving us the dragonflies a-humming, leaves a-rustling, doves a-cooing version of events, even as Malick presents us with the blasé brutality of what’s really going on. Maybe psychopaths can’t truly experience love, but as ‘Badlands’ shows us, they sure like to play at it sometimes. CBRead more
Director: Max Ophüls
Cast: Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan
Best quote: 'If only you could have shared those moments, if only you could have recognised what was always yours, could have found what was never lost. If only...'
Defining moment: The greatest first-date setting of all time – an old fairground ride where scenes from around the globe roll past the windows of a wooden train.
Lonely are the brave
‘Letter from an Unknown Woman’ is about the death of love, a yearning so intense that the heart breaks into pieces. From one point of view, the film has no place on this list: love turns to loss, hope to despair. But, in a way, isn’t unrequited love the purest kind, with none of that dirty reality and compromise getting in the way?
If that’s true, then this might be the most romantic film of all, a story of reckless, undimmed, lifelong passion, against all odds and common sense. It’s the peak of Ophüls’s career as a visual stylist. As the camera swoops and swoons, as the characters waltz and wander through high-ceilinged ballrooms and jangling cafes, it’s impossible not to be drawn, like the heroine, into this dream of impossible infatuation. THRead more
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Cast: Wendy Hillier, Roger Livesey
Best quote: 'Not poor, they just haven't got money.'
Defining moment: Joan tries to cross to the island and gets caught in a storm near a whirlpool.
The high road to romance
Once again, Powell and Pressburger found a sideways, lively and thoroughly modern way of celebrating and exploring simple truths: that money can’t buy love. A young woman about town, Joan (Hillier) knows what she wants: she's heading to the Hebrides to marry a reclusive tycoon. But nature and wise folk conspire to teach Joan a thing or two.
A storm stops her crossing to the island where she's to marry, so she bunks up with Scottish naval officer Torquil (Livesey) and friends while waiting for the weather to improve. The big lesson is that logic and ambition only get us so far, especially in love. Much more attractive are the rewards of chaos and communal experience. DCRead more
Director: Victor Fleming
Cast: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable
Best quote: 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.'
Defining moment: Rhett Butler’s scandalous proposal – Scarlett is in mourning, her husband not yet cold in his grave.
Why should we still give a damn? Because after more than 70 years, ‘Gone with the Wind’ still does it bigger and better. At nearly four hours long it’s the ultimate rainy-day-in-bed-with-the-flu movie and features maybe the greatest ever screen lovers. Every actress in Hollywood was screen-tested or considered for the role of spoiled Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara. In the end, it went to the hardly-known British actress Leigh, with Gable cast as infamous ladies’ man Rhett Butler.
Scarlett knows exactly what kind of man Rhett is the moment she meets him – the kind of who has a pretty good idea what a girl looks like in her petticoats. Years later, after toughing out the Civil War, Scarlett notches him up (or is it vice versa?) as husband number three. And their stormy marriage gives us one of cinema’s greatest unanswered questions. Can she win him back? Is tomorrow another day? CCRead more
Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin
Best quote: 'Beep, beep, beep…'
Defining moment: When WALL-E falls in love with Eve, inspired by watching ‘Hello, Dolly!’
Leaves a metallic taste in the mouth
Can a near-silent portrait of a love between two robots, WALL-E and Eve, really be that romantic? Well, Pixar found a way with this daring story of a lonely robot on Earth in 2700, a time when the planet has been abandoned by life and WALL-E has only piles of junk and a copy of Gene Kelly’s ‘Hello, Dolly!’ for company. WALL-E is a creaky, awkward creature and when the more sleek, iPod-like Eve turns up in his life, he naturally falls head over heels for her.
The film’s great achievement (if we forget its more boisterous and less successful second half) is that its silence and calm draw us in and allows us to appreciate small gestures and the little things in life. It’s the most touching robot-on-robot relationship since the bickering bromance between C3PO and R2D2 in ‘Star Wars’. DCRead more