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The 50 most romantic films: numbers 10-2

Her
1/9
Punch-Drunk Love
2/9
Annie Hall
3/9
Paris, Texas
4/9
When Harry Met Sally...
5/9
Sunrise
6/9
Blue Valentine
7/9
Brokeback Mountain
8/9
In the Mood for Love
9/9

10-2

Her (2014)

When flesh-and-blood humans get too closely involved with computers, it rarely ends well: just think of poor Julie Christie in ‘Demon Seed’, or hapless Lenny von Dohlen in ‘Electric Dreams’. Still, in ‘Being John Malkovich’ man Spike Jonze’s latest, our technophile hero hasn’t really got much further to fall: as played by Joaquin Phoenix, he’s a lonely, sad-sack writer whose only solace lies in communing with his PC (as it were). To make matters worse (albeit slightly more understandable), this dishy desktop is voiced by Scarlett Johanssen. Early reviews for Jonze’s witty techno-romance have been gushing, and the films has appeared on numerous critics’ Best-of-2013 lists. But will it all prove just a bit too clever-clever?

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Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Essentially an unremittingly arty update of those Jerry Lewis-style romantic comedies where a geeky beast-figure (here, Sandler's nerdy salesman) is improbably courted by a cute, uncommonly understanding beauty (Watson, friend of one of the hero's seven bossy sisters). In this case, the protagonist's feral characteristics extend to a physically ferocious volatile temper, thus allowing him to prove his manhood by taking on a phone-sex blackmailing outfit led by Hoffman (the best thing in the movie despite scant screentime). The film looks good and has its funny moments, but too often one senses Anderson straining to impress, whether by purloining (and misusing) a Harry Nilsson song from Altman's Popeye, or by tossing in yet another surreal, surprising or seemingly inexplicable narrative idiosyncrasy.

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Annie Hall (1977)

Diane Keaton banked her Oscar and fled the Allen fold after this film. A couple more professional contributions notwithstanding, this was self-reflexively the swansong to their partnership. But if Allen lost the girl, he gained an audience – and you can’t kvetch without one. Whereas his earlier skittish missives from Napoleonic Russia (‘Love and Death’) and the twenty-second century (‘Sleeper’) won slight heed, this parochial, present-tense, blatantly personal confection seduced critics, chattering audiences, Oscar voters… Allen’s great play was to assume his audience would (be) like him: an informed, solipsistic, nervous fantasist, only too flattered to be set up on screen. (He’d doubtless say he was making the film for himself, which amounts to the same thing.) He invites viewers to laugh with him at him: rather a subject than an object of ridicule, he lances his neuroses preemptively, controlling the exposure. It’s a limited strategy, but still glamorising in its way – if you can’t be Bogart-smooth in all things, such a fund of wisecracks is a start. The hitch is that Allen’s comic facility disrupts his search for feeling. He begins the film in confessional mode, offering to-camera the ‘key jokes’ to his condition (he’s silenced later only by the girlfriend who doesn’t get his jokes) – but wit can be an avoidance technique, and Allen regularly cuts on a gag rather than develop a serious point. It’s not the most fluent of films anyway – a whimsical collage of childhood remi

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Paris, Texas (1984)

A man in a red baseball cap comes stumbling over the Mexican border and into the Texan desert, mute, bowed but driven by an obsessive quest. When his brother (Stockwell) drives him (Stanton) home to LA, the shards of his broken life are painfully pieced together in fits and starts of talk. Four years ago he 'lost' his family; now he has returned to find them. Reunited with his 7-year-old son, he travels to Houston, where he finds his wife (Kinski) working in a peep-show. Wenders once more finds himself on the borders of experience, finally achieving an unprecedented declaration of the heart, even if man and wife can only perceive each other through a glass darkly. Wenders' collaboration with writer Sam Shepard is a master-stroke, wholly beneficial to both talents; if Wenders' previous film, The State of Things, was on the very limits of possibility, this one, through its final scenes, pushes the frontier three steps forward into new and sublime territory. CPea.

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When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

1977: cynical womaniser Harry (Crystal) and clean-living would-be journo Sally (Ryan) are thrown together on an 18-hour trip to New York. They don't exactly hit it off, but ten years later, having suffered the traumas of break-up and divorce, they meet again and find they can offer mutual support. Will their friendship move from platonic to romantic? It seems likely, but there's a problem: Harry is reluctant to commit himself, while Sally won't countenance one-night stands. Reiner's Woody Allen-ish comedy is, for all its up-front discussion of matters sexual, disarmingly old-fashioned. A mite too pat, it never really probes or challenges Harry and Sally's attitiudes; but Nora Ephron's extended, slightly sentimental, and none-too-original meeting cute scenario includes enough funny one-liners to hold the attention of all but the most jaded viewer. As ever, Reiner clearly likes his characters, and elicits sturdy performances from a proficient cast (Kirby and Fisher are especially fine as friends and confidants to the pair).

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Sunrise (1927)

Apart from its sheer poignancy, the main achievement of Murnau's classic silent weepie is how it puts pep into pap. Its folksy fable is distinctly unusual: a love triangle dissolving into an attempted murder is only the start; two thirds of the movie is actually about a couple making up. The tension is allowed to drop in a glorious jazz-age city sequence, and then twisted into breaking-point as a journey of murderous rage is repeated. But its dreamlike realism is also to be enjoyed: when lovers appear to walk across a crowded city street, into (superimposed) fields, and back to kiss in a traffic jam, you have an example of True Love styled to cinema perfection. Simple, and intense images of unequalled beauty. DMacp.

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Blue Valentine (2011)

We visit three different places and times in Derek Cianfrance's extraordinary---and extraordinarily sad---relationship drama. One of them is the unnamed Pennsylvania suburb that's home to a slackening hipster family: scruffy house painter Dean (Gosling); his medical-technician wife, Cindy (Williams); and their four-year-old daughter, Frankie (Wladyka). The second place, toggled to with a sharp sense of rhythm, is Brooklyn, a handful of years (and pounds) earlier. The two young adults are in happier, blurrier days, meeting cute, flirting on the street and rising, uncertainly, to the occasion of an unplanned pregnancy. The third place, a kind of purgatory, is a motel's space-themed "future" suite, like some cheap-ass version of Tron: Legacy, in which the older-aged characters lamely try to reconnect. They drink themselves into a stupor. Blue Valentine has a quiet, resigned wisdom to it: the clear-eyed perspective of a love affair borne aloft by ukulele strumming and weighed down by the realities of money, jobs and disenchantment. It's truly a shame that, thanks to the NC-17 brouhaha, most people will be coming to it wondering how sweaty the sex scenes are. (They serve the story; let's leave it at that.) Something more worth shouting about: a magnificent performance by Ryan Gosling, spinning his boyish charm into a daringly unkempt chubby hubby turned insecure. Michelle Williams, in perfect sync, has the tougher role, the cryptically impatient mom internalizing her dissatisfacti

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Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Ang Lee’s adaptation of an Annie Proulx short story arrives amid much chatter from awards-season soothsayers and pundits who have slapped the easy tag of ‘gay cowboy movie’ on this sensitive, intelligent and pleasingly traditional film. Certainly its two male protagonists, Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger), two free-and-easy 19-year-olds, tend sheep together in rural Wyoming. They favour denim, live close to the land and enjoy – briefly – a loving, sexual relationship. But there’s little in this film to excite either John Wayne fans or devotees of Warhol’s ‘Lonesome Cowboys’. Instead, the film’s themes of forbidden love, lost opportunity, marital deception and romantic honesty are quite accessible, mainstream even. The revolution is all off-screen: what ultimately makes ‘Brokeback Mountain’ a radical project is that it’s set to become the first bona fide, well-made and commercially successful gay weepie to emerge from Hollywood. Jack and Ennis meet on a Wyoming mountainside one summer when both are employed to watch over the flock of a local farm baron (Randy Quaid). Lee indulges wide shots of flowing rivers, travelling sheep, wispy clouds and mountain vistas to canonise the pair’s experience on Brokeback Mountain. He threatens to over-sweeten us with the shallow beauty of a Marlboro commercial or Wrangler advert until, one night on the mountain, a drunken Ennis spits on his hand, turns Jack over and lights the fuse on an on-off love affair that w

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In the Mood for Love (2000)

Wong's paean to the agony'n ecstasy of buttoned-up emotions is a kind-of sequel to Days of Being Wild, shaped and scored as a valse triste. In Hong Kong, 1962, Mr Chow (Leung) and Mrs Chan (Cheung) are neighbours who discover that their spouses are having an affair. He finds excuses to spend time with her, apparently intending to jilt her. Then they fall in love, but (aside from one reckless moment in a hotel) repress their feelings. He runs away to work as a journalist in Singapore; in 1966, covering De Gaulle's state visit to Cambodia, he's in Angkor Wat trying to unburden himself of the secret which overwhelms his life... Every charged frame of the film pulses with the central contradiction between repression and emotional abandon; the formalism and sensuality are inextricable. Career-best performances from both leads, Leung having a Cannes 'Best Actor' prize to show for his.

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