Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of film can rattle off the most romantic movies of all-time.
By Noah Gittell
Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of film can rattle off the most romantic movies of all-time. “Casablanca,” “An Affair to Remember,” and “Gone with the Wind” probably top most lists. But with Valentine’s Day coming up, maybe you are looking for something different, something to impress that special someone with a preternatural knowledge of cinematic romance. After all, you can only watch “Love Actually” so many times before it loses its shine. Instead, you might try one of these unconventional romantic films, all of which approach love from a skewed but altogether wonderful angle.
“Benny and Joon”
Before Johnny Depp was a pirate and a mad hatter, he starred in this offbeat romantic comedy that is remembered most for its annoyingly catchy theme song, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the Proclaimers. The movie has more to offer than that. Depp plays Benny, an eccentric young cinephile who moves in with the mentally ill Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson) and her big brother (Aidan Quinn), after the latter loses a poker bet with Benny’s cousin. The two young leads hit it off, and Depp’s quiet charm and gift for physical comedy stealing the show. A late scene in which Benny dangles from a rope outside Joon’s hospital room remains a classic romantic gesture.
“Harold and Maude”
If a love affair between a pubescent and a septuagenarian sounds creepy, you haven’t seen Hal Ashby’s 1971 cult classic that pairs the morose teen Harold (Bud Cort) with the vivacious, 79-year-old Maude (Ruth Gordon). Set against a jangly pop score by Cat Stevens, the film joyfully flips the script on these two characters: Harold acts like his life is at an end, while Maude bounces around with the energy of a teenager. Most adults will have (or should have!) seen this one already, but young cinephiles should check it out: Wes Anderson fans will find the roots of his quirky, pop-drenched romances in Ashby’s lovely film.
When auteur Paul Thomas Anderson signed on to make an Adam Sandler comedy, the studio executives were probably not expecting this. Sandler plays a skewed variation on his man-child persona; here, he is a successful small business owner who suffers under the thumb of his seven older sisters. Unable to find a meaningful relationship, he finally meets Lena (Emily Watson), who miraculously understands and tolerates his eccentricities, which include the requisite Sandler fits of rage. Beyond the performances, Anderson’s soft directorial touch is key here: he brings the flavor of an Old Hollywood romance to this modern tale of love and anger in the San Fernando Valley.
Pixar’s brilliant 2008 animated film was a science-fiction parable and a family movie, but above all else, it is a deeply moving romance. The courtship of Wall-E and Eve, robots who meet on an abandoned earth in the near future, has the feel of an adolescent first love, but the plots twists and turns give their romance greater weight. First, Wall-E tags along on a spaceship in order to stay with Eve. Later, she risks everything to save his life in return The film’s final moments are so touching you might wonder how a couple of animated robots made you feel so darn much.
Director Richard Linklater is in the midst of a victory lap of sorts for his 12-year project “Boyhood,” but I can’t help but feel some of the love he’s currently received was really meant for his “Before” series, none of which received the proper accolades upon their release. The three films, each set and filmed nine years apart, capture a romantic relationship in real time. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet and spend an evening together in Vienna in 1995’s “Before Sunrise.” Eventually, they get married and struggle to keep the magic alive in 2013’s “Before Midnight.” But for the most unabashedly romantic, I’d go with 2004’s “Before Sunset,” which finds the former lovers reconnecting on a real-time stroll through Paris. Capturing the moment when romantic fantasy and reality meet, “Before Sunset” is love at its finest – and most cinematic.