A version of this column appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
Valentine’s Day movies
For lovebirds who prefer to roost at home rather than venturing out tonight, a veritable flock of romantic films is just a DVD, Blu-ray or streaming video away.
For lovebirds who prefer to roost at home rather than venturing out on Valentine’s Day, a veritable flock of romantic movies is just a DVD, Blu-ray or streaming video away.
Of course, cinephiles know you can’t go wrong with classics like “Casablanca” or “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but the past few years have yielded plenty of interesting love stories, too, from the charming British time-traveling tale “About Time” to Joss Whedon’s black-and-white adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Way back on Feb. 14, 2008, I posted my very first entry on the brand-new BAM’s Blog: a list of my favorite films appropriate for Valentine’s Day viewing. Some traditions are worth keeping, so I update the list every year to include a few new films that I’m loving on this day of devotion.
Like the previous entries, my seventh annual list of my favorite films appropriate for Valentine’s Day home viewing is conveniently categorized so that lovebirds of every feather can find the ideal cinematic treat.
Men and women alike can appreciate a movie that tickles the funny bone while making romance:
“It Happened One Night” (1934): An out-of-work reporter (Clark Gable) and rebellious heiress (Claudette Colbert) take a bumpy road trip in Frank Capra’s Oscar winner.
“The Philadelphia Story” (1940): Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant get entangled in a love pentagon in this classic screwball comedy, which happens to be one of my all-time favorite movies.
“When Harry Met Sally” (1989): Hilarity ensues as Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) move from loathing to friendship to love.
“North to Alaska” (1960): For those fans of John Wayne or a good Western, check out this romantic screwball story about a pair of pals, Sam (Wayne) and George (Stewart Granger), who strike gold in Alaska. When Sam returns to Seattle to fetch back George’s French fiance, he finds she has married another. Determined to head off his buddy’s broken heart, Sam recruits a gorgeous French prostitute named Angel (Capucine) to become George’s new lady-love. Soon, Sam, George and George’s teenage brother Billy (Fabian) are all vying for Angel’s affections.
“While You Were Sleeping” (1995): Lucy (Sandra Bullock) forms a crush on a handsome man (Peter Gallagher), saves his life, is mistaken for his fiancee and falls for his charming brother (Bill Pullman).
“Bridget Jones’s Diary”(2001): Brit Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) tries to improve her life and find real love in this chick flick.
“She’s Out of My League” (2010): Expect sweetness and raunchiness in equal measure with this tale of a skinny Transportation Security Administration agent (Jay Baruchel) who falls into a surprising romance with a beautiful and wealthy event planner (Alice Eve).
“Moonrise Kingdom” (2012): One of Wes Anderson’s best films chronicles the romantic angst of preteen eccentrics Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), who decide to run away together.
Happily ever after
“The course of true love never did run smooth,” Shakespeare once wrote. The Bard makes the list of these films, in which love conquers all in the end:
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961): True love develops between professional escort Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) and kept man Paul “Fred” Varjak (George Peppard) in the iconic film from the late, great director Blake Edwards, a Tulsa native.
“Ladyhawke” (1985): A knight (Rutger Hauer) and his lady fair (Michelle Pfeiffer) must break the curse set on them by an evil bishop (John Wood). Just try to ignore the dated ’80s soundtrack from The Alan Parsons Project collaborator Andrew Powell. (I’m just sure music in the 12th century didn’t use quite so many synthesizers.)
“Pretty Woman” (1990): The movie that elevated Julia Roberts to superstardom features the redhead as a down-on-her-luck prostitute who is hired by a rich, disconnected businessman (Richard Gere) as his escort for various business and social functions. Naturally, they fall in love and make each other better people and all that.
“Notting Hill” (1999): A simple British bookshop owner (Hugh Grant) starts up an unlikely romance with a famous American movie star (Julia Roberts) in this fairy tale penned by Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” also a good choice).
“Serendipity” (2001): Suspend your disbelief and enjoy Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sara’s (Kate Beckinsale) efforts to find one another after their magical first meeting.
“Stardust” (2007): Neil Gaiman’s fairy tale for grown-ups has all the necessary ingredients: an enchanted kingdom, wicked villains and, of course, a happy ending.
“Enchanted” (2007): An evil queen’s (Susan Sarandon) spell sends a wide-eyed animated fairytale princess (Amy Adams) to the mean streets of real-life New York, where she charms everyone, including a cynical single dad/divorce lawyer (Patrick Dempsey).
“Letters to Juliet” (2010): An American girl (Amanda Seyfried) vacationing in Italy finds and answers a 50-year-old letter to Juliet. In the process of helping the writer (Vanessa Redgrave) find her long-lost true love, the young American gets her own chance at real romance.
“The Tempest” (2010): Many universal themes are involved in what is widely considered one of Shakespeare’s last and best plays, including betrayal, revenge, forgiveness, and yes, love. Director Julie Taymor’s adaptation features a gender switch in the main role of the wizard Prospero, with Dame Helen Mirren making the magic as Prospera. But the love story between Prospera’s innocent daughter Miranda (Felicity Jones) and the courtly Prince Ferdinand (Reeve Carney) remains unchanged and romantic as ever.
“Jane Eyre” (2011): Director Cary Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre”) and his talented young cast, including Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender and Jamie Bell, bring fresh energy to the often-adapted gothic tale. Every aspect of the narrative is heightened: The mystery crackles with suspense, the romance smolders with sensuality, and the coming-of-age story flares with intensity.
“Safety Not Guaranteed” (2012): One of my top 10 films of 2012 follows a cynical aspiring journalist (Aubrey Plaza) assigned to investigate a would-be time traveler (Mark Duplass) who has published a classified ad seeking a companion for his adventure.
“Much Ado About Nothing” (2013): In between making 2012’s super-blockbuster “The Avengers” and working on the 2015 sequel “The Age of Ultron,” Joss Whedon made one of my top 10 films of 2013, a black-and-white adaptation of one of my favorite Shakespearean comedies.
Some of them end happily, others teeter on tragic, but love makes the world go ‘round in these emotional mixed bags:
“Casablanca” (1942): Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman give up their passionate love affair to save the world from the Nazis. Sigh. A classic.
“Roman Holiday” (1953): I don’t think you can have a romantic DVD list with too much Audrey Hepburn, so I’m also recommending this classic gem starring the elfin actress as a sheltered and restless princess who gives her handlers the slip and finds love and adventure with an American journalist, played by the dashing Gregory Peck. In the end, they can never be together, but they’ll always have Rome.
“Like Water for Chocolate” (1992): Tita (Lumi Cavazos) and Pedro (Marco Leonardi) are desperately in love, but tradition prohibits Tita, the youngest daughter in her family, from marrying, instead condemning her to a lifetime of caring for her tyrannical mother (Regina Torne). The Mexican movie was nominated for a 1993 Golden Globe for best foreign language film.
“Titanic” (1997): Writer-director James Cameron’s blockbuster romance/disaster about a poor young artist named Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is struggling to get home to America and a beautiful socialite named Rose (Kate Winslet) who is being forced to marry to solve her family’s financial issues and how they fall in love just before their grand ship hits an iceberg remains one of the biggest box-office blockbusters and award winners of all time.
“Once” (2007): An Irish street musician (Glen Hansard) and talented Eastern European immigrant (Marketa Irglova) make beautiful music together, but she has a husband and he has a girlfriend. Will they become a duet or go their separate ways? Not only did the movie win a best original song Oscar for the gorgeous theme “Falling Slowly,” it also has become an eight-time Tony-winning Broadway musical.
“Becoming Jane” (2007): Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) falls in love with roguish Irishman Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) in this speculative romance. Austen never married, so that’s a hint that all will not go well.
“(500) Days of Summer” (2009): In his feature film debut, Marc Webb, director of “The Amazing Super-Man,” cast off the wretched conventions of modern-day romantic comedies, telling an emotionally resonant love story with a nonlinear plot line, amazing soundtrack and strong performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.
“Up” (2009): The Oscar-winning computer-animated tale by the Pixar geniuses has zany talking dogs, a crazy colorful flightless bird and the vivid spectacle of a house sent aloft by millions of balloons. But the heart of the poignant story is a grieving widower (voice of Ed Asner) making the trip he and his late wife planned but never got around to taking. And it’s a more stalwart soul than I who can make it through the montage of Carl and Ellie’s life without crying.
“Ruby Sparks” (2012): Paul Dano stars as an emotionally arrested novelist who writes a story about his free-spirited dream girl (his real-life girlfriend Zoe Kazan, who wrote the script) and is shocked when she magically appears in his kitchen.
“Silver Linings Playbook” (2012): After a stint in a mental institution, a bipolar former teacher (Bradley Cooper) strikes up a new relationship with his best friend’s sister-in-law (Jennifer Lawrence, who won her Oscar for the role), a young widow with her own issues.
“About Time” (2013): Writer-director Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”) clocks in much more than just a charming romantic tale with what will apparently be his last film as a director. His story of an adorably awkward Englishman (Domhnall Gleeson) who discovers he can travel through time and uses his supernatural skill to court an equally adorkable Yank (Rachel McAdams) poignantly ponders the deeper meanings of life, death and family.
“The Spectacular Now” (2013): James Ponsoldt’s spectacular adaptation of Oklahoma writer Tim Tharp’s coming-of-age novel also made my top 10 movies of 2013 list. Miles Teller stars as Sutter Keely, a charming liquor-swilling high school senior who takes up with fellow classmate Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley), a shy wallflower who likes manga and sci-fi novels.
If you and your sweetheart are snuggled on the couch with a couple of kiddos, zap on a romantic movie appropriate for the whole family:
Most of the Disney “princess” movies: From “Snow White” to “Tangled,” romance rules in Disney’s beloved “princess” movies (with the notable exception of “Brave,” which is still worth consideration because of the warm love story between mother and daughter).
“The Princess Bride” (1987): Westley (Cary Elwes) refuses to let pirates, a prince or even death come between him and his Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright). I recently introduced my 7-year-old son and 3 ½-year-old daughter to this ‘80s classic, and they immediately wanted to watch it again. My reply: “As you wish,” of course.
“Shrek” (2001) and “Shrek 2” (2004): Grumpy ogre Shrek (voice of Mike Myers) and his Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) discover that their love isn’t based on society’s rules of beauty. And that’s OK.
“WALL-E” (2008): A lonely trash-compacting robot finds a hand to hold with a sleek probe droid in one of Pixar’s Oscar winners for best animated film.
“Gnomeo & Juliet” (2011): I’m not one to classify movies as guilty pleasures; I firmly believe different films have different purposes and there’s no point in feeling guilty if a stupid comedy makes you chuckle or a big-budget actioner gets your pulse pounding. But I feel a bit sheepish in admitting that I was utterly charmed by Disney’s transformation of The Bard’s greatest tragedy into a zanily animated, happily-ever-after comedy about a pair of garden gnomes (voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt) who fall in love despite the feud between their respective color-coded families of backyard knick-knacks. Watch it with your kids and be prepared to giggle a lot and have Elton John songs stuck in your head for days.
If you enjoy your romance mixed with plenty of adrenaline, consider yourself locked and loaded with these movies:
“The Terminator” (1984): Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) travels across time to save Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) from the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). He travels across time for her! Now that’s romance.
“True Lies” (1994): A mild-mannered wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) gets drawn into the action and danger when she discovers that her seemingly boring husband (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is actually an elite government spy.
“Desperado” (1995): It’s got Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek falling in love between all the flying bullets, so this actioner offers everyone someone quite nice to look at.
“Mr. & Mrs. Smith” (2005): Shawnee-born Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have smokin’ chemistry as assassins on opposite sides.
“300” (2006): Sure, most of this pumped-up Greek legend is focused on big battle sequences and impressive pectorals, but King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) make one hot power couple. The widowed queen will be back for the sequel, “300: Rise of an Empire,” due in theaters March 7.
“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (2010): Based on the popular video game, this swords-and-sandals epic hearkens back to the Saturday matinee romps of old, pairing Jake Gyllenhaal as an orphaned boy who is adopted by a king and becomes his father’s fiercest warrior and Gemma Arterton as a spirited princess entrusted with a magical dagger that can alter time.
“Thor” (2011): Chris Hemsworth quite ably supplies the brawn as the Norse god cast down to Earth, but Oscar winner Natalie Portman gets to be the brains as relentlessly curious and lovably disorganized astrophysicist Jane Foster in the movie version of the Marvel Comic.
“Drive” (2011): Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s sun- and blood-soaked slice of Los Angeles neo-noir isn’t for the faint of heart. But if you can handle some Tarantino-level outbursts of violence, you can marvel at the crackling chemistry between Ryan Gosling as the enigmatic Hollywood stunt driver/getaway wheelman and Carey Mulligan as the vulnerable, single-mom neighbor who opens his heart without even trying. And yes, their kiss in the elevator is as sexy as you’ve been led to believe.