Digital Polyphony

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Love in Film, Films to Love

Posted on February 15, 2012 at 1:35 AM

Love in Film, Films to Love

Valentine's Day. It's that time when people, whether they have someone significant or not to share it with, think about romantic movies. Movies about love. Boy meets girl. Relationships. Sincere Romance or Broad Romantic Comedy. There's a lot of variation and the expression of our most beloved emotion is done in numerous ways. There's very few, I think, actually get it right. For me, of course. This is a blog, after all, so it's pretty much me sharing my thoughts on love in movies without trying to find some validation. Like love itself, this is all just an expression.

Now I'm not going to go off like most and shit all over the Twilights and bad PG-13 Romantic Comedies. Those aren't love stories, they're just stories about relationships in this sort of fantasized world and perspective and usually, in terms of romantic comedies, aren't much more than a comedy of errors. Any notion of them actually being good stories of love and emotion, something that might move you or make you think of love in a way you haven't before, are pretty much obsolete based on their own design alone.

Film has a tendency to be fake when it comes to a rather complex emotion. Often it just undermines the whole thing, tries to set up unrealistic scenarios that result in unrealistic actions and emotions. That's fine. It's escapism. For me, though, I veer more towards the honest. The true. The smart and less contrived. Not all the time, of course, but it's certainly what I've found myself more appreciative of.

It's not merely "love" however. I don't like emotions really undermined for the most part. Sure, I enjoy the fleeting fantasy that film provides - the ideal scenarios now matter how ludacris they may be - but I enjoy honesty a hell of a lot more or, at least, use of cliche and boilerplate writing to try something a little bit new. Love stories in cinema were some of the first stories to be told, and told well. Who can not wath a Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin comedy and not adore it, and most likely it's entirely about our little silent heroes trying to woo the woman of their dreams...and their efforts still resonate today. There's something so sweet in that simplicity, which I also admire. Sometimes a simple love story is all that is needed, and I love those just as much as a complex dive into the emotion itself.

Sometimes the most simplest efforts are the most effective.


There's a lot of movies dealing with love, in some form, so here's a few of mine. They have romance, grace, some are sincere, some comedies, some at least have something interesting to say about love without falling into cliche of your typical Valentine's Day weekend DVD rental.

Shaun: As Mr. Sloan always says, there is no "I" in team, but there is an "I" in pie. And there's an "I" in meat pie. Anagram of meat is team... I don't know what he's talking about.

The Princess Bride - Just a classic, fun, fairy tale romance that knows its a fair tale romance. It's amazing how well this one has aged, becoming more and more charming as the years have gone on.

Shaun of the Dead - A love story masquerading as a horror/comedy. Shaun of the Dead is brilliant on many levels, but in the end it is about a man wanting to be with the woman he loves, even if he has to kill off his family and friends (let go of restraints) to get her. In similar fashion, Scott Pilgrim vs the World is like Shaun of the Dead in a way, only on acid.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Probablly one of my favorite films period. It's a look at love, once love is gone and feelings no longer mutual. Is it better to just forget it ever happened, or is the pain of failed relationships something that makes us who we are so we don't make the same mistakes? One of the best films of the past decade - certainly one of the most original and thought-provoking.

Breakfast at Tiffany's - Ah, the classic. Truth is, if you haven't seen it, I don't know what rock you've been living under. It's a universally-loved movie by just about everyone, has some outstanding performances, Audrey Hephern has never looked finer and the dialogue is just whip-smart.

Roman Holiday - Not entirely a "love" story, or even a romance, but a story about relationships. It's about fondness. Caring. All that jazz.

Princess Ann: At midnight, I'll turn into a pumpkin and drive away in my glass slipper.

Joe Bradley: And that will be the end of the fairy tale.

Lars and the Real Girl - Ok, weird movie time. Considering that Eternal Sunshine is also on this list, that's saying a lot. This Ryan Gosling flick is about a man who orders a "love doll" and pretty much begins a reltionship with it. It's an interesting commentary on the human need of love, wanting to feel love and wanting someone to love, even if it's not a real person.

500 Days of Summer - I remember having a discussion about someone who insisted the movie was not a love story. "No, it's not a love story," I said. "It's a story about love." 500 Days of Summer is about perspective and viewpoints. What might mean something to one person, doesn't mean it to the other. It's honest. Candid. Simple yet emotionally complex. In particular, I love how both Tom and Summer are written and acted. They feel like real people and you buy their respective views on their relationship and understand both sides, making the bittersweet ending all the more powerful.

Summer: "There's no such thing as love, it's fantasy..."

The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Ok, not exactly a "let's get together and watch" type of film, but it's a cautionary tale about love, relationships and threesomes. I found the film Shame a recent movie that's comparable. A character study of love, desires and wants. Again, not a typical love story, but a story about love...and threesomes.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner - My second favorite Poitier movie, this was a trendsetting movie about taboos and the changing of the guard, so to speak. Interracial romance was pretty ignored when this came out, but it certainly existed. Later remade into an absolutely insulting movie starring Ashton Kutcher.

Speaking of Taboos, I'll throw The Graduate into the same mix. I don't necessarily consider it a "romance" movie, or even a movie fully about love (it's far more about life and the paths we take). Yet, the final scenes certainly put a lump in your throat.

Annie Hall and Manhatten - Really the best Woody Allen has ever done. His best directing, his best performances (though Sleeper and The Front had Allen in top-form as well) and some of the best dialogue the man ever put on screen. Must-sees all around.

Mary Wilke: What are you thinking?

Isaac Davis: I dunno, I was just thinking. There must be something wrong with me, because I've never had a relationship with a woman that's lasted longer than the one between Hitler and Eva Braun.

High Fidelity - It's certainly a "guys" movie about love, but that's why I like it. The blend of music, Ferris Bueller-like commentary to the camera, the ever-charming John Cusack and his search for the right woman is just a pitch-perfect adaptation of the book by the same name (one of my favorite books, actually, and I think I like the movie more due to the larger dose of comedy).

John Cusack is no stranger to the genre, and he always seems to hit the right notes when it comes to movies dealing with love. Say Anything is probably still his best.

Casablanca - Probably the most predictable one on this list, especially if you've read my review from last year. It's a movie that asks this: if you love someone, are you willing to give them up? Speaking of Bogart, I'm also a huge fan of Sabrina and the often underseen In a Lonely Place which, though not a full-on romance movie, does have some interesting things to say about love and lust. In particular a line where Bogart discusses love and how the trick to writing about it, is to not be obvious about it. "Well that's because they're not always telling each other how much in love they are. A good love scene should be about something else besides love. For instance, this one. Me fixing grapefruit. You sitting over there, dopey, half-asleep. Anyone looking at us could tell we're in love."

You know what movie doesn't get enough credit as a romantic comedy? Coming to America. Yeah, I said it.

Love, Actually - Probably the most "commercial" of my favorite romantic movies. It's a bit cheesy, silly and dumb, but it's not insulting about it. It's a movie that kind of knows what it is. Now every producer is trying to cash in on its formula with its ensemble casting approach and mutliple-plot-line structure. They were kind of missing the point, I think.

Beginners - I absolutely fell in love with this gem of a movie last year. If you've seen it, I'm willing to be you wouldn't disagree with me. It's a very true and sincerely emotional film.

Hal: Let's say, when you were little, you always dreamed of some day getting a lion...And you wait and you wait and you wait and you wait and the lion doesn't come. Then along comes a giraffe...You can be alone or you can be with the giraffe.

Oliver: I'd wait for the lion.

Hal: That's why I worry about you.

Cinema Paradiso - I would consider this movie a prequisite of the genre. If you're giving a class on romance and love in film, this one is probably going to be required viewing. It's a passionate film to the end.

Amelie - Finding happiness can be elusive, especially if you're so focused on making others' happy and forgetting about yourself. A film full of energy and is one of the few films I felt so fully-satisfied and truly happy for our main character at the end when it comes to "falling in love."

Jules et Jim - I might have put a few of Truffaut's movies on here, but I decided to limit to just one (Day for Night and Stolen Kisses might be something to write more about later). Love triangles are complicated. Unfomfortable. Awkward. But sometimes they're innocent and, well, just happen. Some great characters, incredibly memorable lines and always a personal favorite.

Jim: "We played with life and lost."


Anyway, that's a few that pop into my head as I sit here on this February 14th. Alone. With this blog. And a glass of scotch. There are a ton of movies I've left out, some not even labeled as movies about love, they might have just had some great scenes here and there about it or a good line or two. There's some good standards too, like When Harry Met Sally or or Pretty in Pink or Sleepless in Seattle or the very underseen Only You with Robert Downey Jr.. I like those too, though they aren't movies I go straight too because they are, certainly, a very standard "rom com" affair...but sometimes a good rom com is a good rom com and there's nothing wrong with that.

Love comes in various forms and styles, and therefore there's various forms and styles of movies dealing with it. Though I may not be a fan of a Twilight, I understand there's a place for it. If there's a place for zombies, there's a place for sparkling vampires, I'm sure.

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