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Splendor In The Video Store: A Guide To The Other Great Romantic Movies
by Collin Souter

Time to put the love back in the air. I wrote this article for a newspaper and the opening paragraph would look weird here on the front page. Click here and you'll have a guide to the romantic movies that Entertainment Weekly and other famous publications seem to forget. Best of all, it just might take your mind off those horrendous Oscar nominations...for a little while anyway. Enjoy.

E-mail thread dated 2/12/01:

Dearest Ilsa,
I have it all figured out. We’ll meet at my place (since I have the big-screen). We’ll sit by the roaring fireplace. I’ll take the phone off the hook, put my pager on vibrate and leave the cellular in the car. Mother has a date tonight, so we’ll have the place all to ourselves. I will give to you your Valentine’s Day gift, and then we’ll use it. Oh, baby, will we use it! I will feed you bread, cheese, wine and chocolates from some obscure confectionary.
To top the night off, we’ll watch a movie, one of your favorites. ‘Titanic,’ ‘It Happened One Night,’ ‘Sleepless In Seattle,’ ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ ‘Ghost,’ ‘Moonstruck,’ whichever you want. We’ll settle into the couch and dream of a better life. We’ll fall gently asleep in each other’s arms. Happy Valentine’s Day (in advance).
Love, Norman.


Hey, Norm!
First of all, you don’t have it all figured out. If you did, you wouldn’t be working at Hardee’s. What you mean to say is that we’ll meet at YOUR MOTHER’s place! You say you’ll put your pager on vibrate? Good. May I borrow it when the evening’s over? Yeah, we’ll have the place to ourselves until your mother comes home from her date (at 9pm), gets a look at me (as though she hasn’t met me once in the one year we’ve been going together), and give me the usual, ‘hussy…tramp…you leave my son alone’ speech. Lingerie is a gift for you, not me, and if you get it for me, YOU will wear it. Wonder bread, Kraft cheese, and TGI Friday’s bottled White Russian drink mix has really lost its charm. Can we eat at Arby’s instead?
And the movies! I’m sick of seeing the same list of movies in every issue of Entertainment Weekly, Cosmopolitan and People. ‘Titanic’ is depressing. Meg Ryan is nothing but a deranged stalker in ‘Sleepless In Seattle.’ I’ve seen ‘When Harry Met Sally’ so many times, I have all of Meg Ryan’s restaurant orders memorized. ‘Ghost’ makes me puke every time he says ’Ditto.’ And ‘Moonstruck’…okay, I still love ‘Moonstruck,’ but can we be a little less obvious this time? I hear the brilliant film critic Collin Souter is putting together a guide to less-obvious romantic movies to rent on Valentine’s Day. You can find it in the next issue of The Harper Paper. Do some research, and MAYBE I’ll let you touch me. Maybe. I agree with you on the ‘dreaming of a better life’ part.
Bored In Barrington. (Ilsa)

Here you go, all you Norman’s out there. Hope this helps:

ALWAYS Richard Dreyfus, Holly Hunter and John Goodman star in Steven Spielberg’s word-for-word re-make of 1943’s A Guy Named Joe. It stays very true to the original’s tone, which may explain why some of the dialogue seems so corny. Still, the movie has laughs, thrills and moments of genuine sadness. Not surprising, considering the source. It also may seem reminiscent of the more popular Ghost, but this time you won’t have to sit through the hackneyed “thriller” aspect. Also, in this movie Audrey Hepburn makes her final screen appearance.

THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT Fans of The West Wing should check this out if they haven’t already. Aaron Sorkin, writer and creator of The West Wing, penned this old-fashioned romance about a widowed U.S. president (Michael Douglas) who just wants to date an environmental activist (Annette Bening) without being hounded by the press or attacked by his political opponent (Richard Dreyfus). The first movie that comes to mind when trying to think of a 90’s movie that can be described as “Capra-esque,” as well as director Rob Reiner’s best film.

BEAUTIFUL GIRLS Women usually bring this movie home from the video store, but guys end up embracing it. Timothy Hutton comes home for his 10-year high school reunion to find that nothing has changed, except for the new next door neighbor (a 13-year-old Natalie Portman), who has more maturity and brains at age 13 than all of Hutton’s friends put together. Beautiful Girls has been written so well, we actually understand why Hutton “would wait” for Portman. A great cast, featuring Matt Dillon, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rappaport, Martha Plimpton, Annabeth Gish, Lauren Holly, Uma Thruman, David Arquette, and (don’t let this stop you) Rosie O’Donnell.

BEFORE SUNRISE Remember your first date with your significant other? Do you remember not wanting that day/night to end? Do you remember what you talked about? Richard Linklater’s leisurely Before Sunrise takes a talky approach to the romantic comedy, letting the realistic, sometimes-improvised dialogue between its two leads (Ethan Hawke and France’s Julie Delpy) carry the movie. Hawke plays a college student bumming around Europe. Hours before he has to leave, he meets Delpy, a friendship grows between the two and after hours of getting to know one another’s deepest thoughts and personal preferences, their desire for one another peaks and comes to a crossroads.

CITY LIGHTS Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece. His second-to-last silent film, it tells the story of the Little Tramp who falls in love with a poor blind flower vender. A chain of events leads her to believe the Little Tramp has money to burn and will help pay for her surgery which will restore her sight. Some of Chaplin’s most inspired comedic moments mixes with pathos and one of the most moving endings ever filmed. One of the greatest films of all time.

DEFENDING YOUR LIFE After losing Holly Hunter in the equally brilliant Broadcast News, actor/writer/director Albert Brooks vowed to lock himself in a room and write a movie where he gets the girl at the end. Meryl Streep plays the girl in a movie that tells the truth about what happens after you die: You go to court to defend yourself before a judge. Brooks has to spend nine days in the afterlife, where he has been put on trial for being afraid most of his life. Soon, he must decide whether he wants to return to his real life or stay in the kinder, gentler afterlife with a woman he just fell in love with. Kind of like What Dreams May Come with the funny parts put back in.

DOGFIGHT Like Before Sunrise, Dogfight tells the story of an unlikely friendship that turns to love overnight. It tells the story of a bunch of Marines who place a bet as to who can find the ugliest girl to bring on a date (hence the title). River Phoenix picks up a homely-looking Lili Taylor. She finds out about his intentions, but he tries to make amends. A wonderful, underrated little movie.

GUINEVERE A terrific surprise. This stars the always-great Stephen Rea and the, well, always great and beautiful Sarah Polley (The Sweet Hereafter, Go) in a love story about a photographer and his lover/would-be protégé. Sarah Polley again demonstrates why she has become one of our best leading young actresses. By the way, you can hear her angelic singing voice over the beautiful Thomas Newman-esque score.

HAROLD AND MAUDE I realize I said this would be a list of underrated movies, and I realize this movie has a loyal following, and it did make AFI’s 100 best Comedies Of All Time list, but you just can’t argue an original love story. Bud Cort stars as Harold, a lonely young man obsessed with suicide. Ruth Gordon, in her most memorable role, plays Maude, the 80-year-old woman he falls in love with. Love knows no boundaries.

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS No list of great romantic movies would be complete without at least one Woody Allen movie. Sure, I could put Annie Hall, but that movie—while being a perfect movie about love and relationships—doesn’t leave the viewer with an uplifting, romantic glow. After Allen’s Academy Award winning Hannah and Her Sisters, you’ll be “walking on air.” During it, you’ll laugh plenty. With Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow, Daniel Stern, Max Von Seydow, Woody Allen, Carrie Fisher, and the Academy Award winners (for this film) Diane Weist and Michael Cain.

JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO Remember this? The first Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan star vehicle? John Patrick Shanley, who won an Academy Award for his Moonstruck screenplay, wrote and directed this equally bewitching and utterly original fable about a man who has six months to live. He makes a deal with an eccentric philanthropic millionaire (Lloyd Bridges) to jump in a volcano on a remote island. During his journey, he meets three women, all hilariously played by Meg Ryan. One of them might be his soulmate. Much better than Sleepless In Seattle and its grammatically offensive sausage link, You’ve Got Mail.

L.A. STORY Steve Martin’s sidesplitting valentine to the City Of Angels. Martin stars as weatherman Harris B. Telemacher, a man who receives advice from freeway signs on how to improve his existence. Martin’s then-real-life wife Victoria Tennant plays the object of his affections, competing against her overly-passionate ex-boyfriend, played by the always charming Richard E. Grant. Made in 1990, all the jokes about L.A. still hold true, making this one of the funniest films of all time.

LOVE AND BASKETBALL One of the most underrated films of 2000, this thoughtful and well-acted movie tells the story of a boy and girl who meet at age 12, have a passion for basketball, and grow up together through high school, college, and everything after. One of the things that makes this movie work has to do with the casting of the main characters as kids. They hired the right kids to start this movie off, signaling that, while the movie may be on the tad predictable side, you will like the characters. Starring Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan as the adults.

NINOTCHKA For those who want an old-time, old-fashioned, black-and-white classic romance, you need look no further. While some of its social commentary will be outdated, I find it worth watching since Billy Wilder wrote the script and Greta Garbo appears in her one and only comedy.

THE ROAD HOME Zhang Yimou’s vivid meditation on first love comes to life surrounded by picture-perfect country vistas. A widow wants to take her husband’s dead body up the long and winding road where they first met decades ago when he came to her town impersonating a schoolteacher. No other movie of 2001 captured the wonders of Mother Nature the way this movie did. Also, the great Zhang Ziyi (of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) shows that she has many qualities as an actress without having to kick some ass in order to demonstrate them (not that I mind watching her kick ass, of course). She can be just as sentimental and endearing as a mischievous brunette waif living in Paris. A truly wonderful romantic film.

SOMETHING WILD Made in 1986, this movie still lives up to its title. Jonathan Demme (Silence Of The Lambs, Philadelphia) directed this comedy starring Jeff Daniels as an uptight yuppie and Melanie Griffith as Lulu, the wild thing who kidnapps him and loosens him up. Ray Liotta plays Lulu’s psychotic old high school sweetheart, and once he enters the picture, the movie seamlessly switches gears and turns into a thriller, building to a heart-stopping climax.

THE SURE THING Rob Reiner’s take on It Happened One Night stars John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga in the Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert roles, Cusack being a likable slob on his way to a “sure thing” sex romp and Zuniga being a repressed, anti-beer drinking straight-A student on her way to see her boring boyfriend. Made in 1985, this belongs on a short list of 80’s comedies that haven’t dated, thanks to good writing and hilarious situations. Look for Tim Robbins as a Ned Flanders-type who loves to sing show tunes.

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originally posted: 02/14/01 06:28:42
last updated: 02/09/02 11:06:38
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