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Monday, February 13, 2006

My Recommended Valentine's Day Films Part 3: Hollywood Films

Well, this is the hardest part of my romantic film recommendation series. How can I possibly compile a decent list of Hollywood films when there are so many of them out there?? Hmm. Once again, I'll try to separate them via categories. As for the film reviews, I'm not going to painstakingly put them up, you can do your own search at Roger Ebert's, or head to Rottentomatoes. Click title for info.

Once again, I'm going more for feel-good films than the sad and tragic ones. And I'm also avoiding three hour epics, so nope, I won't be mentioning that little film about that sinking ship (... I'll probably get lynched if I do anyway). I would recommend Brokeback Mountain, but it's too depressing for V.day viewing too.

Old-School Classics (1930 - 1960)

Casablanca (1944)

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in CasablancaVoted by the American Film Institute as the best romance of all time, Casablanca is definitely a MUST-WATCH. Yes, I easily take this over the likes of Gone With The Wind and Doctor Zhivago because, most importantly, this is a pretty short film compared to the other two 'epics'. I mean, come on, would you really want to sit in front of a television for three to four hours on Valentine's Day? Go for Casablanca, it's only a bit more than an hour and a half. The open-ended, bittersweet ending is something that will make you sigh and swoon, and best of all, you might even want to quote all those lines as well. When I was 14 and I first watched this, I loved it so much that I started watching it every week for a couple of months. (it was a time when I was digging out all those film classics that were in American Film Institute's top ten, and this ended up as my favourite among them all.

But hell, if you think of yourself as a film fan, and you haven't seen Casablanca, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

I would add 1934's 'It Happened One Night' starring Clark Gable in it since many said that it's the grandfather of today's romantic comedy, and the way Clark Gable munched on carrot in the film inspired Bugs Bunny. But since I haven't watched the entire film (just the last fifteen minutes, not really as funny as I thought though). There ARE numerous romantic classics out there from the 30s to 60s that are part of cinematic history, but I still think that the best choice would be Casablanca.

Stuff from the 70s?

Actually, there are none that I could recommend. During the 1970s, most of the stuff were pretty raw, dark, and gritty, and I couldn't really think of any memorable feel-good love stories that would be good for viewing on Valentine's Day. If you really want something unromantic for your Valentine's Day, you can check out the likes of Godfather 1 and 2 or Chinatown, or Deer Hunter, or Mean Streets, or Raging Bull or Taxi Driver... only if you're crazy. Good stuff, but entirely not romantic. As for the Woody Allen stuff, um, as funny as Annie Hall is, it's not the type of film that'll make you smile when it has ended. (I watched it during a difficult period last year, and I ended up becoming even more depressed) But it's realistic... sort of.

Anyway, there are more choices from stuff that came out after the 80s.

Romantic Comedies

When Harry Met Sally (1989)Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally
All right, this is definitely a classic romantic comedy. If you are a fan of chick flicks (*cough* like me *cough*) you MUST watch this. I don't remember Billy Crystal being any better in any other flick, and this is the flick that turned Meg Ryan a star (and then made her star in countless formulaic rom-coms attempting to emulate this film). So yeah, romantic comedies you see today are pretty much influenced by When Harry Met Sally, you know, the boy meets girl, love-hate relationship, obstacles appear, misunderstanding that threatens to separate our two and ultimately, a climatic sweet and romantic declaration of everlasting love in the ending. Sure, they're probably generic to you now with all those rom coms out there, but you'll realize that they are just pale imitations of this great masterpiece. Hell yeah. The ending will make anyone melt.

(I'm excluding Sleepless in Seattle from the list. Good it may be, it's kinda overrated, and it's not as good as this)

Groundhog Day (1993)

Bill Murray and Andie Mcdowell in Groundhog DayThis film is already a classic (and you should be ashamed of yourself if you haven't heard of it). An assholish weatherman is stuck in the same day over and over again. That's the concept of the film, but it's the romantic subplot that makes it so winning. No matter what he tries to do, he just can't seem to win the heart of his new producer. He can impress her with his knowledge about her, he can dance with her under the snow (that's pretty romantic) and many other things, but all she does is reject him. Until the very end... well, watch it yourself.

Jerry Maguire (1996)Tom Cruise and Renee Zelweger in Jerry MaguireYes, it has Tom Cruise in it. But remember, this is Tom Cruise before he went crazy. And to me, Jerry Maguire remains Tom Cruise's best film. I mean, come on, the 'you had me at hello' ending gets to me every single freaking time. Whatever it is, this is not just a good romance, but a pretty good film itself. Damn it, after watching this, you'll be telling your loved ones how they complete you and everything, which is perfect for Valentine's Day, no? So yeah, watch this 90s classic and lament how Tom Cruise had became crazy today. Sweet memories of this film make me even more disappointed with director Cameron Crowe's most recent feature, Elizabethtown.

Notting Hill (1999)Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in Notting HillI actually like this more than 4 Weddings and a Funeral (but then, I was pretty young when I watched it) and yes, Pretty Woman. (in my opinion, this is the best rom-com Julia Roberts is in... and that's cos I dunno whether My Best Friend's Wedding can be labeled as a rom-com, hmm) Now, if you haven't skipped this part already and think that I'm crazy, listen to me, this film will definitely work for suckers of romantic comedies (... like me). Films like this are about escapism, hey, who doesn't fantasize about winning the heart of a movie star eh? Go for this. I would recommend Love Actually too, but there are too many love stories in it, and by doing thus, each of them ended up rather underdeveloped. (The Keira Knightley one is sweet though, and I'm not saying that because I ripped off what that guy did)

As Good As It Gets (1997)Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in As Good As It GetsBoth Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt won Oscars for this (it was the year when Titanic swept everything except the acting awards). Nice romantic comedy. Assholish writer trying to be a better man because of this waitress. Inspiring, nice, and good for cynics too.

Something's Gotta Give (2004)

Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Something's Gotta GiveEr, right, another flick with Jack Nicholson in it. See Jack Nicholson win Diane Keaton from Keanu Reeves. Perfect for my older readers, I guess. It's just pretty much a generic romantic comedy, but I can't think of another that involves middle-aged couples. Hah.

Sideways (2004)

Virginia Madsen and Paul Giamatti in SidewaysMy favourite film among all those that were nominated for the Best Picture award in the Oscars last year. More a buddy road movie than a full-blown romance film. However, the romantic subplot does become the centerpiece of the film. Check out the much-talked about poetic scene where Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen's characters were discussing about wine, which ended up becoming a subtle romantic confession of love. The ending is understated but sweet.

Hitch (2005)Will Smith and Eva Mendes in HitchThis will be my only recommendation from last year. In my opinion, this is the best romantic comedy that came out on 2005 (I mean the conventional PG-13 ones, so I'm not comparing it with 40-Year-Old Virgin and Wedding Crashers, oh, and these two films are recommended too), a belief reinforced when I watched it again two days ago on DVD. Watch out for the tips from the date doctor Alex Hitchens (Will Smith, who finally broke his streak of crap films). Although his story with the Eva Mendes character is pretty sweet, I think the one involving the Kelvin James character and the blonde woman is cuter. Will write an actual review for this too.


I'm not so dumb and anal to penalize these films for not being true enough to facts. If I wanted something that's entirely factual and accurate, I would go for documentaries, not Hollywood manufactured biopics. The following films are good romantic tales involving real-life figures (although I'm not too sure whether Gwyneth's character is fictional or not).

Shakespeare In Love (1999)Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love
Yes, like many, I was pretty pissed off that this won the Best Picture Oscar instead of Saving Private Ryan. But other than that, this is a pretty good romance film. Watch the events that inspired Billy The Bard into writing Romeo and Juliet and later, Twelfth Night.

A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful MindAnother romantic biopic that comes to mind. Watch a saintly long-suffering wife go through all kinds of difficulties and pain for years while remaining faithful to her once-brilliant but schizophrenic Mathematician husband. For a biopic, this is pretty romantic, and the manipulative Nobel Prize acceptance speech in the end will reduce many to tears.

Walk The Line (2005)

Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in Walk The LineYes, the recent Johnny Cash biopic I saw on the plane a few days ago (have yet to write a proper review about it). The love story between Johnny Cash and June Carter is surprisingly romantic. A courtship that lasted for a decade, forbidden because both were married, yet she was there when he tried to battle his drug addiction. The ending where he proposes to her onstage is definitely 'awww' worthy. Go see it if it's still showing in the cinemas near you.

Teen Romances

Say Anything (1989)Ione Sky and John Cusack in Say AnythingNo, I haven't really seen this one, but it's recommended by Guestblogger Justin. I know it's a film about a guy trying to overcome all kinds of obstacles to win the girl of his dreams, yeah, that's the plot for 58540840530503583 rom coms out there, the now-iconic ending has John Cusack declaring his love by holding a boombox over his head with some schmaltzy song blaring from it. There will be a day when I do the same by playing some Backstreet Boys song for my lady love.

And yeah, I think that would be my only recommendation for those 1980s teen romance flicks. I don't like the ending in Pretty In Pink (if it had ended 10-20 minutes earlier, and she had ended up with the right guy, then I would've been okay with it. Although, it seems that my preferred ending was supposed to be the original intended ending, hm, John Hughes messed up big time!)

10 Things I Hate About You

Heath Ledger and Julie Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About YouSurprised to see this on this list huh? Well, now that Heath Ledger gaining all kinds of acting accolades with Brokeback Mountain, we should be looking back at the film where people started noticing him. This, along with 'She's All That' (also a recommendation, even though Freddie Prinze Jr is in it, but hey, his appearance is negated by the hot Rachel Leigh Cook) made teen romances fashionable again during the mid-90s. And yes, this film is definitely perfect for Valentine's Day viewing. It's so freaking sweet that it gave me a toothache. And overall, this is a better film than 'She's All That' (and it helps that there's not one love story in it, but two, hmm)

Rushmore (1998)Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams and Sara Tanaka in Rushmore
See a 15-year-old student (Jason Schwartzman) and a middle-aged millionaire (Bill Murray) compete for the affections of a school teacher. It's a funny flick (and a weird choice for a Valentine's Day flick), and not truly a conventional romantic film. But it does have some sweet parts in it, like the ones with the Asian chick towards the end of the film, and it IS a movie about winning one's love.

'Not Everyone's Cup Of Tea' Films

All right, these are films that might not appeal to everyone like those romantic comedies did. You'll either feel bored, or get lost in the plot.

Lost In Translation (2003)

Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson in Lost In Translation
Like a Wong Kar Wai film ('In The Mood For Love' IS Sofia Coppola's inspiration), you'll either love it or hate it. The languid pacing will either suck you in, or throw you off, you'll either feel bored, or you'll immerse yourself completely into the film. And whether it is romantic or not depends entirely on how you interpret this film. Some think of it as a film about a friendship between two strangers in a foreign land while others will view it as a subtle, unspoken romance. What did he whisper to her in the end? We don't have to know. The two protagonists (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson) have earned enough for this moment of privacy, to give that moment a voice and to describe it with words will affect its beauty.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
If you can't really follow the story here, you'll probably feel lost and write it off as some crap film. But this is a romantic film about how people are defined by their memories, and that despite an ugly ending, one is willing to do whatever it takes to preserve the sweet and happy memories of the relationship, otherwise, what are you without your memories? And that even without your memories, if you are destined to be together, anything will draw you together. Sweet film. I don't even want to see Jim Carrey in a comedy anymore. And Kate Winslet deserved her nomination.

Once again, this is not really such a good list for Valentine's Day films to watch, lots of stuff that I've left out. So feel free to give me your suggestions too.

On the other hand, you can check out the entire list of AFI's top 100 romance flicks.

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