Oh heck! Valentine’s Day! Alright, look, if you know who I am, you know what’s coming.
No, not a sexy striptease! Though enough fan demand could potentially squeeze that out of me. This, my friends, is actually a two-part-- yes, two parts, in grand Hollywood fashion-- ode to love on screen! Platonic love! Romantic love! Love of all things!
By the way, these aren’t strictly tales of falling in love or just romances in general. To me, I define a movie romance as anything depicting the process of being in love, of going through relationship strife, and everything else that constitutes the human notion of what it means to court someone. Symbolic or otherwise - besides, it's boring to list the same old couples we've so upheld in such traditional ways. For instance, haven’t you ever fallen in love with a jean jacket, that you’ve had since childhood? Whereupon your attachment grew into something more than a wearer and cloth, and losing it on a film set was utterly destroying…?
Enough about my inner pain and turmoil. We gots love to talk about!
10. Rush (2013) - Niki Lauda and James Hunt
Not every relationship is peachy. Not every relationship is pure enlightenment. However, there's no denying that any memorable romance brings out the best in both parties, despite any lingering stress. Even though it may not seem that way, some people we find ourselves entangled with can't help but bring out a fundamental urge to be the best we can be.
Needless to say, this isn't always positive, but it's the tenet of a good percentage of relationships. And if you've seen the movie-- I recommend you do, cause it's awesome-- you could say that's just the rivalry doing that, but how does the plot take a turn?
Niki's horrible accident not only swerves James' hatred of the man to pure respect and affection, but James' continued streak inspires Niki to get back on the race track. This is the classic sitcom romance, placed in the 70s at the heart of Formula One! Two people don't like each other, try to make them jealous, until something brings them together! I won't take anything less. Besides, when James punches out a reporter for calling out Niki's appearance after his accident, isn't that so sweet?
9. Addams Family Values (1994) - Gomez and Morticia
These two cool cats are just so suave and synchronous that you can’t deny they were made for each other. It’s a rare thing, to see two characters continuously spout their love for each other and the audience believe it. Give credit to sharp writing and filmmaking as well - we're never inundated (TWILIGHT) or made too front and center (THOR), instead seeing these two interact smoothly along the story.
Raul Julia and Angelica Huston, almost the aesthetic personification of Gothic heroes, fit together as snug as those two Lego pieces that jammed into my back fat in my youth. They fight together, they dance together, they love together simply because they were made for each other. And in that instance, it doesn't matter how weird they are, how society shuns the Addams. Because love is universal, duh!
That's how, thanks to the performances and strong, hugely entertaining characterization, we know these two are the ideal couple. We may not be part of their world, but when they own a world with such finesse, who can deny a romance like that?
8. Jurassic Park (1993) - John Hammond and the Park
The oh-so-familiar relationship euphoria of showing off your significant other! And the oh-so-familiar dysphoria of realizing that the relationship may need to end *sad trombone*.
Tell me that every time John Hammond speaks of his creation or shows it off that there’s not anything but pure, no, distilled passion in his voice and movements. Do you see how he eyes the vistas, smiles tenderly at everything before him, eager to have people along for the ride? I've seen some couples who lack that fiery love!
Hell, the whole movie is him trying to convince a group of experts and Jeff Goldblum how wonderful it is! BUT - that love has blinded him, too badly. After the park lashes back, he still defends it. When other people are affected, he's just looking for ways to prove it's still nothing but lovely and pure. And when it's time to recognize that this relationship won't work, a good friend of his sits him down to tell him that a breakup is necessary. Eventually, he lets the thought sit in, and decides to take those who are in danger from this park's explosiveness and ride away with them. A tragic tale, but inspired nonetheless.
That is why Jurassic Park is the best movie ever about the romance between an old man and a park full of dinosaurs.
7. The Graduate (1967) - Benjamin and Elaine
No, this romance isn't particularly blustering, dynamic, or explosive. It has its iconic moment, but it's not heartwarming or awesome when you think about it, just chaotic and frenzied. Hell, the movie's not even about the relationship between these two, as theirs comes into play the final third of the film. We get a wonderful theme of two youth who find solace after the generation before them has used and exhibited them like props, but wait! That's still not even the best part.
No, the best part is after Ben has intervened during Elaine's arranged wedding, slamming on the glass and shouting out her name - she reciprocates! They fight off her relatives and the churchgoers, and with all the laughter in the world, run off onto a bus. Ah, what bliss! What excitement! They sit on the bus, ready for a new life. Smiling...smiling...until they aren't.
Until the smiles fade, as they realize their bridges are burned, and sooner or later, they will become their parents. It's heartbreaking, stunning, and at the same time, speaks volumes as to what can follow after that mighty declaration of love.
I didn't say all of these romances were gonna have happy endings, did I? You know how much I love examples of dark and bright.
6. Moonlight (2016) - Chiron and Kevin
You ever have the most infinitesimal interaction with someone - a simple touch, a smile, a wink - and it means the world to you? And you wonder if it meant anything back to them? You're shattered when it doesn't, elated when it does. Well, when you grow up in a neighborhood where your orientation threatens you every day, where cruel displays of strength reign supreme, that feeling might last a lifetime.
It might anchor you through the toughest of times. When protagonist Chiron has his first sexual encounter with his childhood friend Kevin, it's more than attraction - it's two people free to be themselves and act on a love that's been discouraged in their society. On the moonlit beach at the edge of the world, nothing exists but them. Not the code of toughness in their school, the bullies that cruelly uphold that code, or the at-home difficulties Chiron faces. When something comes along in the film and splits them apart, I won't say what, we don't just feel lives being torn away. Identities are warped overnight. Nothing will be the same.
Or will it? The last act is about these two reconciling everything happening, as their identities - both real and performed - clash one last time. It's incredibly cathartic, and God, is this a beautiful movie. THIS is how you do romance.
5. The Fisher King (1991) - Parry and Lydia
“Quirky” romance is a hard, hard beast to tackle. Most celluloid definitions of quirky never truly amount to two unusual, interesting people falling in love in an equally unique fashion - it’s usually just, I don’t know, one of ‘em owns a gramophone and the other breaks rules in a library, some stupid shit like that. It's such a pain in the ass when quirky is thrown at blandly normal couples, and those who are truly unique are overlooked.
When I first saw The Fisher King, my relief was sweeping - they not only did a quirky couple right but made it hella interesting too! It wasn't just a parade of hobbies or taste, but something even better: two people far lonelier than anyone can imagine, with traumas hidden deep down, finding a chance to live again.
For Parry (Robin Williams' finest hour), it's to regain the love that was bloodily taken from him via the shooting that kicks off the plot. For Lydia (Amanda Plummer, who's always great), it's a chance to find someone who's just as isolated as she is, that makes her feel welcomed and loved. Both have such an innocent, child-like outlook on the world, but that never edges into kitsch or overt whimsy precisely because it's from something, not just to exist as a character tic. We just understand, that due to what they've been through or who they are, that 'quirkiness' isn't a trend - it's often what brings the loneliest or most pained together.
So thank you movie, for finally getting this cliche right.
4. Carol (2015) - Carol and Therese
We crave not just affection in our relationships, but solace, too. And it's a particularly effective film device - after all, being brought together through shared thoughts is an undeniable form of connection, no? But even the best of intentions, the purest of love, is something to be ironed out. Not at all to suggest what Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese (Rooney Mara) feel for each other isn't, or to begrudge their romance over the course of the film. Not at all. But this is a film of impulse, of unfinished identity and dreams, of the mad rush of desire.
"My star, flung out of space," as Carol so deftly puts it. Therese exclaims repeatedly she has no idea what she wants. Carol answers repeatedly that she knows exactly what she's doing when it's hinted that she doesn't. It only ends up hurting them both. Yet the film never condemns nor champions these impulses, allowing what we see to beautifully evolve, adapt, and build into the promise of something better. Carol and Therese are faced with insurmountable odds - it's the 1950s after all - but damnit, they won't let round one knock them out. They'll come back.
Not every good romance is Hollywood-esque, surviving past that honeymoon phase, but that's for a wonderful reason: we're human. We make mistakes. But love will win out, as the film suggests, despite everything pointing elsewhere. So long as we are patient, so long as we take the time to know ourselves, then that love will grow and grow. To see such a patient and empathetic portrait of this love, bedecked by LGBTQ representation nonetheless, is joyous.
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) - Joel and Clementine
Wow. This might not be so much a compelling romance as it is one of the most thoroughly investigated relationships I’ve ever seen. I feel like I know these two, and you can’t help but also be swept up in that connection.
For those of you who haven't seen this utter gem of a story, the premise is thus: 20 minutes into the future where there exists a service to help remove memories, Joel (Jim Carrey) decides to do so after finding out his ex, Clementine (Kate Winslett), had wiped out traces of their previous relationship. However, through the procedure, he decides to hold onto those memories, racing to savor them as they disappear. It's a rocky relationship, of course, which is why they both want to see it go. But then what's the point? Isn't the pain of love the acceptable price for embarking on such a quest? Don't we make that pact every time we give our lives to someone?
Bravo to the film for not being afraid to state that a relationship filled with problems and issues is normal, and to believe in perfection is just folly. Not recommended, maybe, but normal! And so we see a romance that isn't just human, but entirely relatable. Nearly every scene brought back memories of relationships long past, of continued ones, of ones in the future, maybe. The cycle that will always continue, but one that we should not shun.
Those memories will be there to guide and remind you, so hold onto them, in spite of the pain! Please, watch this film. It's an invaluable lesson.
2. In the Mood for Love (2000) - Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen
Oh, sweet Jesus. The tension in this movie is unbearable! First, a ton of points for the sheer originality of that which brings our lovebirds together, courtesy of IMDb: "Two neighbors, a woman and a man, form a strong bond after both suspect extramarital activities of their spouses. However, they agree to keep their bond platonic so as not to commit similar wrongs."
Dang! Already you have temptation, connection, and the most unique yet pure way of falling in love with someone. This is two hours of buildup, with a payoff that won't exactly conform to expectations. Two hours of pure unresolved tension, bubbling in every frame. There's a lot of distance in this film, spacially, in many of the frames. Hidden behind that distance is intimacy, ever-present - waiting to turn into something more.
But still, this is 1962 Hong Kong, where rigid traditions are in place and the idea of family trumps any notion of true love or happiness. And after all, they don't want to stoop to the level of their spouses, do they? Couldn't they just leave? Maybe not. Maybe they don't want to. This is a romance that could have been, should have been, curated by painful circumstances - and it will never come to be. But who knows? Maybe it was never meant to be more than a connection. Maybe it was always a dream. That's what always brings me back to this film, that sense of dreaminess. We'll all live our lives with a hinted romance that was never meant to be - or maybe we just never acted on it when we should have. Love is ever-expanding, in endless forms.
I adore when movies explore love like this. Not so much the outline we all know, but the possibilities that lie within space and time.
1. The Dark Knight (2008) - Batman and the Joker
Let’s be perfectly, genuinely real: is there anyone out there who hasn’t waited for the caped crusader and the clown prince of crime to bone?
Actually, lemme clarify, is their relationship not building to anything but a future where each freak is all the other has? I’ve picked the Dark Knight for that specific reason: the Joker in this position is a straight-up product of Batman’s works. And his crimes, in turn, drive Batman to a degree they never have! Sure, it’s not a sweet romance, but that is a hell of a relationship.
And they will exist intertwined together, forever, because as long as Batman can’t bring himself to kill, he allows this lunatic to chase him at every corner. Because it gives him purpose.
The worst part-- they understand each other more than anyone else does. They can only express their demons and pain through extravagant heroics or villainy, which says something especially in a trilogy where Nolan tries to ground everything so much - these two were made for reach other! Is there anything more romantic than that?