Romantic movies that you probably haven't seen.
What's your favorite romantic movie—Gone With The Wind? West Side Story? The Notebook? Yawn. Sure, those are great, heart-swelling films, but you've probably seen them numerous times. If you're looking for something a little different, check out our list of love stories that the Academy, in its infinite wisdom, somehow missed. Below are 25 gems—some you'll have heard of and some will be brand new, but all of them will leave you enchanted—and maybe a bit teary.
1. L'ATALANTE (1934)
This French film is a simple story about a young barge captain (Jean Dasté) who falls in love with a woman (Dito Parlo) he barely knows, marries her and brings her aboard his cramped ship for a working honeymoon. Her only company while her husband is busy steering are Jules, the tattooed first mate, and his collection of felines. For entertainment she gets to watch her callow husband smash plates, terrorize the cats and crew, and confirm your suspicions that getting a captain's license does not require a maturity test. When the ship docks in Paris, the wife runs off to get a taste of big city lights and her husband, feeling rejected, casts off without her.
The film includes a remarkable sequence in which the lovesick captain dives in the water and makes no effort to surface. Floating there, he's a poetic image of romantic depression, a broken man who can only drift in the hopes that he'll be carried to a place where his woman might be waiting for him. Will they get back together? You'll have to watch to find out.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director (Jean Vigo); Best Supporting Actor (Michel Simon); Best Cinematography (Boris Kaufman)
2. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946)
In 1991 the Disney cartoon version of this story was nominated for Best Picture, but the Academy badly misplayed its hand in ignoring this sumptuous live-action fairy tale, directed by Jean Cocteau. Josette Day plays Beauty and Cocteau's frequent leading man (and onetime lover) Jean Marais is lushly made up and elegantly costumed, as the feline-faced Beast. Later versions of this film have taken visual cues from Cocteau's masterpiece, but none has surpassed it.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Makeup (Christian Berard); Best Cinematography (Henri Alekan); Best Costumes (Antonio Castillo and Marcel Escoffier)
3. BEFORE SUNRISE (1995)
Richard Linklater made his directorial reputation as a Gen-X wiseguy with Slacker and Dazed and Confused, then made a quantum leap as a filmmaker with this unexpectedly heartfelt romance that just about created an indie sub-genre: the guy-and-girl-open-up-to-each-other-over-the-course-of-a-night-and/or-day movie.
The film makes falling in love look like the easiest thing in the world. (It also makes getting a good performance out of Ethan Hawke look like the easiest thing in the world; unfortunately all available evidence points to this not being the case.) In 2005, Linklater, his co-writer Kim Krizan and the leads, Hawke and Julie Delpy, reunited for a sequel, called, naturally enough, Before Sunset; that one was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. In Hollywood, ten years to catch on isn't all that bad.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Original Screenplay; Best Actor; Best Actress
4. THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN (1933)
A departure from the populist-folksy Americana mode that people now associate with director Frank Capra's name, this film is a visually rich, swoony fantasy about an American missionary (Barbara Stanwyck) who visits Shanghai during the Chinese Civil War and finds herself at the mercy of the powerful, philosophical, and hunky General Yen (Nils Asther). They never actually get it on but the film, which blessedly predates the Hays Code, maintains a sophisticated erotic atmosphere. It's impossible to know what Stanwyck's dreamy smile in the final shot is meant to say, but I doubt anyone with feeling below the waist imagines she's thinking, "Hot dog! Now I can get back to missionary work."
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Director; Best Actress; Best Actor; Best Supporting Actor (Walter Connolly)
5. CHASING AMY (1997)
Kevin Smith has a slight problem as a movie director: he isn't one. His camerawork is about as expressive as a police lineup and you can experience more sensuous visual flow clicking through View-master reels. He can write when he's of a mind to, though, and this movie, his third, was received with rapturous abandon when it was first released.
Twelve years later audiences still relate to its story of a comic book artist (Ben Affleck) who falls in love with a friend (Joey Lauren Adams) who identifies as a lesbian—the movie's anything-goes confusion is more like real life than most formulaic Hollywood love stories. Smith's feel for post-collegiate bohemian lifestyles and his weakness for cultish in-jokes—like the scene where the characters rework the "my scar can beat your scar" exchange from Jaws as a dirty joke—helped him to reel in smart geeks by making them feel that they, too, could find love at the movies.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Original Screenplay
6. CHOOSE ME (1984)
Writer-director Alan Rudolph should have won gold with this silly but sexy romantic comedy set in the plush homes and seedy neighborhoods of Los Angeles. The main male character is insane (which helps disinfect some of the goofier dialogue) but also honest, wise and effortlessly seductive. The film's comic highlight is a therapist who dispenses love and sex advice on talk radio, a topic she knows nothing about. In between scenes devoted to (sort of) furthering the plot, pimps and hookers promenade the streets as if they were about to break into a dance number, while Teddy Pendergrass, all sexual confidence, growls yearningly on the soundtrack. I don't know much, but I do know that if Teddy Pendergrass would croon into a speaker that I could attach to my shoulder while I'm on dates, the world would be a better place.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Director; Best Actor (Keith Carradine); Best Cinematography (Jan Kiesser); Best Music (my own personal Oscar category)