7. HEARTBREAKERS (1984)
Sometimes, when an actor doesn't find success until later in life his stage presence reveals that he's lived a little—especially when compared with the entertainers who've been minding their images since their twenties. Heartbreakers, written and directed by Bobby Roth, stars Peter Coyote and Nick Mancuso as a couple of Los Angeles buddies who are each hung up on a different woman. The film's special glow comes from Coyote—a former member of the '60s anarchist group the Diggers who didn't get his Screen Actors Guild card until he was 40. Coyote convincingly embodies the hoary but appealing artist as romantic hero cliché. His amazing performance is so open and convincing that you never want to stop watching him, even when you feel embarrassed for his character, Blue.
Blue is an unknown painter content to live hand to mouth until his girlfriend (Kathryn Harrold) leaves him for a more famous, financially secure artist (Max Gail). Energized by loneliness, despair and resentment, Blue talks his way into a gallery show and commits to making himself a success; he fantasizes that if he can sell out a show the woman he loves will come back to him.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Actor (Coyote); Best Supporting Actor (James Laurenson); Best Supporting Actress (Carol Wayne); Best Cinematography (Michael Ballhaus)
8. HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)
Howard Hawks's classic screwball comedy is actually a play—Hecht and MacArthur's The Front Page—refitted as a romantic comedy via a simple sex change. In the stage version, a newspaper editor will do anything to keep his star reporter from quitting the business to get married. In the screen rendition, a newspaper editor (Cary Grant) will do anything to keep his star reporter and ex-wife (Rosalind Russell) from marrying her new fiancée (and also to keep her from quitting the business, but the two now go hand in hand).
By making editor Walter Burns and reporter Hildy Johnson lovers Hawks placed them in the great tradition of motor-mouthed sparring couples that goes back at least to Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. Theirs is a romance that is short on tender moments; His Girl Friday is pure romance among wisecracking equals. It's the perfect film for people who dream of long winter evenings huddled in front of the fire, trading biting, witty insults as the coals burn down.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor; Best Actress; Best Supporting Actors (Pick any five names)
9. I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! (1945)
This small black and white film is a treasure. Its main character is Joan Webster, a saucy, self-assured young workingwoman who carries herself like a duchess and addresses her father in public as "Darling." Joan sets out for the Scottish island of Kilairn, where her wealthy, older fiancé has a gala wedding planned. Due to inclement weather, she's forced to land at a nearby island and wait out the storm. It's there that she meets a naval officer (Roger Livesey) who, it turns out, is the Laird of Kilairn. The Laird has fallen on hard times and has been forced to lease his home to Joan's betrothed. Can you guess what happens next?
With its Scottish locations and wind-whipped seas to go with its emotional heroine, the movie has a strong, dramatic sense of place, which is all the more impressive for the fact that the filmmakers had to do without their leading man's actual presence during the location shooting; Livesey was doing a play in London and had to shoot his scenes separately in a studio.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Directors (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger); Best Actress (Wendy Hiller); Best Actor (Livesey); Best Cinemtaography (Erwin Hiller)
10. LOCAL HERO (1983)
The romance in this sweetly eccentric comedy is between a man and a place. The hero, Mac (Peter Riegert), is a yuppie junior executive at a Houston oil company who is sent to a remote village on the coast of Scotland to buy up properties so his frim can roll in and despoil the natural beauty. The soon-to-be-rich locals can't wait for their land to be devoured, but the more Mac gets to know the town the less zeal he has for his mission. By the time his billionaire boss (Burt Lancaster) choppers in to see how things are progressing Mac has misplaced his business suit, razor and hairbrush, and the oilman doesn't recognize him. This is a story of unrequited love; for all his eagerness to go native, Mac is doomed to return to Houston.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director (Bill Forsyth); Best Actor; Best Supporting Actors (Lancaster; Denis Lawson); Best Original Screenplay (Forsyth); Best Cinematography (Chris Menges)
11. A MAN'S CASTLE (1933)
With ten of his films recently unearthed and now being sold as part of a big DVD box set, and with a biography (subtitled "The Life and Films of a Hollywood Romantic") hitting bookstores next month, the director Frank Borzage may be primed for a real comeback. He had a special ability to create a compassionate, dreamy world even when the backdrop was hard-bitten, Depression-era reality.
A Man's Castle stars the painfully beautiful Loretta Young as Trina, a starving waif who falls in love with Bill, a scuffling mug played by Spencer Tracy. Bill treats Trina dismissively but Tracy manages to make you feel for the unappreciative bastard; you fear what might befall him if Trina ever decides to leave his gruff ass.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Director; Best Actor
12. MIDNIGHT (1939)
In this film a taxi driver tries to convince a woman (Claudette Colbert) to marry for love—that is, marry him—instead of for a bankroll. The wild card is Georges (John Barrymore), a rich old dude who loves his wife (Mary Astor) and rather wishes that she'd stop canoodling with a handsome young gigolo named Jacques (Francis Lederer). Mr. Wealthy makes a deal to pay the woman to attract Jacques so he'll stop kissing up on Georges' wife. Directed by Mitchell Leisen and written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, this is 1930s romantic comedy at its most lushly frivolous and elegantly designed.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Director; Best Actress; Best Supporting Actor (Barrymore); Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography (Charles Lang)
13. MRS. SOFFEL (1984)
Mel Gibson has never been more beautiful or given a better performance than in this true story. Set in Pittsburgh at the start of the 20th century, the film centers on a pair of brothers—Ed and Jack Biddle, played by Gibson and Matthew Modine—who were imprisoned for murder. The title character, Mrs. Soffel, (Diane Keaton) was the prison warden's (Edward Herrmann) wife. She and the couple's children lived in the prison building until, fed up with her lifeless marriage and holding-cell-living, she helped the brothers escape—and she left with them.
The movie was filmed at the actual prison where these events took place, and the big, dark, stony building is a physical manifestation of the impossible odds against finding romantic happiness in the world, especially for a woman like Mrs. Soffel. This is a movie about people who use each other to screw up what's left of their lives, and who, when they have nothing left but each other, seem to believe that it was worth it.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director (Gillian Armstrong); Best Actress; Best Actor (Gibson)