Romantic movies that you probably haven't seen.
18. SOLARIS (2002)
This science fiction flick, based on a novel that first made it to film in Russia in 1972, is a love-it-or-hate-it affair. Some people think it's one of the most boring things ever threaded through a projector, but for all its slow, humorless airs, its lonely ache tugs the heartstrings of some movie-goers (myself included).
George Clooney plays a psychiatrist sent on a mission to a space shuttle orbiting a planet called Solaris. Soon after he boards the ship he starts seeing visions of his dead wife (Natasha McElhone). The movie boasts a terrific performance by Viola Davis, as the most hardheaded member of the crew; it should have gotten her some of the attention she's finally won this past year for her Oscar-nominated performance in Doubt.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Actor; Best Supporting Actress; Best Cinematography ("Peter Andrews", a pseudonym for Stephen Soderbergh)
19. SOMETHING WILD (1986)
Five years before he became Oscar bait with The Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme directed this awesome take on the screwball-romance road movie. It starts out as a celebration of cheap thrills and transgressive fun and turns into something darker and more challenging.
Melanie Griffith plays a kook who picks up a businessman (Jeff Daniels) at lunch on a Friday and, tempting him with such delights as cheap booze and handcuffs, shanghais him along for her high school reunion. Then her ex (Ray Liotta) shows up. The characters shuck off conventional restraints for what at first feels like a wild three-day weekend. They develop real feelings for each other when they're forced to risk their self-images, their place in society, and maybe their lives.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor (Daniels); Best Supporting Actor (Liotta); Best Supporting Actress (Margaret Colin); Best Original Screenplay (E. Max Frye); Best Cinematography (Tak Fujimoto)
20. THIEVES LIKE US (1974)
Robert Altman's take on the Bonnie and Clyde theme is set in Mississippi in the 1930s and stars Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall. He plays Bowie, a sweet, ingenuous kid just escaped from a prison chain gang; she's Keechie, a skinny country girl with a rabbity smile who gives him refuge when he's been injured in a car accident. They have the special magic of two people who really do seem to be made for each other, which makes the fact that he's doomed that much more affecting.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor; Best Actress; Best Supporting Actor (John Schuck); Best Supporting Actress (Louise Fletcher); Best Cinematography (Jean Boffety)
21. TIN CUP (1996)
You may not remember this, but Kevin Costner was once a big star and a major romantic idol. (Costner himself might remember but based on the later roles he chose, there's a pretty good chance that he never understood his own appeal.) Tin Cup was made in Costner's earlier days, and he looks great. The film casts him as a talented but hopelessly undisciplined golf pro whose courtship of a flustered psychiatrist (Rene Russo) is romantic, rowdy and a rollicking good time. When they finally tumble into bed together, they generate enough steam to give hope to single, aging fortysomethings everywhere.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Actor; Best Actress; Best Original Screenplay (John Norville and Ron Shelton)
22. TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932)
This gorgeous jewel of a movie was made by the same team responsible for The Shop Around the Corner, but they're quite different (aside from the fact that they're both damn near perfect). The film is set among the astronomically rich, and the tone is stylish, crystalline high wit.
Herbert Marshall plays an elegant, cultured thief who hooks up with a colleague—a beautiful clothes-horse of a woman (Miriam Hopkins) with whom he engages in a seductive round of competitive pocket-picking. All is good until Marshall goes to work schooling a rich woman, Kay Francis, in the ways of high society as only an amoral fraud could master them. Hopkins begins to worry that his heart isn't in fleecing Francis because, of course, he's falling for her.
Sly, shimmering lines of dialogue flow through this film like a champagne tree. To succeed at this kind of entertainment you have to have a supernatural level of skill and inspiration—and these filmmakers had 'em both.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Director Ernst Lubitsch); Best Adapted Screenplay (Samson Raphaelson)
23. TRULY, MADLY, DEEPLY (1991)
This was the first movie directed by the late Anthony Minghella, who later made The English Patient. That film cleaned up at the 1996 Oscars, but this wonderful little movie went unnoticed, though at the time it inspired a lot of reviewers to praise it as, basically, Ghost for smart people.
The criminally undervalued Juliet Stevenson plays Nina, a woman who shuts down after the untimely death of her boyfriend, Jamie (Alan Rickman). Then Jamie reappears, sets up camp in her apartment and they have a grieving lover's dream reunion. But Jamie begins to slowly irritate the hell out of Nina, constantly complaining about the cold and inviting all his ghost pals to cram into her living room for video night.
The movie doesn't reveal if Jamie is a ghost or Nina's fantasy; either way, their extra time together allows Nina to de-romanticize her memory of Jamie and move on with a new guy. Truly, Madly, Deeply may be the most entertaining grief counseling session ever filmed.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actress; Best Actor; Best Original Screenplay (Minghella)
24. UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948)
This high-style screwball comedy stars Rex Harrison as a famous symphony conductor whose peerless aplomb is shaken when he's given reason to doubt that his beautiful young wife (Linda Darnell) has been faithful. The movie is a head-spinning mixture of rowdy slapstick and spectacular verbal wit. Seeing the magisterial Harrison, who rips through his comic monologues like a concert violinist hitting one golden note after another, doubt his potency is both funny and touching. (A 1984 remake starred Dudley Moore as the conductor. Dude, it's not the same.)
An extended sequence in which Harrison's character fantasizes about murdering his wife may have been too bold for audiences in 1948. It may also have hit too close to home: it came out the same year that Harrison was caught up in a scandal involving the actress Carole Landis, who committed suicide during their affair. Its subsequent box office failure helped destroy director Preston Sturges's career. Ironically, he may have been working out his own issues in the script. Sturge married some much younger women in his time, and the film includes speeches about how an older man should be grateful for the time and interest of a beautiful woman.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor; Best Supporting Actor (Edgar Kennedy); Best Original Screenplay (Sturges)
25. ZOO IN BUDAPEST (1933)
This one-of-a-kind fantasy is set in a studio-made Budapest. The hero is an early PETA-type (Gene Raymond) who lives in the zoo and steals animal furs off the backs and necks of people wearing them. (He burns them, which makes throwing red paint seem kind of measly.) Our animal lover meets Loretta Young, an orphan and potential indentured servant, during her class trip to the zoo. He persuades her to slip away and turn fugitive, joining him in a private idyll in an anthropomorphic world. It's a movie that defies all known categories, which might have confused the Academy, but won't dampen your enjoyment.
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR: Best Director (Rowland V. Lee); Best Actor; Best Cinematography (Lee Garmes)