February 14, 2004

I never celebrate Valentine's Day. Not because I don't believe in the day. It's got a basis in history as a celebration of love in at least some stories. So berating it as a day made up by Hallmark is something I know to be false. Which is not to say that they're not one of the biggest beneficiaries of the holiday. Them, the rose sellers, and Godiva.

It's also not because I don't believe in love. I do believe in love. I'm not sure I believe that it's necessary in my life, not the romantic kind, but I recognize it when I see it and I know it's out there and a lot of people enjoy it. More power to them.

I don't celebrate it because, when I wasn't in a relationship back when I wanted to be in one, it was a horrible painful reminder of what I didn't have. Then when I was in a relationship, there was always something forced and disappointing about celebrating Valentine's Day. I think there's too much pressure to allow actual romance.

So my plan for today, Valentine's Day, is simple. I slept in. I took a shower. I shaved my legs (not in anticipation of anything). I cleaned my kitchen. I went to the grocery store. I talked to my sister on the phone. Later I'll make some homemade pizza. Then I'll watch some movies that are not inherently (or in one case even vaguely) romantic that I've rented from Netflix--Capturing the Friedmans and The Secret Lives of Dentists. It's been a great day so far and will continue to be. By myself. No romance involved.

But despite all this non-romance I have in my actual life, I have a confession. I have what's probably one of the largest collections of romantic movies west of the Mississippi. And I watch them and I smile and sometimes tear up and laugh and get a warm little feeling in my stomach. It's the girliest part of me, as close as I get to feeling romantic these days.

So, in honor of this holiday that I don't celebrate, at least not in the traditional way, I'm going to give you my top 12 (10 is too predictable) romantic movies. Now, these aren't the absolute best movies ever. For instance, I think The Philadelphia Story is a fabulous film, one of my very favorites, and ultimately somewhat romantic. However, she ends up with the occasionally abusive and drunk ex-husband, which works on film but if my best friend told me she was going to marry that man, I'd stage an intervention. Anyway, the film isn't really about the romance, it's about her figuring out what she wants and who she is.

The following films are sometimes goofy, sometimes cheesy, but always charming and romantic and make my heart flip. These are not movies I watched once, loved, and have never seen again. I have seen each of these films a minimum of 5 times. Many of them so many times I can recite the dialogue along with them. Bear in mind, I have an unexplainable adoration for Matthew Perry and Sandra Bullock. Why haven't they been in a film together? Hmm.

In no particular order:

When Harry Met Sally...--Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. Known for the fake orgasm scene, this is a such a fabulous comedy and love story. It's not your usual love at first sight thing. Instead it's about two people who get to know each other as friends then fall in love. What a novel concept.

Three to Tango--Matthew Perry and Neve Campbell. Here it is, excellent evidence of my Matthew Perry obsession. But I maintain that this film has a lot of style and some great comedy. Matt falls in love with Neve who's having an affair with the man (Dylan McDermott) who just hired Matt and his partner (Oliver Platt--love him) for a huge architectural job. Dylan thinks Matt is gay and asks him to watch out for Neve, make sure she's not sleeping with anyone else. This could be an annoying plotline, but Matt doesn't "play gay". He continues as he is, just allowing the assumptions, realizing a gay man is pretty much like a straight man. He and Neve have good chemistry and there's lots of good swing music, too.

Simply Irresistible--Sarah Michelle Gellar and Sean Patrick Flanery. I know this isn't a great movie. But I love it anyway. Sarah is a bad chef in her failing restaurant. Magical forces take a hand and arrange her meeting with Sean, who is the manager of Henri Bendel and opening an expensive, fancy new restaurant. Her desire for him and a magical crab (how many times do you see that in a movie?) make her an incredible chef who, Like Water for Chocolate-like, puts her emotions in her food. Sean falls for her but won't admit it. He thinks she's a witch. But ultimately she shows him how to go with the flow. Great clothes, too.

Cyrano De Bergerac--Jose Ferrer and Mala Powers. This is my all-time favorite romantic movie and play. Jose Ferrer is brilliant as Cyrano, who is desperately in love with Roxane, who is in love with the beautiful Christian. Cyrano has a big nose and thinks no one could love him. But he's a poet, incredibly quick-witted and clever, and a fabulous swordfighter as well. He's got the whole package--if it wasn't for that nose and the chip on his shoulder. So he plays the part of Christian in letters to Roxane and even speaks to her pretending to be Christian and manages to get Christian married to Roxane. All the while Roxane doesn't know that Christian's actually a bit of a dolt and Cyrano is of course the man who's won her heart. The most romantic scene ever--when Roxane's on the balcony and Cyrano speaks to her under the cover of trees and says some of the most lovely things ever.

Roxanne--Steve Martin and Darryl Hannah. Take the above synopsis, put it in the 1980s, and you've got this movie. Steve is a fire chief in a ski town with a big nose and an allergy to anesthesia that keeps him from rhinoplasty. Darryl is the beautiful astronomer who's moved into town for the summer. Darryl falls for Chris, the new fireman in town who is a total twit but cute. Steve speaks for him, wins Darryl for him, and when Darryl has to leave for a week, Steve writes letters to her that make her melt. Inevitably Chris runs off to Vegas with a bartender.

The Truth About Cats & Dogs--Janeane Garofalo and Ben Chaplin (and Uma Thurman). Read the above movie synopses, put them in present day, switch all the genders, and you've got this movie. Janeane is a radio personality, Ben loves her voice. He asks her out without seeing her and she describes herself as tall and blonde. When she doesn't meet him, he shows up at the station where Janeane is talking to her new friend Uma, her next door neighbor. Ben assumes the voice is Uma. Janeane makes Uma go along with it. They both fall for Ben and Ben is confused. No one dies in battle or by a nasty bump on the head in this version.

Persuasion--Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds. Jane Austen's less promoted book but secret favorite of nearly everyone I know. Amanda was in love with Ciarán years ago but her family convinced her to dump him. When her family is in financial straits, he shows up again and mousy Amanda doesn't dream he could love her again, but... Best scene--when she's reading his note to her. Makes me cry every time.

Sleepless in Seattle--Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Ok, widely considered one of the sappiest chick flicks ever. But I don't care. It's about that strange connection that hits when you least expect it. It's about love at first sight, love at first hearing his voice, fate, and just knowing that something is meant to be. What's more romantic than that? Tom is a widower with a son who calls a national radio show to say his father needs a new wife. The radio interviewer gets Tom on the phone and Tom eventually spills the beautiful love he had for his wife. Meg happens upon the radio station and cries listening to him. Meg is engaged to another man but can't stop thinking about Tom. Eventually she flies to Seattle to meet him, something he doesn't know about, and he sees her at the airport and he falls for her at first sight. Naturally it takes Tom's son to get them together, but ultimately fate is served.

While You Were Sleeping--Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman (and Peter Gallagher--yum!). Sandra is a token-taker at the L in Chicago. She falls in love with Peter, whom she's never spoken to. On Christmas, Peter gets pushed onto the tracks, Sandra jumps onto the tracks and rolls him off before a train can hit him. At the hospital, when they won't let her see him, she mutters to herself that she was going to marry him. A nurse overhears, thinks she's his fiancé, and lets her in. When the family shows up, they hear that she's his fiancé, she doesn't have a chance to explain, and the grandmother in the family has a heart condition so she's afraid it will be too much for her heart if she tells the truth, since Peter's in a coma. Ok, unlikely set up. But of course the family embraces her, then she meets Peter's brother Bill. Bill is suspicious at first, not believing that Peter is getting married. Then he falls in love with her. When Peter wakes up, they convince him he has selective amnesia but that he loves Sandra. Then Sandra has to choose between the brothers--Bill who she knows and loves but who won't tell her he loves her and Peter who she doesn't really know but she loves his family and he dresses really well.

Sabrina--Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart (and William Holden). Audrey, the chauffeur's daughter, has always been in love with William, younger son in a millionaire family. Her father sends her to Paris to cooking school, in part to get her away so she can recover from her unrequited love. When she comes back, William is engaged to an heiress whose family William's family needs for a business deal. Audrey has been transformed by Paris into a sophisticated young woman and William falls for her. Bogie, who is William's older brother and runs the company, schemes to break them up by making Audrey fall in love with him.

Mississippi Masala--Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury. Sarita is an Indian woman in Mississippi being forced to conform to her traditional family. Denzel has been spurned by his ex and picks up Sarita to make her jealous. Naturally they fall in love, creating tensions in their families due to cultural differences and other plans Sarita's parents had for her. It's an interesting twist on Romeo and Juliet.

The Princess Bride--Cary Elwes and Robin Wright. Brilliant book by William Goldman made into a great film. Robin and Cary are in love but have no money. Cary goes to sea to make his fortune, gets attacked by pirates, and is presumed dead. Against her will, Robin becomes engaged to the King. Before they can marry, she's kidnapped in an effort to create a war between the King and a nearby country. Robin is rescued by a mysterious stranger who turns out to be Cary. Robin gets captured again, Cary gets killed, then Cary rescues Robin again. It's a wonderful film about a love that defies even death.

Posted by Alyssa at February 14, 2004 08:41 PM

I have a huge collection of romantic comedies and romance movies that I just love too. I own 8/12 that you listed -- with Sabrina, I own both versions, and although Julia Ormond just can't hold a candle to Audrey Hepburn (who can?), I love Harrison Ford in that role. It's amazing how dark the original can be compared to the remake. There have been times when I have watched both versions back to back.

Since you love Matthew Perry, I was surprised to find Fools Rush In not on the list. I caught that last week on cable, and just loved it. I love Sandra Bullock, Two Weeks Notice was so good, Hope Floats and Practical Magic have some great romance in them.

Some of my favorite guilty pleasure movies are Mrs. Winterbourne (Ricki Lake, Brendan Frasier, Shirley MacLaine), Kate & Leopold (Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman), The Wedding Planner (Jennifer Lopez, Matthew McConaghey)...there's so many. And season 2 of Buffy, if you've got 18 hours to immerse yourself.

Great post.

Posted by: melmonster on February 19, 2004 01:32 PM
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