I sometimes wonder why I waste so much time selecting movies to watch. I regularly invest at least fifteen minutes studying titles and genres. When my wife is involved, there’s always a conversation involving the phrases, “What are you in the mood for?”, “I don’t want to see a (insert movie type here) tonight,” and “Are you kidding?” Based on an informal poll, I’m confident this dynamic is not limited to my household.
In normal times, indecision and negotiation are an acceptable part of the process. However, we’re only a few days away from Valentine’s Day, the culturally anointed “most romantic night of the year.” With that amount of pressure riding on the evening’s entertainment, being prepared and avoiding angst or disagreement is a wise planning strategy.
Because I provide a full-service column, I’ve done some research on the best movies to choose for at-home Valentine’s viewing. This was no small task. There are thousands of choices available. I narrowed the search by considering only those I personally enjoy. For this reason, you will not find selections in the “Bonnet Movie” category. These are stories where upper crust British gentry sit around talking about love and life while wearing old-fashioned outfits. Two examples are Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. These films put me to asleep more quickly than industrial strength anesthesia. There are also no action/adventure, gut-wrenching dramas, or raunchy comedies included. We are, after all, searching for a “date night” activity.
With those caveats, here goes:
The Classic Romantic Comedy: These movies follow the tried-and-true romcom format. They start with a couple “meeting cute.” This typically entails spilling coffee on a clean suit, saying something incredibly insulting in the check-out line, stealing a reservation at a restaurant, or running someone over in a car. The two main characters dislike each other at first and their current partners are annoying, elitist, unfaithful, or all three. Families are quirky and there’s always a best friend. For the male lead, the friend is a disheveled guy who drinks longneck beers and knows the main character’s painful past. For the female lead, she is either a happily married sister with three perfect kids or a girlfriend who can’t find a date.
My favorite movie in this category is When Harry Met Sally. If you search the internet for the best Romantic Comedies of all time, this movie is always number one. The acting is magnificent, New York is a full-blown character, and the plot tries to answer the age-old question: Can a man and a woman just be friends? As a bonus, When Harry Met Sally includes one of my favorite lines of all time (https://bit.ly/3zWKkDo.) Others to consider: Sleepless in Seattle, While You Were Sleeping, Hitch, Set it Up, and You’ve Got Mail.
British Romantic Comedies: British Romantic Comedies include all the traits of a classic romcom with added nuance. First, while the actors are attractive, they at least resemble real people. You can envision seeing one of them at the bus stop. Think Simon Pegg versus Ryan Reynolds. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Hugh Grant and Kate Beckinsdale come to mind. Secondly, the supporting characters have more depth and quirky characteristics than in the classic American romance. The best example of this is Four Weddings and a Funeral. Third, the characters have realistic jobs. British characters slug off to work in an office or to fix someone’s pipes. In American romances, everyone has an interesting career. They make custom canoes, work for small activist newspapers/websites, or are opening a restaurant. There’s not an accountant, electrician, or engineer to be seen.
My first recommendation is Man Up, a funny, fast moving, and entertaining story featuring the aforementioned Simon Pegg. Others to consider: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and Love, Actually.
Romances with a Cultural View: Movies in this category provide an added twist—they offer an ethnic subculture which provides depth to the viewing experience. For me, because of my Italian background, Moonstruck represents the highest form in this category (https://bit.ly/3sv6qdX.) If you want to know what life is like in an Italian family, watch this movie. In addition, the four leads have all either won an Academy Award (two for their performances in this film) or been nominated for one. Others to consider: Crazy Rich Asians, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and Crossing Delancey.
The Teen Romantic Comedy: These movies are like others romcoms except the setting is customarily a high school. Often the actors are between the ages of twenty-five and thirty but are playing teenagers. Their proms have exceptional bands, and EVERYONE is an above-average dancer.
I frequently can’t relate to the plot lines because I’m well past my adolescence. Some, though, are good enough to hold anyone’s attention. My “go to” in this category is 10 Things I Hate About You. Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger elevate the cast and the story, a modern take on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, has substance. Plus, comedian Larry Miller’s hilarious angst-ridden portrayal of the dad appeals to my fatherly protective instincts. Others to consider: She’s All That, Say Anything, and any Molly Ringwald production from the mid-eighties. If you want to laugh at movies in this category, pull up Not Another Teen Movie.
More Than a Romance: I’ve selected three titles for special attention. In addition to a love story, they also offer a look into a time or culture I find fascinating. The first is Fried Green Tomatoes. The cast is amazing. The movie features Mary-Louise Parker, Mary Stuart Masterson, Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, and Cicely Tyson. The plot weaves through and around a bitter-sweet relationship between two close friends. Set in Alabama, the story’s view of southern culture is simultaneously heartwarming and thought provoking. The second is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. This Netflix original is set primarily on a German occupied island during World War II. The depiction of life under military rule and its consequences on everyday living are worth the watch. In addition, though, the underlying romance is an engaging depiction of how individual choices define who we are and what we become. Plus, the main character is a writer. I mean, who can’t appreciate that? The third is Bull Durham. This is a movie for grownups. Crash Davis and Annie Savoy have taken their lumps in life. There is nothing cute or sweet about their relationship. Equally important, Bull Durham presents a realistic depiction of minor league baseball and is laugh-out-loud funny. The whole movie is worth watching for the scene where a bunch of players and a coach discuss wedding gifts, mid-game, while conferencing on the pitcher’s mound.
I’ll finish with this. Because I’m, shall we say, seasoned, most of my choices are older movies. To discover more recent recommendations, I asked my thirty-year-old son for input. Here are the five he provided—Scarface, Saving Private Ryan, First Blood, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Gran Torino. Did I mention he’s still single?
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February News from Steve
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