Most romantic film #67: Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

This is a very traditional romantic comedy in the British mode with an untraditional message. It is a fun, funny and poignant film with great style that introduced American audiences to Hugh Grant, Simon Callow, Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott Thomas and John Hannah… at least in memorable roles in a popular movie.

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There are several plot threads in the story. The main plot involves Charles (Grant) and his on-again/off-again affair with Carrie (Andie MacDowell), an American that he meets at wedding #1.

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Other plots involve the hitching of Tom (James Fleet) and his cousin Deirdre, two aristos who are both socially awkward; the hitching of my favorite character Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman) and Chester, another American; the love affair of Gareth (Callow) and Matthew (Hannah), which ends in the single funeral, which is one of the most moving scenes in the picture, due to Hannah’s performance.

Mostly this is “winsome,” as one critic stated. Or, to employ sort-of synonyms, charming, delightful, clever and ticklish. It plays with the stereotypes of British aristocracy: awkward, reserved, clannish, inarticulate and gives them a smart;y sharp twist to reveal a group of friends who are going through one of the last of the growing-up rituals: marriage and death.

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After all, you see, it is about growing up. About a group of friends–Charles, Scarlett, Tom, Gareth and Fiona–who are meeting their future mates and bringing them into the inner circle, while watching other friends (not quite inside the circle) get hitched and move away, into the adult pre-occupations of marriage, homemaking, pregnancy and raising children. Even death. In the end, each “friend” has to deal with moving into this adult world, finding his or her own way.

And (spoiler!) the “conventional” characters are boring.

Charles (Grant) and Carrie are the last. Carrie marries the Wrong Man first, someone too old, too settled and stable, too conventional. Charles is confronted by former girlfriends who indict him as a serial commitment-phobe, a Dater who breaks up when things get serious. Charles finally “commits” to marrying the Wrong Woman, and must, to right this bad choice, find his own way to commitment, a way that suits both him and Carrie.

Underneath, this film suggests there are a variety of ways to Happy Coupledom. Even perhaps that “marriage” is a flexible term between two people. (Suggesting gay marriage this early? Yes.)

It is a loving look at the scary reality of adult relationships, ones that require commitment of the long-term kind (including parenthood).

Most romantic film #66: Body Heat (1981)

I’m not certain this is a “romantic” film per se, but it is a sexy film noir that launched the careers of actress Kathleen Turner and writer-director Lawrence Kasden, with a nod to the soon-to-be stars Mickey Rourke and Ted Danson.

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If that seems a lot for one film, this is a big movie.

I hadn’t seen BODY HEAT in a long time but watched it recently, and it is a really, really good film noir mystery.

William Hurt plays Ned Racine, a small-town lawyer in a small Florida Coast town. It is quickly clear that his morals and ethics are loose and adaptable.

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He meets Matty Walker (Turner), the sexy young wife of a rich businessman. Matty is bored and lonely, since her husband is always off on business. She and Ned begin an erotic affair that turns into love. But Matty can’t leave her husband because of a terrific pre-nup that leaves her with nothing — so she suggests that they, she and Ned, kill him.

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Here’s where we meet Mickey Rourke, as a young bombmaker who is one of Ned’s former clients. Teddy (Rourke) builds Ned a bomb.

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Ned’s best friend is the local D.A., played by Danson. Peter Lowenstein (Danson) begins to suspect something.

And so the film unrolls. Cleverly. Compellingly.

When I saw this ‘way back in 1981, I remember being struck by the young Mickey Rourke. He was electric on screen. The next film I saw him in was DINER — same deal. This is a fun film because it is sexy, intriguing, twisty and sophisticated. Couple it with another Kasden film (like THE BIG CHILL) or an earlier film noir like DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Mmm. Then be glad you don’t know anyone like Matty.

Most romantic film #65: The Way We Were (1973)

The mother of all tearjerker love stories for a generation of baby boomers, THE WAY WE WERE was a star vehicle for Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, directed by Sydney Pollack (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They, Tootsie, Out of Africa, The Firm).

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Streisand had already made Funny Girl and Hello, Dolly, but The Way We Were was a more dramatic role, where she did not sing. She plays Katie Morosky, a politically active Marxist Jew in 1930s & 40s America who meets and falls in love with Hubbell Gardiner, a WASP with no interest in politics.

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Redford had been knocking around for a decade in minor vehicles, but in the 1969 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid he finally got critics’ attention. The Way We Were was probably his next truly popular movie and framed him not only as the romantic lead but as eye candy. Streisand’s character crushes on Hubbell, who is definitely a pretty, pretty boy; the problem is their outlook on politics, life and America.

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The movie tells the story of their love affair, marriage and break-up set against the background of the 1930s and its class issues. Katie objects to Hubbell’s WASP-y friends who don’t do anything but play tennis and drink cocktails, while Hubbell gets exhausted by Katie’s constant hammering of Marxism for unions and rights for workers. Hubbell is a gifted writer, one of the things that attracts Katie to him, but he opts for Hollywood, which Katie considers is a waste of his talent. The relationship between then is poignantly depicted: two people who love each other but cannot live together.

Singer and Actress Barbra Streisand with Actor Robert Redford

The title song of the piece was, of course, sung by Streisand (songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Marvin Hamlisch) and became a huge popular hit. Think Celine Dion and “My Heart Will Go On.” (Hello, Oscars 2013!)

It’s the last scene that gets me: the little hair flip, the hug, the regret.

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Ultimately, Pollock, Streisand and Redford do a great job, although critics didn’t like it. Audiences loved it. I would suggest watching this in a double bill with Casablanca or Out of Africa, accompanied by a good red wine and caramel chocolate chunk ice cream. And bring the tissues.

Most romantic film #61: Love’s Kitchen (2011)

This is a charming British film, starring Dougray Scott & Claire Forlani as the happy couple: a master chef coming back to life (and the kitchen) after his wife’s death and a food critic.

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So it’s not just about love and romance, but about really, really good food, too. Set in the British countryside.

The film has not gotten great reviews in the US, but I think that’s in large part the lack of “big star name” for American audiences and the gentle pace of the piece. The beginning looks almost like a cooking show, and one has to wait for the eventual unfolding of the plot.

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Chef Rob Haley (Scott) tries to survive after the death of his wife in a car accident (she was phoning and driving–caution!), but is cooking fast food in a joint instead of doing what he loves — creating delicious native cuisine. His daughter and his friends are concerned but unable to help him.

Until he gets bad review on his careless fast food from an anonymous critic. Fired up, Haley finds a run-down pub in the country going for a song and vows to turn it into a successful eating place featuring haute British cuisine.

(Stop here: for those of you wondering, how can native British fare be haute cuisine, swallow your doubts and past experiences. Clearly our chef gets his toque a-blazing with fine tastes and nibbles!)

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Scott and Forlani are a charming couple (married in real life) with a cute script and excellent supporting players, including Simon Callow (Four Weddings and a Funeral) and Cherie Lunghi (The Buccaneers). The film seems to have suffered from Gordon Ramsay’s association, simply because he became the story somehow.

Listen, rom-coms are not rocket science, right? The reviews for LOVE’S KITCHEN make it sound appalling: it isn’t. Neither does it break the mold for the genre. But if you and your honey want to cook a lovely meal and sit down to this sweet film plus, say, CHOCOLAT or LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE or NO RESERVATIONS or JULIA AND JULIE — other cooking or food-oriented romantic films — you’d be well-served (pun intended).

One critic called it “top cinematic comfort food.” Since the chef’s best dish — the one that converts absolutely EVERYBODY who tastes it — is his amazing trifle, that doesn’t sound like bad praise.

Most romantic film #60: Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

Wow, it was 30 years ago this film came out… gotta get over that, first of all.

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In some ways, for my generation, this was the quintessential romance movie. It referred back to the great classic of our parents’ day, An Affair to Remember, and yet did its own 90’s thing.

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And solidly launched the careers onscreen of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in “lead actor” terms. Ryan went on to make a string of rom-coms, while Hanks kept moving up and away from romantic leads. Oh, and really kicked the writing-directing career of Nora Ephron into high gear, too.

The film includes the wonderful Bill Pullman as Annie’s fiance, Rosie O’Donnell as her boss, Rob Reiner as Sam’s friend (who tries to explain 90’s dating etiquette to Sam), and the charming young Ross Malinger as Jonah. The visual/production style, costumes and music are superb backdrops to the “soulmates” story, soulmates who find each other despite a continent and other people between them…

My favorite moments:

  • Sam (Hanks) trying to explain to his son Jonah why a woman who lives in Baltimore can’t be the “right” woman… using a map.
  • Jonah and his BFF Jessica planning Jonah’s trip to NYC.
  • Annie (Ryan) seeing Sam (Hanks) with his sister Suzy (played by Hanks’ spouse Rita Wilson) and thinking Suzy is Sam’s wife/girlfriend… the reactions of Annie and Sam make for a lovely moment onscreen.
  • The discussion of emo-moments in An Affair to Remember and The Dirty Dozen from the male/female point of view: best explanation of the difference between chick flicks and bromances EVER!

And of course Sam’s initial phone call explaining why his dead wife was the love of his life and why he’s not looking for someone now.

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Most romantic film #46: Chocolat (2000)

Being in Paris it is only right I include some French or French-inspired films. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, this is the movie of the novel by Joanne Harris, which I recommend you read.

No, not that.

Oops, no, not that either.

Yes.

The film stars Juliette Binoche as Vianne, a young mother, who is also a master chocolatier. She and her daughter Anouk drift from place to place, opening chocolate shops and working their magic until the wind comes, sending them someplace new. Vianne did the same with her mother.

At the start of the story, Vianne and Anouk come to a small French village, probably sometime during the 1950s although no date is specified. The village, Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, is a repressed and rule-following community. The mayor, played by Alfred Molina, keeps his citizens in check. He focuses everyone on abstinance and the denial of pleasure and allows no dallying with frivolous things like chocolate. His beautiful secretary, played by Carrie-Anne Moss, is in love with him, but he ignores her.

Vianne’s shop and sweets, however, quickly become a matter of concern because they are simply delicious and seductive, as is Vianne’s open friendliness. One of the first to visit is Armande (Dame Judi Dench), an elderly woman. Another is Josephine (Lena Olin), a woman who appears crazy but is simply a victim of her husband’s physical and verbal abuse.

These misfits and outcasts are joined by Roux (Johnny Depp), the leader of a group of gypsies, who comes to Vianne’s shop in search of work.

Vianne’s generosity and skill with chocolate brings everyone together, frees Josephine from her husband, and makes the mayor crazy. Things escalate, and the wind that pushes Vianne from place to place returns.

With four of the most beautiful and talented actresses and Johnny Depp in its cast and Hallestrom directing, how can this film not be great fun?

It is. The sets, the costumes, the music and the acting are a treat. Sensual, warm, and engaging. I suggest pairing the film with a cup of chocolat chaud or a selection of bites from white to milk to dark filled with fondant or caramel, some heavy cream, and your sweetie. For a complete night of confectionary delight, couple it with Like Water for Chocolate (1992).

Note: I find it unfair the way Binoche can dress like a matronly mother and still be one of the most beautiful women on the planet.

Most romantic film #45: Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)

This most recent version is another favorite.

I talked about the 1968 version directed by Franco Zefferelli last week. Everyone has their favorite R&J, but I do like Luhrmann’s take on Shakespeare very much. In part because he keeps the verse but boldly re-sets the play to present-day (1990s) “Verona Beach.”

The stars of this version are Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes.

They are backed up by a solid (if occasionally scene-chewing) supporting cast. John Leguizamo and Harold Perrineau as Tybalt and Mercutio, respectively, are excellent. The opening fight between the “boyz” from the two families captures the out-of-control violence that is behind the love story, setting the temperature perfectly.

If you liked Moulin Rouge, I think you’d like this. I love that Luhrmann boldly uses contemporary settings and modern technology (TV news)against an operatic score and the play’s strong verse. And Di Caprio and Danes carry it all off, in my opinion. They too are young, like the 1968 actors, although not quite as young.

La Belle Iseult by William Morris (1858?)

This painting is by William Morris of his wife, Jane Burden Morris, in the character of a medieval lady.

On the back of this, Morris wrote, “I cannot paint you, but I love you.” Morris was not one of the premiere Pre-Raphaelite painters or artists. He was, however, a poet and epic storyteller, a craftsman, a designer, and a socialist in the larger sense of philosophy. He was a remarkable man who didn’t succeed very well in normal, human relationships, especially those with women.

This is Jane the year before she married Morris, a strange, exotic beauty spawned from the working class of Oxfords stables and seamstresses. This is Morris, the Oxford-educated thinker and poet.

 Referred to as “Topsy” by friends, he was awkward, large, and intense. Morris finally left Jane to a rather passionate love affar with his best friend while he went to Iceland in search of epic subject matter.

Really.

Most romantic film #41: The Lady Eve (1941)

Another Preston Sturges comedy. I don’t know why he isn’t better known or gets more cred.

In this film, ale heir Charles Pike, played by Henry Fonda, is returning home via ocean liner from a year up the Amazon studying snakes when he meets Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck), a beautiful con woman. Jean works with her father Harry (Charles Coburn) and pal Gerald (Melville Cooper) as card sharps on the cross-Atlantic tours.

Jean charms Charles and love is in the air, until Charles’ bodyguard-valet Muggsy (William Demarest) discovers and reveals the truth to Charles. Although Jean was on the up and up with Charles–practically reformed–his dumping breaks her heart and triggers a need for revenge.

Jean visits her “uncle,” another con man working the Bridgeport, Connecticut set–where the Pikes live and brew their ale. Transforming herself into “the Lady Eve” Sidwich, Jean charms Charles for the second time… and screwball comedy antics occur.

As usual in a Sturges comedy, the secondary characters are played by fine actors who are delightfully slapstick, comical, and quirky. The main players–Fonda and Stanwyck–are sensational in this turnabout comedy.

Clearly, “Hopsie,” as Jean calls him, has never met a girl–or girls–like her before. It is another smart, hilarious, gorgeous comedy about meeting, mating, and marrying, American style. Why aren’t there any movies like this any more?

Most romantic film #39: To Have and Have Not (1944)

A film probably most famous for the reason Bogie met Bacall.

Romance on and off-screen. If you want the deets, read Bacall’s autobiography By Myself. She was an 19-year old model (and virgin) when she met Bogie, 45 and still married to his “Battling Bogart” wife Mayo. The story of their courtship and marriage is lovely and worth the read.

Here, however, is a really romantic and sexy film. Sexy in the way films were sexy before people got naked and hooked up at the drop of a hat. Or… a whistle.

The film is loosely based on a Hemingway story. It stars Bogart, Bacall, Walter Brennan (in the signature character role he would inhabit for the rest of his career), Hoagy Carmichael, and a few other folks. It could be considered, I suppose, a sort of poor man’s Casablanca or rip-off of same, but that would be to miss the unique features of this story.

Bogart plays Harry Morgan, a fishing boat captain working out of Martinique–which is part of Vichy France (y’know, the Nazi-friendly part). Brennan plays his sidekick, the rummy Eddie. Together they pick up charter clients and scrape a living while avoiding commitment to the war or politics.

Then Harry agrees to pick up some French Resistance folks trying to escape. Harry needs the money, because he’s been stiffed by a rich client. Complications ensue.

Meanwhile, the beautiful Slim (Bacall) finds herself stranded on Martinique and singing in the cafe where Harry and Eddie hang out (a French Resistance front). The bandleader is Cricket (Carmichael) who provides some of his signature great songs. Harry and Slim meet and the rest is history.

Best scene: “You know how to whistle, Steve.”

Other fun facts: Howard Hawks, the director, apparently didn’t much like Bacall. The screenplay was written in part by a broke and drunk William Faulkner (still brilliant!). Howard Hughes sold the rights to the story to Hawks–how he got them, no notion. There are 3 other film versions–all inferior. This doesn’t much follow Hemingway’s story, which Hawkes disliked anyway.

See it for the witty dialogue (I know that was Faulkner!), the romance between Harry and Slim/Bogart and Bacall, and the great Carmichael tunes.