by D.W. Lundberg

Friday, December 10, 2010





Break-ups. Kisses and make-ups. Loves lost and love found. Such are the dilemmas of the Romantic film, which asks us swoon at the insatiable appetites of the human heart. Romance took many forms this decade, from the tragic (Atonement, In The Mood For Love), to the quirky (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Bridget Jones' Diary), to the truly original (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind). More than any other genre, though, Romantic films feel as if they're built entirely out of age-old clichés, with plots so routine (boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy comes to his senses and gets girl back) their endings are never in doubt. But then that's the appeal, isn't it? Because it's not so much the destination that makes all the difference, but the bumps and bruises we earn along the way.

The Top Five:

5. Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003)

Richard Curtis, best known for scripting Notting Hill and Four Weddings And A Funeral, makes his directorial debut with this frothy, multi-character concoction, set in London during the five weeks prior to Christmas. Some of Curtis' first-time flourishes do grate on the nerves, with so many stars – including Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth and Keira Knightley, among others – headlining so many separate plot threads that not everything's bound to stick. The devil, of course, is in the details – how, for instance, the character situations tend to mirror each other (the English horndog who fantasizes about American girls, the American who's settled in England for personal reasons but has no time for relationships... that sort of thing), or its unwavering belief that love does indeed conquer all. And if the climax lays on the sentiment a little thick, well, that's love for you, actually.

4. Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulainhaun (Amélie) (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)

There were few faces this decade as enchanting as Audrey Tautou's, those curlicue lips and pixie haircut like a siren song to all things joyous and bright. Jean-Pierre Jeunet's first foray into Romantic territory quickly became one of France's highest-grossing films, a feat that seemed to baffle many critics. It's so cheerful and sugary sweet the movie feels out of step with our cynical times, which I believe is the point – this is a fairy tale, after all, oblivious to the darker edges that plague our later years. Tautou's Amélie is a bit of an innocent herself, so starved for affection she spends all her time conjuring up elaborate schemes to ensure other people's happiness. She's mischievous, plays pranks, and when she happens into love, with a lonely porn-shop worker (Mathieu Kassovitz) who collects discarded photo booth pictures, she treats it like one of her games, sending him on a glorified scavenger hunt across Paris. That he falls so hard for it, and we for her, is just one of Amélie's most endearing pleasures.

3. (500) Days Of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009)

Romance in movies, it's safe to say, is too often a case of Been There, Done That – and indeed, had director Marc Webb and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber told their story in a conventional sense, (500) Days might have been easier to dismiss as your typical boy meets girl/loves girl/loses girl genre piffle. Instead, it's a playful, candidly painful exploration of how our minds actually work, time-shifting back and forth during the 500-day infatuation between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an idealistic greeting card writer, and Summer (Zooey Deschanel), the doe-eyed "girl of his dreams," from break-up (day 290) to first kiss (day 31) then back again. It's a gimmick, to be sure, but also crushingly accurate, since our memories rarely play out from beginning to end, but in staccato bursts of joy followed by sadness followed by bliss followed by heartache. The leads are likable, too. Gordon-Levitt has become quite the natural screen presence since his days on 3rd Rock From The Sun, with his boyish good looks and hipster line delivery, while Deschanel matches him in adorability as the kind of untouchable nerd fantasy every guy wants but ultimately can't have.

2. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)

As  Barry Egan, "hero" of P.T. Anderson's off- kilter romance, Adam Sandler's familiar man-child persona hasn't been disposed of, exactly, so much as it's been honed, channeled into something more awkward and affecting. Barry owns his own business, and seems successful enough (he sells plungers), yet he's so bottled up, constantly beaten down by his sisters and prone to sudden, violent fits of rage, that he dials a phone-sex line just to have someone to talk to. That sets off a whole laundry list of complications Barry isn't quite prepared for, not the least of which is Lena Leonard (Emily Watson), who's sweet and attentive and actually seems to love him in spite of himself. At 95 minutes, Punch-Drunk runs half the bloat of Anderson's previous multi-character studies (Boogie Nights, Magnolia), and it does amazing things with color and music - note Sandler's ice-blue suit and how Watson's blazing red outfits add some fire to his life, or how their courtship is scored to Shelley Duvall warbling "He Needs Me" from Popeye (it helps that Popeye and Olive Oyl were color-coded too). The overriding feeling, though, is that someone finally had the gall to make an Adam Sandler movie as art film, about how love brings out the best in the very worst of us.

1. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

The Romantic Comedy as defined by writer Charlie Kaufman, which is to say, every bit as surreal as Being John Malkovich or Adaptation, but with a softer, bittersweet center. It's especially thrilling to see Kaufman bend genre rules to fit his own peculiar neuroses; like P.T. Anderson before him, he shows us a love story through unfettered eyes, and coupled with the lush, almost subliminal visual stylings of director Michel Gondry, the result is so rich and so haunting and heartbreaking it's burned itself into my brain like no other movie this decade. How bizarre that a plot about memory erasure would have an effect like that, with Jim Carrey (painfully shy and reserved) and Kate Winslet (free-wheeling and unhinged) as jilted ex-lovers who pay to have their minds wiped of each others' existence. It's a metaphor for the way our romantic missteps define us in the here and now, and how, without that distinction, we're doomed to repeat them. (The sly supporting turns from Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst and Tom Wilkinson only help reinforce this theme.) The movie's extended epilogue, with our lovers inexplicably drawn toward each other again, is strangely, sublimely hopeful: a reminder that we love who we love not in spite of our differences, but because of them.


There you go, ladies and lads - something all of you should be able to comment on. Movie-wise, have any of you been so lucky in love? Don't be shy, let me know what you think! If I sound a little excited, that's because I've got big news... there's only one more of these to go! Look at that, a project I'll actually finish. Up last: Science-Fiction/Fantasy. Strap in and hold tight.

1 comment:

  1. Love Actually?! I don't know how it made your list. I hate these types of movies, almost as much as I hate Nancy Meyers and Gary Marshall movies (yes, I hate Pretty Woman, too). These movies just pile tons of big hip-today celebrities and have dozens of insipid storylines that jump back and forth, which makes it impossible to care about any of the characters - not to mention leave you with a massive headache.

    All other movies on this list are great though. Amelie is another perfect movie. However, I think it should be at least number 2 on the list. I agree that Eternal Sunshine deserves the number 1 slot, but Amelie is a very close 2nd. I can't wait to see Jean Pierre Jeunet's Micmacs and whatever Charlie Kaufman does next.