Top Ten Romantic Films

Having amused myself (and hopefully at least one other person) coming up with my top ten romantic books, I thought I’d give my top ten romantic films a whirl. I wish I could think of more, as there’s nothing I love more than a proper love story. I’m dying to hear what other people’s favourites are. 

When Harry met Sally (1989 - Rob Reiner) 

If you need me to describe this film, you’re from Mars, and there’s more information you need to gather before concerning yourself with romantic comedy. The project grew out of a real argument between screenwriter Ephron and newly divorced director Reiner about whether men and women could ever truly be friends. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are perfection, and Harry’s final realization - that all the things that first irritated him about Sally have become the things he most loves her for - makes for one of the most romantic speeches in cinematic history. 

The Philadelphia Story (1940 - George Cukor)  

Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn co-star as a sparring divorced couple, forced together just before her society wedding to her woefully unsuitable rebound man. James Stewart - playing a wedding crasher photographer - provides a fabulous romantic red herring, but no-one could ever truly believe that Cary and Katherine will not find their way back to each other. Hepburn was the driving force behind the production, optioning the rights to the play it came from to give herself a hit after a string of flops (shortly before she’d been described as “box office poison”). 

Moonstruck (1987 - Norman Jewison) 

Cher’s a buttoned up Brooklyn accountant, all ready to settle for her terminally dull fiance, when his hook handed baker brother, Nicolas Cage, explodes into her life and teaches her what real passion’s about. My favourite sequence is Cage taking Loretta to her first opera, La Boheme at the Met: has history ever recorded a more glorious first date? The film was nominated for 6 Oscars, and won 3, including best actress for Cher. 

Terms of Endearment (1983 - James. L. Brooks) 

Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine play a sparring mother and daughter, whose relationship ends with Winger’s tragic early death from cancer. There are love stories for both characters - Winger with her philandering husband, MacLaine via a wickedly entertaining performance from Jack Nicholson as her carnivorous neighbour - but the beating heart of the story is the mother/daughter relationship. Winger and MacLaine reportedly loathed each other, with method queen Winger insisting on being called by her character name throughout production. Tragic, but also surprisingly witty too. A worthy multiple Oscar winner.  

Lost in Translation - (2003 - Sofia Coppola)

 I’m a sucker for a laconic older man, and they don’t come more laconic than Bill Murray. He’s a washed up actor, stuck on a Tokyo whisky shoot, whilst Scarlett Johannson is at the other end of life, a young wife with a niggling sense of discontent. They come together, then part, the whole relationship taking place in a brief bubble of time and place. Slight and profound, all at the same time.  

The Way We Were (1973 - Sydney Pollack) 

Political firebrand Katie (Barbra Streisand) falls hard for preppy fellow student Hubbell (Robert Redford). Their doomed love spans the twenty or so years following the Second World War, producing one daughter and a hell of a lot of arguments. It’s a deeply flawed film, but Babs gives it her all, Redford is gorgeous, and it has the most wonderful shots of Californian beaches. 

Tootsie (1982 - Sydney Pollack) 

If you haven’t seen Tootsie, I’m afraid you haven’t lived. Dustin Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, an actor so difficult that he gets fired from a job playing a tomato. A dry spell ends when Michael dresses up in drag in desperation and auditions for the part of Dorothy in a daytime soap. Soon his feisty interpretation of the role has won him legions of fans, but how can he tell his beautiful, lovelorn co-star Julie (Jessica Lange) that he’s really a man, despite the skirt? I once saw the late Pollack talking about Tootsie at BAFTA. He rejected version after version of the script for being cute but pointless (at one point Michael was going to be a tennis player). He only came on board once it found its central message:  “To become a man, Michael needs to become a woman.” 

Heartburn (1986 - Mike Nichols) 

For once, the film is as good as the book. As this list has worryingly revealed, I have something of a thing for Jack Nicholson. He’s the charming journalist who seduces and marries divorcee Rachel, then cheats on her with someone inside their tight knit circle of Washington politicos (it’s based on Nora Ephron’s real life marriage to no-good hound dog Carl Bernstein). You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cheer when Nicholson gets a pie in his face.

The Holiday (2006 - Nancy Meyers) 

It’s cheesy as hell, but who can resist it? Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz run away from festive gloom by swapping homes - a swanky LA pad and a cosy rural English cottage. Father Christmas delivers some seasonal loving for both of them (not literally). 

You Can Count On Me (2000 - Kenneth Lonergan) 

A perfect little Indie film, about a brother and sister, both scarred by the death of their parents in a car crash, finding their way back to each other in adulthood. Mark Ruffalo plays drifter Terry who turns up on the doorstep of the home he and his single mother sister Sammy grew up in. Her life needs shaking up, his needs some calming down. Sibling love, with all it’s frustrations and rewards. 

Whenever I’m having a particularly heinous day, I know that I can instantly cheer myself up by spending 4 minutes with Cliff on his rollerskates. He is Wired For Sound. 

Growing Up With Lefty Parents

This is a piece my mother has never forgiven me for, about growing up with old hippies…

1 year ago

My Top Ten Love Stories

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

I read this when I was fourteen, and loved it (like hundreds of other hormonal, lovesick fourteen year olds before me). I was asked to speak about it at the Shoreditch House Literary Salon, only to discover that Maxim de Winter is a million miles away from the tragic, soulful romantic hero I’d thought he was back then. He’s furiously camp (see the scene where he files his nails and eats a tangerine whilst proposing) and also just plain furious, murdering his first wife to protect his house. No-one seems to mind: it is Manderley after all. For all its flaws, it is still wonderfully atmospheric and suspenseful.

The Last Time I Saw You is definitely influenced by it. Haven’t we all had our own Rebecca? The ex we can never live up to?

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

My fave Jane Austen. The impoverished Dashwood sisters have wildly divergent philosophies on love; Marianne’s a born romantic whilst Elinor is all about keeping her heart in check. Both of them have a lot to learn. One of the few books where the film is almost as good.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Calling this a love story is a bit of a stretch. It’s a thinly veiled fictionalisation of Ephron’s discovery that her political journalist husband was having an affair whilst she was heavily pregnant. She pulls off the incredible feat of staying funny whilst conveying the agony, all delivered in her uniquely acerbic style. Ephron wrote the battle of the sexes like no-one else could (see also When Harry Met Sally). Her irreplaceable voice was lost last year when she died of cancer at the age of 71.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Lots of the great romances have heroes who are total arses, and this book is no exception. Heathcliff’s a world of trouble and Cathy’s not much bettter, but you’d have to have a heart of stone to not be transported by their torturous romance. No wonder Kate Bush thought it ballad worthy. 

The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank

I love Melissa Bank. This a bit of an anti-romance too, in that it’s as much about the way love can turn us into self deluded fools as it is about the moments of unadulterated joy. It makes you feel like you’re walking the streets of Manhattan with its loveable, flawed heroine Sophie, and you can’t help but root for her every step of the way.

The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

As romantic obstacles go, your boyfriend being trapped outside the space/time continuum has to rank pretty highly. This one’s a total tear jerker, and worth every sodden Kleenex. Don’t touch the film with a bargepole.

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Love against the backdrop of the American Civil War. Scarlett O’Hara is every bit as infuriating as Heathcliff, but it doesn’t stop you willing her and Rhett Butler to stop fighting and abandon themselves to their grand passion. One of the most vivid, atmospheric books I’ve ever read (although not madly politically correct, it has to be said). 

After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell

I love the visceral immediacy of O’Farrell’s writing, and the mystery that sits alongside the love story makes for a real page turner.

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley

Forbidden love is often the best kind. In this instance it’s between an Edwardian lady and a tenant farmer, told from the point of view of the impressionable young boy the entrust with their billets-doux.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

This book was published as a young adult novel, but has been a deservedly huge breakout hit. Time Magazine called it “damn near genius” and they’re not wrong. It’s told by Hazel, a teenager with terminal cancer, who meets the love of her life in the church hall support group that she loathes. Without much time, she and Augustine have nothing to lose, and the journey they go on will see you racing to the end.