Sometimes I feel the very word "romance" is becoming quaint, like "soap flakes".
Romance used to sound exciting; it was both the build-up and the pay-off to another out-of-date expression: "making love".
Now it's all about "getting with" or "hooking up". In this year's much-hyped comedy No Strings Attached, we have man-boy Ashton Kutcher and current "It" girl Natalie Portman doing their utmost to keep things just physical.
Of course they fail in the end (love will out- still), but the take-away seems to be that in this modern age, romance is a bit of an inconvenience, if not an after-thought.
The humor and charm of that idea (and that movie) elude me.
I hate to think I'm becoming the stuffy traditionalist I once accused my parents of being, but perhaps that's life's sweet irony as we age: we do indeed become the old farts that raised us. And just maybe, that's as it should be.
I confess I always secretly admired my parents' stories of courtship, however embroidered. The idea of actually holding off on sleeping together, viewing that moment as a real culmination, a sweet reward to be anticipated and earned, the outcome of really believing, as Sinatra once crooned, that "love is here to stay."
This territory is an awfully long way from No Strings Attached, but those wanting to get closer to that more traditional and comforting take on the eternal "boy meets girl" predicament need only look back and revisit the great film romances of the past, movies that reflect those long-vanished ideals.
And if the short-term prospect of Valentine's Day can't induce us to go there, then we really have lost something. Here are ten movies then that revive the old-fashioned concept of romantic love- the only thing, as another bard simply put it, that there's just too little of...
Brief Encounter (1945)-Based on a play by Noel Coward, this is the simple, wrenching tale of two people married, but not (maddeningly) to each other, who meet by chance in a train station and embark on a short, intense romance. We can tell Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) is an honorable sort, and Laura Jesson seems settled and content in her married life, so their sudden, very powerful feelings for each other throw them both for a considerable loop. How they navigate these tumultuous emotions and regain their equilibrium forms the heart of the story. This subtle, heartfelt British gem will still drench most anyone's Kleenex nearly seven decades after its release. Performances by Howard and Johnson are impeccable; she was rightly Oscar-nominated for her restrained, all too believable performance as a loyal wife bewildered by emotions she thought long dead. Direction and script, both of which received Oscar nods as well, are suitably understated, and the use of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto throughout the film further heightens the sentiment. Even with the British reserve much in evidence, the overall effect is intensely moving. Don't miss this one.
Roman Holiday (1953)- A gossamer young Audrey Hepburn plays the young Princess Anne, who is making an official visit to Rome. As royalty, she is programmed and scheduled to the hilt and becomes increasingly tired of being cooped up. So one night, she slips out to sample the wonders of the ancient city- incognito. Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) is the reporter who eventually takes her in for the world's biggest scoop, and then falls for her. Eddie Albert is his photographer friend, who shares Peck's explosive secret. Off-screen, Peck was so convinced Hepburn would be a huge star that he confronted director William Wyler, insisting she share top billing with him. An extremely generous and unusual gesture, it also reflected keen judgment. Virtually an unknown before the picture was released, this often hilarious, extremely touching movie made Hepburn an overnight star. Not only could she act, but the camera loved her as it has loved few actresses. Peck and Albert are both terrific, and Wyler's on-location shooting is flavorful and evocative. This timeless romance is also ideal for the whole family.
Marty (1955)- Approaching his middle years, lonely, overweight butcher Marty Pilletti (Ernest Borgnine) lives with his mother and has given up on love, until one day he meets plain but warm-hearted schoolteacher Clara (Betsy Blair). Tentatively, they begin dating, but Marty becomes conflicted when his mother (Esther Minciotti) and friends seem thrown off-balance by this unlikely romance. Written by the vastly talented Paddy Chayefsky, who'd go on to script "Network" two decades later, "Marty" remains an immensely touching and perceptive film about two lonely lost souls who finally find each other. Borgnine, a skilled character actor and supporting player, won the Best Actor Oscar in 1955 over several more photogenic leading men, and the film itself-formerly a "Playhouse 90" gem from television's golden age starring Rod Steiger-won for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay. A unique and irresistible film romance.
Indiscreet (1958)- Industrialist Philip Adams (Cary Grant), on business in London, meets famous stage actress Anne Kalman (Ingrid Bergman) and pretends to be married, presumably to avoid the subject further down the road. When the fiery Anne learns he's not married, she schemes to make him pay for his ruse. Anna's chatty sister Margaret (Phyllis Calvert) and her husband Alfred (Cecil Parker) are unlucky enough to be on hand for the fireworks. Director Stanley Donen and writer Norman Krasna elevates what in lesser hands would be romantic fluff by making the most of two gorgeous, sophisticated stars who fit together like a glove; indeed, Grant and Bergman had established their winning chemistry over a decade before on Hitchcock's "Notorious". Donen creates a deliciously elegant atmosphere with colorful, chic sets and stunning Dior gowns that comprise a feast for the eyes. Parker also stands out in a sublime comedic turn as Anna's skittish brother-in-law. Just sit back and let "Indiscreet " transport you to another extremely pleasant, and oh-so-civilized time and place.
The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (1964)- In this kaleidoscopic musical romance, Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) are young lovers forced to separate when Guy gets drafted for military service in Algeria. Though they promise to stay true to each other, over time life complications intervene, specifically in the form of one Roland Cassard (Marc Michel), a well-off jeweler who can help Genevieve just when she needs it most. Director Jacques Demy's visually sumptuous masterpiece is unique in that it's all-sung, with no spoken dialogue. Thanks largely to a magical score by Michel Legrand, the bold conceit works. Deneuve is a vision as Genevieve, a role that made her an international star overnight, and Anne Vernon also shines as Genevieve's practical yet fretting mother. Lead billing also goes to Demy's vibrant color palette, a tribute to the "50s Hollywood musicals he so loved. An ideal date movie, "Umbrellas" is a feast for eyes, ears and heart.
Romeo And Juliet (1968)- Shot on location in Verona, Italy by Franco Zeffirelli, this vivid, unconventional retelling of Shakespeare's romantic tragedy concerns two beautiful young people (Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey), who discover an unquenchable love for each other, but whose union is rendered impossible by a bitter, long-running feud between their two families. My favorite version of this oft-filmed classic is Zeffirelli's Oscar-nominated version. Starring two unknowns in the title roles (17-year-old Whiting and 15-year-old Hussey), the movie remains true to Shakespeare, while making the language more accessible to modern audiences. Both Michael York (as Romeo's nemesis, Tybalt) and Milo O'Shea (as Friar Laurence) lend strong support, while the director's unabashed romanticism is enhanced by magnificent period detail and a sweeping score from Nino Rota. The story of youthful rebellion also spoke to basic issues arising in the restive sixties. Don't miss this top-notch rendering of an eternal classic.
An Unmarried Woman (1978)- Living comfortably on Manhattan's Upper East Side with her daughter and lawyer husband, Martin (Michael Murphy), Erica Benton (the late, great Jill Clayburgh) seems to have it all. So she's devastated when Martin announces he's leaving her for a younger woman. Suddenly forced to adjust to life as a single mom, with all the freedom and hardships that independence entails, Erica must learn how to be self-sufficient-and how to love - all over again. Driven by a compelling performance from lead actress Clayburgh, who was Oscar-nominated for this, Paul Mazursky's sensitive drama is an iconic blend of the so-called woman's film and a plucky portrait of contemporary femininity. After a shattering split-up lands her in the open market, Erica's affair with a soulful painter, touchingly played by a scruffy Alan Bates, teaches her how to invest emotionally in another person without submerging her own identity. "Woman" offers a warm, perceptive, comic look at feminine self-reliance that still resonates. A spiritual precursor to "Sex and the City."
A Room With A View (1986)- Traveling in Italy with protective spinster cousin Charlotte (Maggie Smith), young Brit Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) meets and falls for the dashing, free-spirited George Emerson (Julian Sands). Witnessing their stolen kiss high above Florence, disapproving Charlotte goads her to return to England, where Lucy is eventually courted by the stiff, conventional Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis). Yet her passions are aroused again when Emerson moves nearby. One of the finest examples of the longstanding Merchant/Ivory alliance, "Room With a View" is a superbly executed romance set in 1907 and adapted from the book by E.M. Forster. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, the film boasts dazzling sets and costumes, along with note-perfect early turns by Merchant-Ivory regular Carter and an uncharacteristically priggish Day-Lewis. Don't miss this smart and sumptuous cinematic treat.
Before Sunrise (1995)- Making his way to Vienna to catch a cheap flight home, twenty-something American tourist Jesse (Ethan Hawke) chats up Celine (Julie Delpy), a student at the Sorbonne, on a Eurail train and finds they have a lot in common. When they arrive at his station, Jesse proposes that Celine disembark with him in Vienna and keep him company until his plane leaves the next morning. Impetuously, she agrees, and together they embark on a brief but unforgettable adventure. This intelligent and unconventional tale of talky romance borrows something from the work of French auteur Eric Rohmer, but "Dazed and Confused" director Linklater - a master of meandering conversation - puts his own stamp on the character-driven drama with searching, tone-perfect dialogue. As the two wander the streets discussing love and sex, history and politics, Hawke and Delpy make attractive kindred spirits whose youthful, sometimes argumentative exchanges really seem to echo life. Despite the R rating, "Sunrise" is an ideal film for teens, as it captures a sense of life's wondrous possibilities.
Bright Star (2009)- Despite their differences--she is a dressmaker, he an unknown young poet in 1811 England--free-spirited Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) and her neighbor John Keats (Ben Wishaw) grow close after his brother becomes gravely ill. Their bond strengthens over time, but social convention keeps them from wedding, so the couple restrict themselves to exchanging every form of intimacy but physical love. Keats's friend and patron Charles Brown (Paul Schneider), meanwhile, becomes a rival for Fanny's attention. Chaste but dizzyingly romantic, Jane Campion's brilliant "Bright Star" reimagines the famous real-life love affair between Keats, the great Romantic poet who died from tuberculosis at age 25, unknown and penniless, and the young, vivacious seamstress whose family occupied one half of his Hampstead house. The comely Abbie Cornish is the very picture of grace and independence, but Wishaw holds his own as the dreamy versifier who finds himself drawn into a blissful, tormented love affair with a woman he cannot have. Kerry Fox (as Fanny's mother) and Schneider bring an earthier flair to their roles, allowing us to see the fog these young lovers drift into from inside and out. By all means, catch this "Star"!
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