15 Feb 2010

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart – My Top 5 Romantic Movies

“Well yeah, I'm sad, but at the same time I'm really happy that something could make me feel that sad. It's like, it makes me feel alive, you know? It makes me feel human. And the only way I could feel this sad now is if I felt something really good before. So I have to take the bad with the good, so I guess what I'm feeling is like a, beautiful sadness. I guess that sounds stupid”

Leopold “Butters” Stotch – South Park

1.    Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)

Paul Thomas Anderson is the finest filmmaker alive today, and even if There Will Be Blood is ultimately considered his masterpiece, he is rarely as intoxicatingly innovative as during Punch Drunk Love. Everything about this film is perfect, and trite as it sounds there is genuinely nothing quite like it in the history of film, before or since. From Adam Sandler’s electric blue suit to Emily Watson’s communist red dress the meticulous attention to every detail – music, script, performance - is staggering. Sandler plays Barry Egan, a hopeless loner with seven sisters and an eye for supermarket promotions, and Emily Watson plays the gloriously alliterative Lena Leonard who mysteriously falls for our hapless hero. Punch Drunk Love, as idiosyncratic as it is, contains more genuine romance and emotion (“I just wanted you to know, wherever you're going or whatever you're doing right now I want you to know that I wanted to kiss you just then.”) than a million cookie-cutter Hollywood love stories combined. Lena retains a degree of mystery throughout the film, we learn very little about her besides the fact she is a divorcee and an only child, and yet we never doubt the depth of her emotion towards Barry. The simplicity of the final line “So here we go…” is just another reason to adore this film. Punch Drunk Love perfectly captures the exhilarating rush of a new relationship like no other film has, or probably will. It is a film to fall in love to, and with.

2.    Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972)

At 169 minutes Solaris is a long and often tortuous journey (any film this concerned with death and grief would have to be) but those willing to try it will encounter one of the finest love stories (scratch that, one of the finest movies) of all time. Psychologist Kris Kelvin sets out from Earth, heading for a space station orbiting the remote oceanic planet Solaris. Most of the station’s crew has succumbed to a series of emotional crises (by the time he gets there a colleague he expected to meet has already taken his own life) and Kelvin is tasked with evaluating the situation and deciding if their mission should continue. To add to the poor man’s angst, who should be waiting for him in his quarters but his wife Hari, who had commited suicide on Earth years before. See, Solaris has been reading the minds of the crew members and creating replicas of their loved ones. To witness Kelvin relive the nightmare of watching the woman he loves destroy herself all over again is to experience, through him, a profound heartache rarely conveyed on film. Like Vertigo (see below) there’s an inevitability to the events as they unfold that is horrifying. When Hari learns that she is an impostor and kills herself again, Kelvin’s love and grief for his dead wife has is so pronounced that when the sinister planet manifests a third Hari he is willing to do almost anything to keep her, even though he knows that she is not ‘real’. Anyone who has ever had suffered from a broken heart will empathise with him. Solaris is a beautiful and contemplative study of the human condition, and the perfect counter to the argument that science fiction is incapable of being emotionally involving. Also, apropos of nothing, it has possibly the most thrilling final shot in the history of cinema. A masterpiece.

3.    Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)

Vertigo is such a crazy film, and it is that irrational craziness that makes me consider it genuinely romantic. James Stewart’s police officer develops acrophobia after witnessing a colleague fall to his death. He retires from police work, only for a friend to hire him as a private investigator to spy on his increasingly peculiar wife. He witnesses her trying to commit suicide and rescues her. He falls in love. She succeeds in killing herself. He falls into depression. He meets a girl that reminds him of her. Turns out to actually be her. Frankly the less I say the better, as if you haven’t seen this great movie then I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you.  Vertigo is a relentless and harrowing look at obsession and deception, and the themes of the movie are summed up perfectly during Saul Bass’ stunning opening credits which depict persistent spinning imagery. That’s what love is: a dizzying drug that inhibits the rational part of your mind. Trust me, over the course of two glorious hours James Stewart will prove this beyond any doubt.

4.    McCabe and Mrs Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)

Robert Altman’s ‘anti-western’ is a remarkable movie for many reasons, not least of which being that it dared to turn this most beloved of American genres on its head as early as the seventies, pre-dating and paving the way for the acclaimed Unforgiven, Deadwood, and The Assassination Of Jesse James. Warren Beatty is John McCabe, a wandering gambler, and Julie Christie is Mrs Constance Miller, the cockney whorehouse Madam who becomes his business partner when they open a brothel, and who allows him into her bed, but always for a $5 price. Two moments from this beautiful film really stand out as romantic: the one and only time that Constance invites him to bed for free; and then the glorious finale, as hired guns track McCabe through a blizzard while Miller takes refuge in an opium-induced haze. Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood For Love ran this a close race, but for doomed, frustrated love you can’t do better than this. Throw in some beautiful snow-covered scenery, a stunning Leonard Cohen soundtrack, and you have one of the more extraordinary films from an astonishing director.

5.    True Romance (Tony Scott, 1993)

True Romance is a pretty stupid film. That isn’t to say I don’t love it, but while some of the other films on this list are incredibly sophisticated, True Romance is basically an adolescent fantasy that says very little about the real world, but says a lot about what a mind like Quentin Tarantino’s looks for in anideal partner (“I'm gonna go jump in the tub and get all slippery and soapy and then hop in that waterbed and watch X-rated movies till you get your ass back in my lovin' arms”). The thing is it’s extremely cool; like junk food, you know it’s not particularly good for you, but you wolf it down all the same. Clarence Worley and Alabama Whitman may not be the most realistic characters ever to appear on screen, but there is tenderness to their romance that is unbelievably charming (“three words went through my mind endlessly, repeating themselves like a broken record: you're so cool, you're so cool, you're so cool”). He may not have directed it, but make no mistake, this is Tarantino’s most personal film. Everyone knows the legendary story of how he was plucked from the counter of a video store to unleash Reservoir Dogs on an unsuspecting world, yet there is little in his other work to indicate the life he left behind, except the numerous references to other films of course. True Romance, however, has a genuine autobiographical ring to it. While I doubt a young Tarantino ever fell in love with a prostitute and then fled to Hollywood with a suitcase of cocaine after murdering her pimp, swap a comic-book store for the branch of Video Archives where he used to work and the pop-culture obsessed Clarence becomes the most obvious Tarantino surrogate in his whole output. I’m sure on many lonely nights he consoled himself with the thought that a girl like Alabama was waiting out there; just another minimum wage kid who would be more than happy to go to Sonny Chiba triple features with him

Matthew Kleebauer

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