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As far as romance movies go, you can't do much better than "Casablanca"

Classics old and new fill bill for romance

Valentine's Day Video Suggestions

Web posted on:
Friday, February 05, 1999 1:15:50 PM EST

  • Check out's Valentine's Day Special

    From Reviewer Paul Tatara

    (CNN) -- Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and you know what that means: time to start devising sneaky ways to get your loved one to kiss your mouth, Ernest T. Bass-style. From where I'm sitting, there's no better way to manage this than to soften them up (before the too-expensive dinner and the soon-to-perish flowers) with a romantic movie.

    Of course, romance is subjective, so I've tried to come up with films that approach the wily ways of love from their own, individual perspectives. Don't be expecting five doses of "Pretty Woman," in other words. Don't even expect one dose of "Pretty Woman."

    "Annie Hall"

    A crumbling cookie of love

    They don't end up together, but have a lot of fun while it's working. That would be none other than Woody Allen's masterpiece, "Annie Hall" (1977).

    I realize that this one doesn't end in generic happiness, but the cookie of love has been known to crumble before. A little dose of reality never hurt anybody.

    Allen touches on a lot of topics other than the intricacies of romance (everything from the Kennedy assassination to giant-spider extermination techniques), but the thread that holds this uniquely structured film together is the bittersweet courtship between the worldly, cynical Alvy (Allen) and goofy free spirit Annie (Diane Keaton, who won an Oscar for her trouble).

    The couple's comfortable good times are absolutely lovely, with special mention going to their ineffective attempt to boil some lobsters during a weekend getaway. Even after the break-up, their affection for each other remains, and that counts as passion, too, if you ask me. For all of its fantasy sequences, it's one of the most determinedly realistic romances in screen history.

    Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca"

    Think you know it by heart?

    Michael Curtiz's "Casablanca" (1942) is one of those movies that's so embedded in our collective consciousness, people actually think that real love affairs can be this life-or-death melodramatic. "Casablanca" also ends with the couple parting ways, of course, but the adieu isn't a slow fizzle like the one in "Annie Hall;" it's a 40-megaton blast of longing and regret.

    Humphrey Bogart's Rick does the right thing by letting Ingrid Bergman get on that plane and fly off with her husband, a concept that's getting more old-fashioned by the minute. Nobody plays heartbroken as well as Bogart does, Bergman's beauty deserves a commemorative postage stamp, and Curtiz's visuals look like they were concocted by Steven Spielberg about three weeks ago. (Ronald Reagan was supposed to play Rick, by the way, but the producers realized that "trickle-down romance" would take too long to reach the less attractive audience members.)

    Not up for all this ooshy-gooshy stuff? Check out our music picks for the lovelorn.

    Cusack establishes sweet-guyness

    I asked my fiancee, Jill, what movie she'd put on this list, and she said that all women die over "Say Anything" (1989). (She didn't say "1989," by the way. She's not that specific.)

    I agree with her, but have to alter the scope of the comment; when I worked at a video store, it was mostly 20-somethings who gobbled this thing up like it was a tray full of low-cal party snacks. John Cusack so perfectly embodies The Sweetest Guy On Earth in this movie, he's been pretty much perceived as such in every film he's appeared in since then, even when he plays a hit man (see "Grosse Pointe Blank").

    Cusack is the high school goof who falls in love with the beautiful, brainy girl (Ione Skye.) Both characters are decent and goodhearted, and (after the usual miscalculations) there's a happy ending. And people still like it! There's also Lili Taylor as a jilted girl who writes 65 vindictive folk songs about her unfaithful ex-boyfriend, just to leaven things a little.

    Romantically linked:
    It's a shockwave game.
    One sweet quiz:
    What do you know about the holiday?
    *4.0 or newer browsers
    Cooking with Cupid
    Couch potatoes in love
    Check your scent sense:
    smell this quiz
    more, more, amour!

    Classic, but a little weirder

    They still make 'em like they used to, only a little weirder.

    "Moonstruck" (1987) is directed by Norman Jewison, a man whose other films strongly suggest a stick pounded into very deep mud, so it's amazing that this one is so light on its feet. I suspect that the real hero here is screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, whose movie work (he's mainly a playwright) has never again come within shouting distance of this off-kilter piece of amore. Nicholas Cage (over-acting with a sense of purpose, for once) and Cher play star-crossed lovers who have to negotiate a Little Italy minefield of family gossip, degenerating romantic allegiances, and overpowering sexual attraction.

    Practically every member of the cast does the best work of their career -- Cage, Cher (Oscar Winner), Olympia Dukakis (Oscar winner), Vincent Gardenia (should have won), Danny Aiello ... even Anita Gillette is good! All you have to know about the tone is that Cage's character has grown forlorn after a bread-slicing incident that leaves him with a wooden hand. There's wacky, this-close-to-insightful dialogue galore, including my favorite: "A man who can't control his woman ... is funny."

    Sometimes older is better

    On second thought, they don't make 'em like they used to.

    I'm not including this one in the article because Nora Ephron recently ran it through the deflavorizer and came up with "You've Got Mail"; it really is one of my favorite romances of all time. "The Shop Around the Corner" (1940) has so much going for it, it's difficult to find a jumping-off point to describe its many charms.

    On the surface, you can immediately enjoy the precision interplay of Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as bickering shop workers who don't realize that the secret, by-mail love affairs they've each been carrying on are actually one affair -- they've been writing to each other. (Sullavan and Stewart had great affection for each other in real life, and that shines through gloriously on screen.)

    But director Ernst Lubitsch's legendary light touch -- and his zippy way with dialogue scenes -- is the secret weapon. Loaded with laughs and great comic performances, and it packs a major, sigh-inducing wallop at the end, too. The perfect Valentine's Day treat.

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