Although it may be one of the most hated and clichéd genres in modern Hollywood, the romantic comedy has also brought us many of cinema’s most classic films. So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, here are my personal favorite romantic comedies. All proof that the genre need not be as stupid as it generally is.
5. Love Actually
Richard Cutis’s multiple-thread story revolving around a group of loosely connected people at Christmastime is like a Robert Altman movie mixed in with some Nora Ephron. It’s what Valentine’s Day wanted to be, but failed miserably to even come close to. Cheesy as it may be to a certain extent, it’s hard not to derive some pleasure from the idea that, as the movie says, love, actually is all around. Of course the film also has a truly awesome ensemble, with a few of England’s very finest actors making appearances. Another great element to this movie is that not everyone’s story ends happily; just like in life, some people find love, and others lose it. But the film is still ridiculously entertaining, and the tagline “The Ultimate Romantic Comedy,” which it ran with, isn’t very far from the truth.
4. Four Weddings and a Funeral
Another Richard Curtis-written film, although this one is directed by Mike Newell. Like Love Actually, the movie is structurally brilliant, and Curtis’s Oscar nominated screenplay delivers exactly what it promises. It’s simple, profound, and just plain fun. The story’s many laugh out loud moments are paralleled by it’s equally somber ones, and like Love Actually, it doesn’t make things too easy for the audience and for the characters, who the film puts through the ringer. More even that that though, Four Weddings and a Funeral is also a severely existential riff on the lives of modern thirty-something adults. It questions how and why people feel the way they do about marriage, as well as the way society suggests people respond when they reach the age in which all their friends start to get married. Oh, and did I mention that it features Hugh Grant’s best performance, like, ever? Good enough to stand up as a best picture nominee with the likes of Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, and The Shawshank Redemption, Four Weddings on a Funeral is joyous meditation about the two things that make us most human: love and death.
3. When Harry Met Sally
Can I really be a fan of romantic comedies and not put a movie written by Nora Ephron on this list? Often thought to be a lesser Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally is nothing short of brilliant, and remains it’s own film despite any similarities to Allen’s. The movie is a journey, set over multiple years, and showing how people’s perceptions and feeling towards one another change depending on where they’re at in their lives. Ephron’s script is highly hilarious and quotable, but not without loosing a certain fundamental reality. It’s a movie about finding love, even after almost giving up on it. Seeing Harry run after Sally is incredibly cinematic, yet also decidedly non-typical for a romantic comedy. In the end, it’s the guy that’s really the one pining for the other person. And did I mention that it features Meg Ryan’s best performance, like, ever? Ah, to go back to the pre-plastic surgery days. Actually, speaking of bests, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s Rob Reiner’s best film as well. Ephron. Reiner. Ryan. Crystal. Magic. At the end of the day that’s all you need to know. People can say to you, “I’ll have what she’s having,” all day long, but if you still haven’t seen the movie, you don’t know that you’re missing out on a lot of other wonderful moments too.
2. (500) Days of Summer
Certainly the best rom-com of the past few years, and in my opinion, one of the greatest of all time, (500) Days of Summer is in a league of it’s own. From the acting, to the writing, to the directing, it’s a near-flawless movie. It has a distinct mise-en-scène, and is incredibly dialogue driven while still managing to be very visual. And there’s a dance number, so, yeah. Again it plays with structure, manipulating time to the fullest extent. This works so well because when you look back on a relationship, and on life in general, chances are things aren’t going to be linear in your mind. Some moments will be embellished, while others will be forgotten altogether. This film, even more so than When Harry Met Sally, also flips the romantic comedy staple of the girl chasing after the guy on its head. Here, we see the guy fight for love, only to be unsuccessful in the end. But it’s not a sad story as much as it is human. Sometimes, the painful truth is that we care about someone more than they care about us. The key is to move on, and hope for something better in the future.
1. Annie Hall
Non-linear narrative. Unconventional ending. The guy ends up going after the girl. All elements of films mentioned on this list, and all aspects that can be traced back to Annie Hall. This is the greatest romantic comedy ever made, bar none. Period. It’s stylistically brilliant, right from the opening shot of Woody Allen talking to the camera, but it’s also deeply touching, saying an incredible amount about who we are as people and how we feel about one another. Woody Allen would go on to make dozens of films after this, but there’s a reason why Annie Hall is most people’s favorite. It’s not so much that he never quite matched up to the film’s greatness again, it’s more that, as far as love is concerned, he never did anything else more profound.
In a series of what are mostly just conversations between two people, Annie Hall spoke volumes about love, and made Alvy and Annie one of cinema’s greatest couples. The film is also a look at the way in which people sometimes come in and out of our lives, and how that’s okay. It shows that it’s worth knowing someone even if you’re romantic relationship with them ends. It shows that you can still love a person, even if you don’t stay in love with them. It shows that our relationships help us to grow and change, even the ones that don’t last. And it shows that love is worth having, even if only for a little while. Because when it’s all said and done, that’s who we are as people. Things don’t always work out, but that doesn’t mean we give up on love altogether. Because as the film says, we need the eggs (just go out and watch the movie already if you don’t get this.) Like other films on this list, it also made a splash at the Academy Awards, although in the case of Annie Hall it was more like a full-blown cannonball. The movie won four Oscars, including Best Actress for Diane Keaton, Best Screenplay and Best Director for Allen, and Best Picture.
And let me just also say really quickly that it’s still really, really funny. I’m talking top notch, prime, vintage, at his peak, Woody Allen joke writing. The greatest romantic comedy of all time, as well as just generally one of best movies ever, Annie Hall is one of cinema’s finest moments, in this genre or any other. It’s what romantic comedies should be and could be. And despite the onslaught of pathetic romcoms that open at the box office on an almost bi-weekly basis, I have faith that someday we may see films like this again.