A Friday Valentine’s Day means restaurant reservation Armageddon, which is a perfect excuse to stay home and watch a romantic movie. Lobster is a good choice for a fancy romantic dinner, but the film “The Lobster” is not a good choice for a romantic movie. Anything that will cause you to look sideways at your date is bad, so paranoia triggering flicks like “Gone Girl,” “Fatal Attraction” or that dreadful Natalie Portman/Julia Roberts movie “Closer” should be avoided. From classic romantic movies to over-the-top love stories, realistic stories or comic misadventures, here are some choices that shouldn’t sink your evening.
The most romantic film of all time is “Casablanca.” This is an obvious fact to me, but I know people who claim not to watch black and white movies at all. This 1942 film stars the incomparably divine Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart as star-crossed lovers against the backdrop of World War II. Their personal heartbreak, overshadowed by the international traumas and tragedies, makes this one of the greatest films ever, and terribly romantic no matter how many times you’ve seen it. When people say they don’t make movies like they used to, this is what they mean.
“Shakespeare in Love” has everything you want in a romantic film: sumptuous costumes, doomed, intense romance, Joseph Fiennes’ piercing blue eyes, poetry and English accents. It’s romantic, but classy all the way, and if you want to show off to your valentine by snickering knowingly at a bunch of literary puns, this is perfect. There are plenty more corset-heavy, old-timey love stories to recommend. Pick a version of “Pride and Prejudice” or pretty much anything with Emma Thompson in it, but especially “Sense and Sensibility,” which also stars the one-time reigning king of romantic comedies and floppy hair, Hugh Grant.
For Galentine’s Day — that unofficial celebration of female friendship marked on February 13 — might I suggest Grant as an overarching theme. He is good across the board in all flavors of romantic flicks, as a simpering sincere guy in “Notting Hill,” or even better as the dastardly, hot villain in “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” which also has a charming array of supporting pal characters that makes it perfect to watch with a group.
If you have forgotten how truly amusing that movie is (and the book too; I distinctly remember reading it out loud to my cool older cousin and laughing), it is streaming on Amazon Prime, which is what inspired me to throw together this list. Before Renée Zellweger was Judy Garland, she was adorable as the hapless everywoman Bridget Jones, and her romantic misadventures give us not just Grant, but prime-era Colin Firth, and the delightful conundrum of choosing between the two.
But Grant’s greatest romantic movie of all is the ’90s classic “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” a truly hilarious comedy with, as the title suggests, multiple weddings. Even Andie MacDowell can’t ruin this witty, perfect comedy, and it boasts an even more wonderful supporting cast of friends. If your gaggle of Galentines are looking for pure guilty pleasures, “He’s Just Not That Into You” is surprisingly watchable and has something for everyone. A Nancy Meyers film fest would also be fun, but it will leave you hating your own kitchen after hours of comparing it to her famously spectacular interiors.
In the realistic depictions of love category, the Oscar-nominated “Marriage Story” hurts because it does have some romantic moments in it. The opening of the film, in which a soon-to-divorce couple list all the sweet things they love about one another, rivals the famously sweet opening of the Pixar film “Up,” full of personal details that raise the stakes for the film that follows.
Although it is based on a fantastical premise, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” shows the ugly side of intimacy, and it is romantic despite those drawbacks, just like love itself. When an arguing couple uses sketchy technology to get themselves erased from one another’s memory, we are treated to their high and lows, courtesy of the creative genius of Michel Gondry. This wonderful film has both fanciful, uncanny depictions of dreams and memories and painfully realistic arguments.
For wistful vibes, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy find a rare connection in “Before Sunrise,” a beautiful date movie that is about a long, perfect date. The follow-up, “Before Sunset,” which came nine years later, is possibly even more romantic, and it’s hard to think of a more satisfying, realistic depiction of falling in love.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is over-the-top romantic, full of huge jewels, enormous mansions, a lavish wedding and a dazzlingly handsome leading man. While it has some funny supporting characters, this is a straight, true-love-conquers-all tale, complete with a proposal that is absurdly satisfying. For a visually sumptuous excursion into life-affirming romance, “Amélie” is a gorgeous French film, but subtitles make it hard to watch if making out is also scheduled. “La La Land” is both absurdly romantic and painfully tragic, full of candy-colored musical numbers, Emma Stone’s enviable collection of saddle oxfords and Ryan Gosling — because what’s Valentine’s Day without our chiseled “Baby Goose”?
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