Since the beginning of cinema, audiences have flocked to films with a good love story. From Fay Wray’s encounter with King Kong, to Humphrey Bogart’s heartbreaking goodbye to Ingrid Bergman, to Scarlett O’Hara’s fickle relationship with Rhett Butler, some of the most beloved classic films are compelling romances. The decade of the 2000’s seemed to be the decade of the awful romantic comedy. Those types of movies are a mindset. Sometimes you want to go to the movies to check your brain at the door and watch either a lot of stuff blow up, or a horribly unrealistic faux romance. Personally I’ve always been a fan of the romance movie where the couple does not end up together, as in the three classic examples listed above. I have compiled my list of the decade’s best romance movies, and while not every film on the list ends with a happily ever after, there will definitely be something for everyone.
10) Atonement (2007) – Joe Wright –Joe Wright (2005’s Pride and Prejudice) once again directs his muse Keira Knightly, as the heroine of this film adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name. Knightly plays Cecilia Tallis, a college age girl of privilege who is in love with Robbie, the son of her family’s housekeeper. Cecilia’s 13 year old sister Briony, watches an encounter between she and Robbie and makes a terrible assumption, dooming the budding romance between the two. For the remainder of the film, throughout World War II and into her old age, Briony attempts to atone for the mistake she made when she was younger. This is a beautiful film from beginning to end – the impressive extended tracking shot of the beach at Dunkirk, the infamous green dress worn by Cecilia, the Tallis’s sprawling home, the heartbreaking hospital scene. And this film has one of the sexiest sex scenes of the decade as well. Cecilia and Robbie’s story is incredibly romantic and entirely tragic, the things that the best Hollywood romances are made of.
9) Love Actually (2003) – Richard Curtis – Call it cliché, but I just had to include Love Actually on the list. This film takes place in the weeks before Christmas and tells several different storylines that are all taking place at the same time, each one showing a different type of love. From the UK Prime Minister falling in love with his secretary, to a married man being tempted with an affair, to a stepfather and stepson bonding over first love, this is an uplifting film that even guys will enjoy watching.
8 ) Brokeback Mountain (2005) – Ang Lee – The movie that became the brunt of a slew of jokes is really one of the most enduring love stories in recent history. Two cowboys, Ennis and Jack, develop a love for each other while herding sheep in the mountains of Wyoming. After the summer’s work, the two return home, each to their heterosexual relationships. The film takes place over the span of twenty years and the two never forget each other. Brokeback Mountain is a story of a love that endured despite harsh discrimination and unescapable circumstances.
7) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) – Michel Gondry – When Jim Carrey first burst onto the scene with In Living Color and then the Ace Ventura movies, I never would have thought he could be a believable romantic lead. Until visionary French director Michel Gondry got a hold of him and paired him with Academy favorite Kate Winslet. Carrey and Winslet play Joel and Clementine, lovers who have recently experienced a harsh break-up. The break-up was so detrimental to their lives that they enlist the help of a company who specializes in erasing one’s memories. The Academy Award winning screenplay is told out of order and can be a little difficult to follow upon the first viewing. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind‘s love story is a perfect mesh of science fiction and trippy fairy tale.
6) Up (2009) – Pete Docter – Throughout this decade, Pixar has shown us that original stories are still out there and that they can still be compelling and family friendly. With 2008’s WALL*E, they showed us that they could pull of a love story between two robots and then in 2009, they released Up. Up showed us that Pixar can craft a tender, moving love story in under 10 minutes. That love story creates the background for the character of Carl Fredrickson and gives him the motivation that he carries with him for the entire film. And then they introduce talking dogs and a villain most foul, who is so evil that he maniacally kills anyone who comes near him and then shows off their skulls. But it’s the love story that carries Up, up up and away.
5) The Fountain (2006) – Darren Aronofsky – And yet another science fiction inspired love story. The Fountain is Darren Aronofsky’s pet project – he had been working on it even before Requiem for a Dream. The film takes place in three separate time periods and the story can be a little confusing at times, but it is ultimately about the love story between two people – Izzi (played by Rachel Weisz) and Tommy (Hugh Jackman). They are represented during each time period by the same actors, and each time period only reinforces their continuous love for each other. There is nothing more romantic than two people who are meant to be together for all time, and throughout all time. The haunting score by Aronofsky favorite Clint Mansell and the glorious visuals lift The Fountain to a whole different level.
4) Love Me If You Dare (2003) – Yann Samuell – Chances are you haven’t heard about this French gem from director Yann Samuell (who hasn’t done much else except direct the American remake of the Korean film My Sassy Girl). This film stars the beautiful and talented Marion Cotillard (Oscar winner for La Vie En Rose, Public Enemies) and Guillaume Canet (Cesar award winning director for Tell No One) as friends since childhood who play a back and forth game to try to follow through with varying and increasingly dangerous dares. The chemistry between the two is incredible and even though they are both completely selfish people, you still desperately want them to be together. And this film has one of the most bizarre endings in a romantic film ever. You’ll just have to see it to believe it.
3) Secretary (2002) – Steven Shainberg – This is just a personal favorite of mine. There is really no other rhyme or reason to the ranking of Secretary, just that this quirky love story is one that I’ve recommended and loaned out to countless friends and co-workers. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Lee Holloway, a recovering “cutter” who finds a job as a secretary to OCD lawyer E. Edward Grey (James Spader). The two fit so perfectly together and play off each other’s idosyncracies to enable each other’s crazy behavior. I love this movie so much, from the silly montage of things that Spader does to her, to the climax with Gyllenhaal in her wedding dress, determined to stay where he asked her. This is romance at its quirky best, a reminder that even the most imperfect of us can find love.
2) Slumdog Millionaire (2008) – Danny Boyle – The Best Picture of 2008 is also one of my personal favorites for the decade. The story itself and everything that happens to protagonist Jamal Malick (Dev Patel) is incredibly depressing, but we find that love is what motivated Jamal to endure. As a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, Jamal, a kid from the slums, answers every question correctly. The host wonders how a kid with his background can possibly know the answers to all these questions, and we find out through flashbacks of various events throughout his life. This is one of the most powerful stories of the decade, with an Academy award winning screenplay by Simon Beaufoy. The ending of this film has audiences cheering for Jamal and the love of his life, Latika (played by Freida Pinto). This is simply an amazing film.
1) Moulin Rouge! (2001) – Baz Luhrmann – Since Moulin Rouge! came out at the early part of the decade, by now it has been relegated to fangirl status. This is the film that girls watch together and cry over, swooning over Ewan McGregor’s singing voice and his determination to be with the woman he loves, a prostitute at the Moulin Rouge named Satine (Nicole Kidman). With brilliant, eye-popping color and dramatic Baz Luhrmann style, this modern musical changed the way all musical movies will be made for all time. Instead of using new songs composed for the film, Luhrmann drew from contemporary favorites such as Elton John’s “Your Song”, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, The Beatles “All You Need Is Love” and many many more. Moulin Rouge! has everything I love in a movie: great music, beautiful scenery, elaborate and brightly colored cinematography, and a wonderfully written, tragic love story.
Tags: Ang Lee, Baz Luhrmann, Casablanca, Danny Boyle, Darren Aronofsky, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, ewan mcgregor, hugh jackman, James Spader, Jim Carrey, kate winslet, King Kong, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Marion Cotillard, Michel Gondry, Moulin Rouge!, Nicole Kidman, Rachel Weisz, Slumdog Millionaire, Up