10 great romantic movies

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Loretta falls for Ronny in 'Moonstruck.' Loretta falls for Ronny in 'Moonstruck.' Valentine’s Day is here, and movie theaters are trotting out the studios’ latest romantic releases.

Scheduled to open Friday, Feb. 14 are “Winter’s Tale” with Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe and Will Smith; “About Last Night” starring Kevin Hart and Joy Bryant, a remake of the 1986 Demi Moore-Rob Lowe flick of the same name, and “Endless Love” with Gabriella Wilde and Alex Pettyfer, a remake of the 1981 teen romance starring Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt. We'll know soon if any of them are worthy of joining the long list of romantic film classics.

Love: It has been the source of books, plays, movies, music and mayhem for thousands of years, yet we never seem to get our fill. Almost all great love stories have at their center a conflict, something the lovers or would-be lovers must overcome – be it war, famine, religion, race, illness, poverty, infidelity, or even stupidity, as in the case of some romantic comedies.

Perhaps that’s why love continues to fascinate us, no matter how many times the stories repeat themselves throughout the ages. The names and scenery may change, but love still conquers.

Of all the great romantic movies in the world, here, in order of their cinematic appearance, are 10 of our staff favorites, summarized and paired with a sample YouTube clip, as our way of sending a little love your way for Valentine’s Day.

At the end, there is a link to a site where you can vote for your own favorite romantic movie. 

And may Cupid's arrow strike true, wherever he finds you.

Casablanca (1942)

Every once in a while, everything goes right.

Just look at Casablanca. It is an almost perfect film. It was based on a never-staged play, “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” subjected to endless rewrites that barely kept ahead of filming, struggles with casting, and the challenge of creating North Africa on a studio lot in California.

Those involved in the film thought they were making a good movie, part of a steady flow of films released by Warner Bros. each year. It is now seen as an iconic example of the medium – blending love, violence and humor in good measure, with one of Hollywood’s greatest romances at its core.

It’s easy to see Humphrey Bogart as a bitter, world-weary former idealist who opens a bar to hide in at the end of the world. In the film, we’re told that he ran guns to Ethiopia and fought against the fascists in Spain. For modern audiences, it’s worth a reminder that both sides lost, and there was no specific guarantee that the latest fight against fascism was destined to end any differently.

It’s also easy to see how Bogart’s Rick Blaine would fall for Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa Lund.

Somehow, the fact that the fate-tossed lovers separate in the end makes it all the more resonant.

Meanwhile, the man she leaves with, the Important Man destined to change the world, hardly registers. Victor Laszlo, as played by Paul Henreid, is too good to be all that interesting. He gets the girl, but for the viewer the romance is between Bogart and Bergman.

In the decades since then, we’ve seen plenty of Nazi bad guys, in films from “Schindler’s List” to “The Producers.” But what is easy to forget is that when audiences in 1942 heard mention of concentration camps in the film, they had read about them in that morning’s paper. And there was a good chance that they heard something about the Allied invasion of North Africa in the newsreel before the start of the film.

Many of the actors, including some of those playing Nazis, were in that studio in southern California after fleeing Nazi oppression. The fear, the defiance, the passion was, for them, not a matter of acting so much as recalling something already very close to them.

With Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre and Dooley Wilson as supporting actors, every scene rings true, and it is a pleasure to watch no matter how many times you’ve seen it. Not to mention a wonderful turn by S.Z. Sakall as Carl the waiter.

-- Bill Barlow

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Audrey Hepburn is the troubled Holly Golightly and George Peppard plays her new neighbor, Paul Varjack, in the classic romantic film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” This is one of my favorite films of any genre, but I think it fits the romantic one just perfectly.

One of my favorite scenes in this iconic movie is when Holly tells Paul that her cat has no name because it doesn’t belong to her.

“The way I see it, I haven't got the right to give him one. We don't belong to each other. We just took up one day by the river. I don't want to own anything until I find a place where me and things go together. I'm not sure where that is, but I know what it is like. It's like Tiffany’s.”

The scene captures the essence of the movie. It’s the story of a man intrigued by a woman who at first seems mysterious and whimsical, but he soon learns that everything she does is to keep people from getting close to her, from knowing who she really is.

In the end, Paul learns that Holly isn’t who she has been pretending to be, but he doesn’t care. He loves her for her faults and imperfections. How much more romantic does it get?

-- Claire Lowe

Love Story (1970)

It was 1970, and I was a young man with a wife and two baby daughters.

The hottest love story on screen was “Love Story” by Erich Segal, starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal.

While it won only one Academy Award – for best music, original score – it was nominated for seven. The stars were nominated for best actor and actress, and John Marley was nominated as best supporting actor. It was in the running for best picture. Arthur Hiller was nominated as best director and Segal was nominated for best writing.

A well-off Harvard law student falls in love with a working-class Radcliffe College student. He defies his father and marries the girl who gives him all the spirit he’s missed by being surrounded by the upper crust.

She gets sick and dies, but the buildup causes her husband to first seek financial assistance from his father and to subsequently reunite with him.

“Love Story” was an anthem of the times. It gave hope to some. It gave reasons to be thankful to others.

The film’s most notable quote, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” is MacGraw’s message to O’Neal during their struggling college days. O’Neal repeats it to his father when the elder statesman discovers that his son’s wife has died.

It is a phrase that is oft repeated -- but in 1970, it wasn’t a cliché.

-- Steve Prisament

The Goodbye Girl (1977)

My mom introduced me to this movie in my early teens. It was one of her all-time favorites, and since we had very similar taste, it quickly became one of mine. It revolves around Paula, played by Marsha Mason, a young single mother who has dated and been dumped by actors one too many times. She ends up being forced to live with another actor, played by Richard Dreyfuss, who at first she cannot stand. But their relationship blossoms into something sweet, funny and unexpected. You go through their personal struggles and triumphs in life and get to have some laughs along the way.

This movie can’t help but make you smile. And the theme song of the same name, by David Gates, is just as sweet as the movie.

-- Mandee McCullough

Witness (1985)

This brooding but visually stunnigly Peter Weir film opens with a Pennsylvania Amish community mourning the death of a young woman’s husband. Later, widow Rachel (Kelly McGillis) and her son, Samuel (Lucas Haas), travel to Philadelphia, where the little boy witnesses a murder – managing to stay alive only thanks to his quick instincts.

Hardened police Detective John Book (Harrison Ford) gets the case. But the boy fingers not someone from a mug shot, but a narcotics officer. Book reports it to his superior and is later shot in an ambush, implicating that the corruption goes all the way to the top.

Book flees with them to Amish country, where he is an outsider. Soon, he and the guileless Rachel can no longer resist their attraction, even though she would surely be shunned for having a relationship with the “English.”

Their desire is palpable as they go about farm chores, attend a barn raising and repair his car. In my favorite scene, the car radio suddenly comes on and Book starts singing along with Sam Cooke to “Wonderful World.” When he dances around the barn with Rachel – an activity forbidden among these strict plain folk – it is so sweet you can’t help rooting for them, even though you know it can never work. And the scene where Book glimpses Rachel sponge bathing through a slightly open door is one of the most sensual I have ever witnessed on the big screen.

-- Joan Kostiuk

Moonstruck (1987)

“Moonstruck” stars Cher as Loretta Castorini, a widow in her late 30s living in Brooklyn. Convinced she is unlucky in love, she’s resigned to marry a man she doesn't love, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello).

While Johnny tends to his dying mother in Italy, Loretta falls for Johnny's estranged brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage). Ronny’s passion burns like the oven in the bakery where he works. He’s the opposite of Johnny, who is a kind but dull sort compared to his opera-loving brother, and more concerned about his mother than his future bride.

Loretta is transformed, admits her love for Ronny, calls off the wedding and finds happiness. Good story, but the characters make it great. Everything is life-or-death drama for these Italian-American characters. Johnny visits his “dying” mother, but she won’t stop talking. Ronny never forgave his brother for an accident that caused him to lose his hand, and would rather slit his throat rather than hear of his brother’s happiness. Loretta’s mom Rose (Olympia Dukakis) wonders why her husband Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia) is cheating and concludes that he fears death. Loretta’s first husband was hit by a bus. She is convinced she is unlucky in love because she was married in city hall, not a church.

These characters are filled with passion, drama, superstition and loyalty to each other – a lot like some people I have come to know and love in the Italian-American family I married into.

-- James Fitzpatrick

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

I have so many favorite romantic movies, including “Forrest Gump” (“I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is.”), “When Harry Met Sally” (who could ever forget Meg Ryan’s famous restaurant scene?), “Gone With the Wind” (“Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn.”), “Casablanca” (“Here’s looking at you, kid.”), and “Les Miserables” (“To love another person is to see the face of God.”), but the all-time top romantic movie in my book is a kid’s cartoon, “Beauty and the Beast.”

Perhaps that is because it is not only a love story for the ages, but also one my son related to at a very young age. I remember taking him to the movies to see it, and buying the video (we didn’t have DVDs back then) so he could watch it repeatedly while I cleaned the bathrooms and vacuumed the carpets. He had to be no more than 4 or 5 years old when he looked up at me in that darkened theater when the Beast made his magical transformation, and said, “Look Mommy, he’s getting nice and handsome.”

He is now 25, and recently passed through the family room while I was watching a recap of popular Disney movies, and that scene just happened to be playing. As he walked out the back door, he casually said, “Yo, Ma, he’s getting nice and handsome.”

-- Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

French Kiss (1995)

This romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline features the best of both actors at the height of their careers. Ryan is adorable in the role of the neurotic and quirky Kate, whose fiancé, Charlie (Timothy Hutton), dumps her for a woman he met in France on business. Kate travels out of her comfort zone and over the Atlantic Ocean determined to reclaim him.

Nearly immediately upon boarding the plane, Kate meets French jewel thief Luc Teyssier, played by Kline, and her life is altered.

This movie always charms me. Of course, the backdrop of Paris and the French countryside heightens the romance as Kate also uncovers newfound independence and decides if maybe what she came for is worth leaving in France.

-- Laura Stetser

You’ve Got Mail (1998)

I don’t even know how many times I have seen this movie. It’s light, it’s fun and it’s a great story about two people searching for a soul mate.

Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks play Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox, two people in fizzling relationships who form a bond anonymously on the Internet, unaware that they are business adversaries. She is trying to keep her intimate children’s bookstore on Manhattan’s Upper West Side from going under while he opens a book chain megastore just around the corner.

The cyberpals agree to meet, but Joe sees Kathleen first and realizes his online confidant is his real-life business foe. He doesn’t let on, but goes about finding a way to win Kathleen’s affection. Eventually she warms to him. It is not until the two arrange another meeting that she learns that her cybermate is the same man she has fallen for in person.

“You’ve Got Mail” is definitely worth watching – and if you haven’t seen it for a while, I recommend watching it again; it’s still good the second and third time around. 

-- Suzanne Marino

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

Shakespeare pretty much invented the romantic comedy, and with a few tweaks to the Bard’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” you get “10 Things I Hate About You.”

The teen romance stars Julia Stiles as “shrew” Kat Stratford and Heath Ledger as Patrick Verona in breakout roles, as well as a baby-faced Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cameron James.

Cameron has a crush on Kat’s younger sister, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), but Bianca isn’t allowed to date unless Kat does. Once popular, Kat is now angry, outspoken and outcast for her nonconformist and feminist ideals. She would rather spend her time reading “The Bell Jar” than going on dates and being the object of a guy’s affection. 

Cameron teams up with Patrick to “tame” Kat, and surprise, surprise – the two actually end up falling for each other.

Directed by Gil Junger, “10 Things I Hate About You” is like an early John Hughes film, which is one of the reasons I love it. Despite being slightly predictable (aren’t all rom-coms?) it has a witty script – and the scene where Patrick serenades Kat over the athletic field PA system is classic.

-- Christie Rotondo

Just for fun:

Amctv.com has an interactive list of 50 top romantic movies. Each film accumulates points as users vote it up or down. Last I checked, “The Notebook” was No. 1. To place your vote go to http://movies.amctv.com/movie-guide/50-greatest-romantic-movies/

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