I liked your list very much, Adrienne, even if I haven't seen a lot of the films on it. I liked what you wrote about what makes a good romantic comedy film. I mean, this is great: "A good romantic comedy is a confection built around emotional truth. It may have some things to say about how to navigate romantic relationships, but the primary focus should be the wonder of falling in love, something that reminds the viewer of how amazing it is to have this dear friend you also get to sleep with. In the dailiness and difficulties of life, sometimes that reminder can be a hope and comfort. Nothing wrong with that." That pretty much nails it.
I think a romantic comedy film that captures the wonder, weirdness, trepidation, and/or joviality of falling in love or pursuing love is one that I find endearing. If its got good jokes than that helps too. Love is anything but uniform or rote. It's as strange and capricious as life itself. A film that reaches for that is moving in the right direction.
I thought about doing a list of rom-coms, but I don't know if I could do it in any insightful way. It would only be classics, many of which are canonical, obvious, or clichéd. I've decide to just give lists of favorites from certain eras. A majority of my favorites are from the Golden Age, but there are a few beyond this that are worth mentioning and embarrassing myself over.
My favorite romantic comedies of all time, and easily among the best, are obvious but they would have to be CITY LIGHTS (Chaplin, 1931), NINOTCHKA (Lubitsch, 1939), and THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (Lubitsch, 1940). Nothing beats them for charm, wit, beauty, tenderness, and emotion, in my opinion.
Some of my other favorites from the Golden Age are:
- THE MORE THE MERRIER (Stevens, 1943)
- I LOVE YOU AGAIN (van Dyke, 1940)
- I LOVE YOU AGAIN (van Dyke, 1940)
- MADE FOR EACH OTHER (Cromwell, 1939)
- CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (Godfrey, 1945)
- IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (Capra, 1934)
- THE LADY EVE (Sturges, 1941)
- THE PALM BEACH STORY (Sturges, 1942)
- BALL OF FIRE (Hawks, 1941)
- SOME LIKE IT HOT (Wilder, 1959)
I left off lots of potentially big ones like MY MAN GODFREY, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK, TWENTIETH CENTURY, and others just because they tend to fall more under the screw-ball category than the romantic one. I also left off a few of the Astaire and Rogers musicals that I love like TOP HAT and THE GAY DIVORCEE because they fall under the musical genre. I tried to stick to Brandon's stipulations, though my criterion is rather obliquely defined. I tried to adhere to what actually felt like an unfolding romance, not just a comedy with romantic elements or a film mixing another genre. I don't know how well I did. Sorry.
I LOVE YOU AGAIN has to make the list even if I just watched it on Sunday. I watched it solely based on how high John had it on his 1940 list, as it wasn't even on my radar before that (anything Powell and Loy should be on my radar, not just THE THIN MAN series, I admit). It's a really terrific film, and an underrated one at that. It's funny, charming, sweet, clever–all that good stuff. Thank you for making me aware of it, John.
As for the next era, which I'm deeming the 60s-80s new wave to no wave era, there's only a few that I really like or like at all.
Obviously, I love the Woody Allen romantic comedies. ANNIE HALL, HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, and BROADWAY DANNY ROSE would probably all crack my top 10 rom-coms of all time. That goes without saying I'm sure.
I'm a big fan of THE APARTMENT (Wilder, 1960). I also watched BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (Saks, 1967) when I was 13 or so and am still fond of it. I watched it randomly while home sick one day from school and was downright charmed.
I must have seen more foreign rom-coms from this era, but the only two I can think of that really stand out are STOLEN KISSES (Truffaut, 1968) and A WOMAN IS A WOMAN (Godard, 1961). They might be considered genre crosses though, I'm not sure. I'm probably forgetting lots of others, but those two make me incredible happy and are worth being on any list of the greatest rom-coms of all time.
Is BEING THERE (Ashby, 1979) a rom-com? If so, it's a great one. Might just be a straight comedy though. Don't know of many other 70s rom-coms.
I like TOOTSIE (Pollack, 1982) a lot because I used to watch it with my mom. I also just love Dustin Hoffman and a scene-stealing Bill Murray.
I have seen WHEN HARRY MET SALLY... and MOONSTRUCK, which are pretty acclaimed rom-coms from the 80s, but have forgotten them almost entirely.
Feel free to make fun of me, but I really like PRETTY IN PINK (Deutch, 1986). Apart from just liking it for its 80s kitsch value and James Spader playing a 35-year-old high schooler, I think the three leads have great chemistry together and it captures the ebb and flow of teenage love better than most films. A guilty pleasure, but honestly one of the better rom-coms of the 80s.
As for more modern rom-coms from the 90s and 00s, I've liked very few. The good ones are difficult to find. I've sat through several atrocious ones at the behest of past girlfriends and my mom. A few years back, I remember watching 27 DRESSES with my mom and an old girlfriend. It was so offensive to women that I couldn't understand how they are any other woman who could possibly like it. The values and themes it reinforced to women were patronizing at best and downright scornful at worst. Sadly, these kinds of cynical films have become the standard for the genre; a new one opens just about every week. A while back, Brandon mentioned THE HOLIDAY and said that we all should demand better from the film industry for the shit they try pass off as romantic or comedic or entertaining. I couldn't agree more, but I don't see things changing any time soon.
I think the best romantic comedy film of the last 15 years is WALL-E, but it's also a sci-fi movie so it would be disqualified. Still, it's robot love is more human than just about any other live action romantic comedy in recent memory. It seriously might even reach CITY LIGHTS level sweetness. A true gem of a film.
I worship GROUNDHOG DAY (Ramis, 1993), but wouldn't be able to include it if I followed Brandon's rules. Without those rules, it would be the only non-classic or non-Woody Allen film to challenge my top 10.
I also like CHASING AMY, Adrienne. It's far and away Smith's best work. I haven't watched it in years, but watched the stolen dvd copy we had of it many times as a teen (I want to give a shout out to my friend and former neighbor Willie for stealing that dvd from Kmart for me and my brothers; thank you dude).
The two straight rom-coms I probably like most from the 90s aren't that good at all, I just have residual interest in them from liking them so much as a kid. Like any 90s child, I couldn't get enough Adam Sandler, so THE WEDDING SINGER (Coraci, 1998) is still something I can quote endlessly. And surprisingly or not, I really liked 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU (Junger, 1999) and would watch my VHS copy of it plenty. Hey, it had young Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in it! That makes it cool, right? Right? Guys?
As for the 2000s, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (GONDRY, 2004) is a great rom-com, but it's an obvious choice and is also a fantasy film, so it doesn't count. Is AMELIE (Jeunet, 2001) a rom-com? I'm kind of a sucker for it regardless.
Probably my two favorite straight rom-coms of the 2000s are: KNOCKED UP (Apatow, 2007) and PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (Anderson, 2002).
I love KNOCKED UP just for being so goddamn hilarious. I also like THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, but find KNOCKED UP to be funnier. I've never laughed harder in a movie theater.
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE is easily the best live-action rom-com of the last decade. It evokes the absolute strangeness and wonderful happenstance of love to perfection. Love is a punch-drunk feeling, and it makes you want to chew someone's face off. :) PTA knows what's up.
"I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine." Amen.
Sorry I didn't make a list, but this seemed more interesting than a numerical ordering of classics and a few Woody Allen movies.