Harold and Maude (1971)
When a youthful man obsessed with suicide (Bud Cort) meets a quirky older woman (Ruth Gordon), the two break down ageist assumptions about romance while they teach each other about living life to the fullest. A touching portrait of a relationship not usually captured on screen, “Harold and Maude” is a must-see black comedy about intergenerational romance, post-graduate pressures and overcoming pessimism. Shot throughout the San Francisco area, including a few scenes set at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and soundtracked by the free-spirited musings of Cat Stevens, this bizarre yet affectionate story is a profoundly original look at the many lessons love can teach.
Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)
An intimately told L.A. love story about two exes, Celeste (Rashida Jones, who also wrote the film) and Jesse (Andy Samberg), who continue to spend excessive amounts of time together, to the dismay of their friends and family. They soon realize that while they may no longer be married, they are still deeply in love with each other. Jones delivers a quiet yet convincing performance to the subtle synth tones of this melancholic Los Angeles, one where missed connections and lost loves continue to deter our heroine from her struggles to grow up and move on. A funny, sharp and artful story, “Celeste and Jesse Forever” may surprise you with its heartfelt take on twenty-something relationship anxieties.
A touching and powerful tale of the struggles to overcome societal expectations, “Fire” was Deepa Mehta’s first film in her evocative “Elements” trilogy. Recently married Sita must cope with moving in with her husband’s family, only to find herself deeply attracted to his sister-in-law Radha. Lush with romantic turmoil and expressive melodrama, “Fire” explores the secret relationship Sita and Radha develop, and the complex societal forces in play that keep them from expressing their love. Moving, nuanced and beautifully told, “Fire” is a genuine treasure.
Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011)
Any Ryan Gosling movie is a solid choice for steaming up the windows and provoking unstoppable arousal, but this charming fable about fate, chance and the myriad ways people fall in love is certainly a choice pick for getting in the lovey-dovey mood. With a large ensemble of quirky characters played by Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Julianne Moore and Kevin Bacon, this film is full of the zany yet heartfelt intersections, last chances and complications of love.
It Happened One Night (1934)
Frank Capra’s hit romantic comedy from the mid-1930s is a classic screwball film about spoiled heiress Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) and broke newspaper reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable). One of the earliest rom-coms in existence — and certainly one of the first successful ones — “It Happened One Night” follows Ellie, a pampered and disaffected member of the bourgeois, and Peter, a curmudgeon who lives life from gig to gig, as they reluctantly fall in love. A delightful take on the old adage “opposites attract,” this black-and-white benchmark of the romantic genre is well worth viewing, if not for Clark Gable’s impeccable mustache.
Before Sunrise (1995)
Director Richard Linklater’s first in his now legendary romantic trilogy about Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy), “Before Sunrise” is an intimate portrayal of two souls who find each other on a train from Budapest, and end up spending 24 hours together in Vienna. Eschewing plot in favor of a series of insightful conversations, the film focuses on Jesse’s and Céline’s many musings on love, sex, feminism and religion — all of which results in their gradual attraction to each other. A touching portrait of the spontaneity of love, “Before Sunrise” is a now classic staple of modern American romance films.
An Education (2009)
A coming-of-age dramedy set in 1961 London, “An Education” centers on Jenny Mellor (Carey Mulligan), a 16-year-old girl applying for her dream school, Oxford University. When a charming businessman named David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard) meets Jenny, they engage in a tryst, falling in love with each other. However, David has more secrets than he’s letting on, and as the struggle between romance and education begins to escalate, Jenny must decide where her allegiances truly lie. A sweet, smart and sentimental tale about growing up, this gem is based on a memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber.
Forlorn sensitive guy Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) finds himself drawn to his personal operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) in a not-so-distant future Los Angeles in this smart romantic dramedy. Both a deft social commentary on our increasing usage of personal technology and a moving portrait of the desire for connections, “Her” is a gorgeous and sweeping account of Twombly’s quiet desperation. Beautifully shot — in vibrant, fuzzy tones that scream wistful — and featuring one of the silliest depictions of our future fashion sense, this delicate tale is both pensive and humorous. Phoenix’s honest and heartbreaking interpretation of Twombly’s passive yet poetic musings on his world is a tour de force performance — he clearly deserves recognition as one of America’s most talented actors. Jonze’s strange and entrancing future shines in its commentary on the increasing interiority of the American individual, while also providing viewers with a deep and complex relationship between man and his machine.