...which will probably still be at the video store when you go to rent one.
Face it: by the time you make it to the video store to pick out that perfect film in front of which you'll snuggle with your date on Valentine's Day, all of the established romance movies will be rented. Forget Casablanca, An Affair to Remember, and Sleepless in Seattle. They'll be gone. And heaven help you if you fall back on Titanic. Haven't you seen that enough times already?
Here are our recommendations (in no particular order) for unusual and overlooked romantic movies practically guaranteed to still be at the store when you get there. We've also included links to Reel.com in case you don't want to rely on your local rental outlet.
Music From Another Room (1998) - Although a little too obviously a movie, Music from Another Room is probably the most tragically overlooked film of 1998. Jude Law stars as the man who, as a boy, helped deliver a baby girl into the world. Twenty-five years later, he meets her again and the attraction is instant. Unfortunately, Anna (Gretchen Mol) is already attached to someone, and her protectiveness towards her eccentric family makes her difficult to approach.
While the main love story is thoughtful and sweet, we were drawn more to the story of Anna's blind sister, Nina (Jennifer Tilly), who begins the film as a timid mouse and gradually becomes part of the larger world. This film is a true sleeper with some terrific performances (this is probably Tilly's best) and the occasional hilarity. Music from Another Room is a movie that should definitely be seen by those who enjoyed Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally.
L.A. Story (1991) - This is Steve Martin's most heartfelt and original film to date. Working romantic wonders far beyond the sickly-sweet Roxanne, Martin (who also wrote the film) brings us the story of Harris Telemacher, a television weather forecaster ("with the Waaaacky Weekend Weather!") and the electric traffic sign that changes his life. Harris, seemingly content in his life sipping cappucinos with his high-profile girlfriend (Marilu Henner), discovers there is more to L.A. than he thought.
Telemacher falls in love with Sara (his now ex-wife Victoria Tennant), a visiting British journalist, and develops an odd relationship with SanDeE* (Sarah Jessica Parker) when it turns out Sara is already committed -- sort of. Encouraged by the sign ("Kiss her!" it urges), Harris decides to pursue Sara and the magical love he knows they can share. Pure brilliance by Martin, director Mick Jackson, and the entire supporting cast.
Forget Paris (1995) - Actually, forget Meg Ryan. Billy Crystal is better cast against Debra Winger in this romantic comedy. Crystal stars as a basketball referee, Mickey, who meets the love of his life -- and starts to scream at her. Ellen (Winger) is the representative of the airline that lost his father's body on a trans-Atlantic flight, and, while trying to comfort him, she hangs around long enough to get to know him. Of course, they fall in love.
The real problems begin after they get married and realize their lifestyles are completely incompatible. Mickey is constantly out of town on the NBA circuit, and Ellen gave up her job in Europe to be with him. (Plus, her father is no prize, nearly driving Mickey over the edge as he reads each street and business sign aloud.) The story, told in a restaurant by the couple's friends (Mickey and Ellen are absent), is one of many splits and reconciliations. Crystal is his usual wise-cracking self, and Winger matches him zinger for zinger. Funny stuff.
Singin' in the Rain is quite nearly the perfect movie: stunning musical numbers, fall-down-laughing comedy (thanks to Donald O'Connor and Hagen), a terrific romance, and a great story. Do yourself a favor and see it soon.
The Tall Guy (1989) - Who would have forseen that Emma Thompson and Jeff Goldblum would have such chemistry? Goldblum plays Dexter King, a straight man ("most people just know me as 'the tall guy'") to Ron Anderson (Rowan Atkinson, in an hilarious self-parody). While seeking a cure for his allergies, Dexter meets Kate (Thompson), a nurse at the clinic. Despite his fear of shots, he signs up for repeated treatments so that he can see her.
The Tall Guy is hilarious long before the love story surfaces, and it doesn't stop, even once the credits start rolling. Dexter's eventual move from stage comedy to a musical based on the Elephant Man (ELEPHANT!) proves even more hilarious than Atkinson's routines. See our review for the full story on this film.
The Apartment (1960) - C.C. "Bud" Baxter (Jack Lemmon) has a problem -- his apartment isn't his. Well, maybe it is, but he doesn't have the use of his home like most people do. Ever since he did a favor for one of the execs at his office, Bud's apartment has become a love nest for the upper crust in the building. In exchange for the use of his place, the various corporate vultures have promised Bud that he'll rise to the top in a hurry. Bud, too nice to say no, finds himself without a place to go when the clock hits five.
Bud has a romance of his own that he'd like to get going with pretty Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), one of the elevator girls. Unfortunately, it looks like Fran is already involved -- with the top vulture of all. The Apartment zooms from deadly serious to screwball and back again in best roller coaster fashion. Lemmon and MacLaine have rare chemistry together, and hey! isn't that Fred "My Three Sons" MacMurray as big bad boss Mr. Sheldrake?
Manhattan (1979) - Most Woody Allen fans, when asked for a romantic Allen film, would point to Annie Hall or the more recent Everyone Says I Love You. We'd like to suggest Manhattan. Despite the slightly icky relationship between Isaac (Allen) and eighteen-year old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), Manhattan is romance at its starry-eyed height.
Despite his treasured relationship with Tracy, Isaac finds himself falling for his best friend's wife, Mary (Diane Keaton). Mary doesn't know what she wants, and Isaac may be pushing Tracy away just hard enough to really lose her. Allen surrounds the neurotic dialogue and romantic waffling with gorgeous black-and-white images of an idealized New York -- majestic bridges, mysterious planetariums, comfy park benches. The hardest part is figuring out with whom Isaac is really in love: Mary, Tracy, or Manhattan?
Tall Story (1960) - Who knew Jane Fonda could be this hot? Although most folks associate Anthony Perkins with sick and twisted Psycho-type movies, Tall Story proves that he can be a leading man as well. Perkins stars as Ray Blent, a basketball star with more troubles than he can manage. If only we had such troubles. He's being stalked by a young June Ryder (Fonda) who shows up in all of his classes, one of his professors is Ray Walston, and someone is trying to blackmail/bribe him into losing a game against a Russian team.
Ladies, if you normally can't get your Significant Other in front of a romantic comedy to save your life, put Tall Story in the VCR. If you don't mind a litle drooling when Jane Fonda shows up, you're guaranteed they'll stay put in front of the tube.
Sally, who loves Stanley and his play, bows out gracefully, but vows to prove that his choices of actress and girlfriend are incorrect. In keeping with the movie, the more established stars (Holden, Rogers) deliver terrific performances, but Crowley's screen debut is simultaneously magnificent and endearing. If you can find it, Forever Female is a classic you shouldn't ignore.
Writer Nichols and director Howard Hawks mix in a good helping of stern, matronly aunts, bumbling cops, misdirected gangsters, and not one but two leopards to keep the confusion brewing. And still there's time for Vance and Huxley to fall in love. Awww. Ain't that cute?
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