Love Story (1970)
It’s a simple story that expounds the basic principles of relationships. In this film a young and then trim Ryan O’Neal plays Oliver, a Harvard law student who falls in love with Radcliffe music major Jenny, played by Ali McGraw. But as we all know the greatest love stories are never without challenges and in this one, the opposition comes from Oliver’s wealthy father who refuses to accept the working class Jenny. The two go ahead and marry but just when it looks like everything is going to be ok, Jenny is struck with a fatal illness and dies. I guess true love is just never meant to be, eh?
The film has several heart wrenching moments but the clincher is the quote that has become the guiding principle for relationships—“love means never having to say you are sorry.” The low budget film turned out to be a money spinner for Paramount which happened to be on the verge of a financial breakdown at the time.
The film was nominated for seven Oscars with nominations for O’Neal and McGraw as well as a directorial nod for Arthur Hiller. The only award it received however was for the haunting theme song written by Frances Lai.
Trivia: Eight actors include Beau Bridges, his brother Jeff, Peter Fonda, Jon Voight, Michael Douglas and Keith Carradine turned down the part of Oliver before it went to Ryan O’Neal.
Pretty Woman (1990)
The modern day adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion revolves around a young prostitute Vivian (Julia Roberts) who in a strange twist of fate finds herself entangled with the single but emotionally unavailable billionaire Edward (Richard Gere).
From the moment the long-legged beauty steps into the Lotus Esprit that Edward can barely handle, there is an instant connection and what turns out to be a single “business” transaction transforms into an entire weekend that ends with both of them falling head over heels in love with each other. This one, however, is meant to be.
Feminists who deemed the film irresponsible were up in arms, claiming that it gave young girls wrong ideas about love and life. After all, in the real world would a prostitute ever “have it all” in the end? Nonetheless, the film was a runaway success that re-launched the career of Gere and made Roberts America’s sweetheart. She earned her first best actress nod at the Oscars (the only for the film) and soon became the face of heart-warming romantic comedies like My Best Friend’s Wedding and Notting Hill.
Trivia: Molly Ringwald turned down the role of Vivian and so did Daryl Hannah who felt that it was degrading to women. The producers also initially wanted to cast Meg Ryan in the lead.
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Romeo and Juliet would be an obvious example of a timeless love story. But my preference lies with this fictional account of events that led Shakespeare to write the tragic love tale. The romantic comedy stars Joseph Fiennes as William Shakespeare who overcomes his writer’s block after falling in love with Lady Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow).
But as in Romeo and Juliet, the lovers’ stars are crossed as she has been promised to another. It’s a complicated plot that involves Viola assuming the role of the young man Thomas Kent who has been cast as Romeo in the production that is to be staged before Queen Elizabeth (Judi Dench).
While Romeo and Juliet may be all catastrophe and misfortune, this parody provides lots of humorous moments making it an enjoyable film to watch. There is heartbreak at the end but the lovers separate with the satisfaction that they did experience true love.
Shakespeare in Love was nominated for a whopping 13 Academy Awards, which is unusual for a romantic comedy. It walked away with seven including best actress for Paltrow, best supporting actress for Dench who only spent a total of eight minutes on screen and best picture.
Shakespeare in Love is in fact the first comedy to win the best picture award since 1977 when it went to Annie Hall. It beat out several heavyweights that year including Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic Saving Private Ryan.
Trivia: About six years before the film was made, Julia Roberts was cast as Viola. She flew to the UK to try to persuade Daniel Day-Lewis to take the part, but he declined in order to do In the Name of the Father (1993).
When Harry met Sally (1989)
Hailed as being one of the most popular romantic comedies of all time, When Harry met Sally asks that inevitable question that hovers over a man and a woman who are just friends—can two individuals of the opposite sex just be friends or will they inadvertently wind up as lovers?
The film begins when Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) hitches a ride from Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) to New York after graduation. Their first meeting is disastrous and when they reach their destination, both are only too glad to turn their backs on each other. But as fate would have it they find themselves bumping into each other and as time passes, they eventually become best friends, consoling each other through various failed relationships. And then it happens!
The film turned Meg Ryan into a household name. Nora Ephron who wrote the script went on to direct Ryan in two other highly successful romantic comedies—Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail.
Trivia: The concept of Sally being a picky eater was based on Nora Ephron. Years after the movie came out, when Ephron was on a plane and ordered something very precise, the stewardess looked at her and asked “Have you ever seen the movie ‘When Harry Met Sally’?”
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Ah… It was a tale as old as time… True it is an animated film but it is perhaps this Disney retelling of fairy tale that best appeals to adults. Compare it with others of a similar genre and you will see that it is this film that has a magical quality about it. From the poignant melody at the very start of the film to the vivid depictions of the magical castle, Beauty and the Beast gives you the feeling of being transported to a place back in time.
The film tells of a handsome young prince who shows his disdain for those less fortunate than himself. But he pays dearly for his vanity when an enchantress, disguised as a poor and ragged woman, casts a spell upon him after being turned away, transforming the young prince into a hideous beast. His only way out—to find true love. But can anyone love a beast?
Apparently so but it would have to be a girl like no other; someone like Belle the inventor’s daughter who sacrifices herself to save her father from the Beast’s confines. It may have been an animated film but it gave us lots of advice on relationships—compromise, acceptance and of course, a willingness to look beyond appearances.
Beauty and the Beast received four Oscar nominations including a best picture nod. It didn’t win but it has the honour of being the first animated feature to be nominated in the best picture category. It, however, only took home an award for the theme song, sung by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. The duo also picked up a Grammy for their rendition in the best pop vocal performance by duo or group category.
Trivia: In the 1930s and again in the 1950s, Walt Disney attempted to adapt Beauty and the Beast into a feature but could not come up with a suitable treatment, so the project was shelved. It wasn’t until The Little Mermaid (1989) became hugely successful that they decided to try it a third try.
Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1955)
Based on the novel, the film tells of a Eurasian doctor, Dr. Han Suyin (who also wrote the book), played by Jennifer Jones who falls in love with an American war correspondent Mark Elliot, played by William Holden. Though initially reluctant to associate with the married but separated Elliot for fear of what people would say, the widowed Han slowly finds herself falling for the charming Elliot. But she is faced with tremendous opposition and is soon forced to choose between her “Chinese” side and her love for the American.
She follows her heart but even before they can fully celebrate their love, he is sent to Korea to cover the war there. And as all true love stories go, theirs was not meant to be. She soon receives news that he was killed.
Set in 1950s Hong Kong, amidst the Communist revolution in China, Love is a Many Splendored Thing provided the visual backdrop that made it the perfect setting for a blossoming romance. There were several scenes in the film that were considered risqué in that time. One, in particular, was of the couple going swimming. By that era’s standards, the swimsuit worn by Jones was considered to be particularly sexy while Holden reportedly shaved his chest to go for the desired look of the time.
Love is a Many Splendored Thing was nominated for eight Oscars including best actress and best picture but failed to triumph in any of the major categories. It, however, took home the award for the best original score for the infamous song of the same name.
Trivia: Jennifer Jones and William Holden were barely speaking to each other on the set. In an attempt to placate her, Holden presented Jones with some flowers as a peace offering only to find them thrown back at his face.
It makes the top ten of virtually every “best of” film list ever conceived of. That’s because the film Casablanca is a classic in every sense of the word; its stellar cast—Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, the complicated love triangle, which has elements of political intrigue and of course, the great dialogue.
In the movie set in Morocco during World War II, Bogart plays Rick Blaine, a cynical American whose café is the gathering place for everyone. It’s a simple life he leads till his long-lost love, Ilsa (Bergman), suddenly appears in Casablanca with her Resistance leader husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).
They need to escape from Casablanca, and Rick may be the only one who can help them but does he really want to risk his life, especially his since the love of his life is married to another?
Casablanca was nominated for eight Academy Awards. Bergman was not nominated and Bogart lost out on the best actor award. Nonetheless, it picked up three awards including for best picture and best director.
Trivia: The actress Michèle Morgan asked to be paid $55,000 (RM192,000) but producer Hal B. Wallis refused because Ingrid Bergman was willing to take the role for $25,000 (RM87,500).
The tagline of the musical reads “the most beautiful love story ever.” And indeed, to many it is. For here we deal with the power of love and of how you just can’t helping loving someone whatever the circumstances or consequences.
In this film we are transported back to the glorious days of Camelot. King Arthur (Richard Harris) has established himself as a fine ruler, presiding over the kingdom with the help of his knights at The Round Table. With the beautiful queen Guenevere (Vanessa Redgrave) at his side, it seems that he is all set for a long and peaceful rule.
But just when you think everything is perfect, your world comes crashing down and it did for Arthur when the young and brash French knight Lancelot (Frances Nero) arrives to be a knight at The Round Table. He becomes the king’s favoured one but soon begins to have an affair with Guenevere. With that betrayal begins the destruction of Camelot.
Despite being a musical, Camelot is told in a most “un-musical” way. It is subtle and poignant with the focus being the characters and the complex emotions they undergo. Camelot was nominated for five Oscars and while it won three, it was bypassed in all the major categories.
Trivia Julie Andrews who was in the stage version was asked to play Guenevere, but by then she had become so famous that she was unable to accept the role. Ironically, Jack L. Warner, who produced Camelot (1967), was the same man who had given the role of Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady to Audrey Hepburn because he thought that Andrews would not be a big enough box-office name.
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998)
In the late 90s it was the Bollywood actress Kajol who depicted the wholesome beauty, the kind that you just know will be the perfect wife and mother, making her the classic choice as a romantic lead during that era.
In this typical Bollywood film, she stars opposite Shah Rukh Khan for the second time as the tomboy-ish Anjali who enjoys a platonic relationship with her best friend Rahul only to find his affections focused on the sultry Tina (Rani Mukherjee).
To make things easier for Rahul, Anjali gets on the train and paves the way for Rahul to marry Tina. Years later, Tina is taken by illness but before she dies she leaves a letter for their daughter, explaining the love between her husband and his former best friend. Struck by the story, the girl embarks on a mission to reunite her father with Anjali. But as luck would have it, Anjali is about to be married to another.
To many it may seem cliché but Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is classic Bollywood, showcasing all the elements that make Bollywood so enjoyable. The colour, the dance sequences and the music will have you tapping your feet and wiping your eyes at the same time. The film, which can be credited for introducing Hindi films to a non Indian audience, is directed by Karan Johar, host of Koffee with Karan.
Years later the director reunited Kajol and Khan once again in the tearjerker Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, even giving them the same names, Rahul and Anjali.
Trivia: All movies directed by Karan Johar (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna), start with ‘K’ and consist of four words. It is said that this is done for luck and success.
In the Mood for Love (2000)
It is probably one of the sexiest films of all time, an assertion that many would find strange since there is no physical intimacy, not even a kiss. But therein lies the power of In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar Wai. The film is all about symbolism and each time the key characters pass each other on the corridor, it is like they are making love.
Set in 1960s Hong Kong, In the Mood for Love traces the steps of the journalist Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and his neighbour, Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung), who find their paths converging in the absence of their busy spouses; running into each other in the corridor or at the local noodle stall. There seems to be an attraction but they hardly say a word to each other.
Mid-way through the film, however, they realise that it is their spouses who are having the affair. Does their “friendship” turn physical upon this discovery? Throughout the film, you’re left wondering—did they or didn’t they?
The film can be understood on many levels. Some may perceive it to be about unrequited love, others could it see as two lonely individuals who find a connection. Whatever your interpretation, there is no doubt that it is indeed a beautiful film, made even more captivating by Cheung’s costumes. In fact, it is credited for spurring a renewed interest in the traditional Chinese dress.
At the time, Wong was already well-known among art film enthusiasts but In the Mood for Love propelled him into the international spotlight, resulting in a Golden Palm nomination at the Cannes Film Festival.
Trivia: Maggie Cheung wears a different cheong-sam in each scene. There were 46 in total, though not all made it to the final cut.