Casablanca: easy to enter, but much harder to leave, especially if you're wanted by the Nazis. Such a man is Resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), whose only hope is Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a cynical American who sticks his neck out for no one - especially Victor's wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), the ex-lover who broke his heart. Ilsa offers herself in exchange for Laszlo's transport out of the country and bitter Rick must decide what counts more - personal happiness or countless lives hanging in the balance. This classic film still stands up to the test of time.
Sleepless in Seattle
The director and stars of 1998's You've Got Mail scored a breakthrough hit with this hugely popular romantic comedy from 1993, about a recently engaged woman (Meg Ryan) who hears the sad story of a grieving widower (Tom Hanks) on the radio and believes that they're destined to be together. She's single in New York, he lives in Seattle with a young son, but the cross-country attraction proves irresistible, and pretty soon Meg's on a westbound flight. What happens from there is ... well, you must have been living in a cave to have let this sweet-hearted comedy slip below your pop-cultural radar. There's little complexity or depth to writer-director Nora Ephron's cheesy tale of a romantic fait accompli, and more than a little contrivance to the subplots that threaten to keep Hanks and Ryan from actually meeting. But the purity of star chemistry here is hard to deny, and this may be the first film to indicate the more serious and sympathetic side of Hanks that is revealed in later roles. With its clever jokes about "chick movies" and repeated homage to the classic weeper An Affair to Remember, this may not be everybody's brand of amorous entertainment, but it's got an old-Hollywood charm that appeals to many a movie fan.
This original screenplay by John Patrick Shanley (Joe Versus the Volcano) is a wonderful, gently satirical tale of an Italian-American family dealing with repression and dissatisfaction against a backdrop of cultural expectations. Cher is focused and funny as a widow who feels she should marry an older fellow (Danny Aiello), but then falls for his black-sheep brother (Nicolas Cage). Olympia Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia are perfect as her parents, and John Mahoney (of TV's Frasier) has a memorable, small role as a middle-aged man on the make who gets a lecture from Dukakis's character. Shanley's dialogue is comically stylized in a way that makes one appreciate how much words can inform an actor's performance.
Bringing up Baby
"The love impulse in man," says a psychiatrist in Bringing Up Baby, "frequently reveals itself in terms of conflict." That's for sure. For a primer on the rules and regulations of the classic screwball comedy, which throws love and conflict into close proximity, look no further. A straight-laced paleontologist (Cary Grant) loses a dinosaur bone to a dog belonging to free-spirited heiress Katharine Hepburn. In trying to retrieve said bone, Grant is drawn into the vortex surrounding the delicious Hepburn, which becomes a flirtatious pas de deux that will transform both of them. Director Howard Hawks plays the complications as a breathless escalation of their "love impulse," yet the movie is nonetheless romantic for all its speed. (Hawks's His Girl Friday, also with Grant, goes even faster.) Grant and Hepburn are a match made in movie heaven, in sync with each other throughout. Not a great box-office success when first released, Bringing Up Baby has since taken its place as a high-water mark of the screwball form.
While director Norman Jewison's Moonstruck is a romantic cornerstone, this 1994 film is often overlooked. It's a sweet valentine about a young woman, aptly named Faith (Marisa Tomei, never cuter), who chases an unknown man to Europe because the name "Damon Bradley" was once spelled on an Ouija board as her true love. With her sister-in-law (Bonnie Hunt, whose own marriage seems to be falling apart), she travels the streets of Rome looking for Damon Bradley. And lo and behold, she literally runs into a man claiming to be Damon. Is this meant to be? Faith certainly thinks so. Robert Downey Jr. (also never cuter) plays Damon in a role that showcases his charms. He shows his quick wit in handing Faith's advances and his absolute devotion to her when the winds change. Despite the cuteness factor, this is a movie to fall in love with. Jewison and Sven Nykvist (Ingmar Bergman's cameraman) present a sun-kissed Italy so beautiful, you might be tempted to hop a plane immediately after viewing the movie.
It Happened One Night
Director Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) took home every Oscar in the book (well, okay, all the major ones) for this seminal 1934 comedy starring Clark Gable as a hard-bitten reporter who stays close to a runaway heiress (Claudette Colbert) rather than lose a good story. Funny and sexy, the film is full of memorable scenes often referred to in other films, such as the "walls of Jericho" (a mere bedcover hung on a line down the middle of a room so opposite-sex roommates can get undressed), and Colbert's famous flash of thigh to stop a speeding car in its tracks. Capra's brisk, urbane brand of wit was a perfect complement to his populist faith in the common man (in this case, Gable's character), and that inspired combination makes this film both a spirited entertainment and an uplifting experience.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Toula is 30. And unmarried. Which means as a nice Greek girl -- she's a failure. All her cousins did the right thing -- married Greek boys and made Greek babies. So everyone worries: what will become of Toula? Then one day she sees the ultimate unattainable guy and realizes the only way her life will get better is if he gets away from her big, fat Greek family. Toula escapes from the family restaurant. She exchanges her seating hostess jacket for a college diploma, convinces her aunt to give her a new job, and trades in her coke-bottle glasses for contact lenses, just in time for "him" to walk back into her life. Ian Miller is tall, handsome but defnitely not Greek. Their courtship is an Olympian culture clash. Can Ian handle Toula, her parents, her aunts, uncles, cousins and several centuries of Greek heritage? Will Toula discover the love she's been missing right in the heart of her big, fat family?
Pride and Prejudice
Literary adaptations just don't get any better than director Joe Wright's 2005 version of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. The key word here is adaptation, because Wright and gifted screenwriter Deborah Moggach have taken liberties with Austen's classic novel that purists may find objectionable, but in this exquisite film their artistic decisions are entirely justified and exceptionally well executed. It's a more rural England that we see here, circa 1790 (as opposed to Austen's early 19th century), in which Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) is one of several sisters primed for marriage, with an anxious mother (Brenda Blethyn) only too desperate to see her daughters paired off with the finest, richest husbands available. Elizabeth is strong-willed and opinionated, but her head (not to mention her pride and prejudice) lead her heart astray when she meets the wealthy Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen), whose own sense of decency and discretion (not to mention his pride and prejudice) prevent him from expressing his mutual affection. They're clearly meant for each other, and as Knightley's performance lights up the screen (still young enough to be girlishly impertinent, yet wise beyond her 20 years), Austen's timeless romance yields yet another timeless adaptation.
Charade (1963) is a classic cat-and-mouse, "Hitchcockian" romantic comedy and enigmatic thriller all in one. Audrey Hepburn plays a Parisienne whose husband is murdered and who finds she is being followed by four men seeking the fortune her late spouse had hidden away. Cary Grant is the stranger who comes to her aid, but his real motives aren't entirely clear. The film is directed by Stanley Donen, but it has been called "Hitchcockian" for good reason: the possible duplicities between lovers, the unspoken agendas between a man and woman sharing secrets. A deliciously dark comedic thriller, with a good dose of romance thrown in, Charade holds its own in both departments of suspense and romance.