Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Best of the Decade: Romantic Comedies

Imagine my surprise when I had no trouble whatsoever compiling a top 10 list of romantic comedies from this decade. Because honestly, I don't watch that many, and feel like I hate the ones that I do happen upon. But here they are, 10 films that all pretty fairly fall into the category, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed - four of them in theaters. If there's a trend to be found, it's that most of these came from well established directors, often known for their work in other genres. And since I claim no expertise in the genre, I'll spare you any further introduction. Here's 10 romantic comedies at least one guy found totally bearable.

10. Lars and the Real Girl (dir. Craig Gillespie)
Lars and the Real Girl as a concept has no business working as a feature length film. And yet it does, which is really a credit to Ryan Gosling who mines genuine feeling from a character that could have been a running joke in your standard indie film these days. A great film it may not be, but I was pleasantly surprised. Also, Emily Mortimer needs more work.

9. Love Actually (dir. Richard Curtis)
The ensemble is splendid - a perfect mix of romantic comedy mainstays (that would be you, Hugh Grant) and welcome faces from Bill Nighy to Billy Bob Thornton (who is always best in small doses) that keep things a little more amusing than your average rom com. It's also perhaps the best Christmas movie of the decade, which is a small honor, but I'd rather pop this in around the holidays than Fred Clause.

8. Paris, Je T'aime (dir. the cool kids at the art house table)
It may have placed higher had every segment sparked like those from the Coen brothers (Steve Buscemi looking for love at the metro station), Alexander Payne (Margo Martindale's earnest account of the city she's fallen for), or Alfonso Cauron (father and daughter play out family drama in a single shot). True, there's a few bad apples. But they don't spoil the bunch, not by a long shot. The collected shorts make for an enchanting portrait of love in the city known for it.

7. Enchanted (dir. Kevin Lima)
I love Amy Adams. That is all.

6. High Fidelity (dir. Stephen Frears)
So this is basically what I do all day anyway, just with movies instead of music. I sit around making pointless lists and finding ways to assert my cultural superiority. Sadly, I'm not John Cusack (or maybe not sadly, he's not had a good run lately) and this is unlikely to win me the kind of romantic escapades he spends most of the movie analyzing. Still, the film's a lotta fun, the writing is sharp, and the soundtrack of course is spectacular.

5. Shopgirl (dir. Anand Tucker)
Steve Martin adapts his own novella into this classy and surprisingly sweet film that soars thanks to one of the more unlikely love triangles seen lately - unlikely mostly because Jason Schwartzman is an incredibly awkward man, but we love him for that. Claire Danes especially is excellent, and I wish she'd get more interesting roles like this.

4. Vicky Christina Barcelona (dir. Woody Allen)
In many ways, I had anticipated this film long before it came out. I recall actually making a declaration somewhere around 2006 about how if ever Scarlet Johansson and Penelope Cruz had a sex scene together in a film, I'd be first in line to see it. Well, much to my surprise, that day actually came - though it's worth noting that my appreciation for Scarlet has been in steady decline for some time, while Penelope Cruz has ended up being perhaps my favorite actress of the decade. And she's definitely the best part about Vicky Christina Barcelona, but the whole film is pretty marvelous anyway. Yes, I include in the the pitch perfect narration that you probably hate, and Rebecca Hall never got nearly enough credit for her part in it all so let me single out her as well. It's my favorite Woody Allen film since Bullets of Broadway and I'd be tempted to boost it even higher on this list, expect I think I'd catch too much flak for boxing out any of my top 3. Funny, sexy and delightful, exactly like any rom com ought to be.

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (dir. Michel Gondry)
Jim Carrey reminds us why we don't take old dogs out and shoot them. And Kate Winslet is weird and irresistible, although that's because she is in a Charlie Kaufman movie, where weird is pretty much par for the course. But it's funny and bittersweat and as I realize right now, surprisingly hard to write about. Which is meant as a compliment.

2. Punch Drunk Love (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Eternal Sunshine reminded us that Jim Carrey was a good actor, which we already knew thanks to The Truman Show, but Adam Sandler's performance in Punch Drunk Love comes entirely out of left field. I mean, I've spent years loving to hate the guy and then he goes and then with a little help from PTA gives one of the most genuinely moving performances of the decade, of a totally hapless man struggling with love, family and the phone sex industry. And he's perfectly paired with Emily Watson - which again I'd never thought I'd say - but through all his troubles, they're a couple you're genuinely rooting for to find love.

1. Amelie (dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
Regardless of how much foreign cinema I drown myself in year upon year, I will always have a soft spot for Amelie, the first French film I ever saw, and still one of the best romantic comedies I've seen to date. Jeunet's style is enchanting - surprising since it's not all that different from his previous films, Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children - but of course we have Audrey Tautou to carry us through and she couldn't have done a finer job. It's visually arresting without sacrificing the endearing story of a girl who can make love happen for everyone in her life except for herself.

Overall, I like this bunch. What others have I been missing out on?


  1. Tristan. You know that romantic comedies are my only real happiness in the world. That's of course, when they're good. Like all of these films are.

    Enchanted was one of the most original concepts of the decade.

    You stole my screenshot for High Fidelity.

    Paris Je T'aime only kind of fits. But it does.

    Vicky Cristina Barcelona I need to watch again, but I think it's fourth on my Woody Allen films of the decade.

    If you want romcom (im so not embarrassed to use that term) recommendations I'll scrounge some up.

  2. I realized at some point that my list here was more or less just a cross section of your top 50. But they're all so good, and when I saw that I actually was able to find 10 great romcoms, I couldn't help but make a blog post about it.

    And yeah, I curious what else you'd give props to. Feel free to counter with a list of your own.

  3. i like vicki,cristina,barcelona but it is not a comedy,in my opinion,it is an interesting point of view about love..