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Fall In Love: The Playlist's Favorite Romantic Comedies

by Oliver Lyttelton
April 27, 2012 10:56 AM
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Bringing Up Baby
"Bringing Up Baby" (1938)
Boy meets girl. Girl stalks boy in order to get him to look after her leopard. Girl falls in love with boy who's about to get married. Girl's dog steals dinosaur bone. Leopard runs away. Boy and girl sent to prison. Boy ends up in a dress. Boy falls in love with girl right back. Not exactly a Garry Marshall movie, but so much the better. Howard Hawks' 1938 film neatly followed the template set up by "It Happened One Night" in setting up a boy and a girl -- in this case soon-to-be-wed paleontologist David (Cary Grant) and prototypical Manic Pixie Dream Girl heiress Susan (Katharine Hepburn) -- to bicker and flirt across a series of adventures before falling in love at the end. But the formula was never quite as perfect as it was here, in part because Hawks retained what's so often absent in romantic comedies today. Simply, "Bringing Up Baby" is one of the funniest films ever made, riding the outstanding chemistry between Grant and Hepburn, each arguably giving the performance of their careers, through a series of uproarious set pieces. But as funny as the film is, Grant and Hepburn's courtship feels genuinely hard won, and you don't question the way that Grant's defenses gradually come down. It's also unusually subversive, especially for the era -- Grant is increasingly feminized, even to the point of ending up in a dress, while Hepburn was always one of the more masculine starlets, and it's her that's doing the pursuing. Maybe it's not a film that makes you swoon in the way of some of these other choices, but you'll be too busy battling a chortle-induced hernia to notice. -- Oliver Lyttelton

Annie Hall
"Annie Hall" (1977)
The moment in "Annie Hall" when Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) tries to recreate the lobster cooking moment that he originally shared with Annie (Diane Keaton) but with a different girl says a lot about the romantic comedy genre itself. Often limited by its conventions, there are times when the romantic comedy genre still seems fresh and inspired and other times, let's say most of the time, the formula seems dull and flat. When it was released in 1977, "Annie Hall" was a game-changer for the genre, and one of the few to win a Best Picture Oscar. The film also signaled a sea change for Allen, who would begin to transition out of his "early, funny" films and into more serious territory. The reason why the film endures, outside of being hilarious, is its refreshing honesty. While most romantic comedies are focused on showing two people discovering their true love through a series of outrageous misunderstandings, "Annie Hall" watched two people fall in and out of love with one another in a story that didn't feel completely predestined. Sure, Allen's Singer starts the movie wondering where things went wrong with Annie, but, in any other romantic comedy, the two leads would find a way to make it work in the end. "Annie Hall" isn't about pat endings. It's a comedy about the pursuit of love, and bumps along the way of finding a perfect match. Its honesty about the ups and downs of relationships is something few filmmakers have matched since. -- Ryan Gowland

Broadcast News
"Broadcast News" (1987)
Much like James L. Brooks did with his comedy-drama “Terms of Endearment,” which saw what could have been a maudlin cancer drama turn into a charming slice of Americana comedy, in 1987’s “Broadcast News” he took a romantic comedy formula we’ve seen in so many films and turned it on its head. The film stars the always affable Holly Hunter as the highly-touted news producer Jane, who’s caught in the middle of the affections of her dear friend Aaron (Albert Brooks) and the handsome news anchorman Tom (William Hurt), and the story film follows Jane’s quest to be seen as sexually attractive in the eyes of Tom. She ignores Aaron’s frequent advances, allowing Brooks to bring sympathy and relatability to a role that’s essentially Duckie from “Pretty In Pink.” In a role that was originally intended for Brooks’ 'Terms' lead Debra Winger, Hunter parts from the typically shrill depiction of the hardworking woman that’s been employed in films since, allowing audiences to relinquish in her quest for Aaron’s attention while also sympathizing with her shaky relationship with Aaron. It’s no surprise all three leads walked away with nominations for their performances, along with Brooks for his writing and Best Picture, as well as Martin Scorsese’s regular cinematographer Michael Ballhaus – who lends “Broadcast News” a cinematic look that certainly breaks away from the sitcom-level look of most romantic comedies today. Up until the film’s sweet climax, which lends a grounded realism to the love triangle that sends sparks flying throughout the film’s running time, “Broadcast News” acts as a romantic comedy that surely provides all the laughs, heart, and drama that you find in most Hollywood romcoms these days. -- Benjamin Wright

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  • Nia | May 8, 2012 11:08 AMReply

    well its a "omantic comedies" list so why Punch Drunk Love and Berfore Sunrise/Sunset should even be mentioned I dont understand Eternal Sunshine is probably my fav movie - hadnt realized it coukd be considered a rom-com so yeah! I've got a weak point for Bridget Jones 1 and I'm glad Bridesmais wasnt mentioned cause - over-rated much?!

  • Nia | May 8, 2012 11:10 AM

    oh god the typos: "well its a "romantic comedies" list so why Punch Drunk Love and Before Sunrise/Sunset should even be mentioned I dont understand. Eternal Sunshine is probably my fav movie - hadnt realized it could be considered a rom-com so yeah! I've got a weak point for Bridget Jones 1 and I'm glad Bridesmais wasnt mentioned cause - over-rated much?!

  • Lilly | May 3, 2012 2:32 PMReply

    I love My Man Godfrey, William Powell is one of my all-time favorite actors he and Carole Lombard had such great chemistry in that movie. I love the part where she kissed him and he looks at her all befuddled and tries to walk away with as much of his dignity as he can, but you know she got to him.

  • Domi Arcangeli | May 1, 2012 9:27 AMReply

    Uhm... HighFidelity is way overrated, and I hate not seeing "Punch-Drunk Love, by my favorite P.T. Anderson, but again, after seeing-in the same article - Stanley Donen's very charming, but aged and very telephoned mainstream fare like "Two for the Roads",preferred to 2 classic's of the same Time, Schlesinger's much more poignant, unforgettable "Darling" (Best Actress Oscar to Julie Christie and to its Screenplay from the divine Frederic Raphael,who also penned the way minor,if still sophisticated,"Two for the Roads") and,then, one of the most innovative,brilliant,if unsettling, romantic bitter sweet comedies of all time, Richard Lester's masterpiece"Petulia"(1968) starring also Julie Christie (whom by the way, had turned down "Two for the Road" finding it less unique than the other two!) at her very top, and lit by genius Nicolas Roeg,with a dazzling,unforgettable production design by Tony Walton and Dean Tavoularis (Academy Award for Apocalypse Now,1980), well, after such considerations, I am not surprised to see memorable titles left out of much more less memorable others!
    Sorry! It started real well by remembering a real gem, like, 1936's Carol Lombard's classic masterpiece "My Man's Godfrey",but it's been going down, citing a few well known and more conventional films after another!
    By the way, since, we love Julie Christie, hey, i don't know if the true Classic, "Shampoo"(1975), could be really considered somewhat of a romantic comedy also; and,even though there's a lot of romance at the end, the film is more focused on developing its deeply flawed characters,while portraying with incredible Gusto,unfolding with wit and some of the most clever odd moments ever seen in a mainstream huge film,an array of situations that remain classic and still completely true, even today! That yes, was an incredible film who should be cited more often, WOW, if I only think about such a phenomenal script by Robert Towne(probably his very best, right next to "Chinatown") so insightful and disenchanted in describing that riot of a plot, yet always with the firm realism necessary to nail, once and forever, the absolute,corrupted game between love,power,politic's and,of course, hair and appearance, in one of the finest and most sophisticated,haunting portraits of LA, or better, Beverly Hills, ever, and i mean, truly ever filmed,so far,lining up a cast of stars that besides the already cited,Christie, truly divine here,portraying the jaded Jackie Shawn, but also, Warren Beatty, probably at his very peak, both as a movie star and as a clever Producer and strength, behind this incredible film, but also a smashing supporting Cast, featuring some of its Stars' Best Performances ever: Goldie Hawn (truly never so measured and touching as in this one,ever again!), Lee Grant (truly incredible and rightly Awarded by an Oscar for her great supporting turn as the most wealthy and most unhappy of the Beverly Hills wives ever seen on screen!),the outstanding Jack Warden, here also probably getting his most defining role of his long Film and Stage Career, and even Tony Bill and Carrie Fisher, Andrew Stevens or others classic Hollywood's characters directed and cast as their most finest! Hal Ashby ("Harold and Maude" and "Being There", and that's saying something, isn't it?) directed this masterpiece, whose fame, directors and cast should be remembered way more often! If you haven't seen it, this is a MUST!! Forget "High Fidelity", please...... lol

  • jimmiescoffee | April 30, 2012 9:00 PMReply

    i like 'High Fidelity' but think its very overrated.

  • Luke | April 29, 2012 7:00 PMReply

    I was surprised to see Punch-Drunk Love didn't make the list.

  • Lucy | April 29, 2012 6:20 PMReply

    Haha great picks, some of my favorites! :) I agree with some of the other posters Before Sunrise and Before Sunset ( the latter is my favorite) also You've Got Mail I don't know why but that movie is so damn charming.

  • Rosanna | April 29, 2012 12:15 PMReply

    FINALLY you write about the only genre of film worth writing about!

  • Jorinhs | April 28, 2012 7:50 AMReply

    Give a listen at my aternative soundtrack to Eternal:)

  • Milan | April 27, 2012 8:02 PMReply

    Grosse Pointe Blank. That is all.

  • Dan | April 27, 2012 5:35 PMReply

    Fuck overboard. and i agree with whoever said the apartment. that is all.

  • Lou | April 27, 2012 3:33 PMReply

    Definitely, maybe? The neighbour's grass? The apartment? Indiscreet?

  • shark | April 27, 2012 2:19 PMReply

    Really interesting list. Hmmm...if I were restricted to films not listed here for my favorite rom-coms list...

    Down With Love - It's so artificial, and yet that artificiality is its entire point, acknowledging that the battle of the sexes is a silly facade. And Zellweger and McGregor (and Hyde Pierce and Paulson) have NEVER been better. And I can't help but wonder if Pierce and Paulson were deliberately cast, as Pierce is out gay and Paulson is out lesbian.
    Music and Lyrics - Okay, so it's not directed with much flair or anything other than plain competence. That aside, Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore just WORK. And if nothing else, the music is fucking amazing. I still listen to Pop! Goes My Heart and Way Back into Love all the time.
    Punch-Drunk Love - Well, duh. I don't know what I can say here that hasn't been said elsewhere, but a film that manages to turn Sandler's manchild instincts into a source of strength rather than a crippling flaw is impressive. Also, it's kind of a super-hero film. Or an alien film. Kind of open to interpretation.
    WALL-E - Okay, so it's also an animated science fiction film. But the core story is about a lonely janitor who meets a dream girl and then EARNS her love the hard way, following her across the galaxy and beating his programming just to fulfill HER objective. Okay, granted, you could take it as the ultimate Internet Nice Guy story, but I choose not to, okay?
    Ninotchka - God, I wish Garbo had been a comedy star. Knowing this is her only major comedy role is DEVASTATING, because she takes to it like a fish in water. Or like a conservative politician at an NRA meeting. Well, you get the idea.
    Raising Arizona - Because romantic comedies don't have to be about meet-cutes. Some of the best are about husbands and wives falling back into love with each other, or renewing their commitment, or proving themselves to each other. And I can't think of many screen couples I wanted to succeed while watching the film more than Hi and Ed.
    Adam's Rib - Another terrific dissection of the BATTLE OF THE SEXES. Spencer Tracy was always sort of manly, but he tended to be best at playing deeply empathetic characters with a more feminine sense of understanding for his fellow man, and so his match with Hepburn is screen bliss, a hard-driving woman and a sympathetic man, each testing at the boundaries of their gender while at each other's throats.
    What's Up, Doc? - because before seeing this movie, I hated Barbra Streisand. And now I can't. Also because Ryan O'Neal is a seriously underrated actor (or he was just used well in three masterpieces: Doc, Paper Moon, and Barry Lyndon). And that chase down the streets of San Francisco is pure madcap bliss.
    Moonstruck - I guess I'd have to say Nic Cage was never better than as a goofy romantic figure. I mean, I know it's cheesy and maybe full of stereotypes, but every actor brings these stereotypes into the realm of living, breathing humans. Not just Cage and the divine Cher, but Dukakis, Gardenia, Mahoney, Aiello, and the rest.

  • TheoC | April 27, 2012 12:24 PMReply

    Oh Overboard or "that Kurt Russell date rape movie".

    Nice list all the same.

  • Shala | April 27, 2012 12:17 PMReply

    Corey, I was also born in November '81 and agree with all your sentiments on "Reality Bites". Great list from everyone. Glad to see "Eternal Sunshine" but also disappointed not to see "Before Sunrise/Sunset" probably my favorite of all.

  • Kyle | April 27, 2012 11:28 AMReply

    I agree, You've done a really great job with this, though its a shame to not see Before Sunrise/Sunset or Punch Drunk Love featured (among others)

    Would Rushmore count a romantic comedy? it focuses on a (twisted) love triangle and is damn funny

  • cory everett | April 27, 2012 11:31 AM

    The list was really just each person picking one (as opposed to us collectively deciding our favorites and then everyone writing up one) and mine came down to "Reality Bites" vs. "Punch-Drunk Love." Went with RB just because I've seen it more times.

  • brace | April 27, 2012 11:25 AMReply

    Shakespeare in Love is one of my favorite romantic comedies ever along with these mentioned here.

  • kris | April 27, 2012 11:22 AMReply

    great list. also
    Breakfast at Tiffany's
    Roman Holiday
    The Philadelphia Story
    My Best Friends Wedding

  • anonymous | May 9, 2012 2:34 AM

    "and while it doesn't quite hit the heights of "Annie Hall" and "When Harry Met Sally" that it was aiming for (read our review here), it's as good a stab at the genre as we've had in recent years. "

    What about 500 Days of Summer and Crazy,Stupid Love? They weren't bad.

    " Martin Scorsese’s regular cinematographer Michael Ballhaus – who lends “Broadcast News” a cinematic look that certainly breaks away from the sitcom-level look of most romantic comedies today."

    A lot of recent romantic comedies really do have mediocre cinematography. I like it when the cinematography actually adds to the movie.

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