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Besieged

Celluloid Love

Ten movies you can add to your Netflix queue to give you and yours that warm romantic feeling By Shawn Stone

1. The Band Wagon

This is a love story set in the world of showbiz that’s also a love letter to showbiz. Fred Astaire is a has-been Hollywood song-and-dance man returning to Broadway. Cyd Charisse is a classical dancer making her Broadway debut. There’s an eerie sense of mortality, as the aging hoofer faces his declining career prospects and has to learn to dance with this young ballerina; they fall in love as everything around them is comically falling apart. The key moment is one of the most graceful dance scenes either ever performed. On Vincente Minnelli’s MGM soundstage vision of New York’s Central Park, painted skyline and all, the world glows in Technicolor as Fred and Cyd glide to Schwartz and Dietz’s haunting “Dancing in the Dark.” The quicksilver aspect of love has never been evoked in a more beautiful way.

2. Before Sunrise

3. Before Sunset

These two films are this generation’s great romantic comedies. From 1995, Before Sunrise follows a just-met young couple (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke) as they wander around Vienna. They talk about everything and nothing, and fall in love. From 2004, Before Sunset finds them reunited in Paris, a decade older but not necessarily wiser; the fresh-faced optimism of the earlier film has given way to middle-age doubt (and a few wrinkles, mostly on Hawke). You know what’s really funny about Richard Linklater’s separated-by-nine-years double feature? All through Before Sunrise, you’re never sure how it will end; from the moment the lovers are reunited in Before Sunset, there isn’t a shred of doubt what’s going to happen.

4. Besieged

Remember that scene in Walk the Line when Joaquin Phoenix, sweaty and jerky as a drugged-out Johnny Cash, walks those long miles to June Carter’s house to prove his love? This gesture has nothing on David Thewlis’ character in Bernardo Bertolucci’s lovely Besieged, the ultimate prove-your-love story. Thewlis is a Brit living in a beautiful (if rough) old house in Italy, who develops a crush on his housekeeper (Thandie Newton). A classic First World twit, he does know she’s from someplace in Africa and that she’s a medical student. What he doesn’t know—but we in the audience do, from the film’s harrowing opening—is that she’s a refugee, and her husband is a political prisoner. When he finally begs her to tell him what he can do to prove his love, she tells him to “bring me my husband.” Which he then goes about doing, selling off his possessions, one by one, to raise bribe money to get the never-seen husband out of jail. There’s no happy way for this story to end, but the acting and direction are so delicate and heartbreaking that the film is strangely uplifting.

5. Love Me Tonight

Would you stand in front of a train, singing, to stop your lover from leaving? Well that’s just what Jeanette MacDonald does to win back Maurice Chevalier in this, one of the greatest of all movie musicals. A witty Rodgers and Hart score is complemented by an equally charming script about a tailor who ends up winning the love of a princess. Give this one a chance—even people who hate musicals love it.

6. Out of Sight

This is the movie in which George Clooney became the modern-day Cary Grant. (I know, because The New York Times said so.) He plays a convict who falls in love with U.S. Marshall Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), who he inadvertently kidnaps while escaping from a Federal pen. (It plays better than it reads. Trust me.) Nobody makes movie stars look better than director Steven Soderbergh does; Clooney and Lopez have never been more magnetic on screen.

7. Punch-Drunk Love

Paul Thomas Anderson’s film boldly makes the case that there is someone out there for everyone—even the quirky, yearning, rage-filled salesman played by Adam Sandler. Dressed in a radioactive blue suit, Sandler’s weirdness is matched by his mate’s self-awareness; his beloved (Emily Watson) loves him because he’s crazy. And because she’s out of her mind, too. They share the most demented pillow talk you’ll ever hear in a movie: “I’m lookin’ at your face and I just wanna smash it. I just wanna fuckin’ smash it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it. You’re so pretty.” (Sigh.)

8. Roman Holiday

You can have Breakfast at Tiffany’s. There’s so much wrong with that movie I can’t see how anyone could get a romantic vibe from it. (Seriously, George Peppard as a romantic hero? Meh.) If you really want to bask in the cinemagic that is Audrey Hepburn, try this romantic fantasy about a European princess’ incognito day-and-night on the town in Rome with American reporter Gregory Peck. Funny and bittersweet, with an ending that packs an emotional wallop.

9. Something Wild

Back when Jonathan Demme made good movies—before he became a Great Director—he made this slick, sexy, violent little romance. Melanie Griffith, in a black Lulu wig, is a sexual troublemaker; Jeff Daniels is an uptight yuppie loser; and Ray Liotta is lethal danger as Griffith’s ex-con hubby. The combustible combination of the three leads to a series of confrontations that make the cost of some kinds of love painfully clear.

10. Trouble in Paradise

So sophisticated it almost hurts, Ernst Lubitsch’s romantic comedy isn’t really a romantic comedy. It’s a story of crooks both high and low, wrapped up with sex and jealousy and love, and staged on Art Deco sets so gorgeous they radiate glamour. A gentleman thief (Herbert Marshall) is torn between his lovely partner-in-crime (Miriam Hopkins) and the wealthy widow (Kay Francis) who owns all those gleaming Art Deco furnishings; every corner of this triangle gets their due. It’s the ultimate Valentine treat.


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