The Best Relationship Dramas Part One
Are These the Best Valentine’s Day Movies?
In the spirit of tumultuous relationships, this list looks at the definitive relationship dramas. These are films that focus on one or more romantic relationships. These aren’t just “falling in love” movies. These are movies that dissect some side of a relationship that helps to drive the plot. So, without further ado, let’s join hands on this journey together.
50. Wild at Heart (1990)
Directed by: David Lynch
Most of David Lynch’s films are inherently about relationships. That being said, they all focus on twisted versions of real ones, some more unsettling than others. “Wild at Heart” is one of Lynch’s less adored films, though it did take home the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Think “The Wizard of Oz” set to an Elvis soundtrack dipped in a vat of LSD and crude oil. Wild at Heart delivered one of Nicholas Cage’s earliest warped performances, set alongside Lynch regular Laura Dern as a young couple on the run from a controlling mother (played brilliantly by Diane Ladd). Sailor (Cage) and Lula (Dern) reunite after Sailor escapes from jail, having killed a man who attacked him at the request of Lula’s mother. The entire film follows the couple as they meet criminals, gang members, and other bad influences, Sailor seemingly drawn to the criminal life, despite his undying love for Lula. The film is a mess at best, but the central relationship is a highlight that overshadows an otherwise difficult viewing. Say what you will about Cage and his crazy eyes, when he belts out “Love Me Tender” to Dern, it’s surprisingly endearing.
49. True Romance (1993)
Directed by: Tony Scott
You could make an argument that “True Romance” is a comedy, though you could make an argument that every Quentin Tarantino-penned film is part comedy. His first produced movie script, Tarantino’s screenplay landed in the hands of Tony Scott, who made it a traditional narrative and changed the unhappy ending; Tarantino originally objected, but recognized its necessity after seeing the final film. The movie follows Clarence (Christian Slater) and his prostitute girlfriend/wife Alabama (Patricia Arquette) as they try to escape her pimp, crime bosses, and the life she wants to leave behind. After Clarence kills Alabama’s pimp, he grabs what he thinks is the pimp’s possessions, only to learn it’s a bag of drugs he was planning to sell. This sets the road movie in motion, as they are chased by mafia boss Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken) and his henchmen, resulting in a lot of bloodshed, to say the least. Tarantino puts his skill with dialogue on display early, though he had yet to mold it into a true art yet. But despite the ludicrous action and somewhat overdramatic story, Clarence and Alabama’s courtship is really sweet, even among all the deadly face offs and corkscrew stabbings. Love conquers all, right?
48. A Single Man (2009)
Directed by: Tom Ford
The relationship that drives “A Single Man” never occurs during the actual course of action in the film; it’s seen completely in flashback. Over the course of one day, we learn about George Falconer (Colin Firth), a homosexual British professor who has decided to kill himself that evening, still reeling from the unexpected death of his partner Jim (Matthew Goode) eight months earlier. He is visited during the day by his friend Charley (Julianne Moore), an equally miserable woman who tries to ease his pain, though she does more to try to advance her desire for him than actually supporting her friend. During the day, George comes in contact with various other men who could fill the void he’s felt, including Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), a young man who tries to jump beyond the teacher-student relationship pretty quickly. But, while George entertains the possibility briefly, his yearning for Jim and his lost love still dominates his life. It’s a pretty rough film, but Firth is amazing in it (much better her than in his Oscar winning role for “The King’s Speech”). The beautiful way the film handles the flashbacks and relationship of George and Jim is touching and honest, really giving the film its life blood, despite none of it actually occurring during the course of what is the live action of the movie.
47. The English Patient (1996)
Directed by: Anthony Minghella
During World War II, a nurse named Hana (Juliette Binoche) tends to a critically burned man who goes unnamed (Ralph Fiennes) (this is “The English Patient”). Meanwhile, she begins a relationship with a British bomb defuser named Kip, despite her fear that her presence is a curse upon her friends and family. They are joined by a Canadian operative named David (Willem Dafoe), who begins to question the patient. The patient tells his story: he is a cartographer named Laszlo who was mapping the Sahara. He began an affair with a woman named Katharine (Kristen Scott Thomas), there on the expedition with her husband. When the war begins, it forces their separation. It turns out, David is there to avenge the loss of his thumbs in an interrogation; he’s taken care of two and Laszlo is number three. So, Laszlo continues his story, doing everything in his power to push the blame to Katharine’s husband Geoffrey (Colin Firth). Hana listens to the whole story and, in the end, wants to ease Laszlo’s pain. The film won the Best Picture Oscar (though history leans more in the direction of “Fargo”), as well as an Oscar for Binoche. Minghella’s life was tragically short – he died at 54, having only directed nine films. Of the filmography, The English Patient received the most acclaim, thanks to its sweeping story and wonderful performances. Nothing like the backdrop of war and death to jazz up your love story.
46. Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)
Directed by: Abdellatif Kechiche
Another Palme d’Or winner, “Blue is the Warmest Colour” set the film world on fire with its brutally honest portrayal of young love, also becoming the first film to have the award presented to both the director and his lead actresses, Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos. Adele is a fifteen year old girl who one day sees a woman on the street with bright blue hair. She immediately becomes obsessed with her, eventually running into her again at a lesbian bar. Her name is Emma (Seydoux) and the two become close, eventually beginning a romantic relationship which Emma’s parents welcome, but Adele keeps hidden from her conservative parents. The film follows their up-and-down relationship, focusing on Adele’s difficulty to grow into the relationship and change with Emma, who is maturing and pushing Adele to become an individual. Adele wants nothing more than to stay subservient to Emma, like her border collie awaiting instruction on her next move. The complex discussion on young love vs. mature love is heartbreaking, due to Exarchopoulos’ brilliant performance and the lack of censoring. It’s graphic – Kechiche has since been accused by the actresses of forcing them to perform some of the acts in an aggressive manner. But what results is a touching film that earned an NC-17 rating for nothing more than being visually honest.
45. Certified Copy (2010)
Directed by: Abbas Kiarostami
A French movie written and directed by an Iranian filmmaker, “Certified Copy” starred William Shimell in his first film role as writer James Miller, the only character with a name in the film. James is in Tuscany to discuss his new book that shares the title of the film, explaining that every piece of art – whether a reproduction or not – is original, as every piece of art is essentially a copy of something else. He meets an unnamed woman (Juliette Binoche) and her son, who wants him to sign a number of books, though she must leave when her son misbehaves, leaving James her phone number. The next day, James and the woman meet and they drive to the country while James signs the books. They visit a museum and go to a cafe for coffee, mistaken for a married couple multiple times. They play along, much to the delight of the woman. Upon their departure from the cafe, suddenly their relationship seems to change and things appear very different than what they originally seemed. The beauty of Kiarostami’s film is how comfortable his central relationship is, with both Shimell and Binoche feeling authentic as both perfect strangers and people who may know each other much better than is originally let on. When all is said and done, the best relationship films center on how the couple talks to each other, their comfort with each other, and how that translates on screen. “Certified Copy” is one of the best examples of that.
44. Badlands (1973)
Directed by: Terrence Malick
From a film that hinges on the couple’s communication to a film that succeeds despite the frustratingly disconnected relationship, Badlands is Terrence Malick’s debut film. “Badlands” follows a young Sissy Spacek as Holly, a teenager in South Dakota, hoping to one day get out her dead end town. One day, she meets Kit (Martin Sheen), a young greaser who convinces her to run away with him, though his on-the-surface charm covers a mysterious psychopathic streak, eventually leading to violent outbursts and multiple murders. All the while, Holly narrates the story, explaining her love for Kit in the most childish, naive way possible, clearly not understanding the true ramifications of his actions and the blind eye she repeatedly turns to it. Voice-over narration more often than not feels like a shortcut; a lazy way to add exposition that could be achieved in more creative ways. But Malick’s flm depends on Holly’s immature point of view and her idealistic view of a warped relationship. As with all other Malick films, the landscapes are epic and the cinematography is breathtaking. But, at the heart of “Badlands” is a scared little girl who wants to grow up faster than she should be and how a premature misunderstanding of love can do more harm than good.
43. Breaking the Waves (1996)
Directed by: Lars Von Trier
As with most von Trier films, “Breaking the Waves” is a brutally depressing look at life and its failures, leaning toward Bergman-level criticisms of God and faith, providing a rare silver lining. This film’s central relationship is between Bess (Emily Watson) and Jan (Stellan Skarsgard). Bess is already an outcast in her community; marrying Jan, an atheist, is a major disgrace to her church. Jan leaves to work on an oil rig and, in a moment of loneliness, Bess prays for his return. The next day, Jan is injured and returns home, now paralyzed and unable to sexually perform. Jan requests that Bess begins to have relations with other men and describe to him the details, as it will mimic their being together. Bess at first resists, only to have her dedication to Jan overtake her, as she begins to take the most warped version of his request to heart, allowing herself to be sexually brutalized in the hopes that her pain will somehow give God reason to cure Jan. While many of von Trier’s films focus on a main couple (Antichrist, for one), this is really the only one that feels like it has a tinge of heart. While the acts committed and requests made are ludicrous, Watson’s performance as simple-minded Bess is incredible, and her devotion to her husband somehow feels genuine, given the circumstances. It may be the darkest film on this list, especially given the less than happy ending.
42. Faces (1968)
Directed by: John Cassavetes
John Cassavetes is easily one of the masters of relationship drama (as you’ll see in the rest of this list). His films, normally shot in cinema verite, are dirty and realistic, tending to focus on the difficulties of marriage and courtship. “Faces” is the story of a disintegrating marriage and the aftermath of the the husband Richard’s (John Marley) sudden declaration that he wants a divorce. We follow Richard as he joins a group of businessmen and prostitutes for the evening and follow his wife Jeannie (Gena Rowlands) as she goes out with her girlfriends and an older playboy. Nothing much else happens, other than jumping between conversations and revelations about the pain of the modern relationship, the impossibility of keeping yourself happy, and the pure acceptance of a life of misery going forward. Not a happy film by any stretch of the imagination, but still a refreshing approach to a non-sugar coated narrative about the real trials and tribulations of love and marriage. Not all marriages suck. But if we all understand that even the best ones can still occasionally get a little monotonous, it might help us in the long run.
41. Antichrist (2009)
Directed by: Lars von Trier
A brutally dark look at the aftermath of a child’s death on the parents, “Antichrist” is more a dissection on the stage of grief than it is a relationship drama, but it certainly has a heavy focus on what the man and woman’s role within the relationship and the world is. Antichrist stars Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe as two unnamed parents whose son dies when he falls out a window while they having sex in the shower. And that’s just the beginning. Dafoe is a psychiatrist who has decided the best way for her to deal with her grief is for them to go to their cabin in the woods in solitude, forcing her to confront her fear in a type of immersion therapy. While there, the two begin to dissect each other (in more ways than one), as Dafoe discovers that Gainsbourg appears to be more mentally unstable and complex than he ever imagined. It’s best not to get into the details, but suffice to say, some graphic things happen, as the two (Gainsbourg mostly) begin to act out their greatest fears by inflicting pain and suffering upon each other with some wood, a drill, a grindstone, and scissors. It’s stomach-turning. But it’s also a weirdly visceral, however overblown look at the disintegration of sanity in the face of loss and grief and how those closest to you will always suffer if you refuse to let them in.
40. Don’t Look Now (1973)
Directed by: Nicholas Roeg
A few films that could be defined as horror appear on this list, mostly because the best ones veer further into a psychological discussion on dealing with fear, death, and loss. Based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, “Don’t Look Now” is a landmark of British-Italian cinema, thanks to its wonderfully developed characters and realistic depiction of grief. John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) travel to Venice, still reeling after the accidental drowning of their daughter Christine. While there, Laura meets a psychic who claims that Christine is still trying to contact them, which she shares with John, who is skeptical. Slowly, John begins to experience supernatural moments and mysterious sightings, some of which appear to be a young girl in a red coat, similar to the one Christine was wearing when she died. While the major focus of the story is on John’s obsession with this figure and his mental deterioration (despite his concern for Laura’s mental state), John and Laura’s indisputably honest relationship and the way they deal with their loss is a wonderful dissection of the psychological science of grief, providing an interesting take on the stages of grief from both protagonists’ points of view. Without the Gothic ghost story elements, “Don’t Look Now” still remains a brutally honest look at a broken relationship where both parties are trying to put the pieces back together in very different ways.
39. Titanic (1997)
Directed by: James Cameron
The movie that launched a thousand ships that hit a thousand icebergs, James Cameron’s behemoth Best Picture winner was a giant love letter to the romantic dramas of yesteryear, jacked up with an effects-laden final act that blew previous blockbusters out of the water (pun intended). Taking place on the famed 1912 ship, “Titanic” focused on poor artist named Jack (Leonardo Dicaprio) and his whirlwind romance with upper class passenger Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), a woman engaged to be married, but unhappy with her privileged life. It’s the love story that dominated the box office and made the world fall in love with Dicaprio, and despite it becoming the butt of some jokes in retrospect, it really sells the overdramatic romance pretty successfully. It’s told entirely in flashback by an elderly Rose, but the lasting image will always be Winslet and Dicaprio on the bough of that ship. Kings of the world indeed.
38. The Fly (1986)
Directed by: David Cronenberg
From an overblown epic that shoves love down your throat to a modern horror masterpiece that says more about dedication and love than most romance films. David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” is a remake of sorts of the 1958 horror classic, but is a ton more graphic and way less funny. The memorable images from Cronenberg’s film are the body horror elements when Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) begins his transformation, but central to the film’s heart is his relationship with journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), who he promises exclusive story rights to as long as she keeps his experiment secret. They meet in a professional sense, but slowly begin a courtship, all while Seth continues his experiments. His major breakthroughs are shared and somewhat triggered by his relationship with Veronica; the beginning of his transformation is actually begun by a poor decision made when his jealousy hits a high point, causing him to misuse his creation. We join Veronica as she watches the man she loves disappear in front of her, piece by piece. It’s disgusting, stomach-turning, and stunning, but it’s also incredibly heartbreaking.
37. Tokyo Story (1953)
Directed by: Yosujiro Ozu
Love is all well and good at the beginning, but eventually that marriage get decades old. And the children from that marriage get older and have their own lives. “Tokyo Story” centers on a retired couple named Skukichi and Tomi (Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama). They have five children, all grown, one of which lives with them. The film follows them as they visit their children. Their eldest son is married with two children, but pays little attention to them. Their eldest daughter is also married and also has little time for them. The two children pay for their parents to stay in a spa, but they leave early thanks to the volume of the nightlife. The only person who seems to care is Noriko (Setsuko Hara), the widow of their deceased second son, who takes them on a sightseeing tour of Tokyo. While the main focus of Tokyo Story is the sadness that comes with the seeming rejection some children show their parents as they get older, at the heart of that pain is an elderly couple who have worked hard to stay together for so long and raise what they thought we good children. It’s often listed alongside some of the greatest films of all time, thanks to Ozu’s eye and the brilliant performances from the leads. Sometimes death isn’t the worst thing about getting older; sometimes it’s rejection by those who are supposed to love you and take care of you.
36. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
The final Kubrick fill took the bigger Hollywood power couple and put them against a backdrop filled with insecurity, distrust, and orgies. Lots of orgies. Tom Cruise stars as Dr. Bill Harford, half of a young couple from New York that also includes his actual wife at the time, Nicole Kidman. After a marital dispute with Alice (Kidman), Bill goes out into the city, eventually ending up at a country mansion in a costume and mask, where a strange sexual ritual is taking place. After being forced out, he becomes obsessed with the party, trying to return multiple times, learning that his infiltration has caused problems for connections he has within the society. For the first time, we see Cruise as a flawed human, rather than a traditional masculine hero. Here, he has difficulty with jealousy, believes his wife will stray, and feels inadequate next to other more adventurous men. While not many marriages have problems materialized in the form of an secret masked orgy party (I would guess only about 15%), Kubrick’s cold, disconnected style de-sexualizes the nudity, creating an erotic sterility that, in Bill’s eyes, is less exciting than it is shameful. Sex is supposed to be an expression of love and desire; but what happens when you don’t feel loved or desired?
35. An Unmarried Woman (1978)
Directed by: Paul Mazursky
An almost comedy that kicks off with a relationship ending, “An Unmarried Woman” stars Jill Clayburgh (Oscar nominated) as Erica, the wife of a New York stockbroker (Michael Murphy) who immediately finds herself back on the market after he leaves her for a younger woman. From there, it’s a woman’s journey through life singularly. Erica life has basically fallen apart and now she has to define herself as a person rather than the spouse of another person. The film moves through sexual liberation themes and the importance of being happy with oneself first, with the help of close friends and family. Sure, in the end she finds love again, but Mazursky’s film isn’t about the need to find another. Of all the films on this list, “An Unmarried Woman” may be the only one where, for most of the film, there is no solid relationship. But, Erica’s journey says more about how relationships can function as a reflection of happiness in the face of pain or as an unwanted anchor on the ocean of life, whether the captain of the boat knows it or not. Sometimes the best way to understand a relationship is to be forced out of one unwillingly.
34. All that Heaven Allows (1955)
Directed by: Douglas Sirk
A 1950’s class romance, “All that Heaven Allows” stars Jane Wyman as a wealthy widow named Cary, who doesn’t do much but hang out with friends, fend off suitors, and talk to her college-aged children. When she comes across her gardener, a young man named Ron (Rock Hudson), she finds herself infatuated with him and his simplistic lifestyle. he is respectful, kind, and has no need for the materialistic lifestyle she lives. She finds herself drawn to this way of living, and accepts his eventual proposal. But what begins as love slowly becomes abandonment, as Cary bends under the pressure of her friends and children, who react strongly to her breaking of class rules and this unacceptable marriage to a much younger, much poorer man. She breaks off the engagement, though she is clearly lonelier now that they are apart. The children plan to move out and, because they feel bad for ruining her life, buy her a TV. Because that’s how you fix things. It’s a glossy, overstated romance that hits all the stereotypical notes, but it still stands above most of the other melodramas of the time, thanks mostly to the involvement of director Douglas Sirk. Among Sirk’s 1950’s romances, “All that Heaven Allows” hit the right notes with Hudson and Wyman, making for a well-received feature film.
33. Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
Directed by: Blake Edwards
The budding love of a PR guy and a secretary that hinges on social drinking. Is there any better kind? “Days of Wine and Roses” stars Jack Lemmon as Joe Clay. He meets Kirsten (Lee Remick), a secretary, who is at first hesitant, then jumps right in. They get married and have a daughter, eventually drinking themselves into demotion and near death. After a revelation, Joe decides that he and Kirsten need to get sober. Works for a while, but only briefly. Eventually, it’s clear that Joe and Kirsten’s relationship is what is driving their lack of sobriety, finding solace in the other as they indulge together. It’s clear that, while Joe may have begun the cycle by introducing Kirsten to drinking, she has since gone to a darker place, unable to admit she is an alcoholic and unable to accept that their lives are better apart. “Days of Wine and Roses” is essentially a long commercial for Alcoholics Anonymous, but Remick and Lemmon play so well off of each other and develop a convincing camaraderie that it makes it all the more heartbreaking when Joe recognizes the toxicity of their marriage. But, while Joe and Kirsten’s relationship is the central one, the real relationship is between the two protagonists and, well, booze.
32. Chungking Express (1994)
Directed by: Kar Wai Wong
Two romances that have no connection other than they involve police officers, “Chungking Express’” first story is about He Qiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a cop also known as Cop 223. He was dumped by his girlfriend on April 1 and has decided to wait until May 1 (his birthday) before truly moving on. At that point, he will known whether they will be reunited or they will never be again. The night of May 1, he meets a woman in a wig (Brigitte Lin) at a bar, who comes back to his place, only to fall asleep. The next morning she leaves; he goes to the store, where he meets the new cashier, Faye (Faye Wong). Story 2 then begins, when Cop 663 (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) meets the same Faye. He is also dealing with a breakup; she begins to fall for him. His ex-girlfriend leaves a letter for him at the snack bar, which everyone assumes is a breakup note. In the envelope is a set of keys to Cop 663’s apartment, which Faye steals and uses to get into his home and “redecorate.” The two eventually schedule time together, but just before their first date, Faye leaves to travel the world as a flight attendant (his ex-girlfriend’s job). He searches her out, but the film is deliberately left open-ended. The style is the real star of the film, as Wong follows an example set by the French New Wave by jettisoning story and structure for a looser interpretation of life and these relationships at their core. Does anything really every go anywhere? That’s not really the point. The point is the journey, however mundane.
31. Blue Valentine (2010)
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
It’s either a wonderfully honest look at the beginning and slow death of a marriage or a terribly depressing chore with broken narrative. “Blue Valentine” stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as Dean and Cindy, a young couple who rush into marriage when they learn Cindy is pregnant (though it is most likely from her previous boyfriend). The beginning of their relationship is intercut with a weekend five years later, which exposes Dean’s drinking problem and the intense arguments they have, thanks also in part to Cindy’s job at a medical clinic. Cianfrance’s editing and story structure adds a contrast the film needs to paint a picture that says even the couples that seem happiest can deteriorate if other factors enter the picture and insecurities end up taking control. The lead performances are realistic enough, though the story becomes a chore as we suffer the valleys of this marriage far more than the peaks. But, clearly that was kind of the point.
30. The Lovers on the Bridge (1991)
Directed by: Leos Carax
A romance the way only Leos Caraz could do it. “The Lovers on the Bridge” is a love story between an alcoholic, drug-addicted street performer named Alex (Denis Lavant) and a vagrant painter named Michele (Juliette Binoche) who lives on the streets after a previous relationship ended. She now suffers from an unkown disease that is slowly making her blind. The two live on the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris, closed for repairs for the duration of the film. As Michele loses more and more of her sight, she has to depend on Alex to get her through the days. After a treatment is discovered, Michele’s parents try to find her using posters on the street and radio announcements. Alex, realizing that her health would remover her dependence upon him, does everything in his power to keep Michele from knowing her family is looking for her. What results is a film that is altogether reckless and heartwarming, with sweeping romance that can be felt beyond the visuals. It’s still Carax’s most successful film, premiering at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991. It manages to tell a very Paris-themed story without making it a love note to the city, as the love not it portrays is strictly between its two leads.
29. The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Another movie about divorce, “The Squid and the Whale” is a complex drama starring Jeff Daniels as Bernard and Laura Linney as Joan, the parents of two boys named Walt and Frank (Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kiline). Bernard was once a successful novelist, but has since slowed and focused more on teaching. When Joan begins to get acclaim for her own writing, it ramps up the tension between the two, resulting in the divorce and custody battles. Walt and Frank find themselves eventually taking sides with a parent, drifting more to Bernard’s side. Their relationships begin to splinter and the two begin to act out in various ways. For Walt, it’s wildly misrepresenting his achievements. For Frank, it’s drinking and masturbating at school. It isn’t until Walt begins to see a school psychologist that he begins to look at his parents objectively and mine his memory for any reason why he would favor his father, who was relatively absent when he was younger. Baumbach has a tendencies to infuse quirky comedy into his otherwise dramatic films and this one is probably the best of his filmography, as it doesn’t lean so heavily on the comedy side of the writing and takes a subtler approach to its characters and their flaws. Eisenberg was the breakout star of the film, but the honest portrayal of a marriage falling apart from the children’s perspective is done with more purpose, rather than the broad strokes that tend to be thrown at the kids who begin to pick sides.
28. An Affair to Remember (1957)
Directed by: Leo McCarey
An updated version of 1939’s “Love Affair,” “An Affair to Remember” was almost a shot-for-shot remake, substituting in Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr for Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne. The film follows Nickie (Grant) and Terry (Kerr) as they meet on a cruise ship, he being a wealthy playboy, she be already attached to another. The two begin a friendship and eventually fall in love. When they depart the ship, they plan to meet at the top of the Empire State Building in six months, but only if they have both ended their relationships and begun their new careers. On that date, Nickie waits at the observation desk, unaware that Terry, in a rush to meet him, has been struck by a car and can no longer walk. From there, it’s a back and forth between Nickie’s misunderstanding of the situation and Terry’s fear about her condition. It’s a 1950’s romance, so it’s packed full of cheesiness and schmaltzy dialog (the closing lines alone are enough to make you gag). But underneath all that is a beautiful story of love conquering all and how chance encounters can change our fates. It was remade again in 1994 and serves as a pretty clear inspiration for “Sleepless in Seattle,” but unlike Nora Ephron’s 1993 film, this one dissects an existing relationship, rather than creating one for the closing moments.
27. Days of Heaven (1978)
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Malick’s second film after “Badlands,” “Days of Heaven” takes the sweeping cinematography of his debut and softens it, showing the Midwestern wasteland that looked so dirty in Badlands and making it almost majestic, among glorious fields of corn. After Bill (Richard Gere) mistakenly kills his boss at a Chicago steel mill, he and his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams) and sister Linda (Linda Manz) run to the Texas panhandle; Linda narrates the story. Bill and Abby pretend to be siblings as the three are hired at a farm for seasonal work by a shy, but extremely wealthy nameless farmer (Sam Shepard). They learn he is dying and hatch a plan to have Abby marry the farmer, only to inherit his wealth after his death. After the ceremony, Bill stays on as an employee. The farmer’s health remains stable, leading to Abby’s feelings to unexpectedly grow for him, obviously causing conflict with Bill. Malick’s camera – as always – tells a pristine story, but what really drives the plot is Linda’s narration, delivered in a jittery, half-knowing way. She gives insight, but she is never really a dependable narrator. And, in such a warped triangle, maybe that’s for the best. Malick has since honed his approach, for better or worse. Many maintain his first two films are still his best.
26. Love Story (1970)
Directed by: Arthur Hiller
From the art house standard of relationships to the cheese-soaked love and death story of the 1970’s, “Love Story” will forever be defined by its incredibly stupid tagline (“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.) and its earworm of a piano theme. Starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw as Oliver and Jenny, a pair of college students who meet at the Radcliffe library – Oliver a Harvard student, Jenny a Radcliffe student. The two quickly fall in love and move in together. Eventually, they want to start a family, but can’t, due to an unknown illness Jenny has, which appears to be leukemia. Oliver doesn’t tell her what is wrong for a brief period of time, but she eventually finds out and enters costly cancer treatments that Oliver cannot afford. You see where this goes. However bad the movie is; however overdramatic and ridiculous the story and acting are, “Love Story” created an oft-duplicated template for future romance films (and possibly every Nicholas Sparks book). As Roger Ebert put it, Jenny’s disease has one symptom: “…the patient grows more beautiful until finally dying.”
- Joshua Gaul
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published under our old brand, Sound On Sight.