Firstly, HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, everyone! I wish you love, good health and good movies… today and every single day of the year :D
Now, this list is long overdue, but lately I’ve been thinking about all the romantic films that I love… and you know what, a lot of them are directed by female directors! When I mean romantic, it doesn’t always mean a romance genre or rom-com, though many of them certainly are in this category, but it could be from other genres so long as there is some kind of love story involving the protagonist. As with list of this kind, obviously it’s not complete, there are a bunch from female filmmakers I still haven’t seen yet, i.e. Across the Universe, After the Wedding, Monsoon Wedding, etc. That’s where YOU fellow bloggers and dear readers come in, I ask that you recommend one or two of your own picks.
1. Austenland (2013) | Jerusha Hess (full review)
I know the critics aren’t fond of this but I had such a blast watching this. The entire theater seems to have a good time as well, even the male moviegoers around me were laughing constantly. It’s a Disneyland-type resort for Jane Austen fans, filled with one hilarious scenario after another. I’m not saying it’s a perfect movie, some of the mindless slapstick stuff are indeed cringe-worthy, but I was caught up in its fluffy buoyant spirit, and the ending is pure escapist romance any Darcy fan would appreciate. All things considered, it’s a pretty good debut from Jerusha Hess who was a writer of Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre.
2. Bride & Prejudice (2004) | Gurinder Chadha
Another Austen-related movie that offers a fun twist to the classic period drama. I first saw Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham which was fun, but I REALLY love this one and Aishwarya Rai is absolutely stunning. Yes she’s obviously too gorgeous to play the supposedly plain-looking Elizabeth Bennett-inspired character Lalita, but she made it work somehow. Martin Henderson is surprisingly endearing as Mr. Darcy, his dimples made me forgive his rather stiff acting style, ahah. If you need a mood-lifting movie, I can’t recommend this one enough! Watch out for the Snake Dance scene ;)
3. Dear Frankie | Shona Auerbach (full review)
Ok, this is not a romantic film per se but the relationship between Frankie’s mother and the Stranger alone is enough to make this one eligible for this list. Emily Mortimer has a scorching chemistry with Gerry Butler [in one of my all-time favorite roles] despite their rather icy first meeting that’s not exactly a *meet-cute* variety. But man, that doorway scene… slo-burn romance doesn’t get more tantalizing than this. I also love that the ending is open-ended which makes it even more intriguing. Not sure why British director Shona Auerbach hasn’t made another film since. Now if only Butler could find another script as good as this, likely buried under a pile of rubbish he’s constantly picking on lately :(
4. Little Women (1994) | Gillian Armstrong
I love this story of four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March. The cast is fabulous, including a young and vivacious Christian Bale (before he went to the brooding and dark side) and Gabriel Byrne as dashing professor Friedrich Bhaer. On top of the sweet and poignant love story of the four sisters, it’s also a warm celebration of family as they endure trying times in times of war. This reminds me I need to check out more works by miss Armstrong, most notably Mrs. Soffel and Oscar & Lucinda.
5. Lost in Translation (2003) | Sofia Coppola
I’ve only seen two Sofia Coppola films so far but I think this would likely remain my favorite. I’ve always been fond of unlikely pairings in movies… a faded movie star and a neglected young wife hits it off as their paths crossed in a foreign land. The Tokyo backdrop gives the film a quirky yet strangely melancholic mood that works well for the story. I can see that it’s not a film for everyone as my friends have said it bored ’em to tears but I find it delightful and hilarious.
6. Return to Me (2000) | Bonnie Hunt
I’ve dedicated a post for this a couple of years ago and it pains me that a lot of people still haven’t seen this. I’ve re-watched it recently and I’m still in love with it. The story starts out pretty sad but not in a depressing kind of way, in fact, you want these two characters to find love again after what they’ve been through. Thank you Bonnie Hunt for making an unabashedly romantic movie that’s genuinely heartfelt, enchanting and funny. I love the effortless chemistry between David Duchovny and Minnie Driver, and the supporting cast of James Belushi, David Alan Grier, Carol O’Connor and miss Hunt herself are delightful.
“When she met you, her heart beat truly for the first time. Perhaps it was meant to be with you always.”
Oh that line gets me every time. You’ll know why when you see the film. I also have to mention the lovely soundtrack with the likes of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. In fact the movie is named after Martin’s song of the same name.
7. Sleepless In Seattle (1993) | Nora Ephron
Oh how I miss Nora Ephron. This is the first film of hers I saw and I fell in love with her witty dialog and fun but relatable characters. Of course the genius is in the casting of Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan, even when the two protagonist barely have a screen together, we are so invested in them and really root for them to be together. I have seen this countless times and I also fall in love with the city it’s set in, not to mention the timeless music that fits the film so perfectly. The supporting cast is wonderful, even Hanks’ own wife Rita Wilson has a scene-stealing hilarious moment when describing the finale of An Affair to Remember. This movie is chock-full of memorable scenes!
8. Water (2005) | Deepa Mehta
This is the last film of Mehta’s Elements Trilogy, set in 1938 when India was still under British rule. The film deals with a heart-wrenching topic of gender inequality for women, especially widows, who must live their lives abandoned in an ashram. There is so much cultural and political depth to this film that was tough to process at times, but it’s definitely worth a watch as it’s such a powerful and beautiful story. There’s a theme of unlikely friendship and forbidden romance, especially the relationship between a beautiful young widow Kalyani (Lisa Ray), who’s forced to prostitution to support the ashram, and Narayan, an idealistic follower of Ghandi from a higher caste. Mehta’s films are rife with controversy, there were intense protests when she was filming this that she had to relocate to Sri Lanka to work on this film. It deservedly earned an Oscar nominated for Best Language Film.
9. What Women Want (2000) | Nancy Meyers
Regardless of what one may think about his personal life, Mel Gibson was undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s bonafide movie star in his prime. He can effortlessly do action, drama AND comedy. This role shows his movie star charm as a chauvinistic advertising exec who gains an ability to hear women’s thoughts following a fluke accident. Ok so the premise is wacky but this part fantasy, part war-of-the-sexes comedy does deliver the laughs and there’s actually more substance to the story than meets the eye. Helen Hunt is utterly believable in the tough but vulnerable female exec and makes for a great sparring partner for Gibson.
10. You’ve Got Mail (1998) | Nora Ephron
Another winner from miss Ephron. It has the spirit of rom-coms of the 40s and 50s like Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby or even Vincente Minnelli’s Designing Woman with the two eventual lovebirds’ bantering with each other. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks reunited five years after Sleepless in Seattle and actually share lots of screen time together this time around.
I actually saw the original movie it’s based on, The Shop Around the Corner, and though I enjoyed that one, I didn’t love it as much as this one. Again, I love the witty script, thanks to the Ephron sisters Nora and Delia, and of course the two leads are as charming as ever. It’s also beautifully shot in New York City, which almost become a character in itself, especially during the gorgeous Christmas season.
• Mansfield Park | Patricia Rozema
This is a serious oversight on my part, it should’ve been on my MAIN top 10 list instead of Honorable Mentions. Thank you Dave for mentioning it, I can’t believe I’ve forgotten about that one. It’s one of my favorite period dramas of all time, I LOVE the tentative love story between Fannie Price (Frances O’Connor) & Edmund Bertram (Jonny Lee Miller). It’s a darker tone of a Jane Austen adaptation as Fannie challenges Edmund’s father of his dealings with slavery in the Regency era, but ultimately, it’s a lovely and compelling love story that holds a special place in my heart.
• Bend It Like Beckham | Gurinder Chadha
• Bright Star | Jane Campion
• ‘Bastille’ segment in Paris, Je T’aime | Isabel Coixet
• The Holiday | Nancy Meyers
This Cockeyed.com article shows a great list of female filmmakers and their movies. We obviously need more of them in Hollywood!
So is your favorite romantic-themed movie on this list? Please do add YOUR own picks that you’d recommend!