7. Fucking Amal (Show Me Love) (1998)
Characters, at least competently written characters, should have clearly defined desires. Fucking Åmål puts Agnes’ right at the start written in plain Swedish in the form of her birthday wishlist: to not have to have a party (showing her teenage embarrassment and anti-social skills), for Elin to look at her and for Elin to fall in love with her.
Efficient story telling at its finest. These burgeoning feelings are what drives the film, the relationship between Agnes and Elin moving from unrequited to something more, via the inevitable hurtful humiliation.
Lukas Moodyson has frequently been cited as the Patron Saint of adolescent girls, no one seems to understand their mix of heightened emotions, angst and self-hatred quite like him.
While the teenaged female protagonists of Together and We Are The Best all have their raging hormones and romances to deal with, Fucking Åmål uses the overwhelming trapped feeling of small-town living as a device to depict the restrictions one feel while growing up. Its English title (Show Me Love) fails to convey the restless anger explored in the film.
Those that are nostalgic for their teen years have blinkered memories of them, Fucking Åmål shows them how they are: an extended painful awkward embarrassment with fleeting moments of happiness. The little moments of triumph, like the backseat snog to the sound of Foreigner, feel all the better because of how earned they are.
6. Her (2013)
At face value Spike Jonze’s Her, is a simple love story. A tale of meeting someone that understands, spending time with that someone, and loving that someone until some issue occurs that makes it impossible to be with that someone anymore.
It has been done a million times. That story is Casablanca, Annie Hall, Forrest Gump, Titanic and Brokeback Mountain. That story has won a fair share of Oscars. How did Jonze make that formula fresh again? Easy: set it in the foreseeable future and make the love interest an A.I.
It could be argued that Her for all its sentimental loveliness, is a satire of love stories. At certain points in the film it seems like it is an experiment to see whether the audience will accept a romance with someone that doesn’t exist, and so plays the artificial romance completely straight.
There are certain hallmarks that appear like the ukelele serenade (used in everything from The Jerk to Blue Valentine), the people-watching date (Annie Hall) and the mountain cabin getaway, which all tie the film into the tradition of romance films and so easing the alien-ness of Her’s romance. Plus on top of that it stars Jonze as a foul-mouthed video game alien, which will no doubt become a future essential aspect of any romantic comedy.
5. Gegen die wand (Head-On) (2004)
Love in all reality can be a punishing and truly upsetting experience, one that rom-coms as a rule try to sanitize for its apparently overly sensitive female target audience. Photogenic protagonists, easily solvable problems, surface differences. German film Gegen die Wand shows love how it really is: messy, emotional and not willing to follow a formulaic narrative.
A Turkish man (Biron Ünel) attempts suicide by crashing his car into a wall. In therapy afterwards he meets a similarly depressed Turkish young woman (Sibel Kekilli) wanting to free herself from her conservative family. So they get married, in her words: “to live and to dance and to fuck!”
Though it features a wedding and two people falling in love it is a lot darker than the majority of the genre with the aforementioned suicide attempts, alcoholism, fist-fights, religion sanctioned oppression and a fair bit of extramarital casual sex.
Most of the film’s culture-criticism comes from the director Fatih Akın’s personal experiences, having originally been from Turkey before immigrating to Germany. Though the genre in its modern form is hardly critically acclaimed Gegen die Wand was awarded the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, the festival’s top prize. For love in all its most harsh realities, watch Gegen die Wand.
4. Chasing Amy (1997)
Would you trust the guy whose debut featured a woman fucking a corpse with your romantic comedy experience? Kevin Smith is crude, loud and way too interested in marijuana consumption, and most of his early films mirrored this.
Chasing Amy, Smith’s third feature, conversely may be the most challenging romantic American film of the nineties. Holden, a comic book artist (Ben Affleck), falls in love with Alyssa (also a comic book artist, played by Joey Lauren Adams), but unfortunately she is gay and unable to return the emotion.
Essentially an in-depth study of sexuality, not just lesbianism but also Holden’s attitudes and insecurities in his own identity as a straight man. Chasing Amy tackles sexual identity not as unchanging absolutes where once a lesbian, always a lesbian but as a fluid concept which is a lot more true to reality than the way the majority of Hollywood cinema portrays sexuality.
Dialogue is definitely Smith’s forte, the conversations about sexual misadventures, self-discovery and boundaries are not only wickedly amusing but educational. As Silent Bob unloads his defining monologue, you cannot help but wonder: when did the guy who made Clerks get so forward thinking and wholeheartedly warm.
3. Punch-Drunk Love (2001)
When, after the overarching emotional colossus that was Magnolia, critics asked Paul Thomas Anderson what his next project was he said “a romantic comedy with Adam Sandler”. They laughed, “but really, what are you doing next?”
Punch-Drunk Love is exactly that: A romantic comedy with Adam Sandler, but under the direction of Anderson it is very much not The Wedding Singer. Sandler as an actor has certain strengths: flying into rages and a surprising aptness at being the relatable emotional core of a film, and as the title might suggest Punch-Drunk Love uses both of these traits to its advantage.
On paper the film seems so fragmented, the sale of novelties, excessive sisters, phone-sex lines run by Philip Seymour Hoffman, pudding and air miles. Beneath all this is a surprisingly sweet story of a man with anger issues who falls for a shy English woman (Emily Watson).
Anderson has always used colour expertly, creating emotional motifs throughout his work where blue represents sadness or a state of incompleteness and red represents passion, love and resolution; With Sandler’s blue suit and Watson’s red dress we already know their characters and where this story is going to go. Infinitely better than 50 First Dates.
2. My Sassy Girl (2001)
Most romantic comedies’ inciting moment is an elaborate scenario in which the love interests are flung together showing a clash in their personalities for humorous effect. For example: a woman and man are both in the same men’s pyjama section of a department store, the woman tells the assistant she is looking for a pair of bottoms, while the man requires a top.
This is a meet cute (in fact, the meet cute from Billy Wilder’s comedy Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife), and it is one of the worst features of the genre – artificially created situations in which a spark can be created. That said My Sassy Girl’s meet cute is genius, possibly the best ever.
While in a subway car the shy unadventurous Kyun-woo (Tae-hyun Cha) witnesses a drunken girl (Ji-hyun Jun) swaying into and falling asleep on random commuters. She then vomits onto a man’s toupee, calls Kyun-woo “darling” and passes out, leaving him to deal with the situation she caused.
Not knowing her address, he carries her unconscious body to a “love-hotel” only for her to wake up thinking that he has abducted her and intents to rape her. Their ensuing kind-of romance is hysterically funny and yet somehow more romantic and heartfelt than the rest of these films – and it all started with a drunken puke. As always avoid the Hollywood remake, it doesn’t even have anyone famous in it to justify its existence.
1. Before Sunrise (1995)
There is a character in Richard Linklater’s first film Slacker, played by Linklater himself, who in the back of a cab philosophizes about The Wizard of Oz and what would happen if Dorothy had not journeyed down the Yellow Brick Road, what story would have happened then?
As massively altering to cinema as that eventuality would be, if Celine had not followed Jesse on their walk around Vienna the effect would be epochally ruinous for romance in general. In Before Sunrise, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are just two cool cats that meet on a train, go for a walk and talk about love, death, sex and basically everything else.
The beauty of Before Sunrise is in its simplicity, two characters, one city, no plot, no real complications – the narrative arc is Jesse and Celine getting to know each other better. There’s so many great moments – catching each others’ eyes, the Ferris wheel at sunset, the tram love talk, the pinball scene, the red wine wager – all progressively making them fall in love, even if it is fleetingly for this one night.
The trilogy continued with Before Sunset in 2004 and then 2013’s Before Midnight, Delpy, Hawke and Linklater grew up, got wiser, possibly more cynical but due to its purity and passion, Before Sunrise leaves them all behind.
Author Bio: Ashley Robak should really try harder. He has a BSc in Film Production, a film blog which is sometimes updated (http://ashleypurplecamera.wordpress.com) and occasionally contributes to On Record Magazine. When not writing about film, he attempts to make his own with Purple Camera Media (http://vimeo.com/purplecamera).