23. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
A whimsical fairytale set amidst an eccentric pastel-hued world, Edward Scissorhands was a decidedly deviant and bold follow up to Tim Burton’s mammoth blockbuster from the year before, Batman (1989).
Johnny Depp delivers a quiet, emotive and gentle performance in the titular role as a creation from an outlandish inventor (Vincent Price), Edward’s human looking in every way, well, except that he has scissors for hands.
Winona Ryder is the apple of Edward’s eye, Kim Boggs, a popular high school coed and cheerleader who can’t help but be taken in somewhat by the delicate natured, scar faced, messy haired muse. They share more than a few sweet moments together but, in Beauty and the Beast fashion, theirs is a love doomed from the start. Alienation and teen angst is rarely portrayed with this much style, subtlety, and eloquence. One of Burton’s finest and most unforgettable films.
22. The Story of Adele H. (1975)
An often overlooked bauble in François Truffaut’s (The 400 Blows) delectable and vast film depository, The Story of Adele H. offers a distressing and heartrending tale of love unfulfilled, mental illness and fire in the belly in this historical tragedy.
Isabelle Adjani (Camille Claudel) is astounding as Adèle Hugo – the daughter of famed French writer Victor Hugo – who has fallen in love with British soldier Albert Pinson, played by Bruce Robinson (perhaps best known as the writer and director of Withnail and I). Adèle lives in exile off the English coast, she follows Albert to Nova Scotia, under an alias, and more or less stalks him, obsessed by the short-lived love affair they shared.
A lilting love story, almost an anti-love story once Adèle’s emotional malady takes the fore, with poetic tragedy and self-destruction reaching near-dizzying dramatic crescendos. When you consider Truffaut’s catalogue, The Story of Adele H. stands proudly amongst his darker, more cynical works, and yet contains the cogency and quality of his choicest films. And truly, Adjani’s performance cannot be praised enough. A pièce de résistance from a past master.
21. The Children of Paradise (1945)
Crestfallen and desperate, Jean-Louis Barrault Pierrot, is pushed by the carnival throng as the gap between him and his greatest love, Garance (Arletty-Leonie Bathiat, brilliant), in a coach, inexorably widens in one of France’s, and, by proxy, cinema’s greatest love stories.
Marcel Carné’s greatest achievement, Children of Paradise somehow transcends its place and its time—it was filmed during an occupied France, its very existence and enduring success considered a triumph for French culture over the brutal Nazi regime—resulting in a timeless romance that, while tragic, buzzes with life, light, and affirmation.
20. The Lovers on the Bridge (1991)
Leos Carax (Holy Motors) has long been considered catnip for world cinema fans, and The Lovers on the Bridge is an exhilarating, if occasionally pretentious, and exciting early work. Starring the inimitable Juliette Binoche (Three Colors: Blue) as Michèle Stalens an art student now living on the streets of Paris, she soon teams with Carax regular Denis Lavant’s Alex, badly injured in a hit-and-run accident.
They live on the Pont-Neuf, Paris’ oldest bridge, along with drug dealer Hans (Klaus Michael Grüber) and faster than you can say “amour fou” the imperiled pair – she’s losing her sight, by the way – are in constant jeopardy and uncertainty.
Their alcohol and drug abuse only intensifies their double bind, but Carax takes pains to artfully articulate their mad passion, evoking fairy tale ingredients and black humor, along with a hasty sentimentality that’s impossible to ignore. The Lovers on the Bridge is packed with visual and emotional firecrackers.
19. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Certainly director Michel Gondry’s (Be Kind Rewind) finest film to date, and one of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s most inspired – with nods to Philip K. Dick – the poetically titled Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an emotionally devastating dissection of an abandoned love affair.
A couple on the outs, Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) opt to undergo an extreme procedure to erase one another from their memories after their relationship has hit the proverbial rocks. Via the mechanism of loss they discover the fragile love they shared and the heart-spurned anguish that follows is gracefully pronounced and wonderfully articulated.
With far-reaching repercussions and sincere sadness, this film is an intricate, and intimate meta-anti-valentine that is, hence, a laudation to lost love. Wonderful.
18. Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
Equal measure comedy and tragedy, French filmmaker Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s (Bon Voyage) Cyrano de Bergerac, based off of Edmond Rostand’s play from 1897, is also the film that re-introduced its titular star, Gérard Depardieu, to English-speaking audiences (he was nominated for an Oscar and soon starred in a string of English language American films). The story is a familiar one, and one that American audiences recall from the Steve Martin vehicle Roxanne, directed by Fred Schepisi in 1987.
Cyrano is a swashbuckling poet from Paris, afflicted, as it were, with a cruelly large nose. Head-over-heels in love with Roxanne (Anne Brochet), Cyrano does little to communicate his affections as his nose has him overly self-conscious.
When Roxanne becomes infatuated with new cadet Christian de Neuvillette (Vincent Perez), who serves in Cyrano’s military unit, he helps Christian to spout poetry he has penned, in order to woo Roxanne. While the outcome and buildup may be predictable, the performances, huge heart, and inspired comedy strengthen this thoroughly entertaining film.
The passion, wit, and melodrama in Cyrano de Bergerac erupt like bottle rockets, making the romantic currents of the film something to celebrate.
17. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
“Blending the macho western genre with a gay love story,” director Ang Lee observed, “that’s something that’s hard to do.” Difficult or not, Brokeback Mountain is now regarded as something of a classic as well as being one of the first gay Westerns to covet mainstream mass appeal.
Adapted from the short story by Annie Proulx, screenwriters Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana—who rightly received Oscars for their efforts—delicately deliver a heartening tale of forbidden love between Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger).
A haunting and achingly sad film, and one that’s never gratuitous or grandiose, Brokeback Mountain is a subtle and delicate affair. Don’t miss it.
16. The English Patient (1996)
Michael Ondaatje’s Can-Lit classic and Booker Prize-winning novel The English Patient made for an epic, Academy Award-sweeping adaptation for director/screenwriter Anthony Minghella (Truly Madly Deeply). Winning nine Oscars overall, including best picture and director, The English Patient has, at its core, a poetic and painful doomed love story starring the eponymous patient, a disfigured due to serious burns World War II pilot, Lazlo de Almásy (Ralph Fiennes).
An amnesiac pulled from the wreckage of a biplane in North Africa, his days are sadly numbered. Under the care of a Québécois nurse, Hana (Juliette Binoche, brilliant), Lazlo recounts his past, particularly his love affair with a married woman, Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas), that ends in, you guessed it, terrible misfortune.
The labyrinthine plot succeeds due to its passionately quixotic classicism and its faultless and rigorously deft designs. Not only does it harken to the grandiose epic cinema of David Lean it also embraces the chimeric poetry of Ondaatje’s writing, cloaking the production in fascination, mystery, eroticism, and artistic allure. It’s a tour de force of carefully constructed sorrow and lasting reprieve.