Everyone has a different idea of what a “romance film” should be, which is understandable. There are all kinds of romances and like what Hugh Grant says in the intro to “Love Actually,” love is really all around. Sometimes watching it melts our hearts, sometimes it makes us annoyed, sometimes it gives us thrills, or even makes us feel depressed. Love exists in all shapes and forms and filmmakers try to reflect that right from the beginning.
The year 2019 was not necessarily as strong as 2018, which had probably a bit more variety of great stories, but it was a fine year on its own as well and it brought us romance stories in its different forms as usual. Before we start, a dishonorable mention goes to “Last Christmas” because George Michael deserves a better movie. Then there is “Isn’t It Romantic,” which couldn’t make into the list because the premise; that “Express Yourself” scene is pretty good, but it’s just too underwhelming. So here we go – hopefully there’ll be something for every taste.
10. Long Shot
Unfortunately a box office disappointment, Jonathan Levine’s “Long Shot” is probably the most acclaimed romantic comedy of the year and it’s not hard to see why. The plot follows an unemployed journalist Fred Flarsky. One day he sees his childhood sweetheart Charlotte Field again after a long time. She is currently the U.S. Secretary of State and since she wants to run as president of the United States, she hires Fred to write speeches for her election campaign. Thanks to their close cooperation on long trips, the two get closer.
After the terrible “Snatched,” it’s nice to see Levine is back to his form and he once again delivered a comedy with a sharp script that hits its marks really well. Some beats are familiar; in fact, you can go as far as claiming it’s almost the modern-day American version of “Notting Hill”. But then again, the story still remains often unpredictable, despite the known formula, which is very good and almost hard to pull off in a studio romantic comedy these days. The chemistry is surprisingly natural between Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen and the jokes also fall into place. Almost everybody gets a chance to shine. The emotional moments are also handled really well and overall, the movie is a success by a long shot.
When Richard Curtis writes a romance film, it has to be on that year’s romance list, right? Even if the director Danny Boyle has delivered a very fine job, Curtis has that writing style that his movies are often associated with him rather than the director. Which is unfortunate at times; I mean, “Notting Hill” has some really amazingly directed sequences. “Yesterday” is not one of Curtis’ best, but it’s still mostly a warm, crowd-pleasing kind of feel-good movie that we all need from time to time.
The premise is simple: 27-year-old unsuccessful singer-songwriter and former teacher Jack Malik is hit by a bus. At that moment, the power fails for 12 seconds around the world and two things happen. First, he knocks out two teeth; second, the Beatles disappear and it seems nobody remembers them. So our man takes the chance to become famous with their songs. Obviously there are many things that should be discussed here.
Would the current music industry or the direction of popular music be totally the same without the Beatles? Or would he be famous with Beatles songs in our today’s world? And there are many other things to consider, but this is not a film that tackles its topics too seriously or with depth. It doesn’t have to. The main aim of the film is just to deliver charming entertainment again. It might not be on the level of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” but still a nice film to watch, unless you’re getting irritated by Curtis comedies.
8. Ordinary Love
For a cancer-themed film, “Ordinary Love” is quite surprising because it doesn’t necessarily go to sentimental or over-the-top moments to get a reaction. The movie needs to be celebrated because it avoids sentimentality, but it knows how to remain a deeply emotional film. “Ordinary Love” is about an ordinary, everyday couple and they’re portrayed by Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville in naturalistic performances. Manville is especially amazing and Neeson is also good, even though one would wish his character would have been a little more interesting. In order to portray an everyday couple, you have to get the right actors, especially in a subtle story like this, to give layered and nuanced performances, to make it feel very natural but at the same time, soulful.
When Manville’s character is diagnosed with breast cancer, we get to witness this couple’s hard days, sometimes with humour, sometimes with heartbreak, but the film is never too showy. Such small moments and the warm presence of our leads and their excellent performances make this movie raw and also an engaging journey. Neither of these two leads comes off as unrealistic because of the careful script and the direction. In the end, “Ordinary Love” comes off as a fresh and honest reflection of love, of sickness and health. It’d be also unfair to not mention the beautiful score.
7. The Souvenir
Not all romance stories are here to melt our hearts; some are told just so we can witness how toxic a relationship can get. The film is a semi-autobiographical account of Joanna Hogg’s experiences at film school. It is set mostly in a small London apartment, and has somewhat of a bleak tone. Our main heroine is the naive Julie, portrayed by Honor Swinton Byrne (Tilda Swinton’s daughter who also stars in the film) in a debut film role and she’s pretty excellent.
One day, she falls in love with a slightly older man Anthony (Tom Burke) and complex emotions follow. Hogg expertly portrays what it is like to get trapped in a toxic relationship at that age, which is why the things get hard to watch at times but also worth it. Meanwhile, us – the audience members – are left out to wonder why the relationship becomes more difficult to leave as things get worse and worse.
Visually the movie is impressive. Shot in film and digitized film, it gives you the feeling of nostalgia – not sweet nostalgia, exactly, but more like looking at old photos and remembering something confusing and maybe annoying at times. Nicholas Roeg’s influences are also very well used. Overall, “The Souvenir” is a strong effort from a talented director and cast that gives you an intimate look at toxic relationships, a sense of hopelessness, and being inexperienced in life.
6. Gloria Bell
Sebastian Lelio’s English language remake of his own 2013 film “Gloria” is one of those films that sort of disappeared through the years. It was acclaimed in a festival in 2018, but the studio schedule was already full, so they kept it for spring 2019 and while it didn’t do bad, it certainly could have gotten more attention. At least Julianne Moore is so brilliant that her performance would be worthy of every award. She plays a free-spirited woman in her 50s and is the mother of two grown children. She spends her days at an office job, and her nights on the dance floor. One night she meets Arnold (John Turturro) who, like Gloria, is divorced and single. And the story goes on.
Even though the romance aspect plays a big part in the film, it’s more about our title character than Turturro’s – who is also great in his role. It’s refreshing to see such a great character study, written and shot with elegance and care. The movie is also successful because Lelio knows how to avoid all the traps that previous shot-by-shot English-language remakes of foreign films have done. He knows what tone to use, what slight differences to make, and how to change the setting, and that’s why “Gloria Bell” comes off almost as great, and even slightly better than its original, which is an impressive thing to do.