Real Love at the Movies

While movie trends may come and go, love is always a cinematic crowd-pleaser. Whether it involves the witty banter of two formerly married journalists in His Girl Friday or a mere mortal pining for her sparkly vampire in the Twilight series, these romantic tales appeal to everyone’s inherent desire for his/her own happy ending. Now if real-life only had a great pop song to accompany every falling-in-love moment just like the movies, well, wouldn’t that be grand?

Of course, love’s decidedly romantic side always seems to grab the most screen-time, especially in the season of candy-coated hearts known as Valentine’s Day. But as love and lust become even more interchangeable in modern rom-coms (see Just Go With It and No Strings Attached, for starters), we’ve decided to be an equal-opportunity advocate for true love – romantic and otherwise.

Now with no further adieu, here are 10 of our all-time favorite flicks where love is more than merely two attractive protagonists beating the odds and conveniently ending up together before the credits roll.

Up

starring the voices of Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, and Jordan Nagai
Over the past decade, the Pixar crew has proven again and again that animated films can connect with your heart just as deeply as those with living, breathing actors. And there’s probably no better example of that storytelling prowess than with Up, a story of a curmudgeonly widower named Carl who ultimately discovers that life with the company – even if it’s a pesky youngster who never runs out of questions – is better than life without. And if you’re new to the party, may I recommend a box of tissues? There’s a nine-minute account of Carl’s life with his late wife that will absolutely rip your heart out.

Life is Beautiful

starring Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi and Giorgio Cantarini
Boy meets girl in the most romantic of fashions, and life gets even more beautiful when they’re blessed with a son they love more than life itself. But when German forces start occupying Italy and the family is eventually relegated to a concentration camp, Guido (Benigni) makes sure his son doesn’t know just how bad things are by simply using his imagination. Convincing him that the Holocaust is merely a competition of sorts where the winner gets a tank, Guido keeps his family happy in the midst of harrowing circumstances.

The Mission

starring Robert DeNiro, Jeremy Irons, and Aidan Quinn
Not only does it have one of the all-time best soundtracks, but The Mission is a moving story of sacrifice for the love of God and mankind.

The Notebook

starring Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, Gena Rowlands, and James Marsden
Nicholas Sparks has topped the New York Times’ bestsellers list again and again for penning wildly romantic stories with a twist, namely that not every couple gets a happy-ever-after ending. And the same holds true in this tear-jerker, which is hands down, the best adaptation of Sparks’ work to the big screen. Not only do Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams have an undeniable chemistry as the couple we can’t help rooting for, but juxtaposing their courtship with their later-in-life journey really ups the emotional ante.

Little Women

starring Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, and Kirsten Dunst
In a superb adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic account of post-Civil War America, we’re introduced to the great love that exists between four sisters of varying ages in Little Women. With their father away at war and their mother busy with figuring out just how to care for four children on such a small budget, the March sisters bond through imaginative storytelling and a common desire for making something significant of themselves in a male-dominated society.

While You Were Sleeping

starring Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, and Peter Gallagher
The story starts with a superficial, isn’t-he-so-cute crush as Lucy (Bullock) can’t help but admire the handsome doctor (Gallagher) who faithfully stops by her ticket booth every day. But when she eventually rescues Peter after he’s thrown from the train’s platform, she gains something far greater – the love of his entire family, something she hasn’t experienced since her own parents were alive.

The Soloist

starring Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Foxx, and Catherine Keener
In yet another instance where you forget that it’s Jamie Foxx playing the character, The Soloist is the heart-wrenching story of a homeless musical prodigy, Nathaniel Akers (Foxx), who’s discovered by a newspaper reporter named Steve Lopez (Downey Jr.) in the streets of Los Angeles. Seeing Nathaniel as nothing but the subject for a great human interest piece at first, Steve eventually decided to befriend him, which proves to be far more challenging than he ever expected, considering Nathaniel’s fragile mental state. Considering how moving the story is (and well-acted to boot), I’ll never know why this film didn’t do better at the box office. But for whatever reason it was overlooked, it’s totally worth renting.

The African Queen

starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn
Romance and adventure go hand in hand in this superb story of opposites attracting in remarkable fashion. While they fight and bicker spectacularly, there’s no doubt these protagonists love each other. And unlike modern film where it’s hard to see what the good-looking leads could possibly have in common, there’s no doubt about what commonalities bring this couple together in The African Queen.

Roman Holiday

starring Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, and Eddie Albert
Shot entirely in Italy, Roman Holiday is not only a beautiful film (even in black and white), but it officially introduced audiences to the many charms of Audrey Hepburn.

Even when I watch today, I’m still stunned by how it ends, and if you haven’t seen it already, trust me, you will be, too. Basically the story goes like this: Despite the glamour and prestige associated with her job, the young Queen Anne (Hepburn) is already sick of the royal life and the predictable schedule that comes with it. So when she’s administered a sedative to prevent her from being perceived as a wild card, she forgoes the sleep she needs and eventually escapes from the palace that’s become her own prison. While on the run, she eventually runs into a prominent American journalist (Peck) who believes his unexpected connection with the princess will benefit his career. Well, until he falls in love with her, naturally and ends up wanting only the best for her…

True Grit

starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Hailee Steinfeld
It takes some major chutzpah to remake a John Wayne classic western, but the Coen Brothers get it just right in True Grit. To help her avenge the murder of her father at the hands of Tom Chaney, a 14-year-old farm girl named Mattie Ross enlists the help of Rooster Cogburn, a man known for his “true grit” but is more comfortable with putting away the liquor than anything else these days. But what starts out as nothing more than a journey for profit, Rooster finally starts living up to his noble reputation as he and Mattie become unlikely friends with a common desire for what’s just.

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