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Here’s to all that Lovey-Dovey Junk – a.k.a. 14 fabulous feelings-filled films for February 14th

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

smheart_02.jpgAhhh, the sweet scent of love is in the air!
Or did I forget to take the garbage out last week?
Whatever, Thursday is that once-a-year event when it’s OK for everybody – even us guys – to be corny and romantic and all aw-shucks. It’s Valentine’s Day, of course, and time to make points with your sweetie-pie by opening a big red heart-shaped box of (sugar-free) chocolates, or showing up with a fresh bouquet of roses, and maybe cuddling up on the couch to watch a mushy-wushy chick flick on the old DVD player.

So, strictly as a public service (and in the name of Cupid), here’s my list of the Top 14 Kuddle Klassics of all time, those films so full of romance and heartbreak and true love that any one of them is guaranteed to elicit tears and sniffles from even the dullest and densest of clods. We’ll wander through Romanceland decade by decade (except those of us with superior observational skills will realize there ain’t no movie from the 1950s listed – well, we were just too busy being paranoid about the Cold War to turn out good movies about love).

From the 1930s we have: “Stella Dallas” (1937), perhaps the seminal tale of mother love and sacrifice, based on the old radio soap opera which, in turn, was based on a tear-drenched novel by Olive Higgins Prouty. Barbara Stanwyck plays the long-suffering Mom (from the wrong side of the tracks) who sacrifices everything for her daughter, Laurel. And yes, it’s in black-and-white.

What would 1942 have been without “Casablanca?” That goodbye scene before Ingrid hops on the plane is enough to rip out your heart and stomp that sucker flat. I mean, was Bogart noble, or what? I’ve seen the film (my favorite of all) a zillion times, and I still get a lump in my throat at the end. (Those darn M&Ms just won’t melt when I swallow ’em whole.)

Hey, they have romance over in England, too! Back in 1945, David Lean directed “Brief Encounter” based on a play by Noel Coward. Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson played a pair of star-crossed commuters who – briefly – meet whilst changing trains, fall desperately in love, but Do The Right Thing because … well, I won’t spoil it. It’s a surprisingly taut little character study of two stiff-upper-Brits and unrequited love.

Called “maudlin” by many stone-hearted critics, 1946’s “Sentimental Journey” actually sent many women weeping into the lobby. The wondrous Maureen O’Hara plays an actress about to kick the bucket who, bravely, adopts an orphan (wee Connie Marshall) so’s her hubby, John Payne, will have some company after she’s gone. Does that sound maudlin to you? That doesn’t sound maudlin to me.

The year was 1961, the movie was “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the song was “Moon River,” the actress was Audrey Hepburn. Won a couple of music Oscars (Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini) and provided enough sweet, sentimental moments (combined with some good solid comedy) to make one of Hollywood’s best romances ever. Based on a story by Truman Capote.

Guys have feelings too, right? Manly ones, naturally. Guess we proved it in 1971 when “Brian’s Song” hit the screens. It’s based on the true story of Chicago Bears’ Gale Sayers (Billie Dee Williams) and Brian Picolo (James Caan, years before he toughened up as Sonny Corleone). Grown men wept unashamedly in the audience when Picolo caught cancer. Nothing like rough-and-tumble buddy pics, especially when one of ’em dies. And frankly, this still stands as one of the best made-for-TV movies ever released on a football-player-loving populace. Why, these guys are so pure, nobody even uses steroids!

Two years later (1973) The Big One hit – “The Way We Were” which, for reasons untenable, still brings me to tears. Maybe Robert Redford was just too darned good-looking (playing a writer, of course), but Barbra Streisand finally found the role she was meant to play. Perhaps it’s just that title song that plucks at my off-key heartstrings, but I suspect it’s the Ugly Duckling Grows Up Even Uglier and Loses The Handsome Prince Syndrome.

Geezer Love! Mmmmm, can’t you just smell the odor of Lust and Listerine? Well, it worked just fine for “Robin and Marian” in 1976, when R. Hood returns to Sherwood Forest after years in exile. He meets Maid Marian, of course, who’s none the best for wear. Lovely, touching, what-might-have-been tale stars Sean Connery and (once again) Audrey Hepburn. Top-notch supporting cast includes Robert Shaw, Ian Holm, and others.

Gal pals tried and true have been the basis of many-a tear jerker, but none more morbidly fascinating than 1988’s “Beaches.” Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey just goes on and on and on covering 30 years of female anguish, but these two (unlikely) friends stick it out through thick and thicker.

“When Harry Met Sally” in 1989 it was billed as a comedy starring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. And I’ll admit, it’s still funny as a broken crutch all these years later, from a Nora Ephron script and directed by Rob Reiner. But the relationship is so darned sweet, and we pull for them to get together so hard, that it wholeheartedly (so to speak) qualifies as a premier Valentine’s Day DVD Date.

Just a few years later (1993 to be exact), Nora’s back writing, Meg’s back emoting in “Sleepless in Seattle,” with Tom Hanks. Good, solid cast, preposterous plot, but we long for the should-be lovers to find one another though they be a continent apart. This one rewrote the Book of Love, was a tremendous hit, and holds up well.

Horrid book became great movie in 1995, when that old master, Clint Eastwood teamed with Meryl Streep to film “The Bridges of Madison County.” For my money, it’s one of the best grown-up love-lost films ever. Can’t even joke about this heartstring plucker.

Perhaps the perfect Valentine’s Day-viewing film ever is “Chocolat.” It captures the fantasy of magically chocolate-induced love on the feathery wings of Juliette Binoche (her best role ever) with Johnny Depp as a kind of throw-in near the end. Juliette runs a magical candy store in small-town France, and the separate stories surrounding her passion-inducing chocolates will fill your heart with joy. Loved it.

Finally, my favorite romantic movie in the last decade: “The Notebook,” circa 2004. Harsh critics unjustly attacked this wee masterpiece, but word o’mouth won out, and it’s grown into a minor classic. If you haven’t ever seen it, do so. (I’ve never met a woman who hasn’t.) Gena Rowlands, stricken with Alzheimer’s, is visited by her loyal hubby, James Garner, every day at the healthcare facility. He reads to her from an old diary. Sometimes she gets it, sometimes not, and in flashback we meet the young lovers – Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling – are absolutely radiant.

Any of the above films, all available on DVD, would make a nice sweethearty Valentine’s Day gift, in case you’re a guy still searching for something sentimental to wow your honey. And the keys to a brand new Porsche wouldn’t hurt, either.

Meanwhile, Back at the Dixie:

Have you put off seeing “Juno,” last year’s best film? Catch it, at the downtown Dixie in Staunton, afore it escapes forever.

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.

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