Love has been an essential part of cinema since the time of Charlie Chaplin, through to Woody Allen's groundbreaking Annie Hall, until now, when romantic comedies are absolute box office giants. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are some of the most beautiful, life-affirming love stories ever filmed. Some of these movies are a little out of the ordinary, but when you think about it, so is love.
Brief Encounter (1945)
The oldest film on this list is a little film from a big director. British filmmaker David Lean is known for later epics like Great Expectations, Lawrence of Arabia and A Passage to India, but in 1945 he made this film, based on Still Life, a play by Noël Coward. The simple story of two people meeting by chance on a train platform, only to catch different trains is almost a cliché now, but it is still as beautiful and bittersweet. Laura (Celia Johnson) and Alec (Trevor Howard) meet up regularly at the train station and slowly grow to realise that they are madly in love with one another. What still holds up so well about this film is the way it negotiates the divide between passion and obligation, as Laura and Alec must decide if their love is worth sacrificing their families.
Wings of Desire (1987)
Wings of Desire was the unfortunate victim of a dire American remake, namely City of Angels, starring Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage, which should be avoided at all costs. Wim Wenders' original German version, though, should be sought out as quickly as possible. High over Berlin, the angels Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) look down upon the city, watching the people and listening to their thoughts. One particularly notable sequence features an appearance by a young Nick Cave. When Damiel falls in love with high-wire circus performer Marion (Solveig Dommartin) he decides he wants to be human, and in joining her in becoming earthbound, he learns all the pleasures of being alive. Coming from a country that in the late 1980s was plagued with social unrest and dark secrets, Wings of Desire is a re-affirmation of the power of love, compassion, togetherness and other simple joys even in the harshest times.
Before Sunrise (1995)
Richard Linklater's under-appreciated Before Sunrise is now the first of a trilogy, but it still stands as the most romantic and uncomplicated chapter of the story that was furthered with Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013). Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet on a Vienna-bound train and start up a conversation. Jesse has just left his girlfriend that he came all the way to Europe from America to see. He convinces French student Celine to spend the night with him in Vienna until his morning flight back home, and the rest, as they say, is history. This is a romantic film that is smart and funny. The character-driven narrative is mostly dialogue, played to perfection by the two leads who really make us believe that they are falling in love. It's no surprise that with each successive instalment in their story, Jesse and Celine feel more and more like old friends.
In the Mood for Love (2000)
Hong Kong-based director Kar-Wai Wong's masterpiece is a slow, stately, understated film that gets under your skin before you even realise it. Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle gracefully captures the cramped, confined spaces of a Hong Kong sharehouse in 1962 that forces Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung) and Chow (Tony Leung) together, when they are neglected by their respective spouses. The film finds beauty in the small moments they find to share together - even Li-Zhen's repeated walks to the noodle shop, accompanied by sumptuous Chinese music and Nat King Cole songs sung in Spanish - are glorious to behold. Though the two romantic leads barely touch one another, the film's devastating ending makes it clear just what an indelible mark the two lonely people made upon each other. In the Mood for Love is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, mysterious, and lush with romance.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Jim Carrey is not a person who immediately comes to mind when one thinks of romance, but it is undeniable that the romantic fantasy of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of the most honest films ever made about modern relationships. When Joel (Carrey) finds that his former lover Clementine (Kate Winslet) has undergone a procedure to erase him from her memory, he decides to have the same done. When the procedure is performed, however, he finds himself re-living his memories as they are erased, and decides that they are too precious to lose. Eternal Sunshine tells us that we can't control love, as much as we would like to, and the time we spend with other people will always be precious, regardless of the outcome. Supporting players like Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson and especially Kirsten Dunst make this a big, bold, complex masterpiece. Make sure to have some tissues handy.