The rom-com, it's fair to say, comes under a lot of unfair scrutiny these days. Probably because movies like The Ugly Truth (Robert Luketic, 2009) and Leap Year (Anand Tucker, 2010) have regressed the hybrid-genre into a cliche ridden, sappy sick-fest with no new stories and horribly flawed character arcs. Indeed the rom-com has somehow morphed into the 'chick flick' (simply defined by 2D women who are so hollow they can't be happy until they're married) leaving no trace of the classics that I highlight here. Indeed the romantic comedy is a genre that should appeal to everyone - it should be easy-going, sweet and funny. But over time, possibly due to shifting audiences, possibly due to critical receptions (that would demand another article) it has lost a lot of charm and appeal, and become a lazy production line of features to aim at, it has to be said, the female demographic. Many men look upon the rom-coms of today (The Back-Up Plan, Alan Poul, 2010, for example) with deflated uninterested... they dread being dragged along to the next saccharine fantasy. But there are plenty of rom-coms in cinema history that will appeal to men in one way or another. I searched through my DVD collection in search of a definitive Top 5. My first stop off was two recent releases, (500) Days Of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009) and Adventureland (Greg Mottola, 2009) - both very honest and sweet natured dramas with plenty of humor along the way - and the leads (Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Zooey Deschanel and Jesse Eisenberg/Kristen Stewart respectively) have great chemistry. Adventureland especially will have a sense of nostalgia for those who encountered first love in the 80s. Ultimately though these are films for a younger audience and I think there is a film in this list that serves the youth in a more romanticized and time-specific way. Say Anything... (Cameron Crowe, 1989) would be a solid candidate for the young-people-in-love movie but I chose another of his movies, one that rang much more true with me and doesn't indulge in as much of his sickly style. Other recent contenders were Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007) - sharp as a razor, totally unsentimental, strong male and female characters and a debate about who is the better horror maestro - Dario Argento or Herschell Gordon Lewis? Ultimately though it's indie-spirited, cutesy approach may be a little too much for audiences of any gender to swallow as plausible. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (Charlie Kaufman, 2004) was another strong contender - a movie purely about love with some brilliantly subtle humor - and it's really, really smart. But it also has strong sci-fi and surreal elements and it is about the end of love - in fact, it's pretty sad. Personally I would nominate the wonderful Bridget Jones's Diary (Sharon Maguire, 2001), but I think that, as a guy, i'm pretty alone on that front. The 80s movies of John Hughes may hold fond memories for both males and females - Sixteen Candles (John Hughes, 1984) and Pretty In Pink (Howard Deutch, 1986) especially. But they didn't make the list. Nor did, sadly, the greatest multi-sex-appeal romance movies of all time, Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2006). Mainly because they contain no comedy. Of course everyone will have their own choices and I encourage readers to leave their Top 5 male-orientated rom-coms in the comments section. But until then, we countdown from 5...
5. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
This may be a somewhat controversial choice, seeing as it could be argued that most modern audiences would be put off by it being a silent movie. But I hope that Chaplin still holds appeal for the masses - male or female - and there's a lot of laughs to be had in City Lights. Chaplin understood slapstick like very few comedians and the fantastic pace and likable characters instantly give this one appeal. What people really underrate about the mustached mime however, is his heart. The central romance between The Tramp (Chaplin) and a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) is what really holds attention and provides such a sweet core to the movie. Being a silent film the actors have to convey emotion through actions and gestures... which we all know speak louder than words. It's been uplifting since the moment it started but the final scene where The Tramp and the blind girl recognise each other, after being forced apart, is one of the great moments in movie history. There's rarely a dry eye left... prepare your manly cough.
4. Singles (Cameron Crowe, 1992)
This is the youth movie (well, mid-twenties). Everything from the fashions (just see the picture above) to the music (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins) is pure 90s and this tale of love between friends is period perfect. Easily Cameron's most underrated film it has an honesty and sweetness that the genre rarely hits today. Its rooted in music culture (Cameron was once a writer for Rolling Stone) which will appeal to many males, as will its nostalgic 90s feel and lack of saccharine contrivances. The characters feel like they may have existed and most important for men... they feel like people you'd hang out at the pub with. Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick and Matt Dillon are all perfect in their roles (especially Dillon in a perfectly comic role) and the script sparkles. "I was just nowhere near your neighborhood".
3. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
This was a tough one to choose but no list of male movies is complete without Woody Allen. His movies appeal to women too, sure, but the voice of his films is distinctly male. His insight and honesty about women and relationships has always been valuable and he has always done it with razor sharp wit and cunning one-liners ("That sex was the most fun i've ever had without laughing"). Manhattan may be the better film but Annie Hall set up a formula that would influence decades of rom-coms. Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) is charming and likable, her innocent bouncy-ball persona at perfect odds with Allen's anxiety ridden complainer Alvy Singer. It speaks volumes about the complexity of love and its honesty (no happy ending y'see) very rewarding. Plus, it has this Christopher Walken moment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGPcSd7DDLk.
2. When Harry Met Sally... (Rob Reiner, 1989)
Arguably the greatest rom-com of all time, this classic 80s romance features career best turns from Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. Nora Ephron wrote one of the best scripts of all time (rightfully nominated for an OSCAR, wrongfully beaten by Dead Poet's Society, Peter Weir, 1990) with the story of Harry and Sally, two strangers thrown together who learn to hate, like and eventually love each other over the period of a decade. The best thing about the movie is that it's equally pitched - neither Harry or Sally are stereotypes, they both feel real and form emotions in the way real people do. The appeal for guys? Well, watching meg Ryan fake an orgasm in her prime is worth the admission, but it's really Harry we can relate to. All his fears, all his desires, his humor and his heart - he's a guy we'd all love to know. And he knows how to chat up the ladies... "I love that you get cold when it's 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to I go to sleep at night. And it's not because i'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realise you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible". Perfection.
1. High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, 2000)
Yes ladies and gents, this is the one. The No.1 rom-com for guys is the story of Rob Gordon (John Cusack), owner of a record store and connoisseur of lists - including his "desert island, all-time top-five most memorable breakups". His life revolves around music, girls and making lists about music and girls - in fact, it's all he talks about. Directly to camera at times. Based on the brilliant 1995 novel by Nick Hornby, Rob is the guy we all wish we could be. Dressed like he doesn't give a damn, yet still managing to look cool. An encyclopedic knowledge of music, which gives him the ideal opportunity to chat up pretty girls that may wander into his store. His apartment is perfectly organised (alphabetically) and he's insightful, honest and very, very funny. Cusack has always been something of an everyman and here he's perfectly cast in a role that at some point all men have projected themselves into. High Fidelity is, to quote the tagline, 'A comedy about fear of commitment, hating your job, falling in love and other pop favorites'. It may be about music and the nature of obsession (particularly concerning men) but it's also a real love story. The film starts with Rob ending a relationship and then taking us on a wonderfully reassuring journey through his history of relationships. He shows us how to exercise old demons and win back the love of your life... and he does it all with foppish good looks and an awesome soundtrack. "Hey, i'm not the smartest guy in the word, but I'm certainly not the dumbest. I mean, I've read books like 'The Unbearable Lightness Of Being' and 'Love In The Time Of Cholera', and I think I've understood them. They're about girls, right?" As long as you say so Rob. As long as you say so...