It's been a weird decade for romantic comedies. For some reason the turn of the millennium led to a paradigm shift that made it so most American-directed rom-com efforts were mostly mindless, often decidedly sexist trash, while the best efforts were directed by foreign-born directors -- even when they were working with American money. Gone were the days of the '90s when Americans ruled the roost with films like Pretty Woman, The Cutting Edge, and Sleepless in Seattle. In fact, only a few Americans even squeaked into the honorable mentions with films like About a Boy, Down With Love, Legally Blonde and Just Like Heaven. But even those were diminished by the sheer volume of great foreign efforts, especially by the Brits.
This decade's The Cutting Edge, this romantic comedy is drowning in a sea of montages but is saved by its huge heart, its strong, positive message, and its incredible cast. The film made stars out of all three leads, especially Keira Knightley who would go on to huge fame and Oscar nods, and who happened to star in the film this edged out: Pride & Prejudice. But as much as I think Pride & Prejudice is technically the better film, Beckham made a bigger splash and is one of those oft repeated Sunday afternoon classics that will be watched over and over again, much more so than P&P.
Initially ignored when it was first released in 2008, Definitely, Maybe's audience has steadily grown with its release on DVD. Ryan Reynolds heads this incredible film about a single father telling his daughter (Abigail Breslin) the story of how he first met her mother in order to find out what went wrong. Trouble is, there are three women in the story and it's up to Abigail to figure out which one is her mom. But along the way, Reynolds discovers which one was the one that got away. A delightful romantic mystery, this one is endearing, heartfelt, and bittersweet.
This was the perfect film to close out the '90s. An honest, fourth-wall-breaking rom/com, this adaptation of a much beloved modern novel stars John Cusack as a record store owner who has recently broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is trying to get over her/get her back. While he's at it, he is busy discovering what is really important in life while learning that relationships aren't sexy. They are comfortable. They are about friendship. And they are about the long haul, not the short sprint. Quite possibly the most realistic portrayal of modern love there is.
If there is one film in this list that people will be angry isn't number one, it is this one. A French classic, this Jean-Pierre Jeunet love story is about a girl who decides to improve the lives of everyone around her, all while in her own quest to find love. An adorable love story that melted the hearts of audiences everywhere, this is a masterpiece of filmmaking and something of a modern fairy tale.
Hands down the classic of the decade, this film is a collection of interwoven vignettes that chronicle every type of love their is: young love, first love, old love, brotherly love, fatherly love, broken love, lost love, unrequited love. Even lust. You name it, it's here. And while the film is sharing all these different types of love with you, it is also showcasing almost every style of romantic comedy there is, from the wild adventure ending in a run through the airport to stop someone getting on a plane, to the romantic march through the streets to propose marriage, to the zany teen-sex comedy, to the rich man/poor girl story, to heartbreaking stories of unfulfilled love. It is a rare gem that has already become a holiday classic. My wife and I watch this movie every Christmas eve with a bottle of wine before curling up in bed together and sleeping well into Christmas. Cable television has already taken to showing it every Christmas season. And every year the love for this movie grows. A true classic of the genre, this almost transcends it, becoming more of a visual essay on it ... as well as a perfect example of it.
Bonus Alternate Honorable Mention: Shaun of the Dead
This gets an honorable mention because it doesn't quite fit fully into the genre. While director Edgar Wright describes this as a zom-rom-com, it is more about the zom and com than the rom. But it is a classic nonetheless and almost fits here, so it is worth a mention ... especially since it would have made the list had it strayed a little more in the rom direction.