New York Times critic A.O. Scott said it best: “It might be Kate Hudson, or maybe Mandy Moore, or possibly Rachel Weisz, Lindsay Lohan or a Jennifer (Lopez? Aniston? Garner?) But if it’s February, you can be pretty sure that some pretty, plucky actress will be traipsing around some glamorous and photogenic American city (or its Canadian double) in search of the dimple-chinned fellow who embodies her one true love.” Sure enough, he’s right: Hudson can currently be seen in Bride Wars, and Aniston in He’s Just Not That Into You. That’s not even mentioning Renée Zellweger in New in Town, or Last Chance Harvey, or Confessions of a Shopaholic.
Even if this glut of less-than-inspiring movies doesn’t exactly, well, inspire confidence in romantic comedies, the genre is far from dead. The best in recent years have often been the ones to bend and defy the genre—or, in other words, the ones that don’t seem like romantic comedies. With that in mind, the past eight years have been especially fruitful for the genre. Here are 17 great examples from the past eight years. Romantic comedy is a sort of loose, malleable term, but the way I’ve defined it is this: the movie must be marginally funny and/or sweet, and there must be a romantic relationship (or relationships) at the movie’s core. Fans of Love, Actually, prepare to be disappointed.
16. The Science of Sleep (2006)
15. Ghost Town (2008)
14. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
13. The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)
12. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
11. Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
10. About a Boy (2002)
9. Juno (2007)
8. Knocked Up (2007)
7. Sideways (2004)
6. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
5. High Fidelity (2000)
4. Wall-E (2008)
3. Amélie (2001)
2. Before Sunset (2004)
Two people meet on a train and spend a romantic night together in Vienna—talking, walking, philosophizing and falling in love. Ten years later they meet again by happenstance. That’s the premise for Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, a lovely tone poem that stands as a bookend to 1994’s Before Sunrise. Actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have a tremendous rapport together, and imbue their characters with just the right mix of cynicism and hurt, but also passion and longing. (And it just got better with Before Midnight)
1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Leave it to Charlie Kaufman to redefine the romantic comedy. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet play a couple who, after a violent, destructive end to their relationship, decide to erase each other from their memory. Problem is, once Carrey begins to relive those memories, he realizes their love transcends all the jealousy, bickering and insecurity. Endlessly inventive and achingly real, Eternal Sunshine depicts love at its most beautiful and brittle, delivering laughs and heartache along the way.