Comedy

The 17 Best Romantic Comedies This Decade

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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.

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.

17. Waitress (2007)

“I don’t want you to save me. Don’t need to be saved.”

Every bit as comforting as the delicious, candy-colored pies Keri Russell bakes in the film. Waitress is a honeyed little comedy that should speak to anyone who has ever felt stuck in a situation. And as good as Russell is, the film’s true star is its writer/director/co-star, the late Adrienne Shelly. Murdered before the film saw its release, the film stands as a wonderfully bittersweet testament to her considerable talent.

16. The Science of Sleep (2006)

“You could sleep with the entire planet and still feel rejected.”

The Science of Sleep is the story of a man who habitually distorts realities. The only thing that makes sense to him is his attraction to the girl next door. When she (Charlotte Gainsbourg) asks him (Gael García Bernal) why he likes her, he responds by saying “because everyone else is boring.” Michel Gondry’s visually rich, experimental tale depicts young love for what it really is: intense, immature and frustrating, yes, but also honest, deep and true.

15. Ghost Town (2008)

“It hurts when I smile…”

Audiences gave this Ricky Gervais vehicle the cold shoulder last fall, and who could blame them? The premise appeared to be nothing more than The Sixth Sense redid as a rom-com. While that might be true, Ghost Town is that and so much more. It’s a sweet tale of lonely souls struggling to connect and to love, and a perfect showcase for Téa Leoni, Greg Kinnear and, especially, the terrific Gervais, who shines as the man who undergoes a Bill Murray in Groundhog Day-type transformation.

14. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

“I’m still looking for something…more extraordinary than that.”

Diehards may have been initially miffed at her casting, but Renée Zellweger was crucial to the movie’s success. She’s boundlessly charming as Bridget Jones, gaining 20 pounds to play the British singleton who falls for Hugh Grant and (eventually) Colin Firth. From her appalling bad public speeches to lip-synching to Sad F.M. songs in her pajamas, Zellweger carries the film on her (still slender) shoulders.

13. The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)

“Is it true if you don’t use it, you lose it?”

Judd Apatow  has emerged as the major new voice in the world of romantic comedy. His first directorial effort, The 40-Year-Old Virgin is a big, goofy, hilarious mess of a movie that is anchored by the easy charm of its two principle leads, Steve Carell and Catherine Keener. Their no-nonsense romance is surprisingly understated and adult in a movie with an outrageous premise and lewd jokes. Leslie Mann also deserves credit for that hilarious French toast scene.

12. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

“Only unfulfilled love can be romantic.”

Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona centers on Javier Bardem’s relationships with three wildly different women: the adventurous but indecisive Cristina (Scarlett Johannson), the practical but insecure Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and his fiery would-be soul mate Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz). The intoxicating locales of Spain hightlight this delightfully playful romp, a provocative film that blurs the lines between love and lust.

11. Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

“Sometimes I get so lonely I forget what day it is…”

Lars and the Real Girl’s premise should have been cringe-worthy: Ryan Gosling dates a life-size sex doll, and the entire town goes to great lengths to protect the fairy tale. But Nancy Oliver’s Oscar-nominated script is so gentle, and so melancholic, that it becomes a quietly powerful story of a stunted man who finally comes of age. Darkly funny but sweet-natured, Lars is a small treasure.

10. About a Boy (2002)

“No man is an island.”

No stranger to romantic comedies, Hugh Grant delivered perhaps his best performance ever in About a Boy, a different kind of rom-com. Through his relationship with a young teenager, Grant subtly transforms from notorious womanizer into, well, a man capable of loving the beautiful Rachel Weisz. Grant’s relationship with the boy is tender and thoughtful, much like the film itself.

9. Juno (2007)

“I don’t really know what kind of girl I am.”

Much has been made about the Diablo Cody-isms that permeate the script, but the heart of Juno is Ellen Page, and her coming to terms with her feelings for Michael Cera. Sure, it takes getting pregnant for her to realize the man of her dreams is the wimp in yellow shorts, but then, the characters in Juno aren’t like normal people anyway. Page’s heavy-lifting deserved every bit of that Oscar nomination.

8. Knocked Up (2007)

“You’re prettier than I am.”

Sure, there’s a graphic scene involving a baby coming out of a womb. Yes, there’s nudity and plenty of expletives. And okay, it is sort of strange how a schlub like Seth Rogen can get a girl like Katherine Heigl. Even so, there’s an inherent sweetness to Knocked Up that make it such a pleasure to watch. Judd Apatow’s treatment of the supporting characters, like Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, also help catapult the film into one of the genre’s very best.

7. Sideways (2004)

“I like to think about the life of wine. How it’s a living thing…”

Sideways is a pretty great buddy comedy (featuring a hilariously brazen performance from Thomas Haden Church), but it’s an even better romantic comedy. At its heart is the tender relationship between Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Maya (Virginia Madsen), two bruised divorcees who forge a tenuous connection to each other. From both of their beautiful speeches expressing their love of Pinot Noir to the wonderfully poignant open-ended knock at the door, their romance is note-perfect.

6. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

“I’m lookin’ at your face and I just wanna smash it…you’re so pretty.”

No doubt about it: Punch-Drunk Love is an odd little film. Director Paul Thomas Anderson recruited Adam Sandler, of all people, to star in his offbeat romantic comedy about a emotionally immature businessman prone to explosive fits of rage. He meets a kindred spirit in Emily Watson, leading the two to proclaim same rather curious declarations of love. The power of Punch-Drunk lies in the thrill that, after ages of loneliness, someone can come along and understand you with just one quick glance.

5. High Fidelity (2000)

“Did i listen to pop music because I was miserable?Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”

It’s no coincidence Nick Hornby wrote both About a Boy and High Fidelity, and both movie adaptations show up on this list (let’s ignore Fever Pitch for the time being). Hornby really is tapped into the psyche of the 20th century male. John Cusack plays the every-man type who retraces his past girlfriend history only to find he let the perfect woman slip through his fingers. Funny, insightful and insanely quotable, High Fidelity plays like an ultra-hip Woody Allen movie, which is a very good thing indeed.

4. Wall-E (2008)

“Computer: define dancing.”

Before you cry foul, let’s think about the plot of Wall-E for a second: lonely boy meets girl, falls in love, and chases girl to the ends of the earth—or, in this case, the universe. How is that not a romantic comedy? Nevermind they’re robots. Nevermind the lack of dialogue. Nevermind it’s animated. When Wall-E and Eve dance together in the sky amongst the stars, we might as well be watching the second coming of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

3. Amélie (2001)

“A surge of love, an urge to help mankind overcomes her.”

A delicate, delicious little French trifle, Amélie is easily the most romantic film on this list. The adorable Audrey Tautou launched herself into the American consciousness as the quirky do-gooder waitress who sends her secret crush photos and riddles masking her identity in order to make their first encounter—and first kiss—the most romantic moment of her life. Endlessly imaginative and beautifully photographed, Amélie is a film to be treasured.

2. Before Sunset (2004)

“You were, for me, that night / Everything I always dreamt of in life.”

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)

“Come back and make up a goodbye at least. Let’s pretend we had one.”

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.

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