I don’t have much use for Valentine’s Day, but it’s as good an excuse as any for more listmaking… so here are my personal favourite celluloid love stories and couples.
Daniel Craig and Eva Green – Casino Royale
Casino Royale is my favourite Bond film and while it’s great from the beginning, it really takes off when Eva Green’s exotic, mysterious Vesper Lynd enters the stage and trades barbs with Bond in the train scene which could have come from a classic 40s screwball movie. But their relationship wasn’t all witty banter and sexual undercurrents; Craig’s raw, unformed Bond was still open to love and his tragic romance with Vesper was genuinely emotional, though I do have to admit that the last 20 minutes of the film don’t quite work.
Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet – Titanic
Yes yes the doomed romance between rich girl Rose and poor boy Jack who appeals to her inner liberated woman may be corny as hell, but like pretty much everything else about James Cameron’s melodrama, it just works and I’m powerless against its big emotional sweep. Good god I can’t believe this movie is almost 20 years old! Look how young and adorable they are!
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy – “Before” trilogy
I think that Jesse and Celine would have made this list based on Before Sunrise alone – a truly magical movie about a couple of 20-somethings meeting on a train, hanging around Vienna and falling in love – but Richard Linklater’s unlikely decade-jumping trilogy saw their relationship get increasingly complex and bittersweet, while never losing its deeply romantic core. Hawke and Delpy are so natural in their roles you feel like you’re eavesdropping on a real couple. It’s remarkable how much these movies pull me in considering that pretty much nothing happens in them other than two people talking about their relationship.
Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová – Once
Some of the best onscreen love stories are romances that never are, and so is the case with this gem about a couple of musicians who meet, share a palpable connection, record music, then part without admitting their feelings out loud (at least not in English). Real-life relationships don’t always translate to great cinematic chemistry, but it surely does here.
Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher – Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
Han and Leia had a smashing chemistry from the moment they met (sorry Luke), but their abrasive, opposites-attract romance well and truly blossoms in the second film of the original saga, building up to that unforgettable scene with Leia finally confessing her feelings when everything seems to be lost. Star Wars is often described as a fairytale, and Han and Leia’s romance is pure Princess and a Thief. Oh and they’re a damn attractive couple.
Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable – Gone with the Wind
Scarlett O’Hara is a Magnificent Bitch and probably my favourite fictional female character ever, and she was never meant for a typical love story. She wastes years stubbornly pining after a wrong man while pushing away her true match Rhett until it’s too late. Leigh and Gable’s scenes are absolutely electric and it’s impossible to see anyone else embody these characters (not that Gone with the Wind is heading for a remake any time soon). As an aside, Scarlett’s obsession with Ashley is one of the weakest aspects of the film for me; it made sense in the book but I guess the appeal of Leslie Howard eludes me completely. Scarlett: oh Ashley… Me: seriously woman what do you see in this wet blob?
Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson – Samson & Delilah
This underappreciated Australian film has many things in its favour – the strong sense of the Australian outback, the social commentary – but its most remarkable aspect is the unique way it chooses to portray the central romance between two Aboriginal teenagers who run away from their community. Throughout the film, the lovers don’t speak a single word to each other, a choice that could have felt like a gimmick but instead feels unforced, with the connection conveyed instead through the visuals, body language and gestures.
Russell Crowe and Kim Basinger – L.A. Confidential
L.A. Confidential is very much set in the maaaaan’s world of LAPD corruption and Hollywood celebrity, but the relationship between Crowe’s Bud White and Basinger’s Lynn Bracken was always one of the highlights for me. She sees him as more than a mindless thug everyone else assumes him to be, and to him she’s more than a Veronica Lake look-alike prostitute. It doesn’t always run smoothly, but it provides the film with some very tender scenes.
Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes – Romeo + Juliet
The funny thing about di Caprio making this list twice is that I actually never found him attractive, even when I was in the prime age for developing a celebrity teenage crush. But hey the guy ended up in two of the most iconic romances on film, including this adaptation of the Shakespeare classic. I remember watching it back in 1996 when the Shakespearean language made zero sense to this new arrival in Australia, but what jumped offscreen was the indelible chemistry and passionate performances by the two youngsters. Why oh why didn’t Claire Danes have a better movie career?
And the worst onscreen romance ever is…
Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman – Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Oh man where do I even begin? From non-existent chemistry to atrocious dialogue to unearned emotion to wooden acting to Anakin’s creepy stares, this travesty of a love story is so singularly awful it’s become my favourite onscreen romance to hate-watch.