Romantic Movies That Men Should Watch - Rolling Stone
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Romantic Movies That Men Should Watch

‘Before Midnight’ reminds us that there are films about love that even guys can enjoy


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Guys aren't supposed to like romantic movies, with their fantasy scenarios, Prince Charming heros and sentimentally cathartic endings. But truth is, guys do enjoy them, so long as they include down-to-earth characters, bittersweet self-sacrifice (the kind that often precludes happy endings) and the occasional gross-out joke. Here are 15 such films, ones that men can watch without wincing – even as their wives and girlfriends are reaching for the Kleenex box.

By Gary Susman

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Exhibit A in why Humphrey Bogart has defined cool for generations of film fans. In Casablanca, he runs the world's greatest wartime nightclub (liquor and live music up front, illegal gambling in back) and is a cynic who announces he'll stick his neck out for nobody. Of course, scratch a cynic and you'll find a wounded romantic. When Ingrid Bergman (at her most luminous), with her resistance-hero husband in tow, walks back into Bogie's life, she puts both his cynicism and romanticism to the ultimate test.  And he passes; Bogart's conduct here is a virtual how-to of proper guy behavior. Not just how to win back the woman who broke your heart, but how to treat a loyal and wise wingman (Dooley Wilson's indispensable Sam), how to make a noble self-sacrifice, when to use force, and how to bromance your enemies ("Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship").

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Annie Hall

1989's When Harry Met Sally may be the blueprint for all modern-day romantic comedies, but the blueprint for that movie was laid down by Woody Allen's 1977 landmark. An alien watching the awkward courtship of Annie (Diane Keaton) and Alvy (Allen) might marvel that humans ever manage to hook up at all, since the film is full of examples of the ways men and women fail to understand each other. (Here, Allen offers some deep insights, disguised as jokes and cinema tricks, using animation, split-screens, subtitles, and pretty much everything else in the filmmaker's arsenal.) Of course, without all the jokes, this would just be the tragedy of a man who falls in love with a woman who outgrows him. But with humor, it’s a dazzling display of the creative imagination's ability to turn heartbreak into universally relatable art. Bonus points for all the hilarious cameos, including Christopher Walken as Annie's scary brother, Paul Simon as a show-business weasel, Jeff Goldblum as a guy who can't remember his mantra, and Shelley Duvall as the Rolling Stone writer who tells Alvy, "Sex with you is a Kafkaesque experience. . . I mean that as a compliment."

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An Officer and a Gentleman

Women think of this movie as a swoony, old-fashioned romance. And it is. But it's really a movie about how to be a man. It's not just having steamy sex with townie Debra Winger that makes Navy cadet Richard Gere into a man; rather, it's being browbeaten (and physically beaten) by drill instructor Louis Gossett, Jr. that gives him character. As Gere discovers, being a man means taking responsibility for your own life, and the lives of those closest to you. When Gere finally sweeps Winger off her feet in the movie's famous final scene, it's not because he's learned to love her, but because he's learned how to be worthy of her.

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Romancing the Stone

Lots of guys like their romance served up with a side of adventure, and what's wrong with that? Women will readily admit that there are few steamier love scenes in the last quarter-century than George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez trapped in a car trunk in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight, or the "I will find you" clinch between Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe in Michael Mann's The Last of the Mohicans. But for a full-on romantic adventure, it's hard to beat Romancing the Stone. Kathleen Turner (then in her prime) is a mousy romance novelist who blossoms when finds herself on a treasure hunt in the jungles of Colombia. Michael Douglas is rugged and good-humored as the hero she's been seeking for ages. And an impish Danny DeVito is hilarious and profane as the comic relief.  It's a love story that at once spoofs and pays homage to romance-novel clichés, while offering plenty of action (High-speed chases! Well-armed drug dealers! A castle full of hungry crocodiles!) to keep guys from losing interest.

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The Princess Bride

If you've never seen The Princess Bride, you may be as skeptical as little Fred Savage is at the beginning of the film. It sounds kinda mushy, doesn't it? Where's the action? But rest assured, this fairytale homage/spoof does have plenty of swordplay, monsters, torture, and vengeance. Also jokes, endlessly quotable lines ("Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."), and yes, mushy romance. Plus, it has wrestler Andre the Giant, proving both his strength and his wit. Really, there's something for everyone – men, women, adults, and kids – in this strange hybrid, an old-school swashbuckler filtered through a modern, ironic sensibility.

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Say Anything

John Cusack had a pretty long reign (nearly 20 years) as the choice leading rom-com man. He was able to simultaneously project a sweet naivete and slick cynicism, which made him an appealing hero to women and a cool drinking buddy to men. His virginal college student in The Sure Thing is more the lovable naïf, while his obsessive record-store geek in High Fidelity is more the withering cynic, but he strikes a balance in his key film, Cameron Crowe's Say Anything. Cusack's Lloyd Dobler is a unique romantic lead: his (platonic) best pals are all women, and aside from his kickboxing, he has no higher aspirations than to woo and win over Diane Court (Ione Skye). Like any Cusack character, he can talk a good game, but Lloyd is also completely without guile. This intense honesty makes him both attractive and slightly scary. Still, Diane ultimately recognizes that he's a better man than her lying father. Good thing to know that, even if you can't afford jewelry or flowers, you can win a girl over by standing beneath her window and holding up a boombox blaring Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes." A generation of filmgoers has grown up thinking of that as the classic romantic gesture.

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Jerry Maguire

Cameron Crowe's most celebrated romance is a tricky one. It's structured as a standard romance, between conscious-stricken agent Jerry (Tom Cruise) and single mom Dorothy (Renée Zellweger), but it's really a bromance between Jerry and his sole client, pro footballer Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) Each man complements the other: Jerry is too focused on work (at the expense of his persona life), while Rod has an admirable family life but is slumping at the day job. Even when Jerry marries Dorothy, it's more to avoid disappointing her little boy Ray than out of love for Dorothy. That comes much later, confirmed by the famous "You had me at hello" speech, but the emotional climax of the movie comes before that, with Rod's resurrection on the gridiron and his exuberant end-zone dance. Jerry finally becomes a family man, but it's he and Rod who complete each other.

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Chasing Amy

Kevin Smith is clearly obsessed with comic books and weed, so maybe it's no wonder that he's good at making movies about guys who banter easily and platonically with women but long to get off the just-friends track and take it to the next level. That's pretty much the entire idea behind Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but he explores the idea with even greater depth in his earlier Chasing Amy. Making the woman a lesbian (or at least bisexual) adds a new twist, but really, the movie is about Holden's (Ben Affleck) sexual hang-ups than Alyssa's (Joey Lauren Adams). His wounded male vanity sabotages both his budding romance with Alyssa and his longtime bromance with Banky (Jason Lee). Affleck's fresh-faced-dude performance made him a star, but Lee and Adams keep stealing the movie out from under him. Their conversation comparing their injuries incurred while performing oral sex is both a brilliant spoof of the scene in Jaws where Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw compare scars and a hilariously filthy tour de force of its own. Smith is a not-so-secret moralist and sentimentalist, but that doesn't mean he's not capable of plenty of wicked, profane fun, too.

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The Wedding Singer

Adam Sandler is an unlikely romantic hero – part goofy man-child, part rageaholic. (If you want to see what that combination looks like in a romance without jokes, watch him in Paul Thomas Anderson's weirdly intense Punch-Drunk Love.) Still, he has a vulnerability that's often sweetly appealing, never more so than in The Wedding Singer. Sure, it's funny when he shows off the rage side, particularly during a mopey tirade on the bandstand after his bride dumps him at the altar. But you also root for him to win adorable Drew Barrymore away from her wealthy douchebag fiancé. The '80s nostalgia aspect makes for a nice joke, but it's just gravy – except for how it allows Billy Idol to show up and serve as Sandler's wingman.

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There’s Something About Mary

Judd Apatow and his crew seem to have perfected the gross-out romantic comedy, a romance flick disguised with enough disgusting jokes about bodily fluids and naked appendages to seem like it's really a guy flick. (Examples: The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall). But the Farrelly brothers got there a decade earlier with this 1998 cringe-comedy classic. (Ten years before Jason Segel let it all hang out in Sarah Marshall, Ben Stiller was getting his "frank and beans" caught in his zipper, in one of Mary's many unforgettable sight gags.) Mary is any guy's dream girl, not just because she looks like the young Cameron Diaz, but because she's also smart, independent, successful, compassionate, and fond of sports, beer, and junk food. No wonder Ted (Stiller) has a lot of stalker-y competition for her attention. (Given what we've learned since 1998 about football great Brett Favre and his alleged sexting hobby, seeing him as a boy-scoutish version of himself is especially funny.) It's a movie about creepy male obsessiveness and one man's repeated public humiliation (no one does painfully embarrassed like Stiller), but beneath all the spurting "hair gel," it's also a surprisingly sweet story of a guy who gets a second chance with his high school crush.

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Love Actually

Richard Curtis' ensemble rom-com has a lot to answer for (without it, we wouldn't have had to sit through Valentine's Day or New Year's Eve). But on its own merits, Love Actually really is the romantic comedy to end all romantic comedies. Every possible kind of love is explored here – love at first sight, puppy love, brotherly love, unrequited love, platonic love, and many more. Curtis brings to this stew the wit of his earlier screenplays (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill) with a minimum of sentiment. Bonus guy-friendly points for Bill Nighy's hilariously honest aging rock star, Martin Freeman and Joanna Page as a couple who fall in love while serving as naked stand-ins on an erotic movie set, and Kris Marshall for proving that all you need to have a fivesome with American babes like Shannon Elizabeth, Elisha Cuthbert, Ilana Milicevic, and January Jones is an English accent.

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

If guys like their romantic movies bittersweet and ironic, well, they don't get more bittersweet and ironic than this. Charlie Kaufman's typically brain-twisting screenplay can be tricky to follow, but everyone knows how it feels to want to expunge heartbreaking memories. Besides, in this chronology-jumping film, as in the love affair that Jim Carrey is eager to forget, what matters are the individual moments, both delightful and horrible. As Carrey belatedly learns, to erase the pain is also to erase the joy. And Kate Winslet creates a singularly odd romantic heroine, one who'd be seemingly impossible to forget.

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Romance doesn't get simpler than this basic guy-meets-girl musical. Really, that's what the characters are called – we never learn their real names. He (Glen Hansard) is a street busker in Dublin who's almost past his sell-by date. She's a dewy young Czech immigrant. Together, they make beautiful music – literally. Each encourages the other to realize a dream deferred, each inspires and gazes with longing at the other – and yet the romance never moves beyond the chivalrous, platonic stage. (It's cool, but not necessary, to know that, in real life, Hansard and Irglova lived out the plot of the movie, more or less, as it was being filmed, and that their thwarted romance and musical partnership lived on in the touring act The Swell Season.) If you don't like old-fashioned Hollywood musicals where characters suddenly break into song and dance numbers, then Once is the musical for you.

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(500) Days of Summer

Marc Webb's time-jumping account of a failed romance doesn't do anything Annie Hall didn't do three decades earlier, but it feels fresh, thanks largely to the irrepressible Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the perpetually doe-eyed Zooey Deschanel. The plot itself is pretty standard – he's a twentysomething office drone, she's the free-spirit who breaks his heart – but at least it turns upside-down the tired cliché of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. (You know, the only-in-the-movies girl whose sole function in life is to make some stiff guy loosen up and fall in love with her quirkiness.) Here, Deschanel's Summer warns her prospective boyfriend that she's not just an MDPG, that she has a life and dreams of her own, and that she'll eventually tire of him and move on. He spends a fair amount of his screen time moping about her dumping him, but he can't say she didn't warn him.

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Crazy, Stupid Love

Jacob (Ryan Gosling) is the life coach every guy would want as a wingman – he transforms even schlubby, mopey, middle-aged cuckold Steve Carell into a stud much like himself, a man who has an easy confidence, a fit body, sharp clothes, and an irresistible charm with women. And yet Jacob's shtick fails to work on lovely Emma Stone, who offers him both an emotional intimacy of the kind he didn't even know he wanted, and the realization that he's actually a person of depth beneath the slick surface he usually presents to the world. The romances in this movie – each character pines for the next, in a sort of La Ronde of unrequited crushes – all offer a wealth of comic embarrassment, but they also offer the simple lesson that you won't attract the love you seek unless you're first comfortable in your own skin.

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