The American Film Institute has made many top 100 lists of movies in their series called AFI's 100 Years and even included a list for all of us chick-flickers; AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions that includes the top 100 love stories in American film. Now as I go through this list I recognize most of these films as Romantic Dramas. These are the chick flicks (most of the chic but not always) that get nominated for Oscars and are given the respect they so rightly deserve in the film industry. A lot of this has to do with the themes of historical events and the realism in style that this genre focuses on. It's true, usually these movies are better written, directed and acted by all parties, but I wonder if this is inherent in the genre or maybe something else? This even falls under The Academy Rules, a drama is respectable no matter what the content while a comedy is mindless fluff that is only made worse by a romantic storyline. But I digress; these movies are some of the top features of all time and I'm really excited that girly movies can fall into this category. So here's my breakdown:
I, myself, didn't even think to include The Epic as a part of romantic drama until I came across Box Office Mojo which told me that the top box office romantic dramas include a lot of current romantic epics (Titanic, Cold Mountain, Out of Africa, Pearl Harbour, The English Patient, etc). Now I have to say I am a little biased on this topic because these are some of my favourite movies of all time and I really think they have something in them for everyone. Out of all romantic dramas you are most likely to drag your friends, family and even your boyfriend to an epic.
The problem is: The men seem to die a lot. Count them out: Denys Finch Hatton (Out of Africa, 1985), Jack Dawson (Titanic 1997), Danny Walker (Pearl Harbour, 2001), Inman (Cold Mountain, 2003) and The Drover was originally supposed to be killed at the end of the most recent epic, Australia (2008). I have a bit of a feminist problem with this: do they kill the men off because to kill a woman off is less forgivable? This, of course, is different in The English Patient, based on Michael Ondaatje's 1992 novel. I'm finding disappointing trends in this genre that I would like to be stretched and interrogated a little because the last thing we need is for another chick flick sub-genre to be generic.
But keep 'em coming: No matter what I say, I still love these films. The exciting thing is that most of them are top notch; in fact the only epics I can think of that fell under par were Pearl Harbour and Troy (2004), probably because they are such a large undertaking and have such large budgets, but that's achievement for the genre itself.
The Tragedy of the Genre
Critics, reviewers and any old movie snob will tell you that Dramas have more substance than the generic comedy or action film, which I mostly think is true but because of the content that is usually paired with this film genre (war, historical events or people, etc.) not because it necessarily has better people behind or in front of the camera. I'm sure many people don't even consider these movies chick flicks but Wikipedia says they are as well as an actor named Daniel Stern, in a video on AFI, even calls Titanic (the top grossing romantic drama of all time) an "epic chick flick". I felt so validated, I can't even tell you.
The problem is: I just can't handle all the sadness, depression and lack of hope. Now this is not in every film in this genre but if you make a list of all of these movies, I promise you it will be very difficult to make a substantial list of those with happy endings. And yes, to a chick-flicker, that is a problem, but as always, stay tuned for what I call "a better alternative".
The saddest of the sad: Just think about watching these movies one after another and you might see what I mean: Legends of the Fall (1994), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Atonement (2007), Evening (2007) and then throw in some of the classic love stories and any epic that I listed and you might just have an emotional breakdown. The reason for this goes back to why Aristotle thought tragedy was better than comedy in Grecian times. Serious issues with serious consequences makes us think and feel about what is really important, which is actually pretty fantastic. Call it a reaffirmation of life, but look for my picks with a little more hope.
Let's call it bittersweet: Now, I have no problem with a little sadness, a little tragedy but sometimes you've had a bad day and the last thing you need is to emerge yourself in someone else's extreme problems. That is why women turn to the fluffier of chick flicks, because they need a little distraction and, most importantly, hope. So my picks for romantic drama might fall towards the ones with bittersweet endings and less tragic circumstances than one person can handle in a sitting.
The Classic Love Story
The romantic storylines in this genre usually stem from some of the most popular plays, novels and other written work of all time. The tragic circumstances of star-crossed lovers and impossible circumstances has its roots in the classic stories of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the Arthurian legend of Guinevere and Lancelot, and the legend and popular opera by Richard Wagner, Tristan and Isolde. Writers, directors and producers are smart in the sense that they stick to what has worked for centuries by adapting these love stories or just making new versions of them in cases like Baz Lurhman's Romeo and Juliet, Kevin Reynold's Tristan and Isolde, the musical version of Camelot (1967) and Jerry Zucker's First Knight (1995).
The written word: I'm sure people have noticed that adaptation is popular, so much so that they give awards based on it that are separated from original work. Some of the best of the best in romantic drama comes from adaptation of the old stuff (like I mentioned) and even the new stuff that was mentioned in the saddest of the sad. But if you love adapted film like I do, you really can't ignore the Austen adaptations (Sense and Sensibility (1995), Emma (1996), Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Becoming Jane (2007), Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights (1992), Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1979), and the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillpa Gregory (2008).
The best of the bunch: Well, in my opinion anyway. Almost all of these have bittersweet endings with lots of hope that do exactly what Aristotle wanted but don't emotionally damage you in the process: Shakespeare in Love (1998), Possession (2002), The Notebook (2004), Walk the Line (2005), and Jane Eyre (2006).
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