These are the classics of the modern era that make us believe in love, over and over again. For this list of the greatest 21st-century screen romances, we're looking at love stories from around the world. Anything from 2000 through now where romantic love is front-and-center is fair game. We've included romantic comedies, dramas, period pieces, tragedies— even horror, sci-fi, action and animated family fare.
In ascending order, here is our ranking of the 60 most unforgettable romantic movies of the 21st century. There are some mild spoilers.
There are swoon-worthy honorable mentions, too.
60. Disobedience (2018)
Passions rise and worlds collide in the first English-language feature by director Sebastián Lelio, whose A Fantastic Woman became the first Chilean film to win an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Lelio cowrote the screenplay of Disobedience with Rebecca Lenkiewicz, and it’s adapted from a novel by Naomi Alderman. Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz star as childhood friends whose reignited attraction rocks their Orthodox Jewish community to its core. This critical darling is a provocative and moving tale of desire, faith and family.
Related: Parade’s Review of Disobedience
59. Emma (2020)
Before she dominated small screens with your new favorite Netflix binge The Queen’sGambit, Anya Taylor-Joy brought style, humor and a 21st-century knowingness to Jane Austen‘s iconic matchmaker. Autumn de Wilde‘s Emma. is everything you’re hoping for in a period rom-com: transporting, hilarious and touching. Beyond that, this is likely the most visually gobsmacking Austen adaptation to date, with costumes and production design likely to garner major awards attention. Taylor-Joy is a singular, versatile talent whose abilities are not to be underestimated.
58. Wonder Woman (2017)
We were all hoping this would be fun and entertaining, and then director Patty Jenkins gave us one of the most stirring and dramatically satisfying adventure films of the past decade, a film that puts story and character first at every turn. Gal Gadot's Diana Prince is a winsome, unapologetically idealistic screen presence for the ages. Chris Pine is also invaluable here, the chemistry perfect. By remaining one gracious half-step behind Gadot in delivering a touching and full-bodied performance, it’s one of the most appealing onscreen depictions of masculinity in recent memory.
57. The Thing About Harry (2020)
Peter Paige's delicately radical Freeform original takes the comfort of Hallmark and Lifetime romance movies we love as the framework for a modern LGBTQ classic. Jake Borelli and Niko Terho star as high-school rivals reunited in young adulthood—after they've both come out, opening the door for romance. It's well-acted, warm and insightfully written— with surprising emotional punch. Ironically, the comfort-food foundation is what makes it feel edgy and so savory.
56. Marriage Story (2019)
Noah Baumbach‘s emotional juggernaut showcases career-best work from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. The rare kind of picture that can make you guffaw hysterically and ugly-cry within the same scene, this epic divorce saga is an instant classic. Laura Dern won an Oscar for her portrayal of an L.A. power-lawyer who wears pants so tight you can see bone, then fake-apologizes for looking like a slob. Perfect. Brilliant. Nailed it.
55. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
A bass guitarist (Michael Cera) must do battle with the Seven Evil Exes of Ramona Flowers (ever-brilliant Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in Edgar Wright's action/comedy adaptation of the graphic novel series. It's a delightful, kinetic trip with a heartbeat that's become a widely adored cult classic. This is the kind of thing midnight movies exist for.
54. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Danny Boyle's exhilarating, gut-wrenching and ultimately uplifting British drama stars Dev Patel as a youth who rises from the streets of Mumbai, competes on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?—and follows the girl of his dreams. Winner of seven BAFTAS and eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
53. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Its reputation somewhat marred by controversy and a highly publicized falling-out between star and director, Blue is the Warmest Color is an undeniably moving epic, carried by sensational lead performances by Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. Blue is the Warmest Color unanimously won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, also winning awards for director Abdellatif Kechiche and the actresses. Sadly, the director ‘s latest, Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo, was marred by even grislier behind-the-scenes controversy, and is one of the biggest critical disappointments in Cannes history.
52. Blue Valentine (2010)
Written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, this often uncomfortably intimate drama uses a nonlinear narrative to show us a couple's sweet courtship, followed by a ripper of a breakup. Generous turns by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling help Blue Valentine stand out from other films of its ilk. The picture was originally slapped with an NC-17 for a relatively non-graphic sex scene depicting female pleasure (notoriously frowned upon by the MPAA). Upon appeal, the rating was bumped to R with no cuts.
51. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
Renée Zellweger is a million-watt movie star in Sharon Maguire's funny, beloved rom-com based on an equally cherished book by Helen Fielding. There was some controversy when the slim Texan was cast as a Londoner who worries about her weight; that turned out to be all for naught. Zellweger received her first Best Actress Oscar nod for a sympathetic, captivating embodiment that's become fairly iconic. This box-office and critical hit was followed by two sadly lesser sequels.
50. Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Jon M. Chu‘s film version of Kevin Kwan‘s novel, about an economics professor who discovers her boyfriend is practically royalty in Singapore, is a watershed moment for representation in Hollywood. Beyond that, the deliciously glossy, hilarious and downright moving picture is one of the best studio-released romantic comedy of the past decade or so. Audiences are clearly on board: Crazy Rich Asians was hugely profitable, only the third 2018 release to top the box office for three straight weekends after Black Panther and Infinity War.
49. The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)
Arguably the best film directed by Judd Apatow (it was his directorial debut), this raunchy, yet perceptive and humane sex comedy announced Steve Carell as a film star to be reckoned with. The 40-Year-Old Virgin received enthusiastic reviews and grossed a huge $177 million against a $26 budget.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay honor by the Writers Guild of America, and was selected as one of the year's 10 best films by the American Film Institute.
48. Amélie (2001)
Whimsical without being saccharine, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's French-language rom-com made an international star of Audrey Tatou, who plays a waitress who reaches out to help others, and in doing so, finds love herself.
Nominated for five Oscars, Amélie was a critical darling, and a mammoth hit at the box office (it remains the highest-grossing French film in the U.S.), grossing about $175 million worldwide against a $10 million budget. It was adapted rather unsuccessfully into a Broadway musical. Jeunet wasn't shy about voicing his disdain for the stage show.
47. The Duke of Burgundy (2015)
Peter Strickland‘s critically adored British drama stars Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna as lesbian lovers tangled in a web of dominance and subservience. The Duke of Burgundy boasts a 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes; some critics even named it one of the best films of the past decade. It’s like Fifty Shades of Grey…only with substance.
In 2006 Filmmaker Joe Wright pulled off an unlikely feat in selling Jane Austen's 1813 romantic novel of manners Pride & Prejudice to a young modern audience (that charming film almost made this list). A year later, Wright and star Keira Knightley reunited for a picture of even stranger alchemy. An adaptation of Ian McEwan's book about a crime, wrongful accusations and decades-spanning repercussions, Atonement is stylish as hell without ever distracting us from a narrative that intrigues us at first—then finally shatters our hearts into a million pieces.
45. The Handmaiden (2016)
This erotic psychological thriller is such a twisty ride that it almost feels like a spoiler to put it on this list. ParkChan-wook‘s elegant suspenser tells of a blossoming love between a wealthy Japanese woman (Kim Min-hee) and a Korean pickpocket (Kim Tae-ri)… and of the men who try to control and oppress them. For any viewer willing to embrace the subtitles, some shocking sex and gore, and a hefty runtime, The Handmaiden is a giddy blast. It won a BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language.
Related: The Sexiest Movies on Hulu Right Now
44. Twilight (2008)
Haters gonna hate, but no one can deny the popularity and influence of the film series spun from Stephanie Meyer's bestselling vampire chronicles, which practically ruled a pocket of the zeitgeist for nearly a decade. Thirteen director Catherine Hardwicke's original picture stands tall as the best, overflowing with equal parts angst and keroticism.
43. Casino Royale (2006)
A thunderously successful debut for Daniel Craig, Casino Royale was the first James Bond film written after 9/11, and audiences needed the Bond movies to evolve considerably. The filmmakersrose to the occasion, hitting it out of the park farther than anyone could have anticipated. This is a stunning action picture with the weight of romantic tragedy. How often does that happen?
Often the best part of whatever she's in, Eva Green has a singular haunted magnetism that makes her the only actress for Vesper Lynd, the double agent who breaks Bond's heart irreparably.
42. Love Actually (2003)
Richard Curtis’ character-rich, sexy and romantic R-rated ensemble rom-com divided critics when it first arrived in theaters. But it was a huge hit with audiences from the outset, grossing about five times its budget on its way to becoming a modern classic.
41. Let the Right One In (2008)
All at once tender and scary, delicate and badass, this now-iconic Swedish coming-of-age fable with a lot of gore is an adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist's 2004 novel about a horrifically bullied 12-year-old who befriends a vampire. No one asked for the American remake Let Me In... and then it turned out to be shockingly great.
40. Stranger by the Lake (2013)
Perhaps the darkest film on this list (it’s probably even darker than The Favourite because there are some slayings)–but too glorious to skip over, this French suspense yarn is set at an eerily quiet cruising ground and nude beach. Its appeal isn’t that far removed from Twilight, only it's smarter and cuts far deeper. At the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Alain Guiraudie won Best Director, and L’Inconnu du lac also won the Queer Palm. The film features graphic sex scenes, some filmed with body doubles. Stranger by the Lake has so much on its brain that it would be entirely reductive to just label it a “gay movie.”
39. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Most great films start with a great screenplay. Alvin Sargent, the two-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter of World War II drama Julia (1977) and Robert Redford‘s Ordinary People (1980) might have seemed an unusual choice at the time to pen a Spidey screenplay, but the result is a focused, self-contained and downright exhilarating narrative. At its heart, Spider-Man 2 is all about identity and making the tough choices in life.
Beginning and ending with a close-up of Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst)'s face, Spider-Man 2 wisely puts as much emphasis on its relatable romance as it does on thrilling set pieces. Superhero films frequently end with a prolonged battle sequence of some kind; it’s pretty much just something we expect at this point. The climax of Spider-Man 2 is actually something of a subdued affair, and it’s a stronger film for that. It’s all about these people and the decisions they make. Don’t let the spandex fool you; this is high drama. If the 2002 Raimi film was the point when Hollywood realized this genre could be a box office goldmine, Spider-Man 2 is when we officially had proof that a superhero movie could be a work of art.
38. The Favourite (2018)
Though this is no one’s idea of a good date movie, The Favouriteboasts one of the most stunning ensemble casts in memory, and it has no shortage of heart. The exquisitely crafted and brutally funny dark comedy tells of a love triangle between Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), her advisor Sarah (Rachel Weisz), and Sarah’s impoverished cousin Abby (Emma Stone). Abby is ultimately exposed as a user, but the love between Sarah and Anne has a sad, honest truth about it. What takes the film the extra mile is the depth of these characters; we feel for all of them. The Favourite was nominated for 10 Academy Awards—winning a really, really well-deserved trophy for Colman’s tragicomic tour de force.
37. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
A classic that fully deserves its reputation, Ang Lee‘s wuxia (that’s a genre of Chinese martial-arts fiction set in ancient China) drama has electrifying stunt work–and more importantly, it tells a heartfelt, romantic story about morality and courage.
Crouching Tiger was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. It won four, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography.
The Netflix-original sequel, also available to stream, is nowhere near as great, but it does boast a return from the mighty Michelle Yeoh.
Related: Parade’s Review of Shadow
36. High Fidelity (2000)
John Cusack probably deserved an Oscar for his indelible embodiment of affable straight-male angst in Stephen Frears' ensemble piece, propelled by a killer soundtrack. Based on Nick Hornby's 1995 British novel, the movie swaps a London setting for Chicago.
35. The Big Sick (2017)
Kumail Nanjiani and wife Emily V. Gordon co-wrote the screenplay of the funniest, sweetest romantic comedy in at least a few years. The Big Sick was based on their tumultuous courtship, impossible enough under the demand of Nanjiani’s traditional Pakistani-American family to marry a Muslim woman, and further complicated when Gordon fell into a medically induced coma during a grave illness. An uproarious, touching even riveting two-hour epic about culture, family, barriers and identity, The Big Sick was universally acclaimed, and its stellar script garnered an Oscar nod.
34. The Notebook (2004)
Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, this epic melodrama centers on a love between a poor country boy (Ryan Gosling) and a rich city girl (Rachel McAdams) that spans decades and endures endless adversity. Gena Rowlands, Joan Allen and James Garner co-star in the massively successful picture that started an entire sub-genre of big-screen Sparks adaptations.
33. (500) Days of Summer (2009)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel star in Marc Webb's bittersweet rom-com about a failed relationship—as well as the fact that, believe it or not, there can be life after a failed relationship. This sleeper hit charmed critics, with some going as far as comparing 500 Days to Annie Hall.
32. The Spectacular Now (2015)
An uncommonly perceptive film about young people is always something to celebrate. This drama, based on the 2008 novel of the same by Tim Tharp, is exactly that. A tender drama about a destructive alcoholic teen who falls for a kind, introverted girl, The Spectacular Now was director James Ponsoldt's follow-up to Smashed, another wonderful drama about a struggling drinker.
The cast list of The Spectacular Now is a veritable who's who of some of the finest dramatic actors working today, including Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bob Odenkirk and Kaitlyn Dever.
31. San Junipero (2016)
Yeah, this is an episode of Black Mirror. It would be remiss not to include it here, though. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis received wide acclaim for their performances in a sci-fi yarn of love in a simulated reality. It's all at once inventive, playful, heartbreaking and powerfully uplifting. Stream it on Netflix right this instant if you haven't seen it yet.
Winner of two Primetime Emmy Awards: for Outstanding Television Movie, and Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special.
30. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Nearly two decades before Uncut Gems, Adam Sandler won over his typically chilly critics with a dazzling, dangerous turn in Paul Thomas Anderson's hilarious, brutal rom-com about a shy man with anger issues who must protect a new lady love (Emily Watson) from extortionists.
29. Walk the Line (2005)
In a casting decision that felt like the planets aligning, Witherspoon played June Carter Cash opposite Joaquin Phoenix in James Mangold‘s acclaimed, highly popular Johnny Cash biopic. Witherspoon effortlessly embodies June’s perky stage act, as well as intensity and darkness behind the scenes. Walk the Line benefits greatly from fiery erotic chemistry between the leads, who both did their own signing. Witherspoon’s turn here is a masterclass, and days shy of her 30th birthday, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.
28. Cold War (2018)
More focused and affecting than 2018's Roma, and nearly as technically wondrous, PawełPawlikowski‘s historical drama tells of a tragic, impossible romance spanning several decades—in a mere 88 minutes. The cinematography is stunning. Shooting in black and white and square 4:3 ratio—Pawlikowski remarkably has made the image taller, not narrower. See this transporting silver beauty on the biggest screen possible.
27. Lovers Rock (2020)
The highest high of Steve McQueen‘s altogether brilliant Small Axe anthology, Lovers Rock is an audiovisual knockout, an indelible love story. The 1980s period piece is centered on one of the most rocking house parties ever filmed—the 68-minute film leaves you feeling elated, nostalgic and hopeful.
26. La La Land (2016)
The takeaway of Damien Chazelle's acclaimed spin on the classic musical is the love story. At risk of understatement, it's one for the ages. Sharply written and performed, it's a kind of love story we haven’t seen on screen before, at least certainly not done this well. It's about two creative people (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone), wildly ambitious and all but defined by their lofty dreams, who really see each other and help each other. The dreams come true—at the cost of their union. Love it or hate it (we love it, for the record), it's hard to deny the picture's layers of brilliance.
25. WALL-E (2008)
In one of Pixar's boldest, most idiosyncratic offerings, two robots from conflicting backgrounds begin a courtship across the galaxy. Particularly in its breathtaking opening scenes, Wall-E owes a great deal to silent classics from Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and more. WALL-E showcases the studio of animation wizardry firing on all cylinders; this is fun family entertainment with heft.
24. Brooklyn (2015)
A simple story about the kinds of not-so-simple choices that define our very lives, John Crowley's period piece stars Saoirse Ronan as an Irish immigrant with beaus on either side of the pond. Adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby, Brooklyn has an understated, triumphant power. It's a virtually perfect piece of work. Sadly, Crowley's follow-up was The Goldfinch, the highest-profile failed Oscar bait movie of 2019.
23. Obvious Child (2014)
A few years after she was fired from SNL, Jenny Slate received substantial critical praise for her dynamite turn as an immature comedian blindsided by pregnancy in Gillian Robespierre's risky, witty rom-com. Comparisons to Juno were inevitable, but Obvious Child is a meatier, less jokey and more memorable picture.
22. Away From Her (2006)
Sarah Polley's sad, understated drama centers on an older couple whose bond is tested by an Alzheimer's diagnosis. Julie Christie cleaned house in the Best Actress category at most stops on the awards circuit, though she ultimately lost the Oscar to La Vie En Rose's Marion Cotillard.
Another wonderful modern romance from Polley: Take This Waltz (2011) starring Michelle Williams, Luke Kirby, Seth Rogenand Sarah Silverman.
21. In the Mood For Love (2000)
Heart-stoppingly sumptuous and sensitively performed, Wong Kar-wai's Hong Kong drama about adultery and unexpected feelings is already regarded by many as one of the greatest films of all time. In the Mood For Love was restored by the Criterion Collection in 2016, currently available to stream on their Criterion Channel service.
20. The Lobster (2016)
Another killer, darkly romantic outing from Yorgos Lanthimos, this expedition into absurdist dystopia follows a pair of potential lovers (Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz) at odds with a couple-fixated nightmare society. It's laugh-out-loud funny, touching, and grimly disturbing. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 89th Academy Awards.
19. God's Own Country (2017)
Francis Lee‘s quiet, optimistic stunner about the healing powers of a love between two farmhands is something like perfection. Set in the filmmaker’s native Yorkshire, God’s Own Country has a uniquely tactile quality about it, and lead actors Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu don’t hit a false note.
The emotional arc and through-line here is as simple and clear as it is effective. It all sneaks up on you, then knocks the stuffing out of you. Best of luck not sobbing uncontrollably.
Related: Parade‘s Review of God’s Own Country
18. Talk to Her (2002)
Is this Pedro Almodóvar's finest hour? In Spanish-language Talk to Her, two men form a bond as they care for comatose women. In an Oscars shocker, Talk to Her wasn't selected as the country's selection for the Academy Awards' Best Foreign Language Film honor. However, Almodóvar won Best Original Screenplay.
17. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
Set in the 18th century, Céline Sciamma's lauded knockout stars Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel, a drama of forbidden love between an aristocrat and a painter. This is one of the great widescreen wonders of its time, old-fashioned filmmaking with a power that floors you. Winner of the Queer Palm and Best Screenplay at Cannes.
16. Phantom Thread (2017)
Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Oscar winning period piece Phantom Thread is, unequivocally, the best, richest movie about workaholism of all time. This is a bizarre, brilliant film whose triumphs are layered. That’s one of them. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as a grief-stricken, toxic fashion designer who meets his match in a beautiful waitress (Vicky Krieps).
Some great films about toxic, conflict-heavy romance, written with a lot of thought and care, benefit from being watched twice in a row so you can follow the story from both perspectives; recent examples that come to mind include Blue Valentine and Revolutionary Road. Phantom Thread is one such film, too. The romantic power struggle at the core of Anderson's magnum opus is as intoxicating as the filmmaking craft around it.
15. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
A watershed moment for Hollywood and pop culture at large, Ang Lee‘s tragic Western won best film and best director honors in nearly every corner of the awards circuit, including the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the PGA Awards, the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards. Brokeback Mountain received eight nods at the 78th Academy Awards, winning in three categories including Best Director. Its surprise Best Picture loss to Paul Haggis‘s Crash is widely considered one of the biggest upsets in Academy history, if not the biggest.
Related: 20 Romantic Quotes from Literature
14. Amour (2012)
Michael Haneke's French-language tragedy, winner of the 2012 Palme d'Or at Cannes, examines a retired elderly couple grappling with illness and mortality. It's an almost-unbearably sad watch, but the insight, rich performances and master strokes in storytelling make it essential viewing. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, nominated for Best Picture.
13. Her (2013)
Joaquin Phoenix falls for an operating system (Scarlett Johansson) in the wake of a bitter divorce in this science-fiction parable. Nominated for five trophies at the 86th Academy Awards, and winner of Best Original Screenplay, Spike Jonez's Her takes what sounds like a goofy concept and delivers profundity. Along with top-shelf pictures like Moon, Under the Skin, Annihilation and another romantic hybrid we'll cover later in this list, Her stands tall as one of this century's most impressive sci-fi films.
12. Shrek (2001)
The third and fourth Shrek movies got pretty bad pretty fast, so it might be hard to remember just how fresh, surprising and invigorating the first one was. The tale of an ogre (Mike Myers) who falls for a fair princess (Cameron Diaz) had a relentless irreverence only matched by the tenderness of its heart. Love is blind. Few films since City Lights have expressed that with such clarity and sincerity.
11. Call Me By Your Name (2017)
An emotionally ripe experience for the senses, Call Me By Your Name was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Timothée Chalamet‘s star-making breakthrough. James Ivory‘s Oscar-winning script makes heavy cuts from the last chunk of André Aciman‘s sexy, enthralling novel. These cuts are right for the screen, though. Ivory keeps a wistful, moving monologue near the end intact, and the film’s final moments and last shot are already iconic.
10. A Star is Born (2018)
Melodrama sometimes gets a bad rap, one it doesn’t inherently deserve. Something of a spiritual successor to the great pictures of Douglas Sirk—glossy on the outside, and profound the deeper you dig—Bradley Cooper‘s remake of—well—three movies, centers on a fading rock star (Cooper) who’s a depressed mess, and a rising pop star (Lady Gaga) he becomes involved with.
Cooper’s pop masterpiece is a grand entertainment—and it’s an emotional juggernaut for anyone who’s been around mental illness and addiction struggles, one that doesn’t hit a false note. The longer you sit with it, the more you’re struck by the audacity of the first-time feature filmmaker’s achievement. A Star Is Born was nominated for 8 Oscars, winning one for Best Song (“Shallow”).
9. Love, Simon (2018)
You may never find a film more quietly revolutionary than this, the first-ever Hollywood studio-released picture centered on a gay teen. You’ll also be hard-pressed to find a movie that’s sweeter–like, honestly genuinely sweet, nothing saccharine or phony about it. Seventeen-year-old Simon Spier (Nick Robinson)’s coming-out story generated a coveted A+ CinemaScore from test audiences, and in its way, it’s already an all-timer. Coming out is never easy, and it’s not an overstatement to say Greg Berlanti‘s accessible, often hilarious movie about it can change and even save lives.
8. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
The genius of Moulin Rouge! —and there is a kind of genius in this melodramatic musical tragicomedy—is that it's a feature-length music video that works. On a scale of one to 10, every emotion is played to about an 18, but thanks to innovative, rapid-fire editing, confident direction by Baz Luhrmann, and flat-out brilliant turns from Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent and most notably Nicole Kidman (her first Oscar nod), it's impossible not to be bewitched. Surrender to its powers, and Moulin Rouge! is a transporting experience. It's aging beautifully.
7. Weekend (2011)
With only three feature films (including Lean on Peteand 45 Years) under his belt, British writer/director Andrew Haighhas one of the most distinct and endearing styles of any auteur working today. His films are glacially paced and almost aggressively subtle—and in that, they’re uncommonly full of discovery and truth. Weekend, starring Tom Cullen and Chris New as lovers who have a one-night stand that becomes something more, is a delicate masterpiece. The actors embody the characters and rich dialogue so completely you could forget you aren’t watching real life from the outset.
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman's audacious, hilarious, wincingly on-point and undeniably moving sci fi tale follows a couple (Jim Carrey and Oscar-nominated Kate Winslet) who've erased each other from their memories. With a nonlinear narrative and elements of a psychological thriller, Eternal Sunshine performs an autopsy on a broken bond—ultimately uncovering a singular, unforgettable way to make us believe in true love.
The Writers Guild of America named Kaufman's screenplay the 24th best script in the history of motion pictures.
5. Carol (2015)
Based on the 1952 novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, the most assured film of Todd Haynes‘ illustrious career to date tells the story of forbidden love between a young photographer (Rooney Mara) and an older woman (Cate Blanchett) going through a rough divorce. This is an utterly riveting, even exhausting watch, as the lovers must overcome disheartening, dehumanizing adversity. The hopeful ending is hard-won and deeply gratifying.
Mara won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, but was submitted for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars. Carol was nominated for six Academy Awards total, surprisingly shut out of Best Picture and Best Director categories.
4. The Shape of Water (2017)
Is any film of the modern era more intoxicating in its love of cinema? Is there any other modern love story that's this primal?
Guillermo del Toro is at home with monsters, and this labor-of-love romantic Baltimore-set fable saw the master back at the top of his game. The romance between woman and fish is unconventional, sure, but the heart of The Shape of Water is pure, unmistakable, timeless Old Hollywood swoon. From its very premise to a musical interlude straight out of a Fred Astaire/ Ginger Rogers pic like Top Hat, this is one of our great dreamers operating with total confidence and freedom.
Sally Hawkins‘ luminous turn as mute cleaning woman Elisa is as fine a feat of screen acting as any in recent memory. Anything but a passive victim, Elisa is lionhearted, sexy, clever, funny, rude when the occasion calls for it— and she goes after what she wants. The pairing of del Toro and an excellent Octavia Spencer is inspired, and this is hopefully the first of many collaborations. The actress has a quality that always brings us to Earth, perfect for del Toro’s low fantasy.
3. (tie) Before Sunrise (2004) and Before Midnight (2013)
In 1995's Before Sunrise, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) convinced Céline (Julie Delpy) to hop off the train out of Budapest for a romantic stroll around Vienna. Nine years later, they cross paths in Paris. Nine years after that, we got a snapshot of their new reality as they vacation to Greece. By multiplex standards, not much happens in the Before films. And yet, the walking-and-talking trilogy is, in its way, exhilarating—not to mention profoundly moving in a layered sort of way that few romantic films could even aspire to.
Sunset is the most purely enjoyable entry, and this series, which started out damn near perfect, has just gotten better as it goes along. A lot of this has to do with Delpy and Hawke becoming more involved in the writing of their characters, undeniably influenced by the performers' real lives. We simply must have part four in 2022.
2. Moonlight (2016)
By the end of Moonlight‘s unforgettable three acts, we’ve witnessed nothing less than the birth and salvation of a human soul.
Defiantly eschewing sentimentality and hand-holding, director and screenwriter Barry Jenkinstells this story of light and love in seemingly hopeless circumstances with broad strokes, gritty reality, and some of the most intoxicating audiovisual loveliness on record.
Moonlight won three Academy Awards, including a Best Picture victory in one of the biggest live-television blunders of all time. Moonlight will stand alongside the likes of Casablanca, The Godfather and select others as a Best Picture winner for the ages.
1. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
David O. Russell's Philly-set masterpiece, about two hot messes who fall for each other as they heal from significant trauma, is an astounding blend of huge laughs, painful authenticity and a moving love story. Silver Linings Playbook walks a risky tightrope thematically and never sets a foot wrong—much to the delight and pleasure of anyone who watches it. This was the first movie since Warren Beatty's Reds 31 years earlier to be nominated for Oscars in all four acting categories (for stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver). Lawrence won Best Actress of course, and the rest is history.
Family is a funny thing. We love them, and sometimes they drive us nuts. Few pictures in memory have better captured the devastating heartbreak and occasional hilarity that happens when loved ones throw down quite like Silver Linings Playbook. There's a stunningly effective message here— about grace, living amends, and the healing powers of selfless love.
In addition to being the most powerful screen romance we've seen in the 21st century, Silver Linings Playbook is a profoundly American movie—has any other film dissected our love of football with as much insight as this one?
21st-century love story honorable mentions: Up in the Air (2009), The Constant Gardener (2004), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), Beyond the Lights (2014), Knocked Up (2007), Secretary (2002), Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), Something's Gotta Give (2003), Upstream Color (2013), Tabu (2012), Waitress (2007), Keep the Lights On (2012), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), My Summer of Love (2003), Bright Star (2009), Pride & Prejudice (2005), Beginners (2010), Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001).
What's your favorite modern movie romance? Think we missed one here? Sound off in the comments. Happy Valentine's Day!