Reel romance: AMMI curator picks Cupid’s Day favorites

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For many of us, an ideal Valentine's Day is spent curled up in front of the television with your special someone and a romantic movie to match. If this sounds like you, review this list of fine films for Valentine's Day as selected by David Schwartz, head curator of the American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.

"There are so many romantic films that come immediately to mind, so I couldn't include them all nor did I list them in any particular order," Schwartz said, adding that he also made one or two selections outside the realm of the obvious, encouraging a look back on a few gems people may never have seen before.

"Annie Hall" (1977) Director Woody Allen based this seminal comedy about the prototypical New York City couple on his then-relationship with the fine comedic director and actress Diane Keaton. Not surprisingly, the Allen-Keaton chemistry cooks and this was, as we know, way before Mia and dog years before Soon-Yi.

"The film was released during my formative high school years and my girlfriend of the time and I modeled ourselves after the two (Allen and Keaton)," recalled Schwartz about this comedy of the Modern Couple.

Amazingly, 23 years after its release, "Annie Hall" still seems as fresh and funny as ever, particularly the first hour. Watch out for its cast of stars, especially a hilarious Christopher Walken as Keaton's seriously maladjusted brother.

"City Lights" (1931) Charlie Chaplin's last silent film, featuring Chaplin as "The Little Tramp" besotted by a blind flower seller (Virginia Cherrill.)

"This film has that scene in which the flower girl, regaining her sight, is clearly struck by Chaplin, her suitor, not being what she expected. It is one of the most poignant moments captured on film that has one of the most romantic endings of all romantic endings."

"To Have and Have Not" (1944) Directed by Howard Hawks, this classic flick featured the first sizzling on-screen match between Humphrey Bogart and a then 19-year-old model turned actress named Betty Bacall, a.k.a. Lauren Bacall. Indeed, it was during the making of this film in which Bogart and Bacall fell in love (despite an age gap the size of the Grand Canyon).

Although you can barely notice anyone else for the chemistry between these two, the film also featured veteran actor Walter Brennan in a great supporting role. Note: the movie also features one of the most quoted and/or lampooned scenes in filmdom where Bacall gives Bogart her famous lesson on how to whistle. See this scene and many so-called sultry movie moments will be completely erased from memory.

"What I like perhaps the most about this movie is that these two are paired more or less as equals ... they are both tough, independent characters and they make a terrific team," said Schwartz. "The chemistry between them in this film in particular is looser, more relaxed, less syrupy."

"Notorious" (1946) This film by Sir Alfred Hitchcock also features World War II intrigue. It stars a heart-stopping Cary Grant and the glorious Ingrid Bergman. The screenplay, penned by veteran Ben Hecht, is filled with surprises. And, for valentines, it features one of the hottest on-screen kisses on celluloid.

"This film is one of the most genuinely romantic films of all. There is amazing chemistry between Bergman, who is radiant, and Grant, who for me, is an all-time favorite actor," commented Schwartz about this Hitchcockian classic that co-starred Claude Rains. Rains shared screen time with Bergman in another wartime romance classic: None other than "Casablanca."

And that famous kissing scene?: in a word, Schwartz concurred.


"Before Sunrise" (1994) features a 14-hour first date between a Frenchwoman (Julie Delpy) and an American on-vacation (Ethan Hawke) who are thrown together (by chance, of course) on an Eurail trip.

"The screenplay features very convincing, very nuanced dialogue," Schwartz said about the man-to-woman relating game as penned by Richard Linklater ("Dazed and Confused," "Slacker") and co-writer Kim Daniel. "It is, I think, one of the more notably romantic films of recent years."

"All That Heaven Allows" (1955) Directed by Douglas Sirk ("Written on the Wind," "Imitation of Life") stars Jane Wyman as The Older Woman, a woman who becomes the focus of much neighborhood gossip - and jealousy - when she takes up with her new gardener who is several years younger and Rock Hudson, to boot.

"It's a great love story," said Schwartz. "Wyman's character is this highly conventional woman whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of a much younger, free-spirited, and somewhat bohemian man.

"Broadcast News" (1987) Directed and written by James L. Brooks, this romance stars Holly Hunter as a career-driven news producer who is very lucky when it comes to her work and positively clueless when it comes to her love life. Her inexperience is put to the test by a pretty-boy anchor (William Hurt) who is low on brain wattage and professional experience but knows how to turn on the charm both on-camera and off. In contrast, stands Albert Brooks stepping in as the thoroughly overlooked and underappreciated rival for Hunter's affections.

"On the one hand, 'Broadcast News' is a very witty, sharply written satire of the news industry," said Schwartz. "On the other, it is a very moving story about a romantic triangle."

"Sunrise" (1927) German director F.W. Murnau (deservedly best-known for his chilling 1922 horror classic "Nosferatu") gave us this silent film featuring Janet Gaynor (the first version of "A Star Is Born," made in 1937 and co-starring Frederic March) in an Oscar-winning role.

"Beauty and the Beast" (1946) Schwartz praised this retelling of the classic fairy tale as envisioned by director Jean Cocteau ("Black Orpheus.") In addition to a sumptuous visual style, the curator also credits Jean Marais as the fabled "Beast" for "an incredibly heartbreaking performance."

Through Feb. 20, AMMI is also hosting its new series, "The New York Film Critics Circle Looks at the 1990s," featuring host Owen Bleiberman, film critic for Entertainment Weekly and chairman of the New York Films Circle. For the next three consecutive weekends, this series will feature various esteemed critics introducing their choices for top, overlooked films of the past decade.

AMMI is located at 35th Avenue and 36th Street in Astoria. For more information, call 784-0077.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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