Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

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Those were the days when people knew how to be in love. Jeff Arch’s story was a meta discourse about people’s views of love and relationships being mediated by the movies. Nora Ephron turned it into a valentine to An Affair to Remember, a 1957 movie starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Together with her sister Delia it became as much com as rom, but it still has a baseline of melancholy and that killer feeling, bittersweet. Sam (Tom Hanks) is the widowed architect whose son Jonah (Ross Malinger) wants him to find The One so he can have a mother again. They live in Seattle. Annie (Meg Ryan) is the very proper journalist in Baltimore who gets engaged to the allergy-afflicted Walter (Bill Pullman).  She hears Jonah on a late night radio phone-in and stops at a diner where the waitresses talk of nothing else but this sweet  guy whose son wants him to remarry. She thinks there’s a story there but there’s more, as her friend Becky (Rosie O’Donnell) figures when her newly affianced friend is so distracted.  While she vaguely plans to hunt down Sam and carry out some friendly stalking, he starts to date again and his son is disgusted by his choice, one of his co-workers. Sam and Annie see each other across a crowded road when she nearly gets hit by a couple of trucks. Her letter to him asks him to meet at the top of the Empire State building on Valentine’s Day a la Cary and Deborah and it’s sent by Becky without her knowledge.  Things pick up when Jonah flies to NYC to keep the date and she’s there having dinner with Walter during a romantic weekend at The Plaza … The tropes from When Harry Met Sally are here – the mirroring conversations, the advice from friends, the movie references, and even that film’s director Rob Reiner plays Sam’s friend and even though she’ d already made a movie this was what really made Nora Ephron as an auteur. It’s a clever premise, discursive as well as fairytale, positing the idea that even though they’re a country apart a pair of compatible people are destined to meet. Eventually. Isn’t that wild? Separating a romantic couple until the very last five minutes of a film?! What a risk! With a helping hand from fate, a kid and a dream of finding love on Valentine’s Day, it helps that this hits three holiday celebrations including Christmas and New Year’s.  It shouldn’t work but it does, helped with some tart lines about men and women and what people settle for as opposed to what everyone really wants. What a dream team, boosted by some wonderful songs. Irresistible.

The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)

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To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people an opportunity of finding out each other’s characters before marriage. Which I think is never advisable. Valentine’s Day 1895, England. Circumstances compel Ernest (Michael Redgrave), whose real name is Jack Worthing, and Algernon Moncrieff (Michael Denison) to pretend to be someone that they are not.  My name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country. Jack has created a fictional brother to cope with life in the country while Algernon poses as Jack’s brother and uses the name Ernest to woo Jack’s pretty young ward, his adoptive cousin Cecily Cardew (Dorothy Tutin). Jack is in love with Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen Fairfax (Joan Greenwood) whose formidable mother Lady Bracknell (Edith Evans) is not amused. And before he can propose he has to sort out the matter of Cecily who shares with Gwendolen a devotion to the manly name of Ernest and they are both engaged to him … To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness… Straightforward presentation of Oscar Wilde’s classic parlour comedy of manners and mistaken identity, with the immortal Edith Evans giving a peerless rendition of Lady Bracknell. A handbag?! That line can never be delivered by anyone without reference to this performance. The penultimate scene, a face-off between Bracknell and the tutor Miss Prism (Margaret Rutherford) that yields the mystery of identity at the story’s heart, is utterly delectable.  I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on a train. Joan Greenwood was likewise born to play Gwendolen. This can’t be beaten for fidelity to the text, an extraordinary cast and exquisite timing. Virtually every elegant, hilarious line – an aphorism, a truism, a witticism – belongs in a book of quotations. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. Beautifully plush Victoriana adapted and directed by Anthony Asquith. All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his