Valentine’s Day


What makes a great romantic story or movie? One that tugs at the heart strings over and over? Makes you laugh and cry, sigh and buy stock in Kleenex?

The Basics

“Most romantic movie” is highly subjective. (IMHO, Hollywood hasn’t cranked out much worth seeing in this category in decades.)

But basic elements include credible dialogue and a solid, poignant script. Three-dimensional characters who learn, grow and develop. Superlative acting. A story that typically goes like:

1) Boy meets girl

2) Boy loses girl

3) Boy finds girl again.

Boils Down To

In between are all sorts of obstacles, angst, turmoil and tumult. Misunderstandings. Heartbreak. Despair. Tragedy and triumph. But the essence of a great romantic movie boils down to:

Love Conquers All

Additionally, an element of selflessness and/or self-sacrifice should be evident in order to make the cut. (That’s why the truculent, self-absorbed characters of Titanic aren’t on this list.) With these basic criteria in mind, here’s my 100% subjective, totally unscientific list of:

The 10 Most Romantic Movies of All Time (in no particular order):

1. Casablanca – Starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, 1942

World War II is raging. Rick Blaine, an exiled American and former freedom fighter, runs the most popular nightspot in Casablanca. Rick’s café has become a haven for refugees seeking to obtain illicit letters that will aid their escape to America.

One of these refugees is a Czechoslovak underground leader Victor Laszlo who’s on the run from the Nazis. When Laszlo suddenly shows up with his wife Ilsa, Rick’s former lover from Paris, the cynical café owner must make a heartbreaking decision.

Play it, Sam.

2. An Affair to Remember – Starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, 1957.

Handsome playboy Nickie Ferrante and beautiful night club singer Terry McKay meet aboard ship while sailing from Europe to New York. Despite being engaged to other people, they suddenly find themselves falling in love. They agree to meet on top of the Empire State Building in six months. But fate intervenes…

3. The Bridges of Madison County – Starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, 1995.

A National Geographic photographer on assignment in Iowa meets a lonely housewife.

While her husband and children are away at the State Fair in the summer of 1965, Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood) happens to turn into the Johnson farm and asks Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) for directions. The next four days change their lives forever.

4. Out of Africa – Starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, 1985.

Looking for a better life in early 20th century Denmark, Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) enters into a marriage of convenience with a womanizing baron. But when the couple moves to Kenya to start a dairy farm, an unexpected adventure awaits Karen: she falls in love with an English safari hunter who can’t be tied down.

A stirring John Barry score.

5. Somewhere In Time – Starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve, 1980.

A haunting love story that transcends time.

When a young playwright Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) struggles with writer’s block, he heads to a hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island to clear his head. While there, he notices a photograph of a beautiful young woman hanging on a wall of the hotel’s Hall of History.

He later discovers that the young woman, Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour), performed a play at the hotel some 60 years earlier… and he was there.

6. Sleepless in Seattle – Starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, 1993.

A Baltimore reporter, Annie, tunes in to a talk radio show on her way to her engagement party on Christmas Eve. She hears a young boy, Noah, wishing his father, Sam, would find a new wife because his mother recently died.

Unable to forget Sam and Noah, Annie begins to look for something she didn’t know she was missing. Something like… magic.

7. Gone With the Wind – Starring Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard, 1939.

Based on the sweeping epic by Margaret Mitchell in which a manipulative Southern belle and a roguish blockade runner meet their match – in each other.

8. West Side Story – Starring Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, Richard Beymer and George Chakiris, 1961

A modern, musical re-telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Set in New York City amid warring street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks.

Jets member Tony (Richard Beymer) falls for Maria (Natalie Wood). She’s the sister of the Sharks leader, Bernardo (George Chakiris). Tensions simmer and boil over into a battle to the death and a heartbreaking finale.

Winner of 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture.

9. The Princess Bride – Starring Cary Elwes & Robin Wright, 1987

The beautiful Princess Buttercup and the dashing Westley must overcome incredible odds to find happiness amid six-fingered swordsmen, murderous princes, Sicilians and rodents of unusual size.

An enchanting love story that not even the Dread Pirate Roberts can sink. (Did you know the 1987 movie was based on a book?)

10. The Bodyguard – Starring Kevin Costner & Whitney Houston, 1992.

Former Secret Service agent Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner) takes a job as a bodyguard to protect a temperamental pop singer (Whitney Houston) who’s been receiving death threats. Lots of ruffled feathers ensue before Cupid’s arrows start hitting their marks.

11. I Can Only Imagine – J. Michael Finley & Dennis Quaid, 2018

Discover the untold story behind the beloved chart-topping song. No list of “love conquers all” movies would be complete without this one. A personal favorite.

Honorable Mention:

  1. Camelot – loosely based on the T.H. White Arthurian classic, The Once and Future King.
  2. Les Miserables – Based on the novel by Victor Hugo. (I am speaking of the 1995 dream cast musical version, not that God-awful 2012 Russell Crowe knock-off.)
  3. Dr. Zhivago – Based on the 1957 novel by Boris Pasternak.

Did your favorite make the cut? What would you add?

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. And what better way to ring in the day than with a love story?

Now, I could line the bottom of my bird cage (if I had one) with most of what passes for “romance” stories these days. That’s not what this list is about. You won’t find any cheap dime store boiler plate trash here. This list focuses on timeless love stories that go above and beyond basic romance.

Some of these titles are relatively new. Others have been around for centuries. All reach straight for your heart. Climb in. And settle in to stay. B.Y.O. tissue.

Here are 16 of the most unforgettable love stories of all time, along with memorable quotes. Many have been made into movies. Some might surprise you:

1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s masterpiece of love and life among English gentility during the Georgian era. Mr. Bennet is an English gentleman living in Hartfordshire with his overbearing wife, one of the most ridiculous mothers in all literature. Mrs. Bennet’s chief goal in life is to see her five daughters married off and living comfortably. But fate intervenes…

Memorable quote:

“My good opinion once lost, is lost forever.”

2. Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak

This novel traces the lives and loves of its two tragic protagonists, Yuri Zhivago, a physician and poet, and Larissa Antipova. Pasternak’s epic love story takes place between the Russian Revolution of 1905 and World War II. First published in Italy in 1957.

Memorable quote:

“Oh, what a love it was, utterly free, unique, like nothing else on earth! Their thoughts were like other people’s songs.”

3. A Common Life – Jan Karon

Laughter and wedding bells ring as Father Tim and his artist neighbor, Cynthia, get ready to tie the knot. Finally!

Memorable quote:

“I am not proud, but I am happy; and happiness blinds, I think, more than pride.”

4. Message in a Bottle – Nicholas Sparks

When a woman discovers a tragic love letter in a bottle on a beach, she’s determined to track down its author – and finds much more.

Emotionally intense story of love after loss. Set in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Memorable quote:

“Without you in my arms, I feel an emptiness in my soul.”

  1. The Princess Bride – William Golding

Six-fingered swordsmen. Murderous princes. Treachery. Gallantry. Sicilians and rodents of unusual size.

Buttercup and Westley’s love story is a classic that not even the Dread Pirate Roberts can sink. Did you know the 1987 movie was based on a book?

Memorable quote:

“As you wish.”

  1. Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls

The powerful, poignant story of the unbreakable bond between a young boy and his two Redbone Hound dogs, ‘Ole Dan and Li’l Ann, reminds us what love really means. Set in the Ozarks during the depths of the Depression.

Once in a lifetime, a story comes along that inspires generations of readers. Where The Red Fern Grows is one of those stories. Bring Kleenex.

Note from Kimber: My personal favorite, friends! Even better than bacon! Mom always wants to snuggle up with this one. I’m a good helper, ya know. But I’m a World Class Snuggler and face-licker!

Memorable quote:

“I looked at his grave and, with tears in my eyes, I voiced these words: ‘You were worth it, old friend, and a thousand times over.’”

  1. Out of Africa – Isak Dinesen

Set largely in Kenya, East Africa, this sweeping epic is a story of discovery, loss and love.

Karen Blixen followed her dreams until her dreams became reality. She came to Africa from Denmark to search for something inside herself. There, she discovers a man and a country. And life as she’s never known it.

Blixen published her autobiographical Out of Africa under the nom de plume, Isak Dinesen.

The 1985 movie won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture. It stars Meryl Streep as Blixen and Robert Redford as her lover, Dennys Finch-Hatton.

Memorable quote:

“If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?”

  1. The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks

A touching story about what we long for. What we settle for. And who we were meant for. Full of longing and wistfulness. Despair and hope. And unexpected plot twists. Vintage Nicholas Sparks.

“I read to her and she remembers.”

Memorable quote:

“We fell in love, despite our differences, and once we did, something rare and beautiful was created. For me, love like that has only happened once, and that’s why every minute we spent together has been seared in my memory. I’ll never forget a single moment of it.”

  1. Rome and Juliet – William Shakespeare

Don’t make me explain this.

Memorable quote:

“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.”

10 – 13. The Last Promise, A Perfect Day, The Letter, The Sunflower, – Richard Paul Evans

  1. The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams

How a brand new toy becomes Real.

Don’t think this “children’s” classic is a love story? Think again.

Memorable quote:

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

  1. Jane EyreCharlotte Brontë

Beloved love story between the plucky orphan and governess Jane Eyre and the dark and brooding Rochester.

Memorable quote:

“Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.”

 

16. Bid Time Return – Richard Matheson

A haunting story of the link between a man and a woman that transcends time. The novel upon which Somewhere in Time is based.

My husband rolls his eyes every time I drag out my SIT DVD. I just smile and grab some more chocolate.

This story and the movie that followed starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour prove how little critics know and how even a predictable love story never fails to tug at the heart strings.

An unforgettable John Barry score doesn’t hurt, either.

Memorable quote:

“Come back to me.”

What would you add?

Hello February!

‘Tis the month for love and romance and all things heartfelt. That includes good books and good food! In fact, what better way to kick off Valentine’s month than with pairing some great love stories with great food!

The titles below feature love stories flavored with rich, robust writing. Also links to a culinary idea or two you can savor before, after, or while you’re turning pages.

Some of these titles may be familiar. Some may be new. Some may surprise you. Just don’t get so engrossed in the plot that you neglect to mind the stove, okay?

Ready? Set? Grab your book. Head to the nearest kitchen and Let’s Go!

1. Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy – Frances Mayes, 1996.

Chockful of picturesque settings and luscious scenes, this delicious memoir introduces us to Italy via the author’s restoration of an Italian villa, Bramsole. Part autobiography, part history, part travelogue and part cookbook, Mayes treats readers to the sights, sounds, textures, and tastes of the lovely Tuscan countryside and culture on every page, revealing their glory one paragraph at a time. What’s not to love?

Pair With:

Tuscan Style Chicken and White Bean Arugula Salad and crusty bread. For an entire cookbook chockfull of the hearty, rustic fare from central Italy, check out Lori de Mori’s Savoring Tuscany. Que bella! (No movie trailer here. Saw it. Ugh. One of the worst films ever. Don’t waste your time. Read the book instead and savor the author’s love for all things Italian.)

 

  1. The Bridges of Madison County – Robert James Waller, 1992.

I know, I know. Sappy, sappy, sappy. But it’s also one of the best-selling romance novellas of all time.

Set on an Iowa farm in the 1960s, Bridges tells the story of a lonely Italian-American woman (war bride) who meets a traveling photographer while her husband and children are at the state fair for the weekend.

Intense, poignant, and beautifully written, the story became a beloved film starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood.

Call me a sap, but I cried.

 

Pair With:

Grab some tissue and sit down with Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson over hearty Iowan fare like tangy Herb Roasted Pork and Fresh Corn Salad or Garlicky Summer Squash & Fresh Corn.

3. Nights in Rodanthe – Nicholas Sparks, 2002.

Abandoned by her husband for a younger woman, 45 year-old Adrienne Willis is struggling to care for her sick father and raise her teenage children alone. She spends the weekend at a North Carolina inn. A storm is brewing. While there, Adrienne meets a divorced father and former surgeon running from his past. Set in Rodanthe, North Carolina.

I’d stock up on tissue ‘fize you.

 

Pair With:

Start with Sparks and end or continue with some favorite North Carolinian fare like Sweet Potato Biscuits and Country Ham or Crook’s Corner Shrimp and Grits. Be sure to save room for some Banana Pudding or Moravian Sugar Cake.

 

  1. Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds – Joy Adamson, 1960.

A profoundly moving story of the remarkable bond between an orphaned lioness, Elsa, and the humans who loved her enough to set her free.

 

Set in Kenya, Born Free is the true story of one of the most heartwarming relationships between humans and animals ever put to print. Beautifully illustrated with evocative photography.

I first read Born Free in 1969. I re-read it again last summer, 50 years later. I still love this story. A true classic.

 

Pair With:

Wind down your Kenyan safari with Elsa and the Adamsons with Kuku Paka (Kenyan Chicken in Coconut Curry Sauce) and Githeri (Kenyan Corn & Beans) or Sukuma Wiki (East African Greens Simmered with Tomatoes).

 

  1. Two From Galilee: The Story of Mary and Joseph  – Marjorie Holmes, 1972.

Frightened, alone and in love, a teenage girl and a young carpenter must withstand family conflict and a hostile world in order to carry out a responsibility that will change human history.

A compassionate, evocative tale of divine love for young and old and anyone who finds beauty and wonder in the timeless story of events surrounding the first Christmas. A best-selling classic.

 

Pair With:

Serve up a sumptuous Christmas feast celebrating this book with Dry-Brined Lemon Rosemary Roasted Turkey, Roasted Maple Pears With Cranberries & Thyme, Green Beans With Orange & Almond Gremolata, and Sour Cream Mashed Potaotes and Bacon Crumbs. Or try Pineapple-Glazed Ham.

 

What pairings are your favorite?

 

 

 

Banana pudding image credit: Flickr.