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A Valentine’s variety pack

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Valentine’s Day is almost here!

We’re not here to tell you that your feelings about this particular holiday – good, bad or indifferent – are right or wrong. No, we thought that with the day fast approaching, rather than just offer up the standard V-Day blah-blah-blah, we might instead share with you some random assorted thoughts about love and the holiday and the stuff that sometimes comes with it.

The following are lists of things that are connected to Valentine’s Day or pop culture’s portrayals of love … more or less. We’re taking a look at a few bests and worsts in entertainment’s takes on romance, along with some drink ideas and gift no-nos and whatnot.

It ain’t Cupid’s arrow, but at least we took our shot. Enjoy!

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Top 10 romantic comedies

I happily concede that this list is very personal, with a strong focus on the stretch from 1987-1994. Those were very formative years for me both as a movie lover and a romantic, which certainly impacted my choices, but I would also argue that that particular time was a bit of a Golden Age for rom-coms.

This is a very fluid list. As of press time, this is what my top 10 looks like, but if you were to ask me again next week and there might be some differences. Still, I feel strongly about all of these films and believe every one of them is awesome.

(Note: The absence of the 1989 classic “Say Anything…” is a deliberate choice on my part. I adore this movie and couldn’t in good conscience compare it to anything else. It belongs in its own special category. Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court will be together forever in my heart of hearts. It remains the greatest career accomplishment of both Cameron Crowe and John Cusack. Consider “Say Anything…” the Rom-Com Emeritus – the film retires undefeated and makes room for others on the list.

In chronological order:

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Just an absolutely iconic film featuring three of the greatest actors of the time – Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. It features the sort of rapid-fire dialogue that feels both old-fashioned and timeless, and while some aspects of the film haven’t aged particularly well, there’s no denying the artistry and craftsmanship that came together to create this absolute classic of a comedy. A magnificent showcase for a trio of talents at the heights of their respective powers.

Casablanca (1943)

If someone wanted to argue with me about whether “Casablanca” is a romantic comedy, I’d understand. They’d be all kinds of wrong, but I’d understand. To my mind, this film is almost the Ur-rom-com, the peak potential of what a romantic comedy can be. People remember this film as a drama – and there are dramatic moments a-plenty – but they forget how g-d FUNNY it is. There are a lot of laughs to be had, and with the dynamite chemistry between Bogie and Bergman? Forget about it. It’s a rom-com, perhaps the greatest rom-com of them all. Come at me.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Not only is this one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time, it is one of the greatest movies of all time, full stop. Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe come together in one of the funniest, wildest comedies ever made. The great Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote this movie about musicians cross-dressing in an effort to escape the mob; it evokes a screwball magic unlike anything seen on the silver screen before or since. You might be able to find rom-coms that are as good, but there will never be one better.

The Princess Bride (1987)

A beautiful girl and a lovestruck farmhand. A princess and a pirate. Swordfighting Spaniards and conniving Sicilians and Andre the Giant. Castles and criminals and magic and miracles. There’s nothing not to love about this movie. It is hilarious and heartfelt, with a transcendent cast. Entire generations fell in love with Cary Elwes and Robin Wright. Fantasy romance at its funniest and most eminently quotable. I’ve loved this film for 30 years and my affection shows no signs of diminishing. Deserving of every ounce of feeling ever felt for it.

Moonstruck (1987)

It seems odd to refer to a movie that was nominated for six Oscars and won three as underrated, but I feel as though this one has kind of been lost in the shuffle over the years. Cher is so good in this movie. So good. There’s a rough-and-readiness to the romance and a coarseness to the comedy that fits together beautifully. Olympia Dukakis, Nicolas Cage, Danny Aiello – so many incredible talents in this film. It’s a movie that deserves to be celebrated and definitely warrants revisiting if you’re looking for a less conventional love story.

Bull Durham (1988)

As someone who has had a long-standing love for baseball, this one is an obvious choice for me. Peak Kevin Costner as the aged minor league ballplayer, Tim Robbins as the hotshot rookie and Susan Sarandon as the woman they both fall in love with. How can you not love this movie? It’s got one of the funniest love triangles in rom-com history and some fantastic depictions of life in the minor leagues. It’s one of the best rom-coms AND one of the best sports movies; that’s impressive stuff. And always remember – candlesticks make a nice gift.

 

When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

“I’ll have what she’s having.” It’s absolutely unfair that this incredible movie has been reduced in many memories to that one iconic moment, but at the same time – what a moment. This film features Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in one of the all-time great rom-com pairings, with magnificent work from Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby. And with Rob Reiner directing Nora Ephron’s script, the talent behind the camera is just as impressive. Can men and women ever be just friends? Yes, but not Harry and Sally.

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

A second appearance by Meg Ryan on screen and a second appearance by Nora Ephron on the page; Ephron also directed this one. Oh, and Tom Hanks is in it, bringing the full wattage of his Everyman charm to bear on things. It’s very much a product of its time, but in the best possible way, capturing a wonderful sense of optimism that is almost quaint in its innocence. And the chemistry between Ryan and Hanks is first rate, giving all of us someone to root for and to quietly fall in love with.

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

There was obviously going to be at least one Hugh Grant movie on this list – he was the King of the Rom-Com when I was coming of age. This one is the first (and I’d argue, the best) of the bunch. Grant and Andie McDowell keep running into one another at the titular weddings and funeral, with Grant’s bumbling charm serving as a perfect foundation for romance-related humor. “Notting Hill” could be on this list – and almost was – but really, this one epitomizes the Grantian style of rom-com in just the right way.

The Big Sick (2017)

This is the sole new offering on this list, but it’s a movie that I think will wind up landing on a lot of these types of list in the years to come. The real-life story of the courtship between Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon is one of the most engaging and complex rom-coms to come along in some time – almost a redefinition, really. It’s a touching story that also happens to be very funny. A new classic of the genre.

(Honorable Mention: “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Roxanne,” “10 Things I Hate About You,” like four Hugh Grant movies.)

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5 Terrible Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas

5. Generic greeting card featuring canned, impersonal sentiment

We’re talking about someone you love here, you know? Perhaps it would be appropriate to find a way to express your feelings to that someone. No one’s saying you have to pen some sort of epic love poem, but a few words of your own will say far more than even the most well-crafted greeting card. Cards are fine, but maybe try to find one that fits your relationship. Then, take some time to write out how you feel. So much better.

4. Homemade coupon for something you should probably already be doing

This one is tricky, because sometimes the whole coupon thing can be cute. However, make sure that the coupon is for something that could reasonably be considered special. Giving a loved one pieces of paper that offer the promise that you’ll occasionally do something that you ought to do anyway is just gauche. They should be treats, not attempts at making your everyday tasks seem special.

3. Something you want for yourself

This should be self-explanatory, but let’s spell it out anyway: buying something that you want and passing it off as a gift for someone else is unacceptable. It’s not like you’re fooling anybody anyway do you really think that your significant other can’t see through this? When you show up pretending like this thing off your personal wish list is a gift for someone who now has to pretend that they like it, it’s demeaning to you both.

2. Fake flowers

You’re not a barbarian, and your loved one is likely not decorating a doctor’s office. Fake plants manage to make you look both lazy and inconsiderate at the same time. It seriously shouldn’t have to be said, but you just know that someone out there honestly believes that buying fake flowers is a perfect plan.

1. The same lame crap you wound up buying at the last minute last year

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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5 Valentine’s Day Cocktails

5. Lover’s Paradise

Ingredients:

1.5 oz Godiva chocolate liqueur

1.5 oz Frangelico

0.5 oz dry white rum

Chocolate

Preparation:

Add chocolate liqueur, Frangelico and rum to a cocktail shaker. Fill halfway with ice and then shake for approximately eight seconds. Strain the cocktail into a glass and garnish with chocolate shavings.

4. Whiskey Kiss

Ingredients:

0.75 oz whiskey

0.75 oz B and B liqueur

0.75 oz Yellow Chartreuse

0.5 oz lemon juice

2 dashes bitters

Preparation:

Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker. Shake until shaker surface is cold to the touch. Strain into a glass and garnish as you see fit.

3. Cupid’s Arrow

Ingredients:

1 oz vodka

0.5 oz peach schnapps

0.5 oz sour mix

0.25 oz grenadine

7-Up

Preparation:

Add ingredients one by one over ice, stirring as you go. Top off with 7-Up and garnish with a cherry.

2. Midnight Lover

Ingredients:

0.75 oz Blue Curacao

0.75 oz gin

0.75 oz lemon juice

0.25 oz grenadine

Preparation:

Add Blue Curacao, gin and lemon juice to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Add the grenadine and serve.

1. Sweetheart

Ingredients:

1 oz vodka

1 oz Aperol

1 oz cranberry juice

0.25 oz limoncello

0.25 oz lemon juice

3 whole cranberries

Preparation:

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Add all ingredients. Shake and strain into a highball glass. Garnish with more cranberries.

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5 Worst Shakespearean Boyfriends

5. Paris, “Romeo and Juliet”

This is probably unfair to one of Shakespeare’s forgotten sons, but what were we going to do? Put Romeo in here? As if. Anyway, Paris is largely a non-factor in that tale of star-crossed lovers, though he does do his part to muck everything up by killing Tybalt and getting killed by Romeo. Seems like he was an all-right dude, but you can’t get in the way of fate.

4. Bottom, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Nick Bottom’s biggest problem is that he is both figuratively and (briefly) literally an ass. He’s smug and smarmy and not nearly as fly as he believes himself to be. The only reason he gets to get down with Titania is thanks to creepy passive-aggressive shenanigans on the part of Oberon (who’d definitely be on a Worst Husbands list). Plus, again ass.

3. Petruchio, “The Taming of the Shrew”

Yes, Petruchio and Katherine wind up married in the end, but is that really a good thing? Their entire relationship is built on a foundation of mutual loathing followed by her deciding to subjugate herself to the whims of a guy who is a jerk at best and unstable at worst. He throws stuff and talks trash and is generally just kind of a d-bag. In the end, is there any doubt that Katherine could do better?

2. Demetrius/Lysander, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

These two nozzles get lumped together for obvious reasons. You’ve got the one guy Demetrius who was all into Helena for a hot second before deciding that he’d much rather be with her friend Hermia, despite the fact that Hermia wants to be with Lysander. Of course, Lysander, rather than dealing with the situation like an adult, takes off running into the woods with Hermia. Tweedledee and Tweedle-demetrius then commence to fight over Hermia and then Helena and then they all wind up married because Shakespeare. Fickle, easily-swayed idiots, the both of them.

1. Hamlet, “Hamlet”

Treats his lady kind of poorly, then goes crazy and treats her really poorly, to the point of driving her insane as well. Dear, sweet Ophelia no dude is worth this kind of trouble. Maybe take a swing at Rosencrantz and/or Guildenstern those guys seem to have it pretty much together.

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5 Best Movie Kisses

5. Rhett (Clark Gable) and Scarlett (Vivian Leigh), ‘Gone With the Wind’

Visually striking and iconic.

4. Sam (Molly Ringwald) and Jake (Mike Schoeffling), “Sixteen Candles”

Sweet and uplifting and utterly Hughes-ian.

3. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), “The Empire Strikes Back”

“I love you.” “I know.” Gold.

2. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), “Casablanca”

Epitomizes the tough guy sacrificing in the name of love.

1. Westley (Cary Elwes) and Buttercup (Robin Wright), “The Princess Bride”

Since the invention of the kiss, there have only been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind.

(Honorable mentions: Lady and the Tramp, “Lady and the Tramp”; Milton and Karen, “From Here to Eternity”)

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