Top 10 Romantic Movies for Celebrating Valentine’s Day

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Below are my classics–tried and true– for celebrating Valentine’s Day, romantic as much for their settings as for their stories. While living abroad since 2014 I’ve seen most of them broadcast repeatedly in English on television stations in Morocco and the Dominican Republic. Valentine’s Day Movie Marathons are as popular in these two countries—one Catholic, the other Muslim– as they are in the US. It seems Cupid, son of Venus born on Mt. Olympus in Greece, is a global citizen and the universal language is love.

#1 Chocolat 

Nominated for 4 Academy Awards, this movie is hands-down my #1 V Day choice—this year more than ever—with its redemptive message that even the most polarised can unite with grace, real  relationship, and love. The film is adapted from the novel written by Joanne Harris. Interviewing the author, born to a British father and French mother,  who was once an English teacher and who lives in Yorkshire, Bronte country, was a thrill for me.  See it here.

The film is delicious: a dream cast including Judi Dench, Juliette Binoche, and Johnny Depp; sensual cinematography focused on the making of chocolate in a French hillside village in the 1950s; magical realism from Latin American culture; and a challenge to change and choose love over legalism for the sake of family, friends, and community.

Movie lovers and house hunters, for more on the locations where Chocolat and Under the Tuscan Sun (below) were filmed, check out Julia Sweeten’s blog, Hooked on Houses.

#2 Beyond Borders

I wonder, do we all know where we belong? And if we do, in our hearts, why do we so often do nothing about it? There must be more to this life, a purpose for us all, a place to belong. You were my home. I knew from the moment I met you, that night, so many years ago.

Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen star in a romance fueled with chemistry of a couple committed to a cause greater than themselves. It’s the story of a woman who leaves her London home for Ethiopia when made aware of the needs there in a refugee camp. Forever changed by what she sees and who she meets, she supports the ones she loves from home and on trips to Cambodia and Chechnya. The film is dedicated to relief workers and victims of war and persecution—another timely choice. Jolie adopted her son, Maddox, while in Cambodia during filming. She brought to the part experience working as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador.

Inspired by the movie, I tried to rock the heroine’s hat on my trip to Russia.

#3 Slumdog Millionaire

As art, this one ties with Chocolat and Life is Beautiful for my three Favorite Films of All Time. When I first saw it before the Academy Award nominations, I knew it would sweep the Oscars. Here’s why. I long to go to India, but in the meantime, I take trips there in my apartment by dancing to the bonus material at the end.

#4 Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Also starring Dev Patel and Judi Dench, this film made me cry every time I watched it until I moved abroad because it made me long to try on the expat life. Having done so, I’ve quoted it often on this blog because I now know living outside your home country is what Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Love Warrior, calls a “brutifal” (brutal and beautiful experience). I’ll be forever grateful for this movie moving me to live in  Marrakesh for two years.  The plot has more than one love story, but the greatest one is making choices in life and learning to love them.

#5 Under the Tuscan Sun

So anyone who has known me for awhile knows the influence this film had on me and other women who have moved abroad.  The first night after arriving in Morocco,   I unwrapped this DVD (one of 5 in my “survival pack”) and watched it for the twentieth time.   I needed to remember that things probably would not go as I planned but love always prevails even if it comes in a package we never expected.   So if you are lonely–in a relationship or without one–watch this and please go to my Instagram to get inspired  to decorate your own life.

#6-#8 My Favorite Trilogy: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight

Starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Before Sunrise, filmed in 1995, is the story of a young couple who meet in Vienna the night before she must return home to Paris and he to the US.

Before Sunset, the sequel, was filmed in 2004 when the couple meets in the City of Lights, followed by Before Midnight released in 2013 and set in Greece.   For anyone who has or is open to finding love abroad or cross-cultural relationships; loves character-driven, smart dialogue or backdrops in the most beautiful places on earth; or appreciates soundtracks you’ll want to download and listen to forever…this is binge-worthy.

#9 Out of Africa

I admit that until last week I had never finished this film.  Although the second half moves faster that the first, the whole is an epic love story and worth the time investment. At first Colonial  Kenya sent me to Victoria magazine again—my favorite publication in a past life now online– as I saw the comfort china and crystal brought to the main character so far from home.  But better, it causes us to question anew the values of that period and our own.  I was moved to download the book on Kindle and read the memoir from which it was taken.   I didn’t need more reason to do a safari since it already tops my Bucket List, but examining  the relationship of the characters played by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford is a Cinema Bucket List must-do.

#10 The English Patient

This one would have been farther up the list a few years ago (I kept the DVD close and watched it often) based on the fiery passion between the characters played by Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas. Maybe actually riding a camel across the Sahara Desert in scorching heat and not looking like Katherine whose scarves always blew  beautifully behind her in the breeze did it.  Maybe  I’m just getting older, wiser, and suspicious of that much intensity because in real life it too often turns to burn (no pun intended). Still, I love the film—especially the backdrops of the desert, Cairo, and Italy where Juliette Binoche teamed again with Fiennes years after they played Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, based on my favorite romantic novel of all time. My fav stop on my trip to Tuscany last year was seeing the church below featured in the film.  In this case, reality was as beautiful as fiction.

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What are your go-to romantic movies?  Please tell us in the comments below.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

You might also want to check out my  Weekend Escape series to inspire travel and connection.

 

Slumdogs and Soulmates

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I always enjoy hearing my friend Adam play in The Diggy Band–almost as much as I enjoy talking books and movies with him.  Last weekend when he stopped by the table on break, he gushed about Slumdog Millionaire…by saying almost nothing.  The look on his face when he asked if I had seen it… what he didn’t say, couldn’t say because he was so moved told me this must be some movie.  Truthfully, though he’s a discerning critic,  I expected him to like it.   He and his wife, Amy, had gone to India to meet their sponsored child.  Over a span of years and countless plates of The Cuisine of India’s Tiki Marsala, the three of us had discussed the country they so love.  Still,  I’d never seen Adam as awestruck as he was by this recent release.

Based on Vikas Swarup’s debut novel, Q & A, and nominated for Golden Globes for Best Picture, Best Director (Danny Boyle), and Best Screenplay/winner of Best British Independent Film and Best Newcomer (Dev Patel), it is the story of an Indian street kid arrested for cheating on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Through his interrogation, we learn by flashbacks how he had the answers and why he wants to finish the game show despite his seeming indifference to the money.

I’ve always had a thing for gritty underdogs whether Heathcliff, Scarface, or Aladdin, so slumdogs were barking my name.

Gritty I got.  Some of the first few minutes made me consider waiting for Kim in the lobby.  I can’t stomach graphically violent torture scenes. The intensity/suspense of pending cruelty or bullying usually makes me run.  But the movie was her pick and my treat (her birthday was the next day), so I shut my eyes and hung on. I’m so glad I did.

Like a hearty Biryani, Slumdog is a rich mix of classic fare.  As Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Great Expectations condemned cruel class disparity in Victorian London,  Slumdog reveals  staggering social injustice in modern  Mumbai.  And like Oliver and Pip,  Jamal, the quietly courageous, ever determined, and longsuffering hero is a soulful survivor.   Facing the trash heaped literally and figuratively in his life–at times with a pragmatic “It is what it is” and at others with a fierce romanticism– Jamal is a foil to his brother, Salim.   On many levels Jamal and Salim parallel The Kite Runner’s Amir and Hassan, and East of Eden’s Adam and Charles Trask. And told in flashbacks, Jamal, Latika and Salim’s saga have similarities to the back-stories of Sahid and Mr. Eko of Lost.  We pull for Jamal and Latika who fall in love in childhood as we did for Pip and Estella, Cathy and Heathcliff. The prejudice of the police who are convinced a poor kid would have to cheat to succeed made me as angry as the Educational Testing Service in Stand and Deliver.  And yet in one scene there’s a dance as joyful as that of Olive and Company in Little Miss Sunshine. I can’t imagine a stronger Academy Award contender–not only because of comparisons that place it in the company of greatness, but also because of those twists and truths we don’t see coming as moviegoers and Westerners–the resolution which I won’t spoil–the homage paid to the human condition and faith.

Slumdog is brain and heart food.  Though there’s some comic relief and a storyline built around game show trivia, its issues are in no way trivial. The genius crafting of the plot is much like that of Shakespeare in Love or Life is Beautiful—truly a triumph.  More importantly,  not since Hotel Rawanda have I been so moved to do something about injustice and poverty.  When I was younger I’d ask why God allows such misery.  Now I wonder why we allow it when He has given us the means to alleviate much of it.  Watching Slumdog in the Green Hills theater—one of the most privileged parts of Nashville–I thought of the money I’d spent on the Super-Sized popcorn and Coke I couldn’t finish.  I thought of how for the second Christmas in a row I was secretly disappointed not to find a pair of Uggs  under my tree.  I thought of how much most of us are blessed, and that while the US does a lot for some third world countries, we don’t do nearly enough about worldwide poverty, child abuse, human rights.  I don’t do enough.  The movie was hard to watch because I felt overwhelmed with guilt in going about my daily routines while so many are perishing.   I again wish I could do more than just sponsor a child as I have in Brazil.  I want to meet her more now than ever.  Though my own children are almost grown, I fantasize about adopting a child to give her a better life.

I had coffee this morning with a former student.  After a mission trip in Africa last summer where she saw children dying of malaria, she plans to use her biology major for global responses to epidemics.  Maybe as a teacher I can influence more young people to consider global involvement when choosing a career.  Maybe I can get more involved politically in the belief that we’re here to make a difference…and to believe.

It was good being reminded again that faith can move mountains.  To never give up.  To concentrate on what’s good while going through what’s awful.  That love is redemptive.

Slumdogs and soul mates.  Nothing better than that.