Summer 2013 was a strong season for that oft-maligned genre, the romantic comedy. Excellent films like The Spectacular Now and Drinking Buddies for the most part avoided rom-com cliches, and reinventions like Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing made timeless story lines seem fresh. Still other on-screen romances were held in unorthodox settings: A horror film (The Conjuring), a martial arts movie (The Grandmaster) and even in an edition of the Fast franchise.
Compiled by Alan Scherstuhl and Stephanie Zacharek of The Village Voice and Amy Nicholson of L.A. Weekly.
12. The Conjuring Real-life ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren were teenagers when they wed in 1945. He loved scares, she talked to spirits, so naturally they began their paranormal cleaning company. When we meet them in 1971 (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) they're a doting, long-married couple who just happen to earn their living banishing demons. What sells The Conjuring isn't the spooks -- it's the panic in Wilson's eyes when these ghosts threaten to destroy his increasingly fragile wife. --Amy Nicholson
11. Fast & Furious 6 What really revs Vin Diesel's engine? Word that his ex-girlfriend Michelle Rodriguez survived the car accident assassination that took her out in 2009's Fast & Furious. Even his current squeeze, foxy Brazilian policewoman Elsa Pataki, gives Diesel's her bittersweet blessing to leave their sexy island paradise and track down the love of his life. Who says dudes don't like romances? They just gotta come coated in grease. --Amy Nicholson
Read the full Fast & Furious 6 movie review.
10. Byzantium In Byzantium, this vampire stuff is serious business. But it's also the stuff of romance, and not just the teenagers-at-the-mall kind. You don't have to be a kid to find love. Maybe when you're 200 or so, it will come to you, too. --Stephanie Zacharek
9. Blue Jasmine Cate Blanchett's disgraced trophy wife doesn't deserve a happily-ever-after, but her adopted sister Sally Hawkins -- a chirpy, bow-legged grocery bagger -- definitely does. Woody Allen gives her two blue collar Prince Charmings: a straight-shooting mechanic (Bobby Cannavale) and a goofy stereo installer (Louis C.K.), and then forces her into a tough decision. Blanchett thinks both men are too broke to bother with, but Hawkins wants to believe that true love is priceless. --Amy Nicholson
8. I Give It a Year Besides its dozen or so big laughs, and its winning streak of middle-upper-crust romantic jadedness, Dan Mazer's I Give It a Year has going for it a trait you might have thought had been bred entirely out of audience-pleasing romantic comedies by now: suspense about who its leads will happily-ever-after with. --Alan Scherstuhl
Read the full I Give It a Year movie review.
7. The Grandmaster The unrequited love between Ip Man and the fictional Gong Er is just a slender arc of the movie, but it's a potent one. The two are separated through much of the story, which makes their reconnections that much more tender. Wong Kar-wai can turn a plain coat button into a symbol of chaste and enduring love. --Stephanie Zacharek
6. Austenland Since it's called Austenland, and since it's a romantic comedy, you probably expect it to open with "It's a truth universally acknowledged" and to wrap with one lovesick sap madly dashing after another, right up to an airport's departure gates, even though both presumably have cell phones and could just work things out like people. You wouldn't be that far off in those particulars, but as with all stories of new love, in the world and in our fictions, it's the life in the middle that counts, the hesitations and first kisses and surprise obstacles, the Ouija-like process of moving yourselves toward each other but pretending it's fate. --Alan Scherstuhl
5. The To Do List Like first sex, writer-director Maggie Carey's debut feature, The To Do List, is quick and messy, fitfully pleasurable, full of promise but not quite adept at getting everyone off. It's an impossibly huge deal yet also a modest achievement, something we have to go through but that will no doubt be improved upon later. --Alan Scherstuhl
Read the full The To Do List movie review.
4. Much Ado About Nothing Whedon suggests the timelessness and universality of Much Ado, and he clearly wants his audience to be as uncomfortable with it as the author intended. Because shit, son, that wedding scene is always hard to watch.
But as a comedy, the final act is about restoration and union, and the unmasking of Hero's virtue. Whedon approaches the story with a tremendous amount of joy. Reportedly filmed in a week's time in Whedon's home, the shoot was essentially a house party, the director's pleasure in the people and setting palpable in the final cut. Shakespeare is a living art, relatable and pleasure-extruding with or without pantaloons, always as fun and engaging as its participants. Whedon, whose interests in vampires and spaceships are adjacent to his feminist perspective and love of classic literature, is a lot of fun, and he has talented friends. -- Chris Packham
Read More: Joss Whedon talks blockbusters and Shakespeare.
3. Before Midnight The unhappiness Before Midnight's Celine and Jesse are working through isn't what love becomes; it's part of what it is. For now, in the place where our hopes and dreams for fictional characters nestle uncomfortably next to our own disappointments, they're still together. That's more than good enough. --Stephanie Zacharek
Read the full Before Midnight movie review.
2. Drinking Buddies Drinking Buddies fits comfortably within director Joe Swanberg's growing niche oeuvre. As we live inside the roller coaster of Luke and Kate's hot-and-cold rhythms, the push-pull of will they/won't they--they're having a sleepover! But they don't kiss! Now they're making romantic dinner plans! But Kate's calling it off!--their torturous, conflicting feelings begin to assume a monumental, generational significance that recalls many of Swanberg's previous works. --Alan Scherstuhl
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Read the full Drinking Buddies movie review.
1. The Spectacular Now In The Spectacular Now, two kids as specific as you are fall into slow, uncertain love, their hearts filling up with each other but not always synchronously. You know that person you made out with one weekend in high school, the one whose kiss made the world fall away--but who breezed by like you didn't exist during Monday's passing period? There's plenty of that here, but with one key thing that really would have helped back then: a clear sense of the psychology involved, thanks to (500) Days of Summer screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, working from the novel by Tim Tharp. --Alan Scherstuhl