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The Best Romance Movies of the 21st Century, from ‘High Fidelity’ to ‘Carol’

Get your creamed spinach and poached eggs ready. From "Carol" and "Brokeback Mountain" to "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Punch-Drunk Love," these are the romances to watch for Valentine's Day 2023.

The Best Romance Movies of the 21st Century

(Clockwise from bottom left): “If Beale Street Could Talk,” “The Big Sick,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Moonlight,” “The Handmaiden,” and “Carol”

Courtesy Everett Collection

20. “Call Me by Your Name” (2017)

Timothée Chalamet in "Call Me by Your Name"

“Call Me by Your Name”

Sony Pictures/Sayombhu Mukdeeprom/Everett Collection

We’ll admit: There are reasons to not revisit Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name,” the controversial tour de force that turned Timothée Chalamet into an actor to watch. For one thing, it features a romance with a large age gap, something audiences, at least on Twitter, aren’t always able to wrap their brains around (see Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza”). For another thing, that potentially problematic older partner is played by Armie Hammer. So that’s a yikes. That said, if you can stomach the topic and separate the art from the artists, then “Call Me by Your Name” offers some of the most moving romantic acting on the market.

Based on André Aciman’s novel of the same name with an Academy Award-winning screenplay from James Ivory (“A Room with a View”), “Call Me by Your Name” is an ’80s summer romance set in northern Italy. It’s got hushed conversations on sun-soaked steps; bike rides through the cobble stone streets;  and an unforgettable encounter with a peach. —AF

19. “Monsoon Wedding” (2001)

Tillotama Shome and Vijay Raaz in "Monsoon Wedding"

“Monsoon Wedding”

USA Films/Everett Collection

Harvard grad Mira Nair’s best movies are the most challenging, independent and personal, from her feature debut, 1988’s vérité-style “Salaam Bombay!,” which was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, through “Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love,” “Mississippi Masala,” and “Monsoon Wedding.” Nair threads several romances through this tumultuous family drama, which culminates in the traditional arranged Indian marriage of Aditi (Vasundhara Das) and Texas emigre Hemant (Parvin Dabas), whom she comes to know in the weeks leading up to the wedding. She had broken off her relationship with an older man, but impulsively gets together with him just before the wedding. When she tells her fiancé, he forgives her. Nair expertly navigates the colorful subplots and local decor with constantly moving handheld cameras. There is never a dull moment as the nubile young lovers finally reach a most satisfying finale. —AT

18. “Love & Basketball” (2000)

Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps in "Love & Basketball"

“Love & Basketball”

Everett Collection

There are many talented women directors working–if not often enough–in Hollywood today. Top of the pack is writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood, who broke out of UCLA winning prizes, writing and directing shorts and television (HBO’s “Disappearing Acts”), and delivering this well-reviewed Sundance hit for New Line Cinema. This tightly written sports romance stars athletic charmers Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan as competitive college basketball players who have loved each other since childhood. It scored Prince-Bythewood an Indie Spirit award and a Humanitas prize, grossed $27.4 million domestic, and launched her career, followed by “The Secret Life of Bees,” the under-appreciated “Beyond the Lights,” the 2017 Fox series “Shots Fired” also starring Lathan, and the Viola Davis-starring “The Woman King.” —AT

17. “The Lobster” (2015)

Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz in "The Lobster"

“The Lobster”

A24/Everett Collection

It’s hard to think of a film with such a goofy logline that packs as serious of a punch as “The Lobster,” which follows a man who is forced to find the love of his life in 45 days or risk being turned into a lobster. Colin Farrell gives a (literally) transformational performance, gaining 45 pounds to play David, one of the sadder romantic movie protagonists in recent memory. The physical change softened his appearance, stripping away all of the angles from his face to help him play a man who had been completely beaten down by the world he lives in. In classic Yorgos Lanthimos fashion, it’s a moody, reflective film that still finds a way to be sweetly life affirming. —CZ

16. “Her” (2013)

Joaquin Phoenix in "Her"


Everett Collection

One of the most human films ever made about artificial intelligence, Spike Jonze’s take on love in the so-called space age is far more than another screed on our dependence on technology. The premise — a man (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his operating system in a near-future Los Angeles — might have lent itself to cutesiness in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, but “Her” is never less than poignant and involving. Scarlett Johansson delivers one of her finest performances without ever appearing in physical form, helping the long-gestating film emerge into the world fully realized; years later, “Her” still feels ahead of the curve and yet utterly of the moment. —MN

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