Like a dog with a bone (or like a blogger with a bug up his butt) I'm been gnawing over the "Top 10 Romantic Comedy Screenplays" list ever since I last posted re: this oh-so vital (stop the presses!) topic.
For one thing, I realized after the fact that I'd hobbled myself right off the track with my Top 10 Rom Coms In Print notion; it's a bit like saying, here's the Top 10 Rock Albums On CD, Not Vinyl or some such nonsense. True, I was trying to serve two purposes, simultaneously presenting a "best" list and a "here's great screenplays you can read!" menu, but in the end, any Top 10 Rom-Com list that leaves off both Groundhog Day and Tootsie is merely absurd. You might as well tout a list of the "Top 10 Rock Bands Not Counting the Beatles and the Stones."
Then there's the issue of script v. movie. What, precisely, makes something a Great Screenplay versus a Great Film? We could get all academic on this point, but -- I'm sorry, is my talking interfering with your snoring? Exactly.
Thus, in the interest of saving my own sanity (and giving into the List sickness I decried here some time ago), I decided to take the bull by the horns and go for it, assembling a pure and simple list of Top 10 Romantic Comedies, period. And that's when I really found myself knee-deep in manure.
Here's the thing: when I put together my initial list, I was careful to keep it largely Modern Age; I reasoned that an arguable Best of the Screwball Era title would serve for the whole of it, and thus Preston Sturges's The Lady Eve (1941) made the cut. But sure enough, as my post commenters made abundantly clear, this just wouldn't do. How can you have a Top 10 that ignores Bringing Up Baby? Or for that matter, a classic of the genre like The Philadelphia Story, which won a Best Screenplay Oscar, no less (for Donald Ogden Stewart in 1940)?
Problem is, if you start filling your Top Ten with Screwballs, there's no room for a contemporary masterpiece like Moonstruck, let alone the brilliant left-field one-of-a-kinder Eternal Sunshine. The Top 10 Challenge starts to be a headache, for a genre that's actually fairly small in its roster of agreed-upon greats (assemble a Top 25 and you can feel fairly secure about your choices).
My simple if unorthodox solution? Not one Top 10, but two.
It's undeniable that the romantic comedy genre (along with so much else) was never the same after World War II. The romantic comedies of the Thirties, when you set them side by side with their descendants say, 50 years later, are about as alike as a Smith Corona manual typewriter and your Apple iBook: essentially, they're using the same materials to do the same job, but dude! What a world of difference. So herewith, with some help from Living RomCom's readership, my suggested Top Ten Romantic Comedies, from before and after the A-bomb scorched a line in the genre's sand.
Trouble in Paradise
It Happened One Night
My Man Godfrey
The Awful Truth
Bringing Up Baby
His Girl Friday
The Philadelphia Story
The Shop Around the Corner
The Lady Eve
Annie Hall (alternate: Manhattan)
Say Anything (alt: Jerry Maguire)
When Harry Met Sally
Four Weddings and a Funeral (alt: Notting Hill)
A Fish Called Wanda (alt: There's Something About Mary)
Runners-up Department: Afficionados of the Pre-Wars may quibble with the exclusion of the third great Howard Hawks screwball (Twentieth Century), argue for Holiday over Philly Story, or bemoan the lack of a Tracy-Hepburn (sorry, but 1942's Woman of the Year is clearly inferior to 1949's Adam's Rib). But that's nothing compared to the heat I'm bound to get for List #2.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is MIA because I've drawn the line at the year 2000, arguing that from our vantage point in the Oughts, it's too soon to definitively say "Top." But where are Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Shampoo, Romancing the Stone, Roxanne, Broadcast News, Bull Durham, Pretty Woman, Sleepless in Seattle and so on? And that's not even opening the whole Woody Allen canon can o' worms (pick Annie Hall but not Hannah? Broadway Danny? etc.).
So to forestall outrage and assuage my own pain, I added in the "alternates" above. Due to a massive Tom Cruise backlash, Cameron Crowe is repped by the iconic Say (which has given us Lloyd Dobler to contend with, forever) rather than Jerry Maguire -- even though Jerry's the one that added three catch-phrases to our culture (Show me the money, You had me at hello, You complete me).
But generally, the deciding factor was: did this romantic comedy in some way define a cultural moment and/or become a part of our collective cultural vocabulary? Thus, Arthur, though a classic and a personal fave, seems fatally dated in certain respects and hasn't enjoyed the kind of lasting resonance that Moonstruck has, with its "Snap out of it!" slap. While Four Weddings may not be your favorite Richard Curtis, it was in a very evident sense the progenitor of the entire Wedding Rom-Com sub-genre.
Most hybrids, alas, had to be cleaved from the upper crust. True Romance is really a satire of rom-coms and more legitimately a black crime comedy; Princess Bride is less a real romantic comedy than it is one of the greatest comedies ever.
At any rate, I'm ready to debate, carp and defend, so have at it. Now that I've expanded and revised, what do you think I got right or wrong?