I'm pretty sure I've watched every rom-com ever made. There's comfort in formulaic storylines, even the cheesy Hallmark ones. But yes, they can certainly get repetitive and boring. That's why I find it so exciting when artsy auteurs put their stamp on the genre. They usually choose characters who are a bit more difficult, broken, strange, perhaps even twisted. The plotlines might not be more realistic, but they're never predictable. And they're always beautifully shot.
The Coen Brothers' Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
The Coen Brothers won Oscars for No Country for Old Men and Fargo, so you can't expect them to make a romantic comedy without some sinister crime elements, even if the poster for Intolerable Cruelty suggests a Nancy Meyers-type vehicle. George Clooney is charming even as a sleazy divorce attorney, and Catherine Zeta-Jones is perfect as a femme fatale gold digger. Watching the two master manipulators try to outwit each other is pure fun, especially with a great supporting cast.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie (2001)
I can't make this list without including French masterpiece Amélie. I was obsessed with the cinematography for the longest time. Shy Montmartre waitress Amélie Poulain secretly works to improve the lives of others while she remains lonely. Until she meets a young man who collects discarded passport photos of strangers.
David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
David O. Russell is no stranger to making critically-acclaimed comedies, so what's this I keep hearing about him being an abusive jerk on set? Too bad, because Silver Linings Playbook, based on a novel by Matthew Quick, is a terrific romantic-comedy-drama about two heartbroken people who learn to love again.
Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise (1995)
Richard Linklater is known for realistic coming-of-age films such as Dazed and Confused and Boyhood. His romantic drama Before Sunrise must be his most beloved film, spawning two sequels in the "Before" trilogy. Jess (Ethan Hawke) meets Céline (Julie Delphy) on a train and proposes they spend the day together in Vienna. The two strangers basically spend the entire film walking around and talking about life. Sometimes you don't need more than two people connecting for a story to be romantic.
Miranda July's You and Me and Everyone We Know (2005)
This is a film only Miranda July can make. She's a director, actor, screenwriter, fiction author, artist — one of those creative people who is good at everything. In her debut feature film, an amateur video artist and a recently divorced shoe salesman form an instant connection. I watched this movie again recently and I'd forgotten how subtly funny it is.
P.T. Anderson's Punch Drunk Love (2002)
Magnolia, There Will be Blood, The Master — a typical P.T. Anderson film is super intense. His version of a romantic comedy, Punch Drunk Love, is still full of tension and uncertainty, but it's also funny, touching, and incredibly romantic. This is one of my favourite films, and I don't know why it's so underrated.
P.T. Anderson's Phantom Thread (2017)
I think P.T. Anderson should just keep making romantic films because his take on them is so fresh. Phantom Thread, set in the 1950s, is not necessarily a comedy, but it has funny moments. Famed fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) starts courting a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps). Reynold's sister Cyril (Leslie Manville—a scene-stealer!), who manages his fashion business, assumes Alma will be discarded before long like the other young women he has dated, but the seemingly meek Alma has a plan of her own. Everything about this film blew me away.
Do you have any indie or unconventional romantic comedies to recommend? Let us know in the comments below.