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Just in time for Valentine's Day, our favourite romantic flicks

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Casablanca (1942) Of all the movies saddled with “classic cinema” label, this wartime-era tearjerker is worthy of the hype. Set in exotic Casablanca during the onset of the Second World War, the story rides on the strength of Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal of the cynical American Rick, whose prosperous nightclub is really a front to supply political refugees with papers allowing them to escape Nazi tyranny. Rick’s cool composure is shaken with the abrupt return of his former true love Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), whose freedom-fighter husband Victor (Paul Henreid) is on the run from the Nazis. Although Ilsa falls willingly back into his arms, Rick hatches a scheme resulting in what surely must be the most selfless gesture in movie history. Here’s looking at you, kid.

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Sabrina (1954) For the second and last time of his career, Bogie was cast as the romantic male lead in this breezy comedy directed by Billy Wilder. This time he’s the workaholic rich man Linus Larrabee, whose younger wastrel brother David (William Holden) has caught the eye of the chauffeur’s daughter, Sabrina, played with lilting charm by Audrey Hepburn. Unfortunately, David is engaged to an heiress whose money is vital to the Larrabee family business, so to keep the two apart, Linus courts Sabrina and darned if they don’t start falling for each other (even though Bogie was 30 years older than his co-star at the time and wearing a pretty obvious hairpiece).

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Annie Hall (1977) Following slapstick films like Bananas and Take the Money and Run, Woody Allen’s movie career took a huge leap upward with this romantic comedy that collected a boatload of Oscars, including Best Director, Best Actress and the big one: Best Picture (it beat Star Wars!). For the first time, Woody pretty much played himself, or more specifically, Alvy Singer, a twice-divorced, hopelessly neurotic comedy writer whose life takes an unexpected direction when he meets and falls for the WASPy Annie Hall, played by Diane Keaton. As a couple, Alvy and Annie are a complete mismatch, but isn’t that just how love works sometimes?

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Moonstruck (1987) Masterfully told by Canadian director Norman Jewison, this shamelessly romantic story earned a Best Actress Oscar for Cher. The singer-turned-actress is letter perfect as the thirtysomething Loretta, a drab Italian-American widow living with her very loud family in Brooklyn. Loretta is betrothed to the spineless Johnny (Danny Aiello), who asks her to invite his estranged younger brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) to the wedding. Well, Loretta meets Ronny, sparks fly and pretty soon she’s getting a total makeover and stepping out to the opera. All of which does not bode well for her planned marriage to her new lover’s brother. That’s amore!

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Say Anything (1989) Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut is all heart. A boyish John Cusack plays the affable teen slacker Lloyd, who somehow lucks into a relationship with Diane (Ione Skye), the prettiest and smartest girl in his high school. Post-graduation, Diane earns a scholarship to England, but her controlling father (John Mahoney) frets that dating Lloyd will be injurious to her academic career. Lloyd’s triumphant romantic comeback, with Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes as musical backdrop, is every lovelorn adolescent male’s fantasy realized.

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Reality Bites (1994) The path to true love was not a smooth road for twentysomethings back in the nineties. Directed by Ben Stiller, this wry romantic comedy revolved primarily around Winona Ryder’s portrayal of Lelaina, a recent college graduate newly moved from her parents’ house, stuck in a dead-end career and looking for love in all the wrong places. On the one hand, she’s drawn to the well-dressed music-industry executive Michael (Stiller), but on the other hand, she can’t deny her feelings for the snarky, cynical slacker Troy (Ethan Hawke). What’s a Gen Xer to do? In the end, Lelaina follows her heart. Like, sort of.

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You’ve Got Mail (1998) Directed by the late, great Nora Ephron, who also co-wrote the screenplay with her sister Delia, this 1998 film teamed Meg Ryan with Tom Hanks for an old-school romantic comedy. The story cast Hanks as Joe and Ryan as Kathleen, who both own bookstores on the same street on New York’s Upper West Side. While leading completely separate lives, the odd couple meet unbeknownst in an online chat room (still a fairly new innovation back in 1998) and pretty soon they’re pouring the hearts out to each other in a ceaseless email dialogue. The catch: Joe’s big-chain bookstore conglomerate is on the verge of taking over the space occupied by Kathleen’s tiny shop.

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The Notebook (2004) Get out the handkerchiefs for this tearjerker based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. Movie icon James Garner plays an old duffer named Noah, whose daily visits to Allie (Gena Rowlands) at a nursing home includes reading to her from a tattered old notebook. Chapter by chapter, Noah relates the story of an attractive young couple, played in flashbacks by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams) whose tempestuous forties-era love affair was ended by events of the Second World War. Several years later, the pair meet again and make the most of their second chance at everlasting love. Yes, it’s schmaltzy and predictable, but in the best way possible.

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Take This Waltz (2011) Gently directed by Canada’s own Sarah Polley, this film merges comedy and drama to tell a very real story. Set in Toronto’s Little Portugal neighbourhood, the movie stars Michelle Williams as Margot, a freelance writer who has been married for several years to the shy and schlubby Lou (Seth Rogen). One day Margot meets the handsome stranger Daniel (Luke Kirby) and something clicks between the pair. Polley tactfully details the slow dissolve of Margot and Lou’s marriage, leaving the viewer with a perfectly honest denouement: The heart wants what it wants.

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