The great French actress Jeanne Moreau, whose fiery performance in the 1961 Francois Truffaut classic “Jules and Jim” is one of the key personifications of “amour fou” in cinema, once said, “Age does not protect you from love, but love, to some extent, protects you from age.”
Moreau was right in a sense, and both cinema and romance can seem impervious to the ravages of time. The 1927 silent classic “Wings,” which won the first Oscar for best picture, began the Academy’s 70-plus-year affair with romantic movies. The romantic triangle depicted in that early William A. Wellman film would echo again and again in the works of major filmmakers through the years.
Before long, audiences all over the world would identify and learn all they needed to know of romantic love from the glamorous gods and goddesses they saw at the movies. Just as the ancient Greeks looked to Cupid and Psyche to understand the mysteries of the human heart, filmgoers studied Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in “The Philadelphia Story” and Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca” to pick up clues about the golden rules of love.
As the decades went by, notions of romantic love changed, and films reflected those shifts perfectly. From the innocent haze of “Roman Holiday” and “Pillow Talk,” we moved to the harsher realities of “The Graduate,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” and floated towards the darker hues of “American Beauty” and “Boys Don’t Cry.” But even in those hard-hitting millennial movies, a kiss was still a kiss, and the heart still a lonely hunter.
Looking closely at this year’s Oscar race also reveals that two of this year’s best picture nominees — “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Chocolat” — focus on affairs of the heart, while two others — “Gladiator” and “Erin Brockovich” — feature central characters for whom love plays an important motivating factor.
In this special Daily Variety issue, we take a colorful look back at many of the Oscar-winning performances that resonated with moviegoers through the years, and analyze some of the social trends they heralded and reflected. We’ll also point the fingers at old man Oscar for sometimes forgetting to honor the die-hard romantic films of certain years.
Incidentally, Moreau’s performance in “Jules and Jim” wasn’t nominated for an Oscar that year. She faced tough competition from Sophia Loren in “Two Women,” who was the front-runner, as well as Audrey Hepburn (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), Piper Laurie (“The Hustler”), Geraldine Page (“Summer and Smoke”) and Natalie Wood (“Splendor in the Grass”). It’s no coincidence that all these movies, as well as the best picture winner of that year (“West Side Story”) proudly wore their hearts on their sleeves. After all, Oscar is a man with a soft soft for a good romantic yarn.
— Ramin Zahed
Senior editor, Special Reports