Wednesday, February 29, 2012

10 FAVORITES (53): Disney's More Delightful "Duds"

Thanks to a charming if (mostly) predictable Academy Awards this past Sunday, I am in a Disney kind of mood.  So I return to my beloved 10 FAVORITES, but this time with a little twist.  The House of Mouse has given us a plethora of movies that range from the phenomenally brilliant (see Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins or The Lion King) to the primarily average (see Cinderella or Peter Pan) to the awfully misguided (see Song of the South or even Pocahontas).  But among the many films, there are a few that get lost in the shuffle.  Some of them even get derided as below average or bad (by audiences, critics or by the studio itself!).  These Disney films listed below are among the ones that are ultimately good/decent films (despite a few flaws here or there), yet they are often regarded in the "Failure" category (be it commercially, critically or creatively).  So, here are:


The Princess and the Frog (2009)
This one is the "HM" because it is the most recent one on the list.  It hasn't had the time to gain the "Bad Rap" that it seems to be on the path to gaining.  Now, you might be saying to me: "But critics seemed to like this movie and I remember it making some decent money back in 2009!"  Yes critics liked it, but critical praise was not what the Disney Studio was going for here.  And yes it made money, but not as much as the studio wanted it to make considering the amount they spent on promoting it and highlighting their innovation of creating the first African-American Disney Princess.  And yes Princess Tiana has been integrated into the Princess franchise, but not to the prominent extent that say Mulan (who isn't even a Princess!) has been.  Despite all these "Yes...But"'s, the movie is one of the best traditional animated movies the Disney studio has made in the last decade with some memorable characters (like villain Dr. Facilier) and charming performances (especially leading lady, the always amazing Anika Noni Rose!).

The Fox and the Hound (1981)
This is one of Disney's most emotional ventures and one of its most taxing.  Why is it derided?  Well, the studio does not exactly have the happiest of back stories regarding the making of this film.  In the late '70s and early '80s, the Disney studio was in complete disarray.  Frustrated animators were exiting left and right (see Don Bluth!) and the creative department were turning down potentially lucrative projects in favor of what we would call "safe bets."  Despite all this, this film went through an arduous filmmaking process (squabbles over the rights to the novel, condensing said novel, finding animators to work on the film, etc.) and was released the same year as Don Bluth's innovative The Secret of NIMH.  Bluth's project was a critical and box office success, while Fox and the Hound did relatively well (box office-wise) and was liked by some critics (not all).  It just did not do well enough for a studio that felt like it had just been to hell and back making it.

Pete's Dragon (1977)
This one may not be as good as some of Disney's live-action musicals (certainly no Mary Poppins), but its pros outweigh its cons.  The songs (by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschorn), while not as charming as any of the Sherman Brothers' tunes, are for the most part delightful.  The character of Elliot the Dragon (voiced by comedy clown Charlie Callas) is a loving character that I certainly would like to have seen used more (say in Animated shorts or, as Disney loves to do, a direct-to-video sequel).  And the cast is actually a pretty good cast for the characters created.  Its an eclectic mix that includes pop-star Helen Reddy, screen legend Mickey Rooney, Oscar-winners Shelley Winters and Red Buttons, Mr. Magoo and Gilligan's Island star Jim Backus and Broadway powerhouse Jim Dale (brilliantly cast as the wicked Dr. Terminus).  The one major flaw I always find in the film is the character (and the casting!) of Pete, who just comes off as an irritating little brat as opposed to a kid beaten down by life that the audience should root for and understand.

Hercules (1997)
This is another one whose "Bad Rap" is due to lack of critical praise and its inadequate (at least in the studio's eyes) box office.  And I have talked with peers of mine about my liking for this film.  Some of them think I just have a love for Disney (which I kinda do!), but others I have been able to convince that this film is not as bad as say Pocahontas.  The Disney studio still was riding high from their successes (Aladdin, The Lion King, etc.) that they were just trying to churn out a potential money-maker.  True, they Disney-fied the Greek Myths and that doesn't sit well with a lot of the audience members (especially the college-age ones that study those Myths and some of the darker tidbits within them!).  But they don't do any more to the Myths than what they do to the Fairy Tales, and considering what they had to cut-out (for logic's sake!), they did pretty well.  The villain Hades (voiced perfectly by James Woods) is one of Disney's better villains.  And Alan Menken's score (with its gospel-influenced style) is toe-tapping and a nice throwback for Menken (who cut his "professional teeth" with the Off-Broadway hit Little Shop of Horrors).

Newsies (1992)
I know that this may seem like a plug for the new Broadway version that will be opening this Spring, but I actually enjoyed this movie (despite it having some major problems).  It was originally supposed to be a live-action drama.  But after the success of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, the powers-that-be decided that a musical would serve the story better (especially if it had a lot of Janet Jackson-style pop-and-lock routines!).  Now, the film was such a flop that some of the cast members wanted it removed from their resumes (I won't name names, but they both have Academy Awards!).  Despite that, the film has gained an underground (almost cultish) following.  The score (by Alan Menken and frequent Manillow collaborator Jack Feldman) is actually quite delightful and very Broadway in its style.  And the cast, despite their objections, is actually quite good with what they have to do (even if they are embarrassed to be doing it!).  The problems in this film lie in the sloppy script and the lack of character development (mostly for the supporting characters).  But the well-performed musical numbers and the charming cast make this movie an enjoyable watch.

The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
This is a "lost-in-the-shuffle" pick.  After the hard years at the beginning of the decade and the debacle that is known as The Black Cauldron, Disney combined its powers with Hollywood power broker Joel Silver and his production company Silver Screen Partners.  One of their first projects together was this charming adaptation of the Basil of Baker Street stories.  It eventually got overshadowed by the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and the Disney Musical Renaissance, but the movie is a great mix of adventure, mystery and even musical numbers.  The villain, Professor Ratigan, is brilliantly performed by Vincent Price and is clearly one of the film's strongest highlights.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
This makes the list because it never fully got the respect it deserved and it was mostly the Disney studio's fault.     After the death of Walt Disney, the studio clearly faltered.  And in the making of this film, which they wanted to be half as successful as Mary Poppins, they were extremely budget conscious.  They made severe cuts to the over 2 hour film (to put it under 2 hours) that made the film seem sloppy and unprofessional.  It wasn't until the 2001 DVD release (in which most of the cut scenes were restored to the film) that fans and detractors of the film realized how good the film could have been if the studio had allowed it in its original form.  Despite this, the film is an absolute delight and the always phenomenal Angela Lansbury (who shows off her Tony-winning musical talent) is a major reason for it.

Robin Hood (1973)
This one is another film that the studio just has bad memories of making.  Frustration among the Disney animators was growing and the studio was cutting budgets in almost every department.  So it is rare that this film gets a classic DVD or video release.  But most people I talk to only have really good memories of this movie.  I know I have always enjoyed it.  Though they do excise the classic characters of Will Scarlet and Guy of Gisbourne, the characters they do use are a mix of clever, funny and important to the Robin Hood tale.  I also love the brilliant cast that includes the always jazzy Phil Harris as Little John, country legend Roger Miller as minstrel Alan-a-Dale and (in the most amazing piece of voice casting) Sir Peter Ustinov stealing the movie as the spoiled and whiny Prince John.

Oliver and Company (1988)
Like Great Mouse Detective, this one also gets lost in the shuffle of the praise for the Disney Musical Renaissance.  This stylish modern (at least modern for the late '80s!) update of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist is clever and thrilling.  Its soundtrack was a staple in my house when the movie came out and its pop-infused score was filled with good songs (from the Huey Lewis-sung opening "Once Upon a Time In New York City" to the Bette Midler diva number "Perfect Isn't Easy").  The highlight (for most people who remember this film) was the performance of Billy Joel as the doggy Dodger character with his bouncy theme "Why Should I Worry?"  With cheerful songs like these, why should we worry? Really?

A Bug's Life (1996)
This film also gets forgotten for the unfortunate reason that it was the Disney/PIXAR collaboration to follow the masterpiece that was Toy Story.  Most people should have known that no movie could follow Toy Story no matter what it was and this simple story has just become to pedestrian in the light of PIXAR's other great films (like The Incredibles, Up or Finding Nemo).  So when friends of mine list the best PIXAR films, they always tend to forget how charming this movie really was.  I liked it a lot more than Dreamworks' bug movie (Antz) and I thought it was really clever at the time.  I too fall victim to the overshadowing of PIXAR's more impressive fair.  But each time I go back to this film, I recall how much I enjoyed the witty writing, the clever cast (that included Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, David Hyde Pierce and Denis Leary) and the Oscar-nominated score by PIXAR fave Randy Newman.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
This film is a favorite of mine even though it does have some problems (Disney-fying Victor Hugo, quirky gargoyles, etc.).  The main problem it had was it had to follow Pocahontas, which the critics just hated (for good reasons).  Anything that followed a critical failure like that was going to have to impress on a major level and this film just did not impress them.  True, they Disney-fied a literary classic, but look at some of the stuff they left in the story (like the sexual perversion of the main villain, something you just don't see in a lot of kid films!).  And as far as musical scores go, this qualifies as Alan Menken's most ambitious one.  And the lyrics by Stephen Schwartz are mix of poignant, funny and beautiful.

Monday, February 20, 2012

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: 2012 Oscar Predictions - Part II

With Part I of my Oscar predictions out of the way, it is time to finish up with the Writing, Directing and, of course, the most important award of them all: Best Picture.  Let me give you a reminder of what the percentages mean when I talk about each nominee:

  • under 5% - very very slim chance, just count it/him/her lucky to be nominated
  • between 5 and 20% - chances slightly better, yet no real chance
  • between 20 and 30% - stronger chances, could pull off an upset
  • between 30 and 50% - really good chances, most likely the front-runner
  • over 50% - clear the mantle, your Oscar is ready for you

Now, on with the show, so to speak:

And the nominees are: 
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, The Descendants; John Logan, Hugo; George Clooney, Grant Heslov & Beau Willimon, The Ides of March; Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin, Moneyball; Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Prediction: The Descendants - 42%
The rest: Moneyball - 36%; Hugo - 13%; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - 6%; The Ides of March - 3%
Explanation: With yesterday's Writer's Guild Awards win, Alexander Payne's emotional dramedy The Descendants has positioned itself as the major front-runner in this category.  Its stiffest competition comes in the form of two of the category's previous winners and their collaboration which garnered them the Critics Choice Award winner for Adapted Screenplay.  Aaron Sorkin's (whose work on last year's The Social Network won him every award possible) and Steven Zaillian (who won almost 20 years ago for his adaptation of Schindler's List) collaborated on the audience favorite Brad Pitt-lead film about the Oakland Athletics, Moneyball.  While The Descendants has the love of the Writer's Guild, remember that the WGA winner doesn't always find themselves as the Oscar-winner (see Up In the Air vs. Precious in 2010).  Tony-winning writer John Logan has a small chance for his adaptation of Hugo thanks to the film's number of nominations, but the film has been praised as more Martin Scorsese's success than that of its writer.  The much-praised adaptation of John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy seems more like a lovable longshot and George Clooney's The Ides of March has had such a poor showing in nominations (much to many critics' chagrin) that it really is lucky to be in the mix at all.

And the nominees are: 
Michel Hazanavicus, The Artist; Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo, Bridesmaids; J.C. Chandor, Margin Call; Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris; Asghar Farhadi, A Separation
Prediction: Midnight In Paris - 45%
The rest: The Artist - 35%; Bridesmaids - 15%; A Separation - 3%; Margin Call - 2%
Explanation: This is Woody Allen's 15th Original Screenplay nomination (he has won this award twice for Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters in 1978 and 1987, respectively).  He won the Writer's Guild Award yesterday as well as the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice Awards.  In this category, he is the film titan to beat.  That is why I cannot rule out the possibility of a potential sweep of major categories from Best Picture front-runner The Artist.  If the Academy have truly taken Michel Hazanavicius' silent wonder into their hearts, the love may trickle into the Best Screenplay category (just like Best Picture winners The Hurt Locker and  The King's Speech did in the previous years).  Saturday Night Live star Kristen Wiig and fellow Grounding Annie Mumolo co-wrote the Summer comedy blockbuster Bridesmaids and their nomination has pleased many people (critics and audiences alike!).  However, raunchy comedies rarely get noticed by the Academy, so in this case the nomination is a win.  Foreign Film front-runner A Separation has a slightly (really slightly!) better chance than the really independent (yet really all-star!) Margin Call.

And the nominees are: 
Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris; Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life; Alexander Payne, The Descendants; Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Prediction: Michel Hazanavicius - 50%
The rest: Martin Scorsese - 23%; Alexander Payne - 13%; Woody Allen - 11%; Terrence Malick - 3%
Explanation: Last year when I predicted that David Fincher would defeat Tom Hooper in this category, the Director's Guild had not handed down their opinion yet.  Thanks to the DGA Awards being earlier this Oscar Season, I can say with a little more confidence that The Artist's Michel Hazanavicius will be victorious in this category come Oscar night.  It is extremely rare that the Director's Guild winner is not the Oscar's Best Director (but it has happened!).  So if Hazanavicius is found, by some chance, not to be in the winner's circle that night, who will be?  The most likely candidate would be Hollywood's favorite auteur director Martin Scorsese.  Scorsese spent years being ignored by the Academy for his gritty and graphic violent movies like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, GoodFellas and Gangs of New York.  In 2007, his long streak of losses ended with his win for the just-as-gritty The Departed.  Since then, many have felt that one Best Director win is not enough for the legendary filmmaker.  His out-of-the-box choice of directing the fantasy epic Hugo was deemed the Best Film by both the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review.  Also Hugo has the most Oscar nominations, which is definitely in Marty's favor.  As for the others, both Alexander Payne and Woody Allen are front-runners in the Screenplay categories so that is where they are likely to shine.  And Terrence Malick, though he won early awards (like Cannes!), his Tree of Life lost momentum going into the heavier part of Oscar Season (like the Golden Globes or the DGAs).  In fact, he wasn't even recognized by the Guild this year (David Fincher was nominated there along with the other four Oscar nominees for his stylish remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).

And the nominees are: 
The Artist; The Descendants; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; The Help; Hugo; Midnight In Paris; Moneyball; The Tree of Life; War Horse
Prediction: The Artist - 35%
The rest: Hugo and The Descendants -15% each; The HelpMoneyball and Midnight In Paris - 10% each; War Horse - 3%; The Tree of Life and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - 1% each
Explanation: With 9 films in the mix this year, the distribution of odds was slightly tougher.  That's why it was easier to bundle films together that had similar chances.  It pretty clear on most of the sites that follow the Awards that The Artist is the definite front-runner for the top prize (I have stated so at least 3 or 4 times on this blog alone!).  There are really only two films in the category that could challenge The Artist's dominance.  As I said above, Hugo won top prizes from the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review as well as receiving the most Oscar nominations for any film this year (with 11 nods to the The Artist's 10).  However, getting the most nominations does not mean a Best Picture win (see Avatar, Benjamin Button, There Will Be Blood and even Dreamgirls for proof!).  The Descendants won the Golden Globe (for Best Picture -Drama), the L.A. Film Critics prize and the Golden Satellite (again for Best Picture - Drama).  However, in two of those scenarios, The Descendants was not competing against The Artist.  Both The Help and Moneyball may be audience favorites and Midnight In Paris may have that Woody Allen pedigree behind it, but their equal chances dwindle with each passing moment.  And when it comes to pedigree (unintended Horse pun!), no one has more than Steven Spielberg.  However with no Best Director nod for the Hollywood heavyweight, his poignant and sentimental War Horse loses more and more steam.  Both The Tree of Life and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close were early favorites in the season, yet little showing among the Guilds and other awards puts them on the "in your dreams" list.  All of this aside, The Artist has the most momentum and the most praise.  Let's see the first silent film to win Best Picture since Wings back in 1928 (the first year of the Oscars!).

As for all of the other categories, expect Hugo and The Artist to battle it out in most of the technical categories (i.e. Cinematography, Film Editing, Score, Art Direction, etc.).  In Animated Film, the Spring hit Rango would be the one to bet on as the winner there.  And expect the Muppets to be victorious in the (albeit strange!) race for Best Song.  With all this said, I look forward to Sunday, February 26 when the Oscars will be handed out.  And after last year's lackluster ceremony, I'm even looking forward to a spirited televised event on ABC thanks to the choice of host: the ever-popular Billy Crystal.  Good luck to all the Nominees and Happy Oscar watching!

Friday, February 17, 2012

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: 2012 Oscar Predictions - Part I

With the Oscars less than 10 days away (Sunday, February 26 on ABC), it is time for me to start sharing with all of you my predictions for who shall win on Awards night.  Today, I will cover the four acting awards (as those tend to be the only awards people care about!).  On Monday, I will discuss the writing, directing and Best Picture awards.  If I'm in the mood, I may even add some predictions for the other categories (usually referred to as "technical categories").  Before I start, let me give you a quick breakdown of what the percentage odds mean for each nominated person/film:
  • under 5% - very very slim chance, just count it/him/her lucky to be nominated
  • between 5 and 20% - chances slightly better, yet no real chance
  • between 20 and 30% - stronger chances, could pull off an upset
  • between 30 and 50% - really good chances, most likely the front-runner
  • over 50% - clear the mantle, your Oscar is ready for you

With that out of the way, let's talk about the Acting categories!

And the nominees are: 
Berenice Bejo, The Artist; Jessica Chastain, The Help; Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids; Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs; Octavia Spencer, The Help
Prediction: Octavia Spencer - 60%
The rest: Berenice Bejo - 25%; Melissa McCarthy, Janet McTeer and Jessica Chastain - 5% each
Explanation: Spencer has won most of the Oscar precursor awards for her scene-stealing performance in the audience favored The Help.  Bejo could be a spoiler if Best Picture front-runner The Artist pulls off a sweep.  McCarthy is one of the few nominees in Oscar history for a comedic performance (meaning the nomination is the win!).  Tony-winner McTeer is an awards favorite, but hasn't been hitting the Oscar campaign like her co-star Glenn Close.  And Chastain's nomination is the benefit of roles in other critically notable films this year (see The Debt, Take ShelterCoriolanus and Best Picture nominee The Tree of Life) and an over-the-top performance in a strong ensemble film.  But by all accounts, Spencer is the one to watch in The Help's brilliant ensemble (hence her wins at the Golden Globes, SAGs, BAFTAs and Critics Choice Awards!).

And the nominees are: 
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn; Jonah Hill, Moneyball; Nick Nolte, Warrior; Christopher Plummer, Beginners; Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Prediction: Christopher Plummer - 72%
The rest: Kenneth Branagh and Max Von Sydow - 9% each; Jonah Hill - 6%; Nick Nolte - 4%
Explanation: Plummer is an extremely well-respected character actor amongst Hollywood's elite (and New York and London's for that matter!).  It was mind-boggling to many pundits a few years ago that after several years in many noteworthy films that his Best Supporting Actor nod for The Last Station was his first.  Now, he has a touching and funny role in an independent critical hit and has won literally every Oscar precursor award from the New York and L.A. Film Critics to the Golden Globe and SAG Awards.  If there is a lock for Oscar night, it is Plummer's win in this category.  As for the others, Branagh and Von Sydow each have a shot as their films are notable (and they have the veteran status in their corner as well!).  Hill is in the most notable film in the bunch.  But in a field full of veterans, the fact that he is an Oscar nominee is a reward.  And Nolte garnered his third nomination for his critically acclaimed performance in a so-so film that has received no other nominations.

And the nominees are: 
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis, The Help; Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady; Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Prediction: Viola Davis - 33%
The rest: Meryl Streep - 30%; Michelle Williams - 22%; Glenn Close - 12%; Rooney Mara - 3%
Explanation: This is probably the closest race of the high-profile categories.  Viola Davis won the SAG and Critics Choice Awards and her win (coupled with co-star Spencer's presumed win) would be a historic photo-op and one for the record books.  However, acting's unofficial "Grand Dame" Meryl Streep won the Golden Globe, the BAFTA and the National Society of Film Critics Awards.  This is her 17th nomination in 35 years in the film business and she has not won an Oscar since 1983 (when she won her second one for her brilliant performance in Sophie's Choice).  On the other hand, most of Streep's nominations (with a few exceptions) are for films in which she is the primary highlight and the films themselves are not on anyone's Greatest lists (meaning they range from "So-So" to "Above Average" and if she wasn't in them, they'd be "Crap").  And, according to most critics, The Iron Lady falls under that category.  If the Academy voters have trouble choosing between the two dramatic heavyweights, a split still is possible and Golden Globe winner Michelle Williams is the likely benefactor of such a possibility.  Meanwhile, Glenn Close (who hasn't been nominated since 1988's Dangerous Liaisons!) has been hitting the Awards campaign circuit, but with no precursor wins (losing to either Streep or Davis) an Oscar is unlikely.  And newcomer Rooney Mara is the perfect example of "lucky to be nominated."

And the nominees are: 
Demian Bichir, A Better Life; George Clooney, The Descendants; Jean Dujardin, The Artist; Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Prediction: Jean Dujardin - 40%
The rest: George Clooney - 35%; Brad Pitt - 20%; Gary Oldman - 3%; Demian Bichir - 2%
Explanation: No one was surprised when Jean Dujardin won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, but many were surprised when he defeated George Clooney and Brad Pitt at both the SAGs and the BAFTAs.  With those wins, Dujardin upped his odds and cemented the strong possibility of The Artist doing what The King's Speech did last year (win Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Actor!).  However, George Clooney is a Hollywood heavyweight and his performance in The Descendants is widely acclaimed (winning the Golden Globe for Drama and a several other Critcs Awards).  Clooney's pal Brad Pitt, another Hollywood heavyweight, has yet to win an Oscar and he gives the type of performance in Moneyball that would win in any other year.  Sympathy could help him pull off a spoiler.  Had Gary Oldman won the BAFTA, his chances would be slightly higher.  And SAG nominee Demian Bichir pulled off a surprise getting the fifth slot in this race (meaning slim is the politest word for his chances!).

So there you have it, my predictions for the Acting Awards at this year's Oscars.  On Monday, I will talk the top prize (plus some others!).  Stay Tuned!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

10 FAVORITES (52) - Shakespeare's Lovers

Happy Valentine's Day all!  After a long (and much needed!) break, I have returned to the blog I love with an all new 10 FAVORITES.  As it is the day of love, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about one of the most romantic authors in history: William Shakespeare.  His plays have come to define drama, comedy and even romance.  But what are his greatest love stories?  He had so many plays and so many characters and couples that represented true love.  This week's 10 FAVORITES discusses the best couples in Shakespeare's plays.  Some are obvious, some are tragic and some are complete surprises; yet each of them displays a different aspect of Shakespeare's view of love and romance.


Lorenzo and Jessica from The Merchant of Venice
No they are not the main couple in this Shakespeare "dramedy" (it's classified a comedy, yet tends to be one of the Bard's more dramatic ones!).  They are not even the secondary couple in play.  True, Shylock's neglected daughter and the man who takes her away from her unhappy home serve as the play's tertiary couple (and they often get forgotten by most, as my father will attest!).  But in each other, Jessica and Lorenzo find their ultimate happiness.  Jessica is one of Shakespeare's more interesting female characters who doesn't get much stage time.  She is neglected by her miserly and vengeful father; but when she runs off with Lorenzo (and converts from Judaism to Christianity!), her actions set in motion Shylock's famous "Hath not a Jew..." speech and his literal blood-thirst for the titular character's (Antonio's) heart.

MacBeth and Lady MacBeth from MacBeth
It's hard to talk about this couple in theatrical circles (you all should know how superstitious actors are!), but this Scottish couple must be mentioned when it comes to raw sexual energy.  Their twisted love is inflamed by the idea of killing the Scottish king just so MacBeth can take his place.  The murder ultimately drives both of them mad and destroys them both, yet their passion is always displayed with dark and sensual air.

Orlando and Rosalind from As You Like It
This couple is fascinating because both of them have been banished and forced to live in hiding from their "enemies."  Orlando is running from his elder brother who despises him, while Rosalind is fleeing her uncle who has usurped her father's (the Duke's) land.  Orlando is hopelessly in love with the intelligent and forward-thinking Rosalind.  Rosalind loves him too, but is wary of his devotion (as she as seen how men behave when they are near or have power!).  So she tests him (like most of Shakespeare's great heroines) by dressing up as a boy (named Ganymede) and helping him "work out" his courtship to Rosalind.

Othello and Desdemona from Othello
Yes I know that he ends up killing her in a jealous rage, however the love and passion that causes that murderous rage is one Shakespeare's best.  Othello, a celebrated general, is a Moor in the very Christian Venice and he marries Desdemona, the daughter of a wealthy Venetian.  Their romance for each other is brief but happy.  When the wicked and jealous Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona is adulterous, Othello's emotions rise to a boil and he strangles her in her bed.  That's love for you, folks!!!

Benedick and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing
Do you remember back in kindergarten when that little boy pushed a little girl into the mud?  Or when that same little girl threw her juice box at that same little boy?  Remember how throughout their entire childhood they fought constantly and teased each other mercilessly?  Remember how they ended up living happily ever after years later?  That pretty much describes the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice.

Marc Antony and Cleopatra from Antony and Cleopatra
When it comes to great lovers in history, Roman leader Marc Antony and the beautiful Egyptian Queen Cleopatra are among the most legendary.  Shakespeare's dramatic version of their love affair is one of his best tragic histories.  Antony, the great Roman general, is utterly beguiled and bewitched by the goddess-like Cleopatra and ignores his duties in Rome.  When he finally returns to Rome (over Cleopatra's objections), he is forced to marry Octavian Caesar's sister Octavia.  When Antony returns to an angry Cleopatra and declares themselves rulers of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, Octavian and Antony go to war.  Octavian drives a wedge between the lovers and with scene after scene of political and military intrigue, the two lovers die (Antony in her arms and Cleopatra by her own hand and asp!).  Their deaths cement their legends as one of history's greatest love stories.

Orsino, Viola and Olivia from Twelfth Night
Viola is another one of Shakespeare's great heroines (and yet another one who disguises as a boy!).  But in this play, Viola's disguise becomes the very center of the play and the very apex of Shakespeare's greatest love triangle.  Viola, who survived a shipwreck which she believes killed her beloved brother Sebastian, decides to present herself to the Duke Orsino as a servant boy named Cesario.  Orsino is in the process of trying to woo the Lady Olivia, who wants nothing to do with him.  He sends the young (and surprisingly pretty - at least to him!) Cesario with messages of his love.  However Olivia falls for Cesario, which of course is really the disguised Viola who in the meantime has fallen for her "master" Orsino.  Is your head spinning yet?  Well you ain't seen nothing yet!

Practically Everyone from A Midsummer Night's Dream
Everyone's in love in this play!  This play doesn't only deal with couples.  It goes the extra step beyond a simple love triangle and gives us a love quadrangle.  Let me break down all the lovers in this play as easily as I can: Athenian youths Hermia and Lysander are in love, but Hermia's father wants her to marry Demetrius, who has previously wooed Hermia's best friend Helena.  Meanwhile, fairy king Oberon is angry at his queen Titania (for various reasons) and she's angry at him (again for various reasons), so he has his servant Puck make her fall in love with another creature (which turns out to be the arrogant Nick Bottom turned into a donkey by Puck!).  Oberon also wants to help Helena get Demetrius back so he asks Puck to pour "love juice" on his eyes, yet Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and basically all hell breaks loose between the quartet!  Hoo, I'm already exhausted (and I still have two couples left!).

Petruchio and Katherina from The Taming of the Shrew
This is the Shakespeare comedy that is one of my all-time favorites.  The main reason it ranks so high is because of the palpable chemistry between the two leads that just leaps off the pages.  Katherina is the eldest daughter of a wealthy Paduan gentleman.  Her younger sister Bianca is beautiful and has several suitors, but their father will not allow his beloved Bianca to wed until Kate is married.  The problem is Kate despises men (most likely due to the disdainful treatment she gets from her father!) and is considered by all to be quite "shrewish."  Enter Petruchio, an intellectual who seeks to marry a wealthy woman (or woman from a wealthy family!), and only he can woo the tempestuous Kate into marriage.  The scenes between the two are just ripe with wit and sexual tension.

Romeo and Juliet from Romeo and Juliet
This one is just a "no-brainer" if there ever was one.  Some of you might even be saying: "You don't need to do a whole list when there is an OBVIOUS #1!" and those of you would probably be correct.  When it comes to Shakespeare's Greatest Lovers, none of the above I mentioned truly hold a candle to this youthful and tragic pair.  It is the romance against which all other great romances are compared.  We all know the story of star-crossed lovers from feuding families and that story has been adapted countless times (including one of my all-time favorite movie musicals).  It is the truest definition of love and romance.