On the Reel: What to Watch for Valentine’s Day
A great love story can be a conduit for a great film. Take, as an example, Titanic, James Cameron’s fictionalised account of the events surrounding the passenger liner’s ill-fated maiden voyage. Audiences were instantly drawn to star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose, whose romance added emotional gravitas to an already tragic story. Achieving critical and commercial success, it went on to becoming one of the highest-grossing films of all time, winning the coveted Best Director and Best Picture accolades at the 70th Academy Awards.
Though many of the best love stories are awards season favourites, a film does not necessarily have to fit into that category for it to be a good watch, especially during Valentine’s Day when one might want to watch something romantic with a significant other, some good friends, or even on one’s own. Here is a rundown of film recommendations that may suit every type of taste.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Director Michel Gondry’s romantic science fiction dramedy follows a pair of estranged lovers (played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet) who have undergone a procedure to erase their memories of each other after a fight. It employs the use of a nonlinear narrative, with most of the film taking place in Carrey’s character’s head where he visits his memory of the relationship in reverse. A perfect marriage of hope and heartache, the film has been hailed by critics as one of the finest of the 21st century.
The Princess Bride (1987)
Before she was Claire Underwood or General Antiope, Robin Wright was Princess Buttercup, a young girl in a Renaissance-era adventure-comedy fairytale who falls in love with a farmhand (Cary Elwes). The premise is simple enough—and box office sales were rather modest at the time it was in theatres—but the internet age gave the film new life, catapulting to cult classic status. Directed by Rob Reiner based on the book by William Goldman, The Princess Bride was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2016.
Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), and Before Midnight (2013)
The story begins in 1994, where Jesse (Ethan Hawke) strikes up a conversation with Celine (Julie Delpy) onboard a train headed to Vienna. Vienna is but a stopover; but Jesse convinces Celine to disembark and roam the city with him, even though they are certain they will part ways the next day. Richard Linklater’s trilogy is a uniquely woven tale that explores the themes of self-discovery and connection, employing the use of a wonderfully written script and the actual passage of time in the process. This is one of the rare cases wherein the sequels are gems that strengthen the narrative.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
“I wish I knew how to quit you.” Those were the words that ultimately had audiences in tears as Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jack Twist and the late great Heath Ledger’s Ennis Del Mar came head-to-head in a memorable, heartbreaking scene. Though it was met with obvious controversies—censorships in China and the Middle East, cancellations in conservative US States, among others—Ang Lee’s masterpiece resonated strongly with critics and film enthusiasts, many noting that it not simply a “gay cowboy movie,” but a love story between two souls.
The film is set in a future version of Los Angeles where talking operating systems equipped with artificial intelligence are all the rage and human users inevitably develop relationships with theirs. Theodore Twombly (masterfully played by a vulnerable Joaquin Phoenix), a broken-hearted writer on the cusp of divorce, forms a romance with his OS Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), whose ability to develop psychologically draws Theodore in. Written and directed by Spike Jonze, it was nominated in five categories at the 86th Academy Awards, bagging the statue for Best Original Screenplay.
Notting Hill (1999)
An independent book store owner’s (Hugh Grant) life changes the day he accidentally spills his drink on a Hollywood star (Julia Roberts). What follows is a series of will-they-or-won’t-they scenarios, eventually culminating in a happy ending. Undoubtedly one of the best romantic comedies of all time, Roger Michell’s Notting Hill, simply put, is the story of “just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” Happily ever after indeed.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Described by actor Armie Hammer—who plays the American graduate student Oliver—as a “sensual Italian summer,” the final installment in director Luca Guadagnino’s Desire trilogy surprised many when it emerged as the dark horse in the most recent awards season, receiving multiple nominations in several categories. The thoughtful coming-of-age film strikes a chord for many reasons, exploring not just the tender affection that blossoms between Oliver and Elio (played by Timothee Chalamet), but relationships among family members and friends as well.