Choosing a film to watch with your significant other, regardless of it being Valentines Day is a difficult task. He likes Sundancey-Indie, Mumblecore films and you like Musicals. She likes horror films and you would rather watch a documentary. Inevitably by the end of the film, one of you is not paying attention, playing on your electronic device of choice or messaging your single mate who is whining about how they are single rather than doing something about it.
I’ve decided to put together an alternative choice of films for Valentines Day. These are not all focused specifically and primarily on ‘romance’ as such, nor do they follow the formulaic patterns of the romcom genre. They are not your typical ‘The Notebook’, ‘Titanic’ or ’50 First dates’ style films, and there is nothing wrong with those. However, these all have a strong element of ‘love’ in them, and in writing briefly about each of these, I hope to not only settle the dispute ‘what film?’, but put films you may or may not have heard of in the mix when you decide what to curl up on the sofa watch.
Most of these films are available online, others can be found dirt cheap as resold DVD’s on Play/Amazon and there are of course other less legal ways of acquiring them. However you do it, seek these films out. Where there is a will there’s a way. Do it in the name of love.
Finally, I will be the first to admit that I haven’t seen all of the films that apply to this self-made list (Notable omissions include Blue is the Warmest Colour, Shame and 500 Days of Summer – all of which I haven’t seen). Once you open it out, there a lot of films that have some element of ‘love’ in them.
Nevertheless, in addition to mine below, what are your favourites? Leave them in the comments, or tweet me @movieblort.
Valentine’s Vibes: Kinky Sex & a Work Place Romance – the original 50 Shades of Grey.
IMDB Description: A young woman, recently released from a mental hospital, gets a job as a secretary to a demanding lawyer, where their employer-employee relationship turns into a sexual, sadomasochistic one.
If you are planning on going to see 50 Shades of Grey this weekend, don’t. It is trash, you know it will be trash. Stay in and get your kicks from watching Secretary instead. Everything you expect to happen in 50SOG, will most likely have taken place in Secretary first in a much more tasteful and well thought out manner, as they have been keen to point out in their newly released trailer. A darkly funny, erotically charged film that delves into the dark tendencies we experience as individuals, both on an emotional and physical level. It really is a film that stands out as one that should be viewed on Valentines Day, very rarely has a relationship been explored in the way that this film chose to do so. Plus, James Spader’s character in secretary is even called ‘Mr. Grey’… come on.
Available on Netflix UK & US, also shown on Film 4 at 1:45am (Feb 14th). That’s worth staying up for.
Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)
Valentine’s Vibes: Original, funny and an odd pursuit of true love. Plus, Shannyn Sossamon.
IMDB Description: A film set in a strange afterlife that has been reserved for people who have committed suicide.
Despite it’s title, ‘Wristcutters’ is an oddly uplifting film. Set in a land devoid of smiling or emotion, a small group of individuals band together to help Zia (Patrick Fugit) find his true love. Some may argue that it makes light of suicide, but rather than find justification or explanation for events that quite often are largely unexplained, it seeks to confirm that in most if not all instances, life is worth living. Shannyn Sossamon is excellent, the soundtrack by Gogol Bordello fits the mood perfectly, it is unpredictable and surreal. The jokes may land, it may be too wacky for some, but it is a love story with an undeniable difference.
Available on VOD and YouTube.
Enough Said (2013)
Valentine’s Vibes: An honest, relatable and funny date movie.
IMDB Description: A divorced single parent, seems generally happy but dreads her daughter’s departure for college. Unexpectedly, she begins a romance with Albert, a nice man with whom she has much in common.
Starring James Gandolfini in his second to last role before his untimely passing, it was a break from the norm for him and a pleasant surprise. Despite featuring on many critics top 10 lists, this film has remarkably slipped under the radar for many. This is far from your cheesy, rom-com with a gibbering Hugh grant type character, nor does it have that ridiculous crescendo with the final romantic gesture so far beyond belief it makes you feel a little bit sick. This is a mature, clever, funny and heartwarming tale of middle-aged people falling in love. Julia Louis-Dreyfus & Gandolfini have superb chemistry,
Available on Amazon Instant, GooglePlay and iTunes.
Valentine’s Vibes: Italian Accents, Italy & Monica Bellucci. A dream to watch.
IMDB Description: The year is 1940, and in the sleepy Sicilian town of Castelucto teenager Renato has developed a crush on the the beautiful and mysterious Malena. The women of the town have taken to spreading malicious gossip about this woman who never fails to turn their husbands’ heads. But as the gossip spreads, and the town fills with half-truths and false rumours, there is only one person who knows the truth, and that is young Renato.
There is more to this film than meets the eye. Starring the incredible Monica Bellucci and from the acclaimed director Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso), Malena is a beautiful film to behold. Part coming of age drama and part romance, a main character with very little dialogue, excellently shot with a soundtrack to match, and Bellucci delivering a uniquely captivating performance – there is very little to dislike about the film apart from certain horrid individuals in the film itself. It raises questions regarding lust, beauty and jealously, but as with the suggestions before, it’s search for answers does not detract from the films enjoyment.
You can pick this up for a couple of quid on play.com, or it’s on YouTube too.
Valentines Vibes: A sad, funny but ultimately romantic tale of companionship, technology and loneliness
IMDB Description: A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.
In a world of handheld devices and technology monitoring, capturing and advising your every move, what is apparent about this borderline dystopian, Black Mirror style future that Joaquin Phoenix inhabits is that it not beyond the realm of possibility. We are almost there. This film struck a chord with me the likes of which I haven’t experienced before. It was sad, sympathetic but funny, and spliced with moments of overwhelming happiness. The end result is a world dependent on technology where those that want to experience real emotion are shunned to the side. If you are looking for something truly different to watch this Valentines Day, then a film where Joaquin Phoenix has phone sex with his Operating System voiced by Scarlett Johansson might just be for you.
Available on DVD and iTunes.
Valentine’s Vibes: Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, French Accents all wrapped up in a romantic thriller.
IMDB Description: In this French drama, a romantically-obsessed young corporate conservative leaves his successful new world behind to search for his elusive lost love. After lying to his girlfriend and enlisting the help of a friend, Max follows a bizarre trail of clues on a crazy quest to find his old heart-throb.
Another Monica Bellucci film because why not, it’s Valentines Day. But don’t worry, there is something for the ladies too, as Vincent Cassel, the french heart-throb known more recently to audiences as Thomas Leroy from Black Swan (among many other films), stars as the man in pursuit of the one that got away. A sort of mysterious thriller with the central theme of romance, it is an exciting and unpredictable ride. Avoid the remake ‘Wicker Park’ at all costs, and try to hunt this copy down.
I can’t find it on VOD, Youtube or Netflix – which is a shame. But you can get it for a couple of quid on Amazon among other means.
The Lunchbox (2014)
Valentine’s Vibes: Original and hunger inducing romantic drama. Perfect Takeaway accompaniment.
IMDB Description: A mistaken delivery in Mumbai’s famously efficient lunchbox delivery system connects a young housewife to an older man in the dusk of his life as they build a fantasy world together through notes in the lunchbox.
A simply charming film that puts other films in the romance genre to shame. It is what you would class as a perfect date movie; it addresses multiple marriages, themes of loneliness, and new-found love, all through a mix of Indian traditions and food. It is incredibly acted, very understated and only goes to strengthen the emotional ups and downs you come to experience. It will leave you wanting Indian food, in fact, you should probably order some in. It’s messages are as cheesy as the Paneer in the food, but the film is not.
Available on UK & US Netflix.
Love is Strange (2014)
Valentines Vibes: A genuinely heartwarming tale of love in the face of adversity.
IMDB Description: After Ben and George get married, George is fired from his teaching post, forcing them to stay with friends separately while they sell their place and look for cheaper housing — a situation that weighs heavily on all involved.
A slow and simple film depicting the strength you can find in a relationship when life throws obstacles at you, and the difficulties faced in gaining perspective and understanding while making small but necessary sacrifices for family. The film is crisply shot, lots of long and artistic cinematic shots, set to a tinkering piano backdrop in lower Manhattan – it is a very mature affair and a breath of fresh air. Read my full review here, you can’t go far wrong with this film.
Currently showing at the Curzon in Soho, as well as being available on VOD and iTunes.
Rust & Bone (2012)
Valentines Vibes: A powerful film about love, family and overcoming the odds.
IMDB Description: Put in charge of his young son, Alain leaves Belgium for Antibes to live with his sister and her husband as a family. Alain’s bond with Stephanie, a killer whale trainer, grows deeper after Stephanie suffers a horrible accident.
From the brilliant directorial mind of Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, The Beat That My Heart Skipped), Rust and Bone is an unforgettable piece of cinema. A mature tale of love, loneliness and family, as we are led through a series of unpredictable events that forces the characters to confront their individual troubles. We are made to empathise with them, and what on paper appears to be quite a brutal and traumatic journey, turns out to be an altogether pleasant and intriguing drama. Marion Cotillard is great as usual, in arguably my favourite performance of hers to date. Not one for the subtitle-phobes, but for those who want a film for Valentines Day with a bit of substance to it, this one is for you.
Available on Amazon Prime and iTunes.
Almost Famous (2000)
Valentines Vibes: Loved up, coming of age story with a feel good, nostalgic soundtrack.
IMDB Description: A high-school boy is given the chance to write a story for Rolling Stone Magazine about an up-and-coming rock band as he accompanies it on their concert tour.
Drugs, sex and rock & roll run rampant in this movie about a high school boy being exposed to the elements he long sought to be a part of. This is not a straight forward love-story, nor is it intended to be, but the complex relationships formed between everyone on this tour are enough to warrant it to be a part of this post. The soundtrack is unforgettable, the cast puts in a strong performance and the story is genuinely touching. It is very quotable, instantly recognisable and if you have not seen it I urge you to watch this regardless. In fact, I challenge you to sit through the scene where Elton Johns ‘Tiny Dancer’ is used and not get a big fat grin across your face or end up singing along.
Available on Amazon Prime, Netflix UK/US and iTunes.
American Beauty (1999)
Valentines Vibes: Rated R for strong sexuality, language, violence and drug content – I’ll have some of that.
IMDB Description: A sexually frustrated suburban father has a mid-life crisis after becoming infatuated with his daughter’s best friend.
Another classic from the vaults, winner of 5 Oscars and definitely one that I would have hoped most of the readers would have seen. Kevin Spacey, who needs no introduction, is excellent in this unique film exploration of a mid-life crisis. Darkly funny, at times depressing, yet extremely profound. It is a remarkable film that if you do end up watching for the first time – will blow you away. I am jealous of anyone who gets to watch this for the first time, I wish I could experience it all again.
Available on Amazon Prime, iTunes and Netflix.
I Love You, Man (2009)
Valentines Vibes: Idiotic, juvenile, awkward but an extremely watchable take on the romcom/buddy genre.
IMDB Description: Friendless Peter Klaven goes on a series of man-dates to find a Best Man for his wedding. But, when his insta-bond with his new B.F.F. puts a strain on his relationship with his fiancée, can the trio learn to live happily ever after?
This film sits on the fence between the traditional romcom genre and infantile buddy movies, but does so well to avoid the sappiness and poor attempts at humour found in these types of films. A ‘bromance’ between Paul Rudd and Jason Segel forms the basis of this movie, with supporting roles from Andy Samberg, Rashida Jones, JK Simmons, Jon Favreau and Jaime Pressly, the film is full to the brim with recognisable faces. Almost everyone can relate to this film, as it explores the difficulties faced when trying to make friends as an adult without coming on too strong or it being misconstrued as something more – a plethora of difficult situations spring to mind, especially when it is played up to the extent it is in this film.
It’s a fairly standard play-by-play, but the predictability of the story is balanced out with the unpredictable awkwardness in the script. Thanks to the performances and chemistry of Rudd and Segel, this film goes down in my book as one of the funniest films I have seen and a solid crowd-pleaser on Valentines Day.
Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.
They Came Together (2014)
Valentines Vibes: Funny, lighthearted and stupid ‘romcom’ – extremely easy to watch.
IMDB Description: A small business owner is about to lose her shop to a major corporate development.
I keep promoting this film despite the mixed reaction it has received among my friends. I’ll refer to my earlier review of it – To clarify, this is not a romcom. It is a parody of the genre, and a funny one at that. Initially the test audiences didn’t ‘get it’ because it was so convincing, then reviewers likened it to a ‘Scary Movie’ style of humour. I believe it is neither of those things. The Director, David Wain himself said that he didn’t want it to become a collection of well-known movie spoofs, and while as Buzzfeed points out it does reference a lot of romcoms in one way shape or form, it comes across much more like a Naked Gun style of parody where it plays on an entire genre. Just enjoy it for what it is – dumb, silly and funny.
However, some have found it too dumb, too silly, stated that it tries too hard and that it feels like one sketch dragged out too long. I’m not sure I agree, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. Give it a go and make up your own mind.
It’s available on Netflix UK/US and iTunes.
The Spectacular Now (2013)
Valentines Vibes: An authentic romantic teenage drama that packs a punch.
IMDB Description: A hard-partying high school senior’s philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical “nice girl.”
I know that on the whole these are supposed to be unconventional Valentine’s Day films, but do not be put off by this ‘bad guy meets nice girl’ stereotype. As I explained in one of my many films I watched last year, for the most part, this film remains unpredictable, genuine and honest and it’s an absolute joy to watch. The story unfolds naturally, the experiences look normal and consequently their experiences become highly relatable making for an altogether different film from what I expected. An element of this is down to the casting of Miles Teller (Whiplash) and Shailene Woodley as the two leads, they look and act like regular kids and it adds volumes to the films authenticity.
It’s a film that I want to go back and watch again and is perfect for Valentines Day. It left me feeling neither happy or sad, it’s dark undertones with the combined hopeful and hopelessness of the future made for compelling viewing and an engrossing drama.
Available on Amazon Prime or iTunes.
Don Jon (2013)
Valentines Vibes: Muscley Gordon-Levitt and a dreamy supporting cast in a film about sexual desires.
IMDB Description: A New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends, and church, develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.
An impressive and bold directorial debut from Gordon-Levitt, backed by a great cast (in particular Julianne Moore) who all play off each other brilliantly. Between Johansson, Levitt, Danza and Headly, they each embody their exaggerated satirical characters perfectly, put Moore in as the seemingly normal person and you strike a good if not great balance. It’s good humour, good casting and original script (despite the ending) would entertain most couples. If the film itself misses the mark, then the topic of masturbation vs sex will certainly stimulate some interesting discussions.
Available on Amazon Prime, iTunes and Netflix.
Ae Fond Kiss (2005)
Valentine’s Vibes: A romantic Scottish gem of a film.
IMDB Description: Sparks fly in Glasgow’s south side when a young Asian man enters into a relationship with a Caucasian woman.
Directed by Ken Loach (Kes, Looking for Eric, The Angels Share), this film addresses the notion that love will eventually transcend and conquer any racial, cultural and religious barriers. Believable performances in a simplistic story, resulting in an emotional tale of perseverance that the viewer can invest in. It is generic enough and although it raises some solid questions, it does not get bogged deep down in the cultural and social issues at hand – the last thing you want is to be depressed on this day. Instead, the relationship is the priority and the focus of the film, as it should be for Valentines Day.
Available on DVD for the princely sum of £3.
The One I Love (2014)
Valentines Vibes: Quirky, yet surreal twilight zone style comedic relationship test.
IMDB Description: Struggling with a marriage on the brink of falling apart, a couple escapes for a weekend in pursuit of their better selves, only to discover an unusual dilemma that awaits them.
This is a bloody weird film. There’s only 3 people in the entire thing, with a storyline that cannot really be explained before the movie without spoiling it all, and contains an ending that leaves what actually happened largely up for debate. In the spirit of alternative ‘romcom’ suggestions, in the market for something a little more strange, then this is for you. Quietly funny, infuriatingly claustrophobic and oddly spooky, it’s a film that goes places not many romcoms have gone before. Cleverly shot, and well acted, Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass show great chemistry on-screen, and with these two taking up the vast majority of the movie, it’s no bad thing.
Available on iTunes to rent now, and on DVD in the US.
High Fidelity (2000)
Valentines Vibes: A comedic portrayal of a music boff who despite his love and knowledge of music, is pretty rubbish at everything else.
IMDB Description: Rob, a record store owner and compulsive list maker, recounts his top five breakups, including the one in progress.
What could be less about Valentines Day than a film about break-ups and a mid-life crisis? Based on the book of the same name, John Cusack laments on his previous break-ups in a running order comparable to someone listing their favourite albums. It’s slickly scripted, original and you will see plenty of recognisable faces (Zeta Jones, Jack Black) directly and indirectly forming part of this perpetual break-up cycle, exhibiting and experiencing character traits you will be all to familiar with in real life. One of the traits, on that is quite common in some relationships, is the indifference in music tastes, and it is those who feel that their music tastes are constantly being judged who will find this film extra special.
Available on iTunes.
Valentines Vibes: Awkward teenage romantic drama with all the trimmings.
IMDB Description: 15-year-old Oliver Tate has two objectives: To lose his virginity before his next birthday, and to extinguish the flame between his mother and an ex-lover who has resurfaced in her life.
This film might not have grabbed everyone the way it intended to, but there is a certain nostalgia to the film that would make this appropriate for such a day. With the combination of ‘little village syndrome’ and schoolyard romance, this low-key and albeit slightly smug film does have many redeeming qualities. Little things such as holding hands, jumping straight to losing your virginity, to parental problems that are not yours to bare form the overarching theme of disproportionate worrying when it comes to life at this age. It feels genuine, and despite its strangeness and occasional darkness, there is a certain style to the film that makes it very enjoyable to watch.
Available on Amazon
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
IMDB Description: Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel.
Many of you may have seen the original advert clipping that did the rounds on the internet a number of years ago, seeking someone to help him with time travel – well this film is based on that.
I might be clutching at straws with this one, seeing as the love story is not as explicit as the others, but the tale of companionship is just as important. It is one of those feel good, sundancey movies that doesn’t have the pacing issues or drawn out silences that many of them seem to possess, it is just a very fun movie to watch. It won’t satisfy the sci-fi fans, but in terms of finding a film that achieves common ground and requires very little attention, what you will get out of the film in terms of enjoyment is huge.
Available on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Valentines Vibes: The power of perspective and bad experiences in respect to relationships has never been so expertly shown.
IMDB Description: When their relationship turns sour, a couple undergoes a procedure to have each other erased from their memories. But it is only through the process of loss that they discover what they had to begin with.
Jim Carey and Kate Winslet star in this sci-fi meets romcom, which looks at the emotional rollercoaster we experience through the initial honeymoon period and the occasional painful break-up. While on paper it sounds like the premise for so many other romcoms out there, the added variable of being able to erase ‘bad memories’ from your life poses a moral and practical question, that if you did carry out that practice, what effect would it have on you, your life, and the experience gained from those events? It’s relevancy for Valentines Day is easily apparent after viewing, as it is one of the few films that addresses past, present and future relationship experiences in a unique and non-fantastical way, despite the process of getting there being completely fantastical in itself.
Available on Amazon Prime, iTunes & Netflix.
The Secret In Their Eyes (2009)
Valentines Vibes: Award winning Argentinian crime thriller – there’s love in here. Honest.
IMDB Description: A retired legal counselor writes a novel hoping to find closure for one of his past unresolved homicide cases and for his unreciprocated love with his superior – both of which still haunt him decades later.
This Oscar-winning film is a little bit of a stretch again, as the main focus of the film lies on the unresolved murder case. The interesting sub-plot here is the infatuation the brilliant Ricardo Darin (Carancho) with his previous boss. It’s a beautiful film to look at, the storyline is gripping and there is a perfect balance of mystery, intrigue and love to keep everyone captivated. It really is in a league of its own, and subtitle-phones, if you are going to push the boat out and try to watch a film with subtitles, then you cannot go far wrong with this one. It is fairly minimalist, the dialogue is short but effective and the plot is easy to follow, yet it’s one of the best thrillers released for many years.
Available on Netflix & iTunes
It’s Kind of a Funny Story (2010)
Valentines Vibes: Lighthearted indie romcom set in a mental hospital.
IMDB Description: A clinically depressed teenager gets a new start after he checks himself into an adult psychiatric ward.
It is surprising how a film set in a mental hospital surrounded by clinically depressed individuals can make such an uplifting viewing experience. It doesn’t make light of mental illness, but it doesn’t really do much at all. It is nothing special, and it might lack the substance to really explore the deeper issues in any detail beyond teenage angst and self-imposed expectations. You might be wondering why the hell it is on this list then? But it is this flimsy approach to the film that makes it such an easy watch and the combination of a great cast, simple plot and occasional laughs wrapped up in a teenage love story that if nothing else, makes for a perfect compromise for indecisive film viewers. To reassure you, this is one of those rare occasions where I will direct you to the trailer;
Available on Amazon & iTunes
Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)
Valentines Vibes: Funny and heartwarming tale of best friends and break-ups
IMDB Description: A divorcing couple tries to maintain their friendship while they both pursue other people.
Another shout out on this list for Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg, who display contagious chemistry in this underrated romantic comedy. Displaying all the tendencies of an indie/sundancey film; weird subject matter, beautifully shot and quirky humour, yet appealing to a mainstream audience. Meanwhile, it maintains its realism with continuous spats of observational humour and emotional depth rarely explored in romcoms. It is not without its faults, but it’s subdued execution and sweet intentions would make for easy watching on Valentines Day.
Available on Amazon & iTunes
Listen Up Philip (2014)
Valentines Vibes: An intelligent comedy about a relationship strained by arrogance and negativity.
IMDB Description: Anger rages in Philip as he awaits the publication of his second novel. He feels pushed out of his adopted home city by the constant crowds and noise, a deteriorating relationship with his photographer girlfriend Ashley, and his own indifference to promoting the novel. When Philip’s idol Ike Zimmerman offers his isolated summer home as a refuge, he finally gets the peace and quiet to focus on his favorite subject: himself.
Quick witted, well articulated and highly intelligent, it’s a form of comedy that reminded me of Wes Anderson, similar in it’s delivery and attention to detail, and one that got funnier as the film went on. The film revolves around Philip as the title would suggest, his bleak but comedic observations and outlook on life made for awkwardly funny viewing. Elizabeth Moss (Ashley) and Jonathan Pryce (Ike) are both brilliant in their own right, but it’s Schartzman’s sharp wit, bitterness and humourous self-loathing that makes the film what it is.
It feels fresh and different, shot on handheld 16mm and has a jazzy soundtrack to match, it has a very natural feel. Overall, it’s a very clever observational comedy on the pitfalls of fame within the creative industry, the arrogance that quite often is associated with it and the strain personality clashes can have on relationships.
Available on Amazon US, iTunes US and Netflix US.