In an effort to counterbalance the omnipresent taunts of heart-shaped merchandise displayed in store windows and happy, hand-holding couples making big plans for the Big Night, we bring you a list of anti-Valentine's Day movies: films that are definitely not celebrations of love and romance.
These tales of dysfunctional relationships and love gone terribly wrong are guaranteed to make you pretty darn good about being single.
There's something gratifying about watching good-looking couples behave unattractively, and in Patrick Marber's play-turned-film, directed unflinchingly by Mike Nichols, we're talking ugly. A stripper (Natalie Portman), a writer (Jude Law), a photographer (Julia Roberts) and a dermatologist (Clive Owen) have messy romantic entanglements and treat each other very badly. No one, except maybe Portman's character, is particularly sympathetic, but we're fascinated by the machinations of these beautiful losers.
'Husbands and Wives' (1992)
The media hoopla over Woody Allen's affair with his partner Mia Farrow's adopted daughter was just dying down when his movie, about a professor (Allen) who cheats on his wife (Mia Farrow!) with a much-younger student (Juliette Lewis), was released. Talk about hyper-realism -- it was even shot documentary style! This searingly funny -- and darkly caustic -- commentary on middle-aged men chasing young women, and failing marriages in general, is one of Woody's best and most honest films.
'Your Friends & Neighbors' (1998)
Nobody but nobody portrays relationships between the sexes with more savagery than director Neil LaBute. A bleakly comic, sharply acted ode to romantic/sexual dysfunction, which came on the heels of his black-hearted 'In the Company of Men,' 'Your Friends...' features six characters who lie and otherwise deceive each other, but none as viciously as the misogynistic doctor played with frightening intensity by Jason Patric. We're still shuddering.
'Revolutionary Road' (2008)
Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (wife of the film's director Sam Mendes) re-teamed for this crumbling-marriage story that actually managed to be more depressing than the sinking of an ocean liner. Set in repressed 1950s suburbia, the beautifully photographed film shows the slights and miscommunication that lead to the devastation of a once-happy, if mismatched, couple. Almost exaggeratedly bleak.
'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' (1966)
Almost 40 years before he directed 'Closer,' Mike Nichols made his film debut with Edward Albee's equally unromantic play-turned-movie. Real-life couple Elizabeth Taylor (who won an Oscar) and Richard Burton portray the alcohol-fueled, warring duo who invite a younger couple (Sandy Dennis and George Segal) over for a nightcap. Suffice to say that a hellish time is had by all, but we get to enjoy wickedly witty dialogue and actors at the top of their game.
'Match Point' (2005)
Woody Allen again, but there's nothing remotely funny about this London-based anti-morality tale. A social-climbing ex-tennis pro (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) marries into money but has a passionate fling with an aspiring actress (Scarlett Johansson) who becomes very inconvenient. Spare and tension-filled, the movie ends on a truly chilling note. Completely engrossing and more than a little disturbing.
'American Beauty' (1999)
Stage director Sam Mendes made quite an auspicious movie debut with this audacious, intermittently comic drama about an über-dysfunctional American family. Kevin Spacey nails the role of the midlife crisis-plagued husband and father, whose relationship with his materialistic wife (Annette Bening) has cooled to freezing. Lusting uncontrollably for his daughter's friend, he tries to change his life ... very unsuccessfully. (Winner of Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture Oscars.)
'The War of the Roses' (1989)
Perhaps the ultimate movie about marital disharmony, this gleefully nasty comedy stars Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas as an obnoxiously selfish divorcing couple, each hellbent on keeping their dream house. Slapstick violence mounts as their attacks on each other escalate, ending in an fabulous disaster. The anti-date movie of all time.
'What's Love Got to Do with It' (1993)
The only non-fiction film here, 'What's Love...' documents the rise of Tina Turner (Angela Bassett) and her hard-fought escape from abusive, controlling husband, Ike (Laurence Fishburne). An old-school, melodramatic showbiz biopic with awesome music and period costumes, the movie is fired by the tour de force performance of Bassett, for whom the adjective "fierce" is an understatement. And Fishburne's Ike is beyond scary.
'The Ice Storm' (1997)
Aside from launching Tobey Maguire's career, 'The Ice Storm' cemented the reputation of Ang Lee as a major director. Here he shows how the sexual revolution in '70s suburbia affects two miserable, mate-swapping couples and their equally lost children. A cornucopia of romantic dysfunction, the movie's both funny and sad, at times as dark and uncomfortable as its title.
Happy Valentine's Day!