Valentine's Day is a holiday that, if you can get through the crass commercialism, is all about showing affection for the people you love. It's also about paying way too much to go out to dinner ("Oh the 'lovers' prefix' is only $75? What a bargain!")
But, if you're a couple who's more interested in enjoying only each others company -- maybe with a little home-cooked food and a nice bottle of not-too-expensive wine -- then please, let us treat you to some suggestions of offbeat movies to watch this Valentine's Day. At the very least, it will be enough to leave that DVD copy of "The Notebook" unwatched.
‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ (Michel Gondry, 2004)
Sure, Michel Gondry's psychedelic ode to relationships and memories is super weird, but it's also the greatest romantic comedy since "Annie Hall." Here, Jim Carey looks to erase the memories of his recent girlfriend (Kate Winslet) by going to a group of mad scientists (led by Tom Wilkinson) who zap away the painful remembrances using questionable technology. The movie gets knottier and more surreal as it moves along, dipping from present to past and from reality to fantasy. The fact that the emotional connection never gets severed, or even frayed, is a testament to its singular power. Rarely is something so bizarre so achingly identifiable.
‘True Romance’ (Tony Scott, 1993)
Most great romances don't begin with, say, the murder of a ruthless pimp and the theft of a suitcase full of cocaine. But then again, most movies aren't "True Romance," the legendary team-up between Quentin Tarantino and the late, great Tony Scott, about a comic-book dweeb (Christian Slater) and a prostitute (Patricia Arquette), who leave the snowy landscapes of Detroit for a new life in Hollywood. Laced with memorable supporting performances by Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, James Gandolfini, and Bronson Pinchot, it's a hyper-violent crime movie that will still make you woozy with romance.
‘Badlands’ (Terrence Malick, 1973)
While Terrence Malick is more interested in exploring the cosmic confluence of beauty and grace these days, at one point he was keen on telling straightforward stories. In the case of his first film, “Badlands,” Malick Incorporated the tale of an infamous Texas killer (played by Martin Sheen) into what can only be described as a kind of screwed-up fairy-tale love story. Mike Judge, creator of "Beavis & Butthead," has commented on how he loves "Badlands" because Sheen plays such a wonderful idiot. This is true. But he's also an idiot in love, and you'll swoon in spite of yourself.
‘The Fountain’ (Darren Aronofsky, 2006)
Before Darren Aronofsky had back-to-back art house triumphs with "The Wrestler" and "Black Swan," he devoted an obscene amount of time to getting "The Fountain" -- a sweeping romantic sci-fi film that takes place in three different time periods -- off the ground. Initially envisioned as a major studio movie with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, the production shut down when Pitt unceremoniously exited the project. Then Aronofsky re-conceived the film as a modestly scaled drama and hired Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz for the leads. It is heartbreaking, epic, and so profoundly beautiful that you'll be hard pressed to get through a single viewing without bursting into tears (even if you're a little confused as to what, exactly, is happening).
‘Out of Sight’ (Steven Soderbergh, 1998)
One of the more painful blows dealt by Steven Soderbergh's imminent retirement is the fact that we won't get any more movies as great (and dizzyingly romantic) as "Out of Sight." The movie that effectively brought Soderbergh back to prominence, "Out of Sight" is about an offbeat romance between an escaped bank robber (George Clooney) and the federal marshall (Jennifer Lopez) on his tail. Based on the twisty novel by Elmore Leonard, Soderbergh's playful direction, shifting back and forth in time, and his colorful supporting cast (including Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Steve Zahn, and Dennis Farina), make this a true classic.
‘All That Heaven Allows’ (Douglas Sirk, 1955)
If you're not familiar with the work of genius director Douglas Sirk, this is a good entry point -- a brilliant, swoony melodrama about a widower (Jane Wyman) who takes up with a handsome young gardener (Rock Hudson). Subtly tragic, deeply felt and surprisingly subversive, it may seem superficial and forced but the emotional center still resonates today.
‘Carlito's Way’ (Brian De Palma, 1993)
Most of the adulation when it comes to Al Pacino/Brian De Palma team-ups is unjustly lumped in with "Scarface," when their true collaborative masterpiece is another crime movie, the perennially overlooked (and deeply romantic) "Carlito's Way." Sure, it's a ‘70s epic following a Cuban gangster (Pacino) who gets out of jail and threatens to get roped back into some very bad habits, but it's also a romance between Pacino and his dancer girlfriend (a smoldering hot Penelope Ann Miller). Relationships in crime movies are always metaphoric, but with the one Pacino and Miller have here, it's easy to see why he would walk away from the criminal lifestyle.
‘Bram Stoker's Dracula’ (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992)
If you want a vampire romance with a little bit more, er, bite, then leave those artless "Twilight" movies behind and revisit Francis Ford Coppola's ornate "Dracula" re-telling, which featured the original tagline "Love Never Dies." "Bram Stoker's Dracula" works incredibly well as a lusty, ridiculously violent love triangle between immortal bloodsucker Dracula (Gary Oldman), solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves), and Mina Harker (Winona Ryder). Part of what makes this movie so much fun is that it's Coppola totally unhinged -- he knows damn well where the top is and he sails over it, propelled by geysers of blood.
‘WALL-E"’(Andrew Stanton, 2008)
Because, really, if love can't blossom between two sexless droids in a post-apocalyptic earth where humanity has devolved into fat blobs, where <em>can</em> it blossom? Andrew Stanton's poetic ode to existence, as told through the goggle-eyes of a waste allocation load lifter, is one of the most uplifting, satirical views of modern romance to come along in quite some time. There's a lot of stuff going on in "Wall-E," but what it really boils down to is a dumpy little robot in love with a super-sleek robot. If you don't identify with the feelings Wall-E has -- of instant attraction and someone being totally out of your league -- well, you're probably a robot. Plus, the "space dance" sequence is an all-time great cinematic moment. Flirting has never been so cosmic.
"The Thomas Crown Affair" (John McTiernan, 1999)
While "The Thomas Crown Affair," John McTiernan's improved remake of the 1968 original, is remembered mostly for its breathless suspense set pieces, its real power lies in its central romance, which, like "Out of Sight," features a criminal and his comely pursuer. In the case of this film, it’s a millionaire businessman named Thomas Crown (played by Pierce Brosnan, with the charm levels cranked to 11) and the insurance agent doggedly on his tail (Rene Russo). Even more refreshing than their relationship is their age: both actors were well into their 40s when they shot the steamy sex sequences. Like a fine wine, they have aged incredibly well.