Happy Valentine’s Day!
Well, almost. To be honest, it didn’t feel right to release this on the actual fourteenth. Where’s the fun in that? I know a very small amount of people who would want to watch six movies in a day, whether they’re preoccupied spending time with their significant other or not.
“So you decided six movies within two days was the right alternative?” Well, it’s better at least. It seems more manageable to me. It doesn’t sound like a terrible existence, watching six great movies for a weekend. Sounds like my personal heaven.
A bigger problem I came upon while compiling this list was…how am I supposed to rank them? I would call all of these movies some of my favorites of all time, and to rank them on my own at all felt like doing a disservice. That’s why I consulted RANDOM.ORG, which took the movies I planned on using and came up with an arbitrary order in which they should be presented. I think it turned out nicely. (I am not sponsored by RANDOM.ORG, but I would not be opposed to it.)
I also wasn’t sure how many movies I wanted to limit this list to. I certainly think more than six movies about love are great. And so I looked up ‘number of love’ on Google, and it told me that “six is the number of Venus, the Goddess of Love”. So now that I believe I’ve gotten all my caveats out of the way, let’s get to the list.
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
I rewatched this recently with a few of my friends, and I found great joy in listening to them debate what the movie was going to be about. I went in telling them nothing about the movie other than that it was a romance, and to save their lives they could not predict where it was going to go.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a science fiction movie on top of being a romance, one of two on this list. It stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet as the lovebirds the movie circles around, and their relationship comes to an abrupt end when Clementine (Winslet) goes through a process that erases Joel (Carrey) from her mind.
Distraught and perhaps spiteful, Joel seeks out the same procedure so he can forget the pain this development brought him. This is tested when, lost inside his subconscious, he decides he doesn’t want to forget his former love, and attempts to stop the men working on his psyche so he can properly try to repair their relationship.
It sounds like a lot, and it very much is, but at its core it’s as sweet as a science fiction film can get. Something I generally love about Sci-Fi creators is how dedicated they are to reflecting human conditions through the lens of the genre. Writers Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman are able to do that here to exceptional results.
Though Jim Carrey is best known for his comedic roles, this movie shows off his exceptional dramatic acting chops. I love when actors show off their range like that, especially to results as incredible as is seen in Eternal Sunshine, and that’s just another of several reasons why I recommend you seek this out immediately if you haven’t already.
5. Titanic (1997)
“Nothing on Earth could come between them.”
God, the sheer grandiosity of this movie, right? I doubt there was a way to make this right by not making it huge. Consider among other things the fact that it’s over three hours long, the fact that it cost more to produce than the actual R.M.S. Titanic, that it was the highest grossing movie of all time after it was released, and it’s tied for the most Oscar nominations for a movie ever, neck in neck with All About Eve and La La Land, which I’ll get to in a second.
There’s no way you don’t know the premise of Titanic, or at the very least guess based on the title and the fact that it’s placed on this list. Two star-crossed lovers meet on a ship that the audience knows is doomed to rest at the bottom of the ocean in a few days time. A modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet, if you will. Titanic is one of my absolute favorite movies (it’s at least better than the actual Romeo and Juliet retelling, also starring Leonardo DiCaprio), not only because of how grand it is but also because of the surprisingly somber relationship that sits at the film’s core.
Titanic serves as a mix of two iconic tragedies, one of a horrifying marine disaster and one of a love story that’s old as time, and they could not have been compiled into a more beautiful piece. It wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if not for how much director James Cameron clearly cares about the story of the Titanic. Cameron is notoriously fascinated with shipwrecks even venturing underwater to the wreck of the movie’s namesake to tape the real life footage shown at the beginning of the film. Everyone behind this movie clearly cared so much about making this movie as good as it could possibly be, and they did a damn fine job. Equally beautiful in its pure size and scope as it is with its interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic, Titanic has certainly earned its title as one of the greats.
4. Sid and Nancy (1986)
Of all the movies on this list, a viewing of Sid and Nancy is definitely the least likely to be among anyone’s Valentine’s Day plans. I’m still not sure this should’ve made a list like this, but I’ve seen a few websites list it as a romance, so I guess I’ll count it?
It’s not really that it’s not about a romance, it’s more that…well…it’s about a romance in the way that a movie about the relationship between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard would technically be about a romance. Sid and Nancy is a musical biopic about the bassist for the Sex Pistols and his girlfriend. If you’re into music history you may know how this story ends, but assuming you’re not I won’t be the one to spoil it for you.
Vicious is played by the wickedly talented Gary Oldman in one of his first ever film roles, and it remains one of my favorite performances by the actor. He encompasses the role so wholly and completely that it’s genuinely easy to forget that it’s him behind the wheel. Regardless of how you feel about him, it’s impossible to deny how much of a spitting image he is to Vicious, at least based on how he was perceived by audiences.
The atmosphere toes the line beautifully between being genuinely unnerving and having a fair amount of heart. Regardless of whether I think it counts as a romance, and regardless of whether the relationship presented is healthy, an undeniable sense of love still seeps through. I didn’t claim that this list would only have overtly positive depictions of love. The cynical need an anthem too. Maybe don’t watch it on Valentine’s Day though. Or on any first date. What a buzzkill that would be.
3. La La Land (2016)
La La Land is about a love shared between two people, like every movie on this list, but it’s also about love in a few different ways. Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) are forced to juggle their love for each other and their love for art.
Sebastian is a jazz musician who will do anything to make a living doing what he loves in spite of how it may affect everything else in his life. Mia, who adamantly dislikes jazz music, is an aspiring actress who wants desperately to balance the things that matter in her life. This is a relationship hypothetically doomed to fail, but the pure ambition shared between the couple takes the relationship as far as it can.
But the love portrayed onscreen isn’t the only sense of ambition shown off by La La Land. It’s also clear that the director, Damien Chazelle, cares about jazz music and cinema just as much as his two main characters do. Every frame here is a painting, colored with Technicolor with essentially every other aspect feeling reminiscent of classic MGM musicals.
The love in this movie is everywhere, and luckily the efforts were met with love from audiences and critics. There’s a ridiculous amount of love everywhere across La La Land, and in my opinion that might make it the most obvious pick for this list. On top of all of that I think this movie is truly great, one of my favorite movies of 2016, so after weighing all of these points, I couldn’t help but feel like I should talk about it here.
2. San Junipero (2016)
Known primarily for short thrillers that antagonized what technology may look like in the distant future, for the third season of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker and crew took a completely different approach. San Junipero instead took the form of a science fiction lesbian romance filled with positive events. In the world of Black Mirror this was all but a glitch in the matrix.
The titular San Junipero is a simulation filled with aesthetically pleasing neon lights and time appropriate eighties music, where Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) meet, resulting in sparks flying. I don’t wish to spoil any more than I already have, so plot wise I’ll leave it at that.
San Junipero is by far the most critically acclaimed episode of the series, even going on to win two Emmy’s, one for Best Television Movie and one for Best Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special. Black Mirror usually serves as a fair warning for what may happen if we let technology consume us enough, but sometimes we need positive messages, and San Junipero delivered that with unrestrained love and vulnerability.
I understand complaints with Black Mirror—would may be inclined to say that its morals are presented in too repetitive a nature—but San Junipero provides reason to believe that the show has had a beating heart somewhere inside it from the beginning. This pick is clearly very different from the rest (even if I tried to compile a nice variety anyway), particularly with it barely being considered a movie, but San Junipero is just too heartfelt and adorable to ignore. Something of magic, undoubtedly.
1. Annie Hall (1977)
And yet it all comes back around to the romantic comedy, one that swept the Oscars way back in 1977. No, it didn’t sweep in the way that Titanic did, but it did bring home Best Picture, Director, Actress, and Original Screenplay, and by my count it deserved all four of them. Annie Hall is not only one of my favorite romance movies, but it’s also a staple in cinema history.
But I understand why people can be turned off by this movie. After all, most of our memories of Woody Allen have been tainted by the years of allegations made against him, and it leaves a lot of jokes in this movie sticking out like a sore thumb. Especially in this day and age, I get why Annie Hall isn’t for everybody, and I don’t intend to push it on you. But God, this movie is still so funny. Even the jokes that come off differently in hindsight always hit spectacularly, and I’m not going to deny this movie the right of knowing that.
This movie’s romance is also notable, but the ‘comedy’ side of the romantic comedy label is clearly what Allen leans further towards with this movie, and so I’m going to judge it thusly. It’s absolutely hilarious and it rarely misses a beat. (It should be noted that the beats it missed are usually when the jokes are ruined by historical context.) I haven’t seen all of the movies nominated, but concerning the screenplay on its own I think it should be appreciated.
Like with every movie on this list, the chemistry between the two leads is undeniable, especially here considering Woody Allen essentially had complete creative control, being behind both its directing and writing, as well as being its lead actor. I know some people are going to be uncomfortable with me throwing so much love at a Woody Allen movie in the year of our lord 2020, and it is a little hard admittedly, but ultimately I cannot formally lie about my opinions on a movie. And with that in mind, Annie Hall is still an amazing movie today.