It’s here. Again. Though it feels like it’s only a few weeks since we were bombarded with Hallmark ads, reminder e-mails and a Nicholas Sparks movie in theaters, it’s been a whole 364 days since the last Valentine’s Day, and tomorrow, as ever, will see the world’s couples (hopefully) have a special evening, and the world’s singles go into something close to crisis mode.
As with most holidays, the Playlist team, whether single or coupled up, tend to see St. Valentine’s Day through the prism of movies, and we suspect that, if you’re here, you might too. So for this year, we’ve decided to recommend a whole host of V-Day picks for almost any personality type or occasion. All being well, the perfect solution for your viewing tomorrow night should be below. And if not? Well, you can marathon season two of “House Of Cards” like the rest of us. (And if you’re after something a little more risqué, here’s last year’s Valentine’s Day feature, on the best and worst sex scenes in the movies).
If You’re In A Couple
You’ve been together for months, or years, and while, like every couple, you have your ups and downs, things are pretty good. And there’s no better choice to celebrate that than Mike Nichols‘ classic adaptation of Edward Albee‘s “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf.” Bear with us. Firstly, it lets you feel superior in that way that all couples like to do: you might have your own arguments, but they’re not as toxic or destructive as those that George and Martha (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) have. Secondly, by the time you reach the end of the film, you’re reminded that, when all’s said and done, George and Martha really do love each other deeply, and that whatever your own dysfunctions and basic personality problems might be, it doesn’t mean that your relationship is doomed in the slightest. Not as traditional as “The Notebook,” but not a choice you’re likely to regret. Unless you’re closer in dynamic to Nick and Honey, that is…
ALT: “Up” is a great one too, if you can get through the first five minutes without sobbing.
If You’re A Single Dude
Look, you’re single, you’re alone on Valentine’s Day, and you’re unhappy. Maybe there’s another dude out there like you. Crap, maybe there isn’t. Whatever the case, you need to channel your rage, and since the government hasn’t okayed the Purge idea they’ve been batting about, you have no choice but to pop the most violent movie ever made in the DVD player. “Bad Boys 2” might not be the goriest film anyone’s ever made, but there hasn’t been an action movie with less regard for human life than this one. At least in slasher films you root for the Final Girl to walk away. But between the first and second films (so unrelated they might as well be standalones), Martin Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett and Will Smith’s Mike Lowery somehow became sociopaths, the type of men that thrust guns in the face of innocent kids and fondle the breasts of dead people. The fact that they walk out of the film alive (spoiler?) is like your id fleeing the scene of the crime after a hit and run. It’s a disgusting film, endlessly violent, vulgar and entertaining, so drunk with excess that it might as well fail a breathalyzer test. Everyone is getting lucky this Valentine’s Day, but damned if you aren’t going to watch Will Smith in his alpha-male prime and Martin Lawrence in his out-of-shape leading man twilight blow up Johnny Tapia’s entire drug empire.
ALT: Anything from the Michael Bay Collection will probably suit.
If You’re A Single Lady
Having test-driven “Bright Star” on Valentine’s Day three years ago, this film is a risky pick, but just right for a very particular kind of evening for a single lady (read: the kind of evening that might involve gales of wine-flavored tears). Jane Campion’s gorgeous telling of the love story between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne is anchored by standout performances from Ben Whishaw (swooooon) as Keats and Abbie Cornish as his love (Paul Schneider is also fantastic and unrecognizable as boorish bear Mr. Brown). This film is everything and more you might want in a period romance: sumptuous costumes, near-unbearable romantic tension, lush English countryside, but Campion and her two leads bring so much more than just that to “Bright Star,” creating a film that embodies the heady, cerebral sensuality of Keats’ work. This one is a tear-jerker though, so buyer beware (though that quality is sort of apropos for being single on Valentine’s Day).
ALT: Assuming you’re already caught up on Downton, Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility” or Joe Wright’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
If You’re Having A Girls Night In
Another one that is tried and true: what sets “10 Things I Hate About You” apart from the pack of ’90s teen flicks is the fact that this film holds up. Seriously, revisit it sometime. Led by a headstrong performance by Julia Stiles, this adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” is way more clever than it has any business being. Never forget that this film was the first time that the great Heath Ledger graced American screens, and he’s just so damn magnetically hot that you will mourn his loss all over again. The rest of the cast is stacked with future stars and quality character actors including a wee Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Allison Janney (THE BEST), and Gabrielle Union serving excellent high school ditz. Also the entire soundtrack is girl power alt anthems and Letters to Cleo. This film is engineered for an excellent girls night in.
ALT: “Dirty Dancing,” obviously, because it’s fantastic, and because Patrick Swayze.
If You Have A Same-Sex Partner
Firstly, we hope it goes without saying that love is universal, and a same-sex couple will get the same out of any of the other picks here as a heterosexual couple, and a straight duo should enjoy these movies too. But you’re totally within your rights to look for something closer to your own immediate experiences, and we’ve got a couple of doozies for you. If you’re two guys, and you’ve been enjoying HBO‘s “Looking” recently (or even if you haven’t), you definitely need to check out “Weekend,” which hails from Andrew Haigh, who co-created the show, and directed multiple episodes. It’s gorgeous-looking, swooning stuff, beautifully performed by Tom Cullen and Chris New, about a one-night-stand that ends up stretching on for a few days. Meanwhile, for two girls, we’d recommended “Show Me Love” (aka “Fucking Amal“), the deeply sweet and touching breakthrough from Swedish helmer Lukas Moodysson, which has all the passion and power of the recent “Blue Is The Warmest Color,” but without the same problematic male-gaze issues.
ALT: “Keep The Lights On” is another recent cracker, and we’d also recommend Lisa Cholodenko‘s “High Art,” though we’re not sure we’d call either great date movies.
If You’re On A First Date
We don’t condone this—what the hell were you thinking, planning a first date for Valentine’s Day? But the deed is done, so we might as well offer the best advice we can. You want to show off to your partner, let them know you have good taste. You don’t want to be dry and over-intellectual, and you don’t want to alienate them, in fear that they might be a philistine who is actually pretty great in the sack. So do what people have been doing for decades, and go for the playful landmark of the French New Wave. “Breathless” is swooningly romantic, both in content and style. You can impress your date and tell them which fourth-wall-breaking techniques are still used today. You can enjoy the black and white photography and reminisce about a time when movies were allowed to look differently, probably before you were born. And perhaps there’ll be a connection there; you’ll be the charming rogue Jean-Paul Belmondo, a notorious flirt and an outlaw of the heart. Or you’ll be the tantalizing, mysterious Jean Seberg, wearing your confidence on your short sleeve, seducing the camera with a wink and a nod. If he/she enjoys the film, there’s a very good chance the two of you could be partners in crime, flirts who get together and overdose on fun. But if your date LOVES the film, you may have a budding cinephile on your hand: grab them, pull them tight, and rifle your way through the Criterion collection together.
ALT: You can also win cinephile cred from a prospective loved one with “In The Mood For Love,” or “A Matter Of Life And Death.” Though if they’re really the one, they’ll have seen both already. Ideally on 35mm in a revival house.
If You Want To Break Up
They hog the blankets. They spit when they talk. They won’t share the remote, and they’re loud talkers, the type that call attention to you when you’re out in public. There’s only one thing that they deserve: “The Human Centipede (First Sequence),” a sicko gonzo picture where a mad German scientist attempts to connect three living humans to the same digestive system. Hopefully, your partner will get the message that sometimes it feels like you’re suffocating, and other times it feels like you’re eating his or her shit. When the wonderful Dieter Laser pines for his beloved Three-Dog, hint to your partner that it reminds you of them. The movie is gross, gross, gross, especially because they pick and choose exactly what you get to see, leaving the grotesqueries to the imagination. But what if your partner gets seduced by all the medical equipment, the soft BDSM undertones, the relative cleanliness of it all? Then you have our permission to opt for “The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence,” where all respect for the medical process goes out the window, and a 100-person centipede chain digests laxatives at the same time.
ALT: If they’re still with you by the end of all that, you might want to try “A Serbian Film.” Or go the other way, and pop in “Christmas With The Kranks”—not a single human hasn’t run screaming from that movie.
If You Just Got Dumped
There are probably worse states of mind to be in than being recently broken up with on Valentine’s Day, but none spring to mind right now (for what it’s worth, if they’re the sort of person who’d dump you immediately before V-Day, you’re better off without them). So at first, Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman‘s masterpiece “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” will feel like wish fulfillment: of course you’d sign up to have your no-longer-significant other erased from your memory. Then, it’ll be almost too painful to watch, as the dissolution of Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet‘s relationship plays out before your eyes, with, we imagine, more than a few painful stings of recognition. And then, finally, you’ll come to realize, like the characters, that you wouldn’t swap those memories for anything, no matter how bruising they might be. It’s probably not a good idea to follow Joel and Clementine’s lead and give it another go, though.
ALT: “Blue Is The Warmest Color” isn’t going to be the easiest watch for you, but like a great break-up song, you’ll find consolation in Adele’s woes in the second half of the movie.
If You’re Getting Married
You’ve made the big commitment, you’re planning the big day, but at this point, you should probably be especially sure that you know what you’re getting into. So a triple-bill of Richard Linklater‘s “Before” trilogy is the perfect way to double (or even triple) check. You can snuggle up together and remember the first flush of love as Jesse and Celine have their brief encounter with “Before Sunrise.” You can acknowledge that you found your soulmate with “Before Sunset” (with a quick break to dance to Nina Simone together). And, most crucially, with “Before Midnight,” you can be reminded that you’re going to be in for the long haul, and that’ll be a hell of a lot of work. But, for all the blazing hotel room rows, it’ll ultimately be worth it.
ALT: If you’re looking for something to aspire to, the hard-drinking sleuths Nick and Norah Charles of “The Thin Man” are certainly the models we’ll be aspiring to when our time comes. Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is also unexpectedly moving on the subject of marriage.
If You Have A Baby On The Way
There are countless movies about marriage, but movies about pregnancy are more difficult to recommend: they’re in general, either a little traumatic (“Junebug“), a lot traumatic (“Rosemary’s Baby“) or just terrible (“What To Expect When You’re Expecting“). So it’s with a heavy heart that we recommend, mainly because of the title, “She’s Having A Baby.” There’s a reason the film, starring Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern as a young couple trying to, and eventually succeeding, in having their first child, isn’t spoken of in the same hallowed tones as John Hughes‘ other movies—it’s a bit formless, smug and very yuppie-ish. But there are moments of real feeling, and it’s clearly hugely personal for Hughes, so there’s enough here to make it worth your while, if you can keep away from baby manuals and morning sickness for long enough.
ALT: “Knocked Up” is a much better movie, but probably not an ideal guide to pregnancy.
If You Just Had A Baby
Anything. Literally anything. You could be watching the greatest movie ever made, and you’d still fall asleep in front of it. Just make sure the volume’s down—you only just got your offspring to sleep…
If You Want To Make A Baby
Love can be a messy, tragic, stupid thing. You want to provide for your significant other, so you cover up their mistakes or shortcomings. You want to make them happy, so that involves violent behavior on their behalf. You want to turn them on, so you wear whatever you can find that they might like. The madness and insanity of true love are in “Betty Blue,” and for this couple, that madness manifests itself on the mingling of the naked skin, two lost souls who are addicted to each other like a drug. The love stays fresh for any couple at first, pawing, groping and licking each other. Normally that subsides, but not in the case of Beatrice Dalle’s Betty and the very handsome Jean-Hugues Anglade, who remain as head over heels as they were the moment their eyes locked, constantly gazing at each other even as the both of them are engulfed in the flames of passion, hoping to find some sort of sanity amidst the madness of love. “Betty Blue” is a salacious three hours (though it arguably peaks in its opening minutes, which are so soaked in sex that you and your other half may, fingers crossed, re-enact it rather than getting any further into the film), a large chunk of it’s story dedicated to the sweaty bedroom romps between characters, where Dalle and Anglade method-act their way to lust. Post-MPAA, it’s one of the hottest movies ever made, and if you need an excuse to stay in all day touching each other, this is the one.
ALT: Let’s face it, if the chemistry is strong enough, you could be watching anything. One Playlist team member had one of his more memorable make-out sessions accompanied by Martin Lawrence vehicle “Black Knight,” for what it’s worth.
If You Hate Romance
Whether you never believed in it in the first place, or you’ve burned too many times, you’re the sort of person who can’t stand February 14th, or the run up to it. So why not try “In The Realm Of The Senses“/”Ai No Corrida,” Nagisa Oshima‘s famously controversial tale of the destructive, sado-masochistic relationship between a hotel owner (Tatsuya Fuji) and a prostitute-turned maid (Eiko Matsuda). Their coupling begins with, basically, sexual assault, and only gets more dysfunctional from there. By the time it reaches it’s conclusion, where she strangles him to death and then cuts off his penis, you’ll be even more done with relationships than you were already.
ALT: “Audition” and “Antichrist” will likely have a similar effect. So will this week’s new releases “Endless Love” and “Winter’s Tale,” actually, but for different reasons.
If You’re Hung Up On An Ex/Someone Already In A Relationship
Look, we’ve all been there (or indeed, are there). Like you, Humphrey Bogart’s Rick in “Casablanca” is living in the past a little bit—he’s still completely head-over-heels with his former love Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), to the extent that he won’t even let Sam play the song that reminds him of their time together in Paris. But Ilsa’s married to Resistance leader Victor Laszlo, so it’s not really going to happen. Most of the plot of “Casablanca” isn’t actually likely to help, because Rick and Ilsa spark up their old tempestuous affair, more or less (and she clearly loves Rick more). But it’s the ending that’s going to prove more helpful, as Rick tells Ilsa to go to Lisbon with her husband, warning that if she doesn’t, she’ll regret it, “maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.” It’s not what his heart wants, but it’s the right thing to do. So pay attention, young man/lady.
ALT: Lots of options here. “An Affair To Remember” is one with a happier ending, along with “The Apartment.” “Annie Hall” is probably healthier for you, while “Bridges Of Madison County” is the tear-jerker.
If You’re Having An Affair
Along similar lines as the above, but slightly different: you’re both promised elsewhere, and you’ve probably made up a Valentine’s Day business trip that’s going to come back and bite you at some point. But you could at least take the time to watch David Lean‘s solid-gold classic “Brief Encounter” in which married doctor Trevor Howard and bored housewife Celia Johnson come terribly close to striking up an affair, only to lose their nerve at the last. It’s one of the most heartbreaking love stories ever put on film, but in these less moralistic days, isn’t necessarily going to be the moodkiller you might think. Sure, it might inspire one or both of you to return to your partner, but it might also make you do what Laura and Alec couldn’t, and leave them for something potentially better.
ALT: Let’s be honest, most movie affairs end pretty poorly. But at least Diane Lane and Olivier Martinez in “Unfaithful” is sexy as hell (Claude Chabrol‘s 1968 original “The Unfaithful Wife” is better, but not as arousing).
If It’s First Love
There’s plenty of first love tales out there, to the extent that we collected a bunch of them into a feature not so long ago. But a recent favorite that deserves some highlighting is Tomas Alfredson‘s “Let The Right One In.” The film’s remake, “Let Me In,” is equally worthy, in part because it’s much more effective as a horror film, but it’s the original Swedish version that soars as a romance, as lonely Oskar (Kare Hedebrandt) falls for the undead Eli (Lina Leandersson). It’s only first love on Oskar’s behalf, at least if you follow the hints around the relationship between Eli and minder Hakan, but that doesn’t make it any more powerful or moving, particularly as the film is so effective at capturing the confusion that so often comes with first love (the decision to suggest that Eli is transgendered, dumped from the remake, is a particularly powerful one). Not every first love tale has as much blood and guts as this, but it’s all the better for it.
ALT: Anything from here.
If There’s An Age Difference
There’s certain things that only an older man or woman can teach you, (or indeed, a younger one—within reason, guys and girls) so everyone should have a May/December (or at least May/July) romance at some point. If that’s the case with your current partner, celebrate the fact with Hal Ashby‘s glorious “Harold & Maude,” in which Bud Cort‘s death-obsessed young man falls for optimistic 79-year-old funeral crasher Ruth Gordon. Once you get past the taboo-breaking nature of the premise, it’s a remarkable and life-affirming picture, one that’ll bring you to tears by the ending, but also considering raising the upper age limit on your OK Cupid profile by about 40 years.
ALT: If you’d rather watch a May/December romance with an older man and a young woman, why not try ANY HOLLYWOOD MOVIE.
If You’re Crazy In Love
The truth is always stranger than fiction, and maybe you’ll feel better about your own crazy in love situation after taking in Fisher Stevens’ and Dan Klores doc “Crazy Love,” about the absolutely batty Burt and Linda Pugach. Burt hired thugs to throw lye in Linda’s face, blinding and scarring her, but the pair somehow later reunited. Ladies aren’t exempt either, and you could make it a double feature with Errol Morris’ “Tabloid,” following the antics of beauty queen Joyce McKinney, who found herself in a British tabloid frenzy after kidnapping her Mormon missionary boyfriend for a bondage escapade back in the 70s. Just don’t get any ideas.
ALT: “Silver Linings Playbook” is obviously the biggest and most recent version of this sort of craziness, and we’d also recommend Fatih Akin’s “Head-On,” though probably not as a date movie.
If You’re Into Tough Love
Look, we all have our own little peccadilloes and perversions, for better or worse, but the success of “50 Shades Of Grey” has revealed that far more of us are into, for want of a better term, domination/submission, that we were perhaps previously letting on. If you’re in one of those relationship, and in lieu of the ’50 Shades’ movie (and in expectation of it probably being terrible), watch the excellent “Secretary,” which doesn’t sugarcoat the sub/dom leanings of Maggie Gyllenhaal‘s titular assistant and James Spader’s attorney, but also demonstrates that it can be a totally healthy way of expressing love for each other. It’s a sly subversion of the rom-com formula without resorting to cheap jokes, and it’s pretty sexy to boot.
ALT: Not much to choose from — we wouldn’t recommend Michael Haneke‘s “The Piano Teacher” as a particularly great date movie, for instance. Maybe make your own?
If One Or Both Of You Are Criminals
Probably not a category that applies to you, but given the sheer number of movies about criminal lovers (we wrote a whole feature about them, even), we figured we should include something for those of you with spotty records. Even beyond those, we have plenty of recommendations. If both of you have criminal proclivities, we’d recommend Ernst Lubitsch‘s transcendentally good “Trouble In Paradise,” which sees con artists Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins fall in love, fall out, and eventually, get back together, as they trade witty, and wildly sexy, banter. If one of you wants to stick to the straight and narrow, “Raising Arizona” is the perfect pick: it might be the Coens’ silliest film, but the relationship between Nicolas Cage‘s H.I. and Holly Hunter‘s Ed lends it an unexpected weight, and is pretty much a model of how to build a lasting relationship on either sides of the law.
ALT: “Out Of Sight,” which might not have the happiest of endings, but is ridiculously sexy while it goes about it. “Bonnie & Clyde” could be described in much the same way.
If You’re Recently Bereaved
Firstly, our condolences. Secondly, what are you doing looking for advice in a movie blog? Thirdly, though many would go for “Ghost,” watch its vastly superior cousin “Truly Madly Deeply.” Anthony Minghella‘s first, and arguably best film, it sees Juliet Stevenson struggling to come to terms with the death of her boyfriend Alan Rickman, only for him to seemingly return as a ghost. Funny, deeply romantic and profound, the two leads have never been better, and it works wonderfully as a metaphor for the way that we idealize the deceased, and how it has the potential to cripple you moving forward.
ALT: It’s more serious, and weirder, but Jonathan Glazer’s “Birth” is a gorgeous take on a similar subject.
Let us know your own Valentine’s Day go-tos in the comments section below.
– Oliver Lyttelton, Katie Walsh, Gabe Toro