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Movies for the Lovers and Haters of Valentine’s Day

By Erik Piepenburg

Illustrations by Nadine Redlich
 

Like cilantro or big family gatherings or Crocs, Valentine’s Day has divided us: we either love it or hate it.

For fans of love’s big day (which falls on Sunday), it’s an opportunity to ignite new passions or rekindle old flames with roses and chocolate and chocolate roses. For Scrooges of the Heart, it’s a chance to kick Cupid and his stupid quiver of arrows to the curb.

No matter your outlook on love, here are 10 movies that are perfect matches for Valentine’s Day, five about the power and resilience of love and five about the misfortunes of bad romance.

I LOVE LOVE

‘Valentine’s Day’ (2010)

Garry Marshall’s feel-good rom-com about love and longing features an only-star ensemble that includes Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Shirley MacLaine, Jamie Foxx and the Taylors Swift and Lautner. Yes, the reviews weren’t stellar. But no doubt the arrow slinger himself would approve of spending date night watching sexy pretty people of various ages, races and at least two sexual orientations muddle through amour and end up (mostly) happy.

‘Loving’ (2016)

Jeff Nichols’ moving biopic tells the story of Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple who, despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, took a landmark case against Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law to the Supreme Court and won. Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton give impassioned performances as the couple who was heroic in their struggle and triumph. Yet, as Manohla Dargis wrote in her New York Times review, it was “the absolute ordinariness of their love that defined them.”

‘Desert Hearts’ (1986)

Twenty years before “Brokeback Mountain,” the American West was the setting for Donna Deitch’s groundbreaking romance about a woman’s lesbian awakening. Set in 1959, the film stars Helen Shaver as a professor who travels to Reno for a quickie divorce only to fall for a carefree tomboy, played by Patricia Charbonneau. Their lovemaking is a sexual touchstone of queer cinema. In 2017, Deitch said of her film: “It’s no longer controversial, but it’s still hot, it’s still funny, and it still works.”

‘Her’ (2013)

Does a voice have a soul? Do machines yearn? Does desire need a body? Those are a few of the thorny questions posed in Spike Jonze’s fantastical film. Joaquin Phoenix portrays a lonesome middle-aged man who falls head over heels for the sultry female voice, purred by Scarlett Johansson, of his computer’s operating system. The film’s sexual politics didn’t sit well with some critics. But for a story about the natures of love and artificial intelligence, “Her” is determinedly and fancifully human.

‘Pillow Talk’ (1959)

Michael Gordon’s classic romantic romp stars Doris Day as a fashionable interior decorator who meets a playboy songwriter, played by Rock Hudson, on a telephone party line. They’re nothing but voices to one another — like an analog “Her” — until he spots her at a nightclub. That’s when he hatches a plan to woo her by pretending to be Rex Stetson, an upstanding rancher. From there the film takes a farcical, witty and oh-so-chic trip toward love. Thelma Ritter and Tony Randall are terrific in supporting roles.

Illustrations by Nadine Redlich
 

DOWN WITH LOVE

‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ (1977)

Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep give shattering performances in this family drama about the emotional costs of uncoupling. Robert Benton’s Oscar-winning film is great hate-watching for children of divorce, especially Gen X kids, who grew up learning the hard way that happily-ever-after was a crock to begin with. This one’s a real tear-jerker: credit goes to Justin Henry, who was just 8 when he got an Oscar nomination for playing a son torn between parental allegiances.

‘Fatal Attraction’ (1987)

Her creepy, smoky eye. That poor rabbit. A jump scare finale like it’s “Friday the 13th.” These are just some of the memorable takeaways from Adrian Lyne’s psychological thriller starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close as two people whose hot but ill-fated affair kicks off a one-way trip to heterosexual hell. This erotic fireball of a film was a box office hit despite — or perhaps thanks to — its depiction of men as selfish pigs and women as deranged stalkers. It’s a salacious and camp cautionary tale.

‘The Lobster’ (2015)

Relationships come with claws in this dystopian love story directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, a master of cruel fairy tales. Colin Farrell plays a man who checks in at a strange hotel where people have 45 days to find love before they turn into an animal of their choice. But why does the hotel offer target practice? And who are the sex revolutionaries in the woods? Like that hot but disastrous ex-boyfriend, this one’s spooky, grim, unearthly and rebellious.

‘X-Ray’ (1981)

(aka “Hospital Massacre” and “Be My Valentine … or Else!”)

“My Bloody Valentine” remains the ne plus ultra of Valentine’s Day horror movies. But Boaz Davidson’s nutso slasher film, starring “Hee-Haw” regular and Playboy cover girl Barbi Benton, is a far more twisted alternative. It’s set at a sketchy hospital-turned-insane asylum, where a young mother (Benton) is stalked by a masked killer whose Valentine’s Day affections she once scorned. Now he’s literally after her heart. This one’s for fans of the macabre who think a head in a box makes a great gift.

‘Blue Valentine’ (2010)

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are deeply affecting in Derek Cianfrance’s punch-to-the-gut film about the birth and death of a marriage. As the film hopscotches in time, a hopeful romance crumbles until the words “I can’t do this anymore” become almost too much to bear. More than any film on this list, “Blue Valentine” is best watched for a cathartic hate cry. It’s as enchanting and beautifully composed as it is agonizing.