Valentine’s Day Top 5 w/ Genevieve Rice

It’s Valentine’s Day during Covid and if you’d rather not go out on the town with your life partner or on-and-off fuck buddy, here’s a list of movies you can stay home and watch from the comfort of your love nest.

Margetis’ List

5. Punch-Drunk Love

2002 / written & directed by Paul Thomas Anderson / United States / 95 minutes

Adam Sandler is a force in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s incredibly awkward, surprisingly funny, and genuinely moving drama about a severely emotionally disturbed dude trying to find love with his sister’s friend played by a beautifully understated Emily Watson. Basically, Sandler is playing his angry goofball Billy Madison/Happy Gilmore/The Waterboy character but through a realistic, dramatic lens. There are really good supporting performances here by Luis Guzman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and a very shouty Philip Seymour Hoffman. It won Anderson the Best Director prize at Cannes and it’s no shocker, this movie, like all of his movies, is put together with so much precision and care.

Genevieve’s Comments: In the interest of full disclosure, my husband had to stop watching this with me because it made him way too anxious. And that’s with good reason, as this is not a movie for the faint of heart. This is Adam Sandler’s most stressful role, including Uncut Gems. Sandler’s Barry is so ruled by nerves and untreated anger that it’s paralyzed him in nearly every aspect of his life. But his relationship with Watson’s Lena causes him to fall headlong into life, which proves both very romantic and pretty terrifying as he grapples with feelings shoved deep down coming to the surface. These feelings are personified by the predatory phone sex gang from Provo, Utah, coming to take their revenge. Jon Brion’s deceptively sweet but discordant score makes good use of the harmonium to mirror the plot of the film. Lena helps complete the puzzle for Barry, which is wonderful. But, my god, I also hope he gets some therapy, too. Windows are expensive as hell to replace.

Where to Watch: HBOMax

4. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

2021 / written & directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi / Japan / 121 minutes

If you’re looking for a movie about relationships, here are three. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, one of the two excellent Ryusuke Hamaguchi films released this past year, is a character-focused romance anthology whose stories range from wildly erotic to genuinely sweet. The acting is out of this world and the dialogue is world-class. This is the movie that gained so many acting nominations it sent Richard Jewell star Paul Walter Hauser into a misguided and violent “patriotic” rant on Twitter. You heard it here folks, it’s so good it will lead to you getting canceled.

Genevieve’s Comments: If only Paul Walter Houser went as hard on Jamie Taco as he did on Asian arthouse cinema. Are you still in character as Shawn Eckhardt, buddy? But enough about him. I was blown away by this moving collection of three disparate stories set in Toyko about finding real connections in unexpected places. In the first story, a woman discovers her friend’s new boyfriend is her ex and confronts him about their relationship, opening old wounds and more. In the second, a honeypot set up to embroil a professor in scandal leads to unanticipated consequences for all involved. In the last (and perhaps most moving IMHO) story, two middle-aged women who mistake each other for old school friends are able to open up to each other in ways it’s clear they haven’t been able to with anyone in a long time. The greatest (or at least the most American) compliment I can give Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is that I found this talk-heavy movie so engrossing that I forgot about the subtitles.

Where to Watch: $4.99 rental on Amazon

3. They Came Together

2014 / written by David Wain and Michael Showalter / directed by David Wain / United States / 83 minutes

For fans of Wet Hot American Summer, Wain and Showalter‘s similarly goofy riff on romantic comedies is the perfect antidote for people who don’t like romantic comedies. Amy Poehler plays a small candy shop owner, facing a ruthless buyout by Big Candy, whom Paul Rudd works for. Much like Wet Hot American Summer, I feel like a lot of critics really didn’t understand this when it was released because critics generally don’t understand comedy it seems. The standout is Christopher Meloni as Rudd‘s awkward boss who shits his pants at a Halloween party and then tries to change costumes and pretend it didn’t happen. If Valentine’s Day makes you think of shitting, this is the movie for you!

Genevieve’s Comments: I don’t think any movie parody released in recent years goes quite as hard or as hilariously as They Came Together. Taking aim at such rom-com stalwarts as You Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally and Jerry Maguire, They Came Together sends up such genre staples as the hate-love relationship, men having serious discussions about relationships while playing sports and, of course, the climatic musical montage. Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler’s amiable chemistry helps shepherd us through sharp detours and leads us to a number of terrific cameos from Michael Shannon, Christopher Meloni and even Judge Judy Scheindlin.

Where to Watch: HBOMax

2. Weekend / 45 Years

Weekend: 2011 / written & directed by Andrew Haigh / United Kingdom / 97 minutes

45 Years: 2015 / written & directed by Andrew Haigh / United Kingdom / 95 minutes

Two incredible, carefully observed films from Looking creator Andrew Haigh each about the beginning and tail end of relationships. Weekend follows two guys (Tom Cullen, Chris New) who fall in love during a weekend tryst and 45 Years follows an older couple (Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay) dealing with a resurfaced secret that threatens their upcoming wedding anniversary. The acting is off the charts in these films and Haigh‘s decision to film his two lead characters, in both films, in a series of two-shots instead of close-ups gives the audience the chance to really see these duos play off each other. They both feature some of the best, minimalist film acting you’re likely to see and while Weekend is brimming with delightful possibilities and hope, 45 Years smashes that hope with a tale about how dishonesty and half-truths can erode a marriage like termites. It’s a devastating but intensely cerebral double feature for couples that are really comfortable with their relationships.

Genevieve’s Comments: I’m legally obligated to disclose that I watched both of these fine films on the Criterion Channel. Someone, please present this to our lord and savior in movies, Martin Scorcese. Both of these films present a vivid, lived-in portrait of two very different relationships with one blossoming (Weekend) and one wilting (45 Years). In Weekend, It’s so wonderful to see a loving portrayal of a blossoming gay relationship that doesn’t result in punishment, which is, fortunately, becoming more commonplace in cinema. 45 Years is a considerably harder watch as one woman suddenly discovers on the cusp of public celebrating her decades-long relationship how much of it is built on deceit. Although the slow crumbling of a marriage is not exactly popcorn fodder, it’s worth watching for the terrific acting and a blaring public service announcement about listening carefully to the lyrics of songs you choose for your couple dances.

Where to Watch: AMC+

1. Moonstruck

1987 / written by John Patrick Shanley / directed by Norman Jewison / United States / 102 minutes

The most feel-good, low-stakes, fun movie on this list, Moonstruck is about a woman (Cher) from an intensely Italian New York family that falls out of love with her boyfriend (Danny Aiello) and into love with his certifiably loony younger brother, Nicolas Cage. None of it is particularly hard-hitting or realistic, but it is charming as all hell and features a handful of wonderful performances not only from its leads but from Olympia Dukakis as the mom, Vincent Gardenia as the dad, and a pre-Frasier John Mahoney.

Genevieve’s Comments: This is one of my favorite romantic comedies and my all-time favorite movie about werewolves. And to clarify, I mean comparing the most Italian people to ever Italian to lycanthropes as a compliment in the highest order. Spurred on by the full moon, Cher throws over her giant baby fiance and gives in to her primal urges with his hot-blooded brother. Also, perhaps no other movie in history makes a better case for copper plumbing. A perfect movie! No notes!

Where to Watch: HBOMax

Genevieve’s List

5. Coming to America

Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in Coming to America (1988)

1988 / written by David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein / directed by John Landis / United States / 117 minutes

There’s a lot to enjoy about this winsome Eddie Murphy-led comedy. But I’ve always loved that at its core it’s a movie about searching for something deeper and more fulfilling, which is found in, of all places, America. Murphy stars as Akeem, an African prince who seemingly has everything at his beck and call, including a woman raised specifically to be his wife by his king and queen parents (James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair). But Akeem wants an independent woman who loves him for him and not his wealth, so he and his hand Simmi (a never-better Arsenio Hall) head to the most romantic place on earth: Queens, New York. There Akeem and Simmi find janitorial jobs at McDowell’s, a McDonald’s knockoff, and Akeem falls for the boss’s bright and beautiful daughter Lisa (Shari Headley). But Lisa is engaged to marry Darryl (Eriq La Salle), the shallow, obnoxious heir to the SoulGlo hair sheen fortune. Come for Eddie and Arsenio playing multiple hilarious characters, and stay for a charming little romance between people who are in it for the right reasons. A 2021 sequel, Coming 2 America, has some fun moments but is ultimately disappointing and considerably more problematic than the OG ‘80s film.

Michael’s Comments: This is my favorite Eddie Murphy comedy because it’s so unbelievably fun. I’ve seen this movie like twelve times over the course of my life and I plan on watching it twelve more times. Really didn’t care for the sequel though, despite the amazing costumes and fun dance sequences.

Where to Watch: Available for rental and purchase on Amazon Prime

4. The Baxter

Michelle Williams and Michael Showalter in The Baxter (2005)

2005 / written by Michael Showalter / directed by Michael Showalter / United States / 91 minutes

This gently ridiculous romantic comedy from The State’s Michael Showalter has been on my go-to list of romances since I was the only one watching it in an OKC movie theater in the mid-00s. Writer-director Showalter also stars as Elliott Sherman, a nice, dependable guy with a storied history of losing the girl to showier suitors. So, he’s understandably anxious when his particular fiance Caroline Swann (Elizabeth Banks) starts to doubt their relationship when her intriguing ex-boyfriend Bradley (Justin Theroux) comes back into the picture just weeks before the wedding. Elliott turns to Cecil (Michelle Williams), his timid but lovely gal friday for support, which turns into its own special love story. This movie sends up romantic comedies like The Notebook and Sleepless in Seattle where a perfectly nice guy gets cast aside after a big romantic gesture but also features such a sweet, quirky courtship between Elliott and Cecil. Whenever I have to come up with a color scheme for something, Caroline Swann’s WASPY af  “steamed asparagus and white bean” always comes to mind. An ensemble cast with Paul Rudd, David Wain, Peter Dinklage and many more helps add to the overall delight of the film.

Michael’s Comments: I’ve regrettably never seen this but I do love Wain and Showalter as evidenced from my own #3 pick above.

Where to Watch: Available to rent and purchase on Amazon, though included with AMC+ subscription

3. Amélie

Audrey Tautou in Amelie (2001)

2001 / written by Guillaume Laurant / directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet / France, Germany / 123 minutes

You can’t really go wrong with this whimsical tale of romance and connection set in Paris. The titular Amélie (Audrey Tautou) is an imaginative but painfully shy cafe waitress longing for deeper connections in life. After discovering a mysterious box and returning it to its grateful owner, Amelie develops a penchant for committing elaborate good deeds for the people around her, such as hooking up her hypochondriacal co-worker and a crabby cafe regular or convincing her reclusive dad to travel after stealing his garden gnome and sending him around the world with her flight attendant friend. Amelie becomes infatuated from afar with Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz), a quirky young man who collects discarded photos from photo booths around town. Amelie devises a complex way to grab his attention, which succeeds, but she chickens out when it’s time to meet up. Will Amelie shore up the courage to fight through her anxieties and meet the potential man of her dreams? Will I ever be able to pull off Amélie’s haircut and whole vibe? Find out the answers to these questions and more in this fantastical film still firmly grounded in reality.

Michael’s Comments: I really love the visual style of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, from the always underrated Delicatessan to the wonderfully bonkers City of Lost Children. Amelie is his best though, combining all his amazing visual elements with a moving romantic story without sacrificing any of the signature weirdness. He also made Alien: Resurrection which is a pretty romantic movie in its own right.

Where to Watch: DVD/BluRay because against all logic this movie is not currently available to stream.

2. Harold and Maude

Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon in Harold and Maude (1971)

1971 / written by Colin Higgins / directed by Hal Ashby / United States / 91 minutes

No list of offbeat romances is complete without mentioning this Hal Ashby-directed black comedy. Bud Cort stars as twentysomething Harold, whose obsession with the macabre scares off a succession of dates arranged by his detached socialite mother (Vivian Pickles). While peeping in on funerals, Harold meets Maude (Ruth Gordon), a 79-year-old Holocaust survivor who appears to share his hobby. Living in a decommissioned railroad car, constantly stealing cars and driving them recklessly and playing the banjo like nobody’s business, Maude is committed to living her best life. Harold and Maude become friends and then strike up a romance, much to the chagrin of his conventional mother. Cat Stevens provided the music for this movie, and he went pretty hard with a number of bold, brassy tunes. Mention you like this movie at Hot Topic for 20 percent off your total purchase.

Michael’s Comments: My mom made me watch this as a kid and I really didn’t love it, so I think I need to give it a second chance as an adult. Why would my mom make me watch a movie about a twentysomething and an 80-year-old getting it on? I’ll never know and I refuse to ask her.

Where to Watch: Showtime, or for those with library cards, Kanopy

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

2004 / written by Charlie Kaufman / directed by Michel Gondry / United States / 108 minutes

My top pick is maybe the only science fiction film I’ve ever loved and the best work of Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry to date. Following a nasty fight, Joel (Jim Carrey, playing against type) discovers with horror that his impulsive girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) has had him erased from her memory using a service from a mysterious firm named Lacuna headed up by Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson). A brokenhearted Joel decides to get the procedure done as well. The operation is done overnight in Joel’s apartment by a team of technicians including Mark Ruffalo as the level-headed Stan, Elijah Wood as creepy Patrick, who is using Clementine’s discarded memories to get with her and bubbly receptionist Mary (Kirsten Dunst), who is sleeping with Stan but clearly infatuated with Dr. Mierzwiak. During the procedure, Joel reconnects with Clementine in his memories and then the two travel through his mind, trying frantically to preserve his memories of her. Darkly funny, well acted and visually stunning, there’s a reason why this almost 20-year-old film still feels fresh and inventive today.

Michael’s Comments: A really superb blending of unique styles by director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. It features a typically amazing performance by Kate Winslet and a very good one by Jim Carrey. Even though it’s an excellent film, it might be my least favorite from Kaufman who somehow manages to always hit it out of the park. This is by far his most accessible work though and gives us protagonists we don’t outright hate.

Where to Watch: Stream free on Tubi if you can stand very jarring commercial breaks; otherwise rent or buy on Amazon Prime

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