This list goes out to all those funny valentines out there. Yes, we all have a firm idea of the perfect romance movies to watch on Valentine’s Day. “Casablanca,” “Titanic,” “Pretty Woman” and more will always be there. However, love rarely ever is as grand or perfect as the movies make it seem. In fact, many movies understand this and have fashioned very differently off-kilter love stories. For those looking for something different to watch this Valentine’s Day, turn your attention to these 10 offbeat romances.
10“Eyes Wide Shut” (1999)
Nothing says romance like the holidays, orgies and suspicious spouses. Stanley Kubrick’s final film “Eyes Wide Shut” has never been an easy sit. The 2 hour and 45 minute film plods along with its slow burn mystery. However, the slow burn definitely has a smolder thanks to the sexuality Kubrick unearths in his star couple. Then married couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman play Bill and Alice Harford. Alice confesses to Bill that she has had fantasies of other men. This sends Bill down a spiral that leads him to an elaborate orgy. As Bill finds himself in over his head, the couple finds their way back together. It’s a roundabout way for someone to realize he still loves and finds his wife sexy. However, for the couple looking to spice up their moviegoing life, “Eyes Wide Shut” might be just the ticket.
9“Obvious Child” (2014)
An abortion clinic doesn’t seem like the most ideal place to have a date. However, “Obvious Child,” by Gillian Robespierre, never goes for the expected or traditional. Donna (Jenny Slate) is a bawdy stand-up comedian who hits it off with straight laced college student Max (Jake Lacy). After a boozy night out, the two sleep with each other. Donna finds herself pregnant and decides to schedule an abortion on Valentine’s Day. As the big day approaches, Donna falls for Max over the course of their next few dates and she struggles to tell him of her decision. The film manages to craft a delightful romantic comedy structured around a woman’s decision to have an abortion. It’s brave in its conviction, while never acting brave throughout. It’s fun, rather than self-serving. Even as its having fun, it still understands the gravity of the subject matter.
Speaking of unorthodox, yet sexy, love stories, “Unfaithful” details one way a couple can find a way back to each other. Connie Sumner (Diane Lane) engages in an affair with Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez) after one blustery NYC day. This torrid affair only grows steamier and steamier as time goes on. However, things turn dangerous once Connie’s husband, Edward (Richard Gere), catches on. Diane Lane carries the film with volcanic sensuality constantly bubbling under the surface. The first half gives us great sexual chemistry between Lane and Martinez. However, as the film progresses, one sees more shades to Connie and Edward’s marriage. The film is as over the top as erotic thrillers go. However, sometimes a couple needs an erotic thriller on Valentine’s Day.
7“The Shape of Water” (2017)
Who knew a romance between a mute woman and a fish-man would win Best Picture? Guillermo Del Toro’s R-rated fairy tale, “The Shape of Water,” marries his directorial oddities with a unique and deeply felt love story. Eliza (Sally Hawkins) goes through the motions as she works on the janitorial staff of a government facility. She commiserates with her work-friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and hangs out with her lovelorn gay neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins). However, once the facility gets a strangely beguiling fish-man (Doug Jones), Eliza strikes up a friendship that turns romantic. As the villainous U.S. Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) looks to dissect the fish-man, Eliza enlists her friends to break him out. The love story bursts to life thanks to heartfelt performances and a unique visual tone. For those who haven’t caught last year’s Best Picture winner, Valentine’s Day is the perfect chance.
Speaking of strange love stories honored by the Academy, Spike Jonze’s “Her” shows us what it’s like to fall in love with an OS system. It’s the near future in Los Angeles and technology has progressed to a new level of personalization. Greeting card writer Theodore Twombley (Joaquin Phoenix) picks up a new virtual assistant named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) to aid in his day to day life. However, Theodore and Samantha’s personal relationship escalates to become sexual. Soon, they become one of many human-AI relationships that exist in this new tech world. The film stages a full, sweeping romance that brings into question the role AI plays in our life. However, it also makes Samantha a fully fledged character. As Samantha learns more and evolves past her current state, new strains are placed on her relationship with Theodore.
5“Punch Drunk Love” (2002)
Fits of anger, desire to scam a corporate promotion and a weakness for phone sex are not the best qualities for a mate. However, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch Drunk Love” crafts an unlikely romantic lead out of all these pieces. Adam Sandler plays Barry Egan, a man who’s been constantly emasculated by his gaggle of sisters. On of their co-workers, Lena (Emily Watson), shows interest in Barry. After embarrassing himself on an early date, a lonely Barry calls a phone sex line. This line begins to harass him. As he flies to Hawaii as a grand gesture to Lena, the two begin an odd but lovely courtship. As Barry finds a love to fight for, he tries to right the demons from his past to start a great new life for himself. “Punch Drunk Love” shows that everyone deserves love and that there’s truly a fit for everyone.
4“The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985)
We all have our movie star crushes. Our favorite characters can seem like better romantic fits than our real world prospects. Woody Allen takes this concept and runs with it in “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” Cecilia (Mia Farrow, in her best performance) is an unhappy waitress in the depression. After a bad day fired from work and beat by her husband (Danny Aiello), she turns to the movies, starring her favorite actor Gil Shepherd (Jeff Daniels). The charming archaeologist character in the film, Tom Baxter (also Daniels) sees that Cecilia has been watching the movie multiple times throughout the day. He jumps out of the movie and takes Cecilia on a whirlwind adventure. The actor, Gil, flies to New York to collect his character but ends up falling for Cecilia as well. It’s a charming and heartfelt comedy that examines the boundaries our love has for fictional characters.
3“Phantom Thread” (2017)
“Kiss me, my girl, before I’m sick.” The final words of “Phantom Thread” are the most unlikely romantic manifesto. When it came out, it wasn’t readily apparent what the relationship between fussy fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and young ingenue Alma (Vicky Krieps). At first, it seemed like another case of an abusive, manipulative artist sucking the life force out of a young starlet. However, Paul Thomas Anderson’s film proved to be a tender, sexy and hilarious game of power dynamics between two people in a relationship. Reynolds demands a certain level of attention which Alma hangs over his head with a coy smile. Upon rewatch, “Phantom Thread” becomes the funniest movie of the past few years. It understands, mocks and controls the toxic masculinity of its lead character with a compelling romantic relationship.
2“Harold & Maude” (1971)
“Harold & Maude” takes May-December romance to a new level. Harold (Bud Court) is a death-obsessed teenager who frequently stages his own suicides to get his mother’s attention. Maude (Ruth Gordon) is a freewheeling older woman who meets Harold during their shared passion. They both love attending funerals. Bud Court and Ruth Gordon create special chemistry that’s hard to find in any other film. The dark streak throughout feels positively charming and lively. As these two disparate souls find comfort in one another, our hearts swoon. “Harold & Maude” remains a classic romance because it reminds us that true love and connection can be found almost anywhere. We need more romances as daring as “Harold & Maude.”
1“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)
Few movies are as romantic and heartbreaking as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Michel Gondry’s masterpiece. The film turns the romance genre on its head, literally, as it moves backward in time. Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey) finds his ex-girlfriend, Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), has erased him from her memory. Joel decides to get the same procedure done. Through this, he relives their entire relationship starting with their break-up and finishing at the moment they first met. As Joel remembers why Clementine and him fell in love, he tries to hide her away in his memories. It’s a haunting and beautiful meditation on the pleasure and pain relationships inflict on us. Moreso, it uses memories in interesting ways to talk about how we confront and compartmentalize emotional pain. Both Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet have never been better. All in all, it ranks as one of the all-time best romances.