When it comes to movies, if you, like me, have the sentimentality of a cabbage then you’ll know exactly what the 14th February means. Just like a Wallace and Gromit cheat-day, cheese appears to cloud any sensible movie-going rationale, and for 24 hours, our better judgement melts away into a vast film fondue of kisses in the rain, Nicholas Sparks adaptations, and implausible, over-the top romantic gestures to the theme of Enrique Iglesias’ ‘Hero’, that makes my delivery of Moon Pig roses look totally and utterly trivial.
So, tear up your Notebook; sink your Titanic; and lay your Ghost to rest, as ‘What’s the Motive?’ brings you a list of the best alternative romance films to watch this Valentine’s Day, either with your partner or – for all you singletons – your large tub of Ben & Jerrys….
Hey! It could be worse – you could be one of those losers spending the day of love writing a list of the best alternative….
11. King Kong (1933 & 2005)
One for fans of bestiality everywhere, this re-telling of the classic Beauty and the Beast story begins as an adventure of gigantic proportions (in more ways than one), but, after some blurring of the good/evil binaries, ends as a tragic love story between woman and misunderstood creature. Given a CGI makeover in 2005 by Peter Jackson, the irony of this tale is that Kong often appears more human than most of the humans in the film; so much so that in Jackson’s remake, Ann Darrow’s (Naomi Watts) relationship with the over-sized primate is always far more interesting and developed than her more conventional ties to screenwriter, Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody).
10. True Romance (1993)
You could bet your mortgage that a romance film written by Quentin Tarantino is going to be far from conventional. After a night of kung-fu movie, pie-eating (not a euphemism) passion, Elvis obsessed nerd, Clarence (Christian Slater), and call girl, Alabama (Patricia Arquette), quickly fall for each other. But soon, that infamous ‘L’ word begins to stand for Loads of f***ing blood, as we are treated to a Tarantino banquet of unflinching violence, over the top shoot out sequences and razor-sharp dialogue. If nothing else, watch for Gary Oldman’s turn as a wannabe black pimp and Brad Pitt’s hollow-headed stoner.
9. Léon: The Professional (1994)
Certainly a controversial addition to the list, Léon tells the story of an Italian hitman (Jean Reno) who forms an unusual bond with a 12-year old girl (Natalie Portman in her motion picture debut) after her family are mercilessly murdered. While it might be wrong on so many levels to call this a romance tale, there is certainly a love at work here that goes beyond that of surrogate father and daughter. Solely relying on one another, Mathilda teaches Léon to read as he teaches her to kill – if that’s not love, then I don’t know what is….
8. Anomalisa (2015)
Easily one of the most peculiar little films on this list, Anomalisa follows Customer Service expert Michael Stone (David Thewlis) as he prepares to promote his latest book at a convention in a Cincinnati hotel. Over the course of the weekend, he proceeds to have an affair with Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman who is distinctively different from everyone else, and who Michael has a real infatuation with. Dry, funny and original, Anomalisa’s stop-motion gives us one of the most strangely realistic sex scenes in recent times – think Team America meets arthouse.
7. Gone Girl (2014)
After luring us into a false sense of boy-meets-girl security, Gone Girl wanders so far astray from any notions of conventional romance that we often find ourselves on the shores of horror. There is very little love to be found in Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s acclaimed novel about a relationship breakdown after children’s author, Amy (Rosamund Pike), goes missing. In fact, no-one is even close to being likeable in this fabulously twisty tale of betrayal and deceit. Any trust issues you might have with your current partner will be totally blown out of the water after watching this one. You’ve been warned.
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The second entry on this list from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (after Anomalisa), ESOTSM follows the estranged relationship between Joel (Jim Carrey) and the free-spirited Clementine (Kate Winslet). It’s totally nonlinear, completely unexpected and, above all else, beautifully unconventional. Kaufman rightfully earned an Academy Award for his screenplay, and this cult classic will, at times, leave you scratching your head, and at others, gleaming with joy.
5. American Beauty (1999)
Dark, midlife crisis fantasies surface in Sam Mendes’ quintessential postmodern suburban romance, American Beauty. Kevin Spacey and Anette Benning simmer as dysfunctional husband and wife, whose stagnated marriage leads Lester (Spacey) to erotically fantasise about his teenage daughter’s high-school friend. Why not spend this Valentine’s Day in the company of the satirised American middle-class and sit back and enjoy this modern masterpiece and its surprising final revelations in all its floating paper bag glory?
4. Wall-E (2008)
Who says robots are just metal and clockwork? Disney’s most loveable creation since Dumbo, everyone’s favourite futuristic waste-collecting robot is actually the charming central character in one of the most masterfully articulated love stories of recent times. Wonderfully crafted, and despite a futuristic setting, Wall-E harks back to those childhood days of innocent love and pre-Facebook stalker infatuation. The almost dialogue-free scenes of Wall-E and EVE fondling garbage holds so much more romantic power than any Gosling-McAdams kissing in the rain scene could hope for.
3. Annie Hall (1977)
Often touted as the funniest screenplay ever written, Annie Hall stars Woody Allen as Coney Island comedian Alvy Singer who tries to get his head around the breakdown of his oddly compatible relationship with the titular character (a role written specifically for Diane Keaton). Allen’s fast-talking, pessimistic protagonist is as neurotic as they come, and opposite Keaton’s bumbling, goofy Annie, the film makes for a brilliant dissection of love in the real world and signifies the birth of the modern romantic comedy.
2. Amour (2012)
Haunting, unflinching and devastatingly raw, Michael Haneke’s modern masterpiece, Amour, completely flips the concept of the conventional romance tale on its head. Instead of a film about a love in its youthful, blossoming years, Haneke’s 2012 Oscar winner follows a love at the later stages of life; a life-long romance threatened by the onset of a terrible intruder: old age. With astonishing performances from its two leads, the remarkable Amour is at times surreal, at others heart-wrenching, but always powerfully and brutally honest.
1. Her (2013)
With current dating rules indicating that it is now far more acceptable to chat someone up virtually than it is to engage in a human interaction from across the bar, Spike Jonze’s 2013 marvellously quirky film, Her, is perhaps as relevant and resonating as any film made since the turn of the century. Following the growing feelings Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) develops for his new computer operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johannsson), Her is a conventional love story between two very unconventional beings that is both uncomfortable and heartfelt; both artificial and true; and both completely outrageous and oddly plausible. Rarely has Phoenix been better as the charming, introverted lead, and Johansson is the perfect fit as the sultry toned Samantha. The result: a romantic tale that plays by the rules, whilst simultaneously smashing them to pieces. Come to think of it, my desktop is looking particularly glamourous tonight…