Feb 13, 2009

Top 5: Valentines Day special

A pair of lists this week in honour of the most divisive holiday in the calendar. If you’re coupled up and happy then it’s a lovely, if stressful day. If not, then it’s often quite painful, because all around you there are happy couples. So here’s 5 (well, 6 actually) movies you and your sweetie can snuggle up with, and 5 you enjoy alone (no, not porn, it’s not that kind of site).

Both lists are alphabetical by film title

The Top 5: Valentines Movies for couples

Before Sunrise / Before Sunset
“Baby, you are gonna miss that plane”

These two brief encounters compliment one another beautifully. Sunrise sees two early twenty-somethings (Juie Delpy and Ethan Hawke) spend a night walking around Vienna, falling in love, before parting, promising to meet again in six months. I love that ending, because it let you finish the story, and decide whether Celine and Jesse did actually meet again. I was, then, wary when Before Sunset was announced, but if anything the second film is even better. The nine years that have passed off screen have also passed on screen, and Celine and Jesse meet when he is in Paris on his book tour, the film unfolding in real time as they walk, talk and reconnect.
Both films are achingly romantic, but each in different ways. Sunrise is about youthful abandon and doing things on the spur of the moment while Sunset is a bit more melancholy, and aches for the lost years between these people. The reason both work though is that Jesse and Celine do feel like people, talk like people, rather than characters. It also, of course, helps that there is a natural, electric, chemistry between Hawke and Delpy. It’s impossible not to become wrapped up in this relationship, and equally impossible not to fall a bit in love with these people yourself and that, surely, is what a valentines movie should do.

Little Manhattan
“The truth is, there's gonna be other girls out there. I mean, I hope. But I'm never gonna get another first love. That one is always gonna be her.”

This lovely family comedy is one of the best films I’ve seen about first love, mainly because it knows it for the painful, confusing thing it can be. Gabe (Josh Hutcherson) falls in love with Rosemary (Charlie Ray), a girl he’s known all his life, and the film follows his pursuit of her over a summer.
The script, by husband and wife Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, is astutely observed, and often very funny, but it’s Josh Hutcherson’s almost world weary delivery of the lines that makes the film so entertaining. The kids are both charming, and their relationship is handled sweetly, and with only a small measure of cliché. Little Manhattan is a film to bring back your first memories of love.

The Princess Bride
“Death cannot stop true love, all it can do is delay it for a while”

I love The Princess Bride so much that I screen it as a personality test. I’m inherently suspicious of someone who isn’t completely taken with this brilliant movie. No Valentines Day list would be complete without a fairy tale romance, and The Princess Bride may as well be the only one.. oh sure, Enchanted has its charms, and Beauty and the Beast is wonderful too, but it’s the dazzling mix of tones that makes The Princess Bride so pricelessly perfect.
The romance between Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Westley (Cary Elwes) is the kind of sweeping, instant, and eternal thing that only exists in fairy tales, but you still get swept up in it and even if you are so stony hearted that that doesn’t work for you there is the greatest swordfight ever filmed, a plethora of terrific performances and some of the funniest, most quotable dialogue of all time.

Romeo and Juliet (1968)
“Be but sworn my love and I’ll no longer be a Capulet”

To be fair any version of Shakespeare’s matchless classic will do just fine, but Zeffirelli’s is better acted than the Baz Lhurmann version (in which Claire Danes botches one of the most famous lines) and has less distracting stylistic flourishes. Whatever version you see though the dialogue remains as achingly romantic, and as breathtakingly beautiful to listen to, as it ever was.
Franco Zeffirelli makes a smart move by casting his starcross’d lovers very young (they were to be about 14 in Shakespeare’s play) and draws a particularly precocious performance from the angelic looking Olivia Hussey (just 15 at shooting) as his Juliet. Romeo and Juliet is both the greatest romance and the greatest tragedy in the English language, and this is easily its best representation on film.

Say Anything…
“She gave me a pen, I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen”

Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) and Diane Court (Ione Skye) don’t seem like a natural couple, she’s ‘A brain, in the body of a gameshow hostess’ while he’s an earnest young man who isn’t sure what he wants out of life, besides Diane, and to pursue kickboxing ‘The sport of the future’ and yet, in Cameron Crowe’s first film as Director, their relationship is one of the sweetest, and most believably rendered, in 80’s cinema.
Crowe’s writing feels very observed, and both Lloyd and Diane are fully fleshed, three dimensional characters, which not only means you buy into their relationship and root for it, but you’re likely to fall a bit in love with them yourself. I don’t know many guys who wouldn’t like to meet a Diane Court. It’s when the couple split up that Say Anything… is at its most affecting, with Lloyd standing in a phone booth in the rain, crying to his sister (Cusack’s real life sister Joan) and the famous sequence when he plays In Your Eyes outside Diane’s window.
Like Before Sunrise Say Anything’s magic also owes a lot to its open ending, which positively hums with possibility for these two enchanting characters.

The Top 5: Valentines Movies for the single

Bride of Chucky
“Oh, Chucky look at us. We belong dead. I'll see you in hell, darling.”

Bride of Chucky is so much smarter and more entertaining than any fourth movie in a series, especially one about a doll that kills people, has any right to be. What’s a real surprise though is just how well drawn, and how very funny, the central relationship between Chucky (Brad Dourif) and Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly), the former lover he kills and turns into a doll, turns out to be.
Their monumentally dysfunctional relationship takes them from one of the funniest sex scenes ever shot to attempting to kill each other, in a relationship that runs hot and cold, with no middle gear whatsoever. The main bone of contention is Chucky’s chauvinism, and the way his belief that a woman’s place is in the kitchen infuriates Tiffany, leading to a hilarious argument. In a way these two love each other very much, but they also destroy each other many times over, putting them in perfect company on this list.

5 X 2

Francois Ozon’s masterpiece is a film about the slow, apparently motiveless, death of love. When we first meet Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and Gilles (Stephane Freiss) they are signing their divorce papers, before retiring to a hotel and having (pretty disturbing) sex. The film then traces their disintegrating marriage backwards through time, closing with their first proper connection. This is an interesting tactic, allowing Ozon to close an often despairing film on a hopeful note, and ask if this and the other good moments are worth all the pain of the rest.
5 X 2 is an uncomfortable and caustic film but it’s also an honest one, acknowledging the complexity of relationships, and the challenge of maintaining them. You’re likely to respect this great movie, while being very glad you aren’t living it.

“You think I'm pathetic? A nerd? A lard-ass fat-so? You think I'm shit? Well, you're wrong, 'cause i'm champagne, and you're shit. Until the day you die, you, not me, will always be shit.”

Happiness – incidentally the most ironically titled film of all time – reminds me of a sequence in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, which features a gameshow called What’s My Perversion? All types of perversion and dysfunction are on display here. There’s Dylan Baker as a paedophile desperately trying to repress feelings for his son, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a corpulent stalker pursuing Lara Flynn Boyle, Jane Adams as a lonely heart who is repeatedly let down (notably, in the opening sequence, by cinema’s most disastrous date) and many more.
Happiness can often feel like wallowing in degradation, but writer/director Todd Solondz adds a vein of black as night comedy, and the performers all give their all to their roles, meaning that even the least sympathetic of the characters is, just about, palatable.

“So many pretty parts and no pretty wholes.”

In Lucky McKee’s clever, funny, horror movie May (Angela Bettis) gets a bit too literal about following her mother’s advice ‘If you can’t find a friend, make one’ after she has split up with Adam (Jeremy Sisto), who she first notices because of his beautiful hands. Bettis is wonderful as May who, damaged as she is, is actually a rather charming character, making you feel for her rather than really judging her when she begins to build her new friend, from parts of old ones.
The film’s ending is a strange one, as May’s new friend seems, impossibly, to move, but like much of the rest of the film this final image is strangely sweet and romantic, despite its implied violence. May is one of the few films that works as well for Valentines Day as it does for Halloween.

The Science of Sleep
“For the occasion of... you're pretty.”

Any single person wants to fall in love on Valentines Day, and how could you fail to fall hard for Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), just as her neighbor Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) does in The Science of Sleep. Michel Gondry’s exploration of his own dreams is a strange thing; a romantic comedy about loneliness, featuring a relationship that never really goes anywhere except in the main character’s dreams.
That’s perhaps what makes this a perfect Valentines Day film, all these images of love in cinema are essentially dreams, it’s just that this one acknowledges that, particularly in its ending, which sees Bernal and Gainsbourg ride off together, but only in his dream, an image you could see as melancholic or hopeful, depending on your mood.

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