This Valentine’s Day, do yourself a favour: don’t watch Notting Hill for the 15th time.
Sleepless in Seattle? So soporific! Maid in Manhattan? Made me drowsy, more like. Anything starring Matthew McConaughey in the early noughties? Not very naughty at all. If you and your significant other are looking for some timely movie entertainment that isn’t predictable, unadventurous or twee, read on – because we’ve scoured the streaming services for films that look at love, lust, romance and relationships in refreshingly different ways.
Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Still recovering from a rough breakup, unemployed Toronto slacker and part-time bass player Scott Pilgrim bumps into his dream girl: the blue-haired, sardonic American Ramona Flowers. She’s into him too, but their path towards true love is beset by several obstacles – namely seven of Ramona’s evil exes, each of whom Scott must defeat in order to win her heart.
Director Edgar Wright’s frenetic pace, editing panache, prominent “visual” sound effects and quickfire cultural references make this just about as close to an on-screen comic book as you can get – and its “spot the star” cast is packed with familiar faces.
Adapted from Gillian Flynn’s novel, Gone Girl is a dark thriller in which Ben Affleck’s small-town boy Nick has to cope with his wife Amy’s sudden disappearance on the eve of their fifth wedding anniversary – and rampant media speculation that he may be the one responsible. To outsiders their marriage seemed enviable, but we quickly learn that neither of them is the perfect partner for the other – or maybe they are? Directed with typical panache by David Fincher, this unconventional mystery will fix its hooks into you from the off.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
What better way to get over a broken heart than to whisk yourself off to Hawaii for some sun and surf? That’s what Jason Segal’s struggling musician does, only to discover that his TV actress ex (Kristen Bell) and her obnoxious new beau (Russell Brand) are staying at the same hotel. This comedy from the makers of Knocked Up isn’t just consistently hilarious, it’s also a surprisingly perceptive look at how people can unhealthily idealise their romantic partners, and how they need to properly let go before they can move on.
Nerdish tech company worker Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) wins a competition to spend a week at the luxurious, high-security home of his boss (Oscar Isaac) nestled deep in the mountains. Little does he know he’s part of a trial for the company’s next killer product: Eva (Alicia Vikander), a physical incarnation of its ground-breaking AI software.
Can Eva pass the Turing Test, even when her examiner already knows she’s a robot? Caleb is the examiner sent in to interview the cutting-edge android, quickly finding her an entertaining and illuminating companion, a kindred spirit and, perhaps, something more. All of which makes the movie’s denouement all the more shocking.
Ready or Not
This riotous horror comedy stars Samara Weaving as a blushing bride, freshly inducted into the patrician clan of her kind, handsome new husband. But when she’s cajoled into partaking in the family’s traditional wedding night ritual things take a terrifying turn – and suddenly she’s creeping around their secluded mansion in a deadly game of hide and seek.
Bristling with subversive humour, tension and gory violence, Ready or Not is brilliant fun. Its talented cast, acerbic script and crowd-pleasing action add up to a winning combination – if not a fantastic advertisement for the institution of marriage.
Natural Born Killers
Rarely have an on-screen couple been as infatuated with each other as Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in Natural Born Killers. The pair play murderous married couple Mickey and Mallory Knox, cutting a swathe of death and destruction across the American heartland. Oliver Stone gave Quentin Tarantino’s script a major overhaul, turning it into a satirical screed against the media’s glorification of violence.
We can only wonder what it would have been like had the original screenplay been filmed, but as it stands Natural Born Killers is an entertaining black comedy whose subject matter feels less relevant today, given how different our media landscape is. Its graphic violence is less shocking today too, but the frenetic editing style and soundtrack – plus a cast packed with 1990s cinematic stalwarts – make it an engaging watch.
Wedded bliss? Not a chance. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson play squabbling spouses attempting an amicable “conscious uncoupling” for the sake of their young son but stumbling into something far more acrimonious along the way. The setup is there for a depressing tale of love turned sour, but in the capable, sympathetic hands of writer/director Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story instead blooms into something far more nuanced and bittersweet.
As Good as It Gets
Coming with all the hallmarks of a typical 90s mainstream romantic comedy (a New York setting, an odd-couple matchup, a gay best friend and a protagonist who writes romance novels for a living), As Good as It Gets immediately sets itself apart by making its main character a truly awful person. Jack Nicholson plays a reclusive, obsessive writer who goes beyond grouchy.
Racist, sexist, homophobic and needlessly cruel to anyone he encounters, he nevertheless finds himself drawn to Helen Hunt’s diner waitress, a struggling single mother and one of the few people who pushes back against his constant needling. When his neighbour, an artist played by Greg Kinnear, is viciously attacked, he also enters his orbit – and these new forces start to affect our antihero’s misanthropic outlook.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Francis Ford Coppola’s lavish adaptation of the most famous vampire tale of all feels like an unmissable curiosity rather than an out-and-out horror film. It captures the novel’s doomed romanticism better than any other adaptation we’ve seen, presenting Gary Oldman’s bloodsucking count as tragic figure rather than moustache-twirling villain. All Dracula really wants is to get his girl back, four centuries after he lost her – but when she arrives in the shape of Winona Ryder’s Mina Harker, he finds an array of do-gooders intent to plunging a stake through his broken heart. Aww!
His career in tatters, Seth Rogen’s crusading investigative journalist takes a job as speechwriter to Charlize Theron’s presidential hopeful. The twist? She used to be his babysitter, and he’s harboured a massive crush on her since childhood.
Long Shot is surprisingly brisk, funny and engaging, with the chemistry between its stars stronger than you might expect. If you like the idea of a rom-com that lists towards the gross-out end of the market, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here – although those more used to twee Richard Curtis-style romps might find the puerile tone tiring.
Before Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu became a Hollywood heavy hitter (he’s director of Oscar winners The Revenant and Birdman) he made his breakout film Amores Perros in his native Mexico – and it was very much a sign of things to come. Telling three separate stories that literally collide in bone-crunching fashion on the mean streets of Mexico City, it’s fierce, fiery debut that plonked star Gael Garcia Bernal well and truly on Hollywood’s radar. With the title literally translating as “Love’s a Bitch”, it involves dog fighting, murder for hire, car crashes and, yes, love.
A Studio Ghibli classic that’s completely out of the ordinary – even for them – Porco Rosso is set in the 1930s Adriatic, where airborne pirates harass tourist cruises until they’re hunted down by our titular hero, a louche, middle-aged Italian pilot who has (for reasons never truly explained) been cursed with the face of a pig.
When the pirates hire a brash American fighter ace to take Porco out of the picture once and for all, his easy life takes a drastic turn for the trickier. But really, Porco Rosso is a star-crossed love story set against the backdrop of rising Italian fascism, involving the glamorous Madame Gina and a feisty young air mechanic named Fio who has something of a crush on the sexy suine.
Although dubbed in English, we strongly suggest switching to Japanese with subtitles for the full romantic effect.
Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott of Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop II fame, True Romance is a bloody fairytale set in '90s Detroit, and subsequently Los Angeles, following a chance movie theatre meeting between a geeky Elvis Presley fanatic (Christian Slater) and the mysterious Alabama (Patricia Arquette).
What happens next has all the hallmarks of a terrifically violent and intricate Tarentino crime caper, but blessed with one of the most undeniably romantic storylines of that era. A star-studded cast includes James Gandolfini, Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer, Christopher Walken, and Gary Oldman as the most amazing seedy drug dealer with white dreadlocks, which is worth the watch alone.
Now regarded as a cult classic, True Romance somehow made a loss at the box office – I mean, there's even a Hans Zimmer soundtrack. Top tip: Watch out for a certain pair of glasses and see who can place them somewhere else in cinematic history without Googling it first. Whoever wins means the other person has to get the ice cream from the freezer.
If you could hold one movie company responsible for the unlikliest amount of tears shed via the medium of film, Pixar Animation Studios would be in with a decent shout.
Wall-E is almost a conventional love story - man and woman fall in love during the depths of despair on a broken planet which needs repairing. Things get tricky as they’re both on separate life missions, but ultimately it all ends in a giant mechanic smooch.
That's right, Wall-E (Waste Allocation Load-Lifter: Earth-class) and EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) are both robots, so gender has no relevance here, and the myth robots aren’t capable of emotion is debunked as we watch a broken Wall-E, who’s endured a memory reset, being lovingly restored to his original state by the memories and sheer will of EVE. You've got something in your eye. No you've got something in your eye.
The Big Sick
There's nothing particularly unusual about how Emily and Kumail fall in love, but what happens next is anything but conventional rom-com fare.
Based on the real-life relationship of Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (with the latter actually playing a fictionalised version of himself), The Big Sick follows aspiring stand-up Kumail and Emily, a psychology student, who start seeing each other after what they thought was a one-night stand. Their relationship is already strained when Kumail chooses not to tell his immigrant Pakistani parents about his white girlfriend, but there are more immediate things to worry about than clashing cultures when Emily is suddenly taken into hospital with a serious illlness.
As he waits anxiously for a change in her condition, Kumail gets to know Emily's initially untrusting parents, while working out how to confront the issues he has with his own. That might sound a bit heavy going, but The Big Sick is definitely a rom-com at heart, and one that expertly balances big laughs with pathos. If you think you've seen all the genre has to offer, give this a watch.