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Rachel Fox’s guide to Valentine’s Day movies

James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary (2000).

James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary (2002).

Recommended – Valentine’s Day movies

– by Rachel Fox

If you have Valentine’s Day plans that do not involve being fetal on the couch, contemplating the barren future of your empty womb, cocooned in a Snuggie and eating gobs of ice cream whilst repeatedly mumbling “Khan!” in a vain attempt at a comfort gesture, then chances are you have no need for a list like this because you’re doing something saccharine with your significant other anyway.

If, however, you don’t have plans then you ought to make some. So as to avoid the pitiful scene above.

Unless, of course, wallowing in self-pity is your thing. If so then read on, friend!

10. Annie Hall - Through all the awkward, hilarious, and neurotic (what were you expecting?) moments Alvy (Woody Allen) and Annie (Diane Keaton) have in their rollercoaster of a relationship, they still manage to have occasional glimpses of total tenderness. No, we can’t all speak shellfish and yes, sometimes you do need to call your ex-boyfriend in the middle of the night to kill (or not) a spider the size of a Buick. If you can’t remember the mantra of how much you love this movie, call your analyst and maybe she can remind you.

La-di-da, la-di-da.

Annie Hall - My first real Jew.

(Diane Keaton’s portrayal of Annie made Kate Reid’s list, 4 Fictional Women I Want to Be.)

9. Truly, Madly, Deeply - Love beyond the grave. Alan Rickman’s voice alone would be hard enough to let go of, let alone the rest of him. See also: Always (the ghost of Richard Dreyfuss with a grieving Holly Hunter dancing – heartbreaking and breathtaking), Made in Heaven (Timothy Hutton, please come back. You’re not even dead).

8. The Way We Were - What she said: “Your girl is lovely, Hubble.” What she should have said: “Your girl is lovely, Hubble. Sure, she’s a stick insect with zero personality and she has absolutely nothing to say, although I’m sure she plays the cello very well, looks gorgeous in a turtleneck, has fantastic penmanship and a cute smile. I’m sure you’ll be very happy together.”

Robert Redford is a hot WASP-y goy who Barbra Streisand throws herself at, even though deep down they really can’t stand each other. He’s a schmuck with a huge ego and beautiful blond hair. You want her to do better but know she’s going to be OK on her own. She doesn’t need him. And really, who does? Besides, A Country Made of Ice Cream has got to be the dumbest name for a novel, ever.

Sometimes love is doomed, but it’s good while it lasted. That’s what memories – misty, water-coloured memories, like the corners of your mind – are for.

Redford, Streisand - Babs is not happy.

Redford, Streisand – Babs is not happy.

See also: Harold & Maude (I’d see Michael Cera and either Cloris Leachman, Shirley Maclaine, or Betty White in the re-make), West Side Story (the dance at the gym scene gets me misty), Romeo & Juliet (this movie inspired countless girls to tattoo angel wings on their backs), Legends of the Fall (Brad Pitt. Long blond hair. Brad Pitt. Mrrrrow), Atonement (the devil may have worn a blue dress, but really she wanted to wear this green one), 500 Days of Summer (awkward, painful, honest and true. And a kick-ass musical number), Sid & Nancy (if I met a man named Sid, I’d date him even if I didn’t like him. I’d manipulate the relationship until the amusement I’d provide myself with repeatedly screeching “Siiiiiiid!” would wear off).

7. A Room with a View - Underneath all those oppressive corsets and puffy Gibson-girl hairdos are layers of petticoats and repressed emotions, as Miss Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham-Carter) navigates the turbulent waters of desire for George (Julian Sands) in spite of her engagement to Cecil (Daniel Day-Lewis). Victorian formality complicates but does not manage to impede this delightful tale of impossible attraction burdened by perceived protocol, a maze of charming manipulations inspired by love’s undoing. And really, who doesn’t enjoy a ribald bodice-ripper?

See Also: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Shakespeare in Love

6. The Goodbye Girl, The Apartment (tie) - Sometimes, you need more than a man – you need a real mensch.

These are movies you curl up to when you need to be reminded that yes, decent males are still out there (hopefully) and you probably just haven’t been looking in the right places or at the right fellows. Like, say, the man you greet everyday in the elevator at work or the guy living in your daughter’s bedroom. Some men will burn you and treat you like utter trash, and others are going to have your back because they are truly decent. When life hands you a good hand – a man who knows how to love you because they really do love you – that’s when you have to throw your hand and play all-in.

“Now shut-up and deal.”

5. Say Anything - The only thing keeping this from placing higher is my deeply held feeling that the film falls apart in the third act.

Apart from that, Lloyd Dobler is a legend. I love him. I love him so much I invented a desert – Lloyd Cobbler. I will defer to Chuck Klosterman by saying that John Cusack’s iconic portrayal of a young man who does not want to be associated with anything “sold, processed or bought” has undoubtedly ruined a generation of females, who are frustrated by a “world full of guys” and not men. I concede that if a man wearing a trench coat and a Clash shirt held up a ghetto blaster (iPod?) whilst blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” beneath my window I would be compelled to call the cops (or alternately be totally, like, thrilled and run down to meet him in the backseat his Chevy Malibu). That  said, there will always be a place in my heart for Lloyd, who “shakes because he’s happy” and believes “kickboxing is the sport of the future” (UFC is kind of the same thing, right?).

"I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen."

“I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen.”

I like to think about what became of Lloyd after he inevitably had his heart broken by the “brain trapped in the body of a game show hostess.” A record store owner or hit-man, I’m not sure which.

(Say Anything also made Liz Stantons list, Top 10 Couple-Friendly Romantic Comedies)

4. Amélie Audrey Tatou is deliciously adorable as the title character in a film painted in a mesmerizing rainbow, colourfully broad brushstrokes shaded in glittery hues of romantic notions. Amelie Poulain’s optimistic and charming nature negates the need for fate, as seemingly everything in her life is brought about by random acts of manipulation (perhaps even stalking or felonious interference), giving hope to crazed good Samaritans everywhere. If the story and scenery don’t grab your heart, Yann Tiersen’s delightful score will. And if they don’t, it probably means you don’t have one.

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Meet me in Montauk.” In what may be the best performances of their careers, Jim Carey and Kate Winslet are an unlikely couple on an even more unlikely journey to completely eradicate their memories of each other after their relationship dissolves. At the heart of the bizarrely imaginative, amusing, and crazed journey is an utterly believable dynamic borne of their honest portrayal. The way that they engage, from Frank and Estelle Costanza-esque bickering to moments of quiet and subtle tenderness, their relationship is profoundly whole in its perfect imperfection. Under any and every circumstance, their lives are markedly better when the other is in it.

2. Before Sunrise/After Sunset Yes, technically these are two films, but they really need to be seen together to be appreciated. Before Sunrise was something of a rare gem when it was released, a cult favorite that has managed to shine brighter with the release of the charming, lovely, and oh-so-romantic sequel After Sunset, which catches up with the 24-hour lovers (Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy) ten years later. This film is for the hopelessly hopeful romantic, the one who ponders the imaginary roads of flitting past-perfect encounters, wondering and wandering the stories of the mind in a town called What If. The two are rife with magical little moments, stolen glances and more than an ounce of dialogue culminating in, perhaps, one of the best movie cliffhangers ever – romantic or otherwise.

1. Secretary – Romantic? Absolutely. The deeper and more profound subtext of Secretary can get overshadowed by its more titillating attributes. That being said, the film hinges on the sexually charged and chemical nature of the relationship between a shy, rather dominant lawyer (James Spader) and his inhibited, perhaps even submissive, secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal). He recognizes some unhealthy behavior on her part and somehow manages to cultivate a more, uh, healthy replacement for it. She pushes him to be bold and assertive in the one area that dominates him – his emotions. An incredibly brave performance by Gyllenhaal and a smoldering Spader nets an intimate, layered, real, and very hot portrait of a relationship. There’s nothing more romantic than a heartfelt attraction that burns with unbelievable heat. This movie melts my butter every time.

Another day at the office.

Another day at the office.

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