Check the Reel: Valentine’s Day recommendations

February 8, 2012

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and I bet some of you are planning a movie night with your beloved other (or potential beloved other).

You’re looking for that one rom-com that won’t kill any brain cells, a sentimental, cinematic treat for lovers that doesn’t involve sparkling vampires or Jennifer Aniston. When “Annie Hall” and “Sleepless in Seattle” fail to cut it after the umpteenth viewing, you need something fresh, exciting and decidedly good. Here are some romantic movies to make your Valentine’s Day a memorable one:

“Amélie” – This giddy French classic deserves the label “feel-good” while other films fall short. Audrey Tautou plays Amélie, a spritely, shy Parisian who vows to spread happiness to other people without their knowing. When she falls for Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz), she courts him with the same indirect, elaborate techniques she used for other people’s relationships. It’s a sweet, delightful film, presenting Paris as a fairy tale landscape without falling prey to the artifice of modern rom-coms. Soothing narration (André Dussolier) and a genuine examination of life’s quirks and mysteries keep “Amélie” a sweet, joyous affair.

“Midnight in Paris” – Another movie set in Paris? Say what you will about the French, they have one hell of an amorous capital. Woody Allen’s latest film, currently up for Best Picture, is a return to form for Hollywood’s most industrious auteur. The story of Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a disenchanted, American screenwriter who seeks inspiration in the streets of Paris, comes to life in Allen’s subdued screenplay, which explores nostalgia and generational displacement with a loving, sympathetic eye. For those who don’t know the twist at the story’s heart, avoid spoilers if possible. I’ll only say that fans of 1920s literature, art and film will be delighted.

“Harold & Maude” – Every unconventional romance movie owes its existence to Harold & Maude. The eponymous duo, a morbid teen (Bud Cort) who stages elaborate, fake suicides and frequents funerals, and a vicarious old lady (Ruth Gordon) who’s content to steal hearses and police choppers, make a surprisingly endearing couple. The gallows humor may seem off-putting, but paired with Cat Stevens’ soundtrack and Ashby’s clever direction, it’s accessible while retaining its eccentricities.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” – Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) signs up for a radical procedure that will delete his memories of a failed relationship with Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), only to find out during the mind-wipe that he doesn’t quite want to forget everything about their love. “Eternal Sunshine” definitely skirts intellectual subjects with its sci-fi conceit and the combined genius of director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, but it’s hard to argue with a movie that really gets the absurdity of human attraction and embraces it for all its worth. At his most sullen and low-key, Jim Carrey is adorable. It’s a shame we rarely see him as a romantic leading man.

“Mi Nismo Andjeli” (We Are Not Angels) – I reviewed it last week and I stand by my assessment: this oddball import from Serbia mines comic and romantic gold by pitting the forces of heaven and hell against a Belgrade playboy and the studious teenager he impregnated. It’s goofy, unpretentious and loveable, a guilty pleasure with all the guilt stripped away.

“Before Sunrise” – In the words of TKS copy editor Sam Brownson, “A pretty classy romance movie.” “Before Sunrise,” true to director Linklater’s naturalistic, conversational style, doesn’t need love triangles or backstabbing to make its love story timeless. It starts with two college students, an American (Ethan Hawke) and Frenchwoman (Julia Delpy), meeting on a train in Europe. They spontaneously decide to spend a day together in Vienna and from there they embark on a series of meandering dialogues about reincarnation, poetry, differences between the sexes and other mundane but truthful topics. Its quiet honesty distinguishes “Before Sunrise” as a beautiful, observant cinematic masterpiece — along with the perfect vehicle for cuddling with a loved one.

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