For many, Valentine’s Day means snuggling on the couch with some adult beverages and appropriately romantic movies. (The fact that my actual couple’s tradition involves a night of horror flicks means my lovely wife and I are made for each other.)
But for the rest of you, the undeniable fact that most traditional Valentine’s flicks are just plain god awful means your big night will smack of boredom, frustration and serious danger of no smoochin’.
So I’ve compiled a list of off-the-map indie Valentine’s suggestions. (Guaranteed not to contain: Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Kate Hudson, the Empire State Building and gay/minority friends who only exist to quip supportively.)
For Valentine’s foodies:
“Tampopo” — Have your favorite date-night snacks at hand for this delightful, dizzy Japanese confection about how food and sex go very well together indeed. Half a charming spaghetti Western spoof about a cowboy-hatted trucker transforming a titular single mom’s struggling noodle shop into the toast of Tokyo; the other half a series of vignettes about the ways food, love and love of food make us, well, bananas with a pair of lovers’ saucily inventive combinations of all three providing the deliciously sexy highlight.
For a deconstructionist Valentine’s:
“The Baxter” – You know that nice but ineffectual guy who always gets dumped in romantic comedies (usually played by Bill Pullman)? Well, this winning, overlooked gem from writer/director/star Michael Showalter (“The State,” “Stella”) imagines what it’s like to be that guy and posits a world where he gets the girl too. His perennial also-ran tries to fend off fiancee Elizabeth Banks’ too-cool ex while gradually realizing his schlubby secretary (winsome Michelle Williams) might be the perfect match for a guy seemingly destined to be left at the altar.
For an action-packed Valentine’s:
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” – For all its (astounding) martial arts action, director Ang Lee’s epic is truly one of the most lavishly romantic movies of all time, with passion spurring its characters to literally superhuman feats. The tragic, unspoken love between super-warriors Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat, coupled with the most amazing action sequences in movie history, make this a perfect Valentine’s Day compromise.
For a night swooning in anticipation:
“In the Mood for Love” – This languorously gorgeous love story from director Wong Kar-wai plays like a Hong Kong “Brief Encounter,” with unhappily married (to other people) Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung gradually (oh so gradually) falling in love while discovering their spouses are cheating (with each other). Lingering glances, Cheung’s stunning fitted dresses, rainstorms drenching neon streets, everything unspoken, with the achingly beautiful score filling in the silences. One of the most truly romantic films ever made.
“Secretary” and “Lars and the Real Girl” — A boss and his new secretary (James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhall) fall into a sadomasochistic relationship. A troubled young man (Ryan Gosling) orders a lifelike love doll and treats her like his beloved girlfriend. The premises are lurid, but each of these genuinely touching, thoughtful love stories make the convincing case that, no matter what form it takes, love can heal — if you find the right partner.
And if love makes you crazy but you’re in anyway:
“Choose Me” — A darkly loopy, romantically fatalistic, exhilaratingly depressing roundelay from director Alan Rudolph, this 1984 cult film weaves an improbable tale of a repressed loveline radio host (Genevieve Bujold), a former hooker bar owner (Lesley Ann Warren), a menacingly magnetic European gangster (Patrick Bachau), his flighty, sexy young wife (Rae Dawn Chong) and the mysterious, possibly insane drifter (Keith Carradine) who comes to town and throws everyone’s love lives into sexy turmoil. Stylized and stunning, “Choose Me” is a modern-day Shakespearean comedy, with our helplessness in the face of desire creating a world where love makes us do crazy things — and is totally worth it.
Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.