Who doesn’t love Valentine’s Day? All the romance and intimacy; sharing tender feelings with your significant other over candlelight dinners. The flowers, the jewelry, sexy lingerie and Hallmark cards that cost four bucks apiece…
Who doesn’t love Valentine’s Day?
Me. This girl. Right here. Just like all the other single people in the world, February fourteenth is just another day in the week for me. I don’t have to think up meaningful gifts, plan an outfit to wear to the fancy restaurant, or shave my legs for the obligatory sex at the end of the night. But my sad and pathetic social life means that I have the time to do things like write this article for the benefit of those who are not sad and pathetic. I’m a great humanitarian- what can I say? But before I get to the advice part I thought I’d give people a little reminder of why we celebrate this so special day.
Oh, and anyone wondering why someone single should be giving out any kind of relationship advice can shove it. Thought I’d clear that one up right off the bat.
Despite the accusations of the loveless and cynical, this holiday wasn’t invented by the flowers and greeting card companies: more like the Romans and Christian church.
Every February 15th the Roman’s held a festival called Lupacalia to celebrate Faunus, the god of Agriculture, as well as commemorate the founding of Rome by the twins Romulus and Remus. Priests went to a sacred cave and sacrificed animals, then ran around the city slapping crops and young women with whips dipped in the blood. This was to ensure both the women and the land’s fertility and in turn, the prosperity of the Roman people. Then during the 5th century, pagan celebrations were outlawed by the Christian church. But not unlike the holiday Samhain (aka Halloween or All Saint’s Day) the church realized how much people enjoyed these naughty Pagan traditions and so instead of struggling to stamp them out, decided to place a Christian celebration right on top of it. This way the people could keep doing all the fun stuff without being sacrilegious and the church could retain popularity instead of being a huge buzzkill. So at the end of the 5th century we have Pope Gelasius declaring February 14th the day of Saint Valentine, who was some Saint of some kind…no one really knows which because there were three. Though the origin stories of these saints named Valentine or Valentinus are all unclear and have become more legend than fact, we do know that all were martyred and some had a loose connection to love and sacrifice that appealed to people’s sense of romance. By the Middle Ages St. Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France, where it was also believed that the middle of February was the start of the mating season for birds. This forever cemented the association of fertility, love, romance, and mating with the feast of St. Valentine on February 14th.
Christian Church-1, Pagan Festivals-0.
It wasn’t until after the 1400s that written St. Valentine’s Day greetings became popular, but by the 18th century it was a common occurrence across all social classes in several countries. The first mass-produced Valentine’s Day card was created by Esther Howland in the United States sometime during the 1840s and according to the Greeting Card Association an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year. Also, there is an actual Greeting Card Association. These greetings, given along with tokens of affection like flowers and sweets, evolved to become the frenzy of spending and inundation of cutesy teddy bears, roses, hearts, and all things red & pink today that we’ve come to know and loathe, I mean love.On top of leaving you more educated and full of fun facts to impress I’m also offering my assistance in an area that has become not only a Valentine’s Day tradition, but a staple in the entire dating/relationship world: the date movie.
Ever since the creation of moving pictures, people have sat through shit that they didn’t really want to and pretended to like when the really didn’t in order to make another person happy and possibly get lucky. I don’t want to stereotype all women and say that this is my list of suggested alternatives to traditional chick-flicks in order to reduce the suffering of men nationwide…but basically that’s what this is. Obviously there are the rare and exceptional exceptions such as me to the preconceived notions of how women think and what we like, but for the sake of this article let’s just go with the conceptual majority and argue over the prevalence of girls who prefer explosions over expressions of love some other time, ok?
If you’re worried about what horror show of cheesetastic love stories and films starring Sandra Bullock your girl will pull off of Netflix or drag you to the theatre to shell out 20-30 bucks for, why not take matters into your own hands this year? Here to help are my fourteen suggested chick-flick alternatives that feature unconventional love stories and unique characters that provide enjoyable entertainment while staying on-topic. I’ve divided them into five sub-categories based on their second most prominent element for those who prefer action over humor, sex over cinematography, and so on.
These three films each garnered acclaim for their special flavor of brilliance at Sundance, and while they couldn’t be more different from each other, the journey they take you on is a poignant and enjoyable ride worth watching and discussing at any time.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) 108 mins
How much easier would life be if one could simply erase all memory of painful events? Sure our psychological scars are what molds our character and helps to define us as individuals but is it always better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all- and what if we could decide that? A top-notch cast that includes Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, and Kirsten Dunst explore the idea that our memory is the arch-enemy of our happiness.
Lars and the Real Girl (2007) 106 mins
Before he was a badass in Drive or melted hearts and panties alike despite a scraggly beard in The Notebook, Ryan Gosling convinced us that it really was possible for someone that gorgeous to be painfully shy and socially inept in Lars and the Real Girl. Not just a wonderful story about the transformational properties of love, this film is a testimony to the truism that a man can overcome anything with the help of a good woman; or even just the idea of a good woman.
Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006) 88 mins
In a strange, sad kind of Purgatory reserved for people who have committed suicide, a boy named Zia wonders what to do with himself and reminisces about the former girlfriend who broke his heart. When he discovers that she committed suicide not long after he did, Zia hits the road with his friend and failed rock musician Eugene in search of the lovely Desiree. Along the way he meets others living out their eternity in the same joyless way, including a pretty hitch-hiker named Mikal who claims her presence there is a mistake and is searching for the People In Charge to correct her situation. Darkly humorous with a sort-of tongue-in-cheek philosophical air, Wristcutters is an unexpected pleasure that will make you appreciate all the things (and people) in your life that are easy to take for granted. Patrick Fugit plays Zia and the lovely Shannyn Sossamon is Mikal.
For those of you who want something to jump-start your evening, so to speak, these are some films that you may not have seen that’ll give you a whole new point of view on the interconnections of love, sex, pleasure, and pain.
Quills (2000) 124 mins
Kate Winslet appears on my list again in this story about the amorous adventures of the Marquis de Sade while interned at an asylum. She plays the part of Madelein, a maid who secretly aids the Marquis in putting the debaucheries of his imagination down on paper in order to reach the public. Joaquin Phoenix plays the Abbott running the asylum with the best of intentions while Geoffrey Rush plays the original sadist. This story is a bit less focused on love and romance but remains a great story nonetheless. Or maybe I just have a sick mind.
Secretary (2002) 104 mins
One of my favorite films of all time, Secretary is the very definition of an unusual love story. Maggie Gyllenhal plays Lee Holloway, a lonely and repressed young woman who takes a job as a secretary upon her release from hospitalization. James Spader is excellent as her boss who leads her one step at a time into a relationship few ever experience and fewer still can understand. It’s a window into the world of BDSM that’s far more authentic than Fifty Shades of Grey will ever be.
Young Adam (2003) 98 mins
People should see this movie if for no other reason than the fact that Ewan McGregor appears naked in it briefly. That is the nude scene is brief, Ewan is in it the whole time. In fact what I remember most about this movie is how much sex he had in it. He also manages to pretty much screw up the lives of everyone around him with sex as well, but he looks damn good while doing it (pun intended.) Probably for the best it was rated NC-17 eh? Tilda Swinton plays the female lead/person naked the 2nd most frequently.
I have no other way to describe these but feel like both deserve mentioning. Both films deal with the unfairness of life and the capacity each of us has for love, longing, heartache, and obsession. They aren’t your typical Valentine’s Day feature but if you don’t watch them now I recommend that you do at some later date and time.
Womb (2010) 111mins
When the love of her life is taken from her before they are able to even begin their life together, Rebecca decides to have him cloned. Where things get strange is when she also decides to be the one to carry and give birth to her love-clone and then raise him as her son so that there’s a freaky Norman Bates-esque quality to their relationship. Matt Smith plays Thomas and the Thomas clone while the beautiful Eva Green plays his love and his mom. Is it still incest if he’s not biologically related to you? Maybe I should email Woody Allen…
The Lovely Bones (2009) 135 mins
The surrealism of living in the afterlife is portrayed parallel to the all-too-real grief and frustration of a family fractured by the disappearance of a child. The stark sadness of a young girl’s murder pales in comparison to the heartache caused by refusing to let go of what’s already lost. The story directed by Peter Jackson makes my list because it is a beautifully well-acted tale that will leave you with eyes welled up. Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz play the parents of the victim while Saoirse Ronan plays Susie.
If you’re like me you might prefer a bit more excitement to your romance tales than the average love-story usually accommodates; if so, these suggestions are for you. Additionally they each deal with a form of the undead, which always makes love extra-fun in my opinion.
This isn’t so much a film as it is a French television series that aired on IFC but I felt compelled to mention it because I’ve never come across anything like it in all my vast experience with zombies. The strangeness and foreboding are matched only by the centrality of love in all its forms. It’s the story of a small town where one day, out of the blue, people’s deceased loved ones start coming home as if no time had passed since they had…well, passed. Some have only been gone a few months while others return to apartments that have new tenants and fiancés that have new husbands. I can’t say that I know any of the actors in it but they do a great job, and if you get through the whole season please drop me a line so that I can ask you to explain to me wtf was going on…
Kiss of the Damned (2012 version) 97 mins
A vampire movie where no one sparkles- so a real vampire movie- that was remade in 2012, Kiss of the Damned is a sexy, fun romp in the realm of eternal darkness. Paolo is a screenwriter who became entranced by a beautiful stranger while seeking isolation to focus on his craft. Drawn to each other as though it was meant to be, the mysterious Djuna is unable to scare Paolo off or resist him despite her (sortof) best efforts and so creates a partner/lover for forever. However their blood-sucking honeymoon is interrupted when her wild and unpredictable sister shows up unannounced. What could be more dramatic than a house full of tense vampires? Milo Ventimiglia plays Paolo, Josephine de la Baume is Djuna, and Roxane Mesquida is Djuna’s sister Mimi.
The Crow (1994) 102 mins
Based on the brilliant comic book by James O’Barr and made into a real-life tragic love story after the actor playing the main character is killed in an accident while filming, The Crow is another of my all-time favorite films. Brandon Lee plays Eric Draven, a musician turned avenging angel after he and his fiancé Shelley Webster are tortured and murdered by a gang of thugs. His soul is brought back by a crow in order to “set the wrong things right” in this dark, violent, and moody tale that proves real love is forever.
Everyone’s sense of humor is a bit different so I selected three films that couldn’t be more different from each other in nearly every way except for the fact that all of them are love stories.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) 95 mins
I believe the correct term for this film is “rock opera.” Full of catchy musical numbers, this film chronicles the life of Hedwig and her battle for fame, love, and acceptance. Angry and hurt that the boy she once believed truly cared about her became a rock star without her but with the songs they wrote together, Hedwig is bitter and cynical, keeping people at a distance and putting a strain on all the other relationships in her life. Other than the costumes and makeup and humor and scenery, by far the best thing about this movie is the soundtrack, which has never left my iPod. I dare you to listen to “The Origin of Love” and not think it’s brilliant.
Garden State (2004) 102 mins
I think Garden State may actually be my favorite movie of all time…I know I’ve said other aforementioned films are my favorites and I just told you how much I love the soundtrack to Hedwig, but this might be my one favorite movie and movie soundtrack of all if I could only list one. Zach Braff wrote, directed, and starred in this as well as personally selecting all of the music. This left him with very little money left in the budget for things like say, filming, but also earned him a Grammy for best compilation soundtrack album for a motion picture, television or other visual media. Braff plays Andrew Largeman; a quasi-successful actor living in LA who reluctantly returns to his home in New Jersey in order to attend his mother’s funeral. Shortly after the burial he meets Sam, played by Natalie Portman, who changes his entire view on life in only a few short days. The story is quirky and has a randomness to the way events unfold that goes well with its strange sense of humor. These surround a poignant and genuine-feeling drama that I believe nearly everyone can relate to on some level. Overall the tone of the movie manages to remain light even though the plot centers on a traumatic loss, and combined with the superb performances by the supporting cast members it is most assuredly an experience you won’t forget.
I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) 98 mins
Another film starring both Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, I Love You Phillip Morris is by far the lightest and most humorous of all my weird/funny films. Carrey plays Steven Russell, a man who meets his true love, played by Mr. McGregor, while in prison for insurance fraud. Everything after that is wine and roses- the only problem seems to be his complete and utter inability to tell the truth. There are some wonderful tender moments, laugh-out-loud moments, shocked and scandalized moments, and plenty of coarse gay humor. I highly recommend this one for a great time and anyone who can appreciate a good sight-gag.
This extra list is comprised of films that most people have seen before and nearly everyone has at least heard of. They’re fourteen of your more your traditional V-Day movies but if you must go that route these are what I recommend as being the best options. (You might also want to keep them in mind in case your first selection from the list above crashes and burns with your viewing partner’s film tastes.) No synopses, no links- just some titles to keep in mind. I can’t do all the work for you, can I?
Last of the Mohicans
The Painted Veil
Legends of the Fall
What Dreams May Come
So instead of seeing Endless Love or Winter’s Tale, which both look stupid, stay in and save your money for more important things- like comic books. And remember: if your bf or gf asks you to watch any part of the Twilight “saga” dump them post haste and run like Hell.
Your Bitchy WMD Valentine,
Sources: the internet movie database, history.com, SundanceChannel.com, movieposters.com