Ten Great Anti-Valentine’s Day Love Stories

Rachael Kelly does not celebrate this stupid day and suggests that you don’t either.

Look, we here at CinePunked enjoy a bit of true love as much as the next guy, but we don’t like being told what to do, and Valentine’s Day just crosses a line. Sure, you could buy the card, the flowers and the plushie, unwrap a posh box of chocolates, and snuggle up for an uplifting tale of the restorative power of human passion. That sounds nice, too… we suppose. Or, alternatively, you could join us on a journey into the unconventional, the unhappy, the unresolved, and the just plain unhealthy as we serve up, for your jaded delectation, ten great movies that give love a bad name.

Our way is cheaper.

1 The Love Witch (dir. Anna Biller, 2016)

At the risk of repeating ourselves, Anna Biller’s bloodthirsty loveletter to 1960s technicolour is a firm CinePunked favourite, and the director herself has been the subject of more than one of our discussions. Samantha Robinson plays Elaine, a modern-day witch with a broken heart who’s determined to find love again — and who’ll stop at nothing to get it.

2 Ai No Corrida (dir. Nagisa Oshima, 1976)

It’s technically known as In The Realm of the Senses in English, but you probably haven’t heard it called that — its original Japanese title has become synonymous with the global controversy it sparked on its release. Famous for its unsimulated sex scenes and that ending (good luck looking away if you’re watching the subtitled version — they’re right over the bit you’d rather not see), it’s easy to overlook the fact that the film, as well as the real life events on which it’s based, is, at its heart, a twisted, unhealthy, but deeply passionate love story.

3 Gone Girl (dir. David Fincher, 2012)

Okay, spoiler alert, we guess, but, you know… it’s been 10 years, so…

Based on Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel, this film is all about what happens to a marriage when love dies. And one spouse is a psychopath without any trace of conscience. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike star as the unhappy couple, and the midpoint twist is definitely worth preserving if you’ve somehow managed to avoid it so far. Fans of Neil Patrick Harris may find some scenes upsetting.

4 Vertigo (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)

Or, how to feel icky watching James Stewart despite desperately wanting him to be okay. Hitchcock’s best film by a country mile (fight us) is a dark, vicious study of obsession and regret, with a career-best performance by Stewart opposite a magnificent Kim Novak as the object of his unhealthy affection. Stewart plays Scottie, a private detective who falls in love with his wealthy friend’s wife after he’s paid to keep her safe. What follows defies logic, rationale and most rules of human behaviour, but the film is so tightly plotted, with spectacular cinematography that makes the very best of its iconic San Francisco setting, that you’ll neither notice nor care that none of it makes any real sense.

A CinePunked favourite — you can check out our podcast on it here.

5 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (dir. Michel Gondry, 2004)

Remember that period, around the turn of the century, when Jim Carey was a Serious Actor who made Serious Movies? And was actually pretty bloody good? This movie dates from then, and asks the question: if you could erase all memories of your ex after a bad break-up, would you do it? It’s written by Charlie Kaufman, which should tell you something about the oddball journey the film follows to draw out some very nuanced, insightful observations about human emotional frailties, before ending on a bittersweet note — with the emphasis firmly on both the bitter and the sweet.

6 Truly, Madly, Deeply (dir. Anthony Minghella, 1990)

Thirty years after its release, following the death of both its director and one of its leads, this beautiful tribute to love, loss and grief takes on a whole new poignancy. And it had poignancy in spades to begin with. Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman star as Nina and Jamie, a London couple whose titular true, mad and deep love has been shattered by Jamie’s sudden death. Plunged into mourning, Nina is struggling to come to terms with her loss — until Jamie returns from the dead. Is he a ghost? A figment of her imagination? Or has he been allowed to come back to her to help her heal and move on? Have a steady supply of hankies, chocolate and wine to hand. This one is going to carve out a place in your heart — in the very possible best way, but it’s going to hurt just the same.

7 Double Indemnity (dir. Billy Wilder, 1944)

Another one to file under “unhealthy,” this is a classic tale of boy meets girl, girl is married, girl convinces boy to murder her husband for the insurance money, and everyone dies. Okay, spoiler alert, we guess, but, in classic film noir style, the story is told in flashback, so the ultimate fate of the major players isn’t in doubt for very long. Early 1940s Hollywood crime thrillers took a dim view of romance, and this is no exception, with Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson scheming to rid herself of both an unwanted husband, and the lovesick insurance salesman (Fred McMurray) she takes up with in order to get herself widowed. Nobody wins and everybody’s awful. Happy Valentine’s Day.

8 Warm Bodies (dir. Jonathan Levine, 2013)

The film that dares to ask the question: what if Romeo and Juliet were set after the zombie apocalypse? Based on Isaac Marion’s 2010 novel of the same name, Nicholas Hoult stars as R, a zombie who can’t remember his own name, but who isn’t quite completely dead yet, and gets even less deader after he falls in love with Julie, a human survivor sent out to search for supplies. Eating Julie’s boyfriend may be a tactical error, but it only reinforces the strength of R’s feelings, and an unlikely bond develops between them after he rescues her from his zombie mates. Brain-eating has never been so romantic and, bizarrely, the apocalypse has rarely left us with such a sense of hope for the future of humanity.

9 Her (dir. Spike Jonze, 2013)

Let’s face it, the true star of this enchanting, quirky, no-seriously-did-he-just-have-sex-with-Siri sci-fi romance has got to be Joaquin Phoenix’s luxuriant Ron-Swanson moustache. It’s a bold stylistic choice but it just, somehow… works. In the near future, this film suggests, Alexa’s had an upgrade and an intelligent OS can not only manage domestic responsibilities, your Google calendar, and your email inbox, it can also love you unconditionally for who you really are. Moustache and all. As insightful, delightful and off-the-wall as the best of Jonze’s unconventional oeuvre, Her presents a future that’s no more than a hair’s breadth away from our current reality. And that’s not a comfortable thought.

10. Harold And Maude (dir. Hal Ashby, 1971)

It’s a ballsy move to start a film with the apparent suicide of its young lead. Ballsier still to have his mum walk in on him swinging from the rafters and react with a tut and an eyeroll. But Harold And Maude is just getting started. Bud Cort plays the titular Harold, a 19-year-old rich kid terminally bored with life. Ruth Gordon plays the titular Maude, Harold’s 79-year-old girlfriend. She’s the original manic pixie dream girl, and don’t let the fact that she’s almost an octogenarian tell you otherwise: Maude is the antidote to every restrictive social nicety and familial expectation weighing Harold down. The sex scene (yes, sex scene) got Ashby into trouble with his producers, but the chemistry between the two leads is undeniable, 60-year age gap be damned, and the film, for all its obsession with death and the crushing weight of imposed commitments, manages to be light, fun and emotionally resonant, making it a perennial favourite at CinePunked HQ.

Life is an illusion. Time is fleeting. One day, the sun will supernova and the world will be consumed by fire. But love? Love endures. Love is what makes us human. We just don’t think it has to come with a big red bow and a fancy meal that costs more than the mortgage. So, go on, you crazy weirdos. Join us. Reclaim the middle of February with the movies that say no to saccharine sentiment and yes to the bizarre, the bloody, and the beguilingly broken. What anti-Valentine’s Day movies will you be watching this evening?

Published: 14 February 2022

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