🛑 Spoiler Alert for the following movies: The Notebook, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and About Time.
It is that time of the year again. As the eternally exhaustive cliché goes, “love is in the air”. The internet is agog with love-themed materials. There are packages being delivered nationwide, and the rise of online vendors hawking the promise of romance on WhatsApp statuses has become exhausting. Whether we want to or not, we will encounter love one way or another this valentine. I confidently assure you now that this is one of those encounters. Take heart, you sorry sod. In the end, lori iro ni gbogbo e.
All lists of this nature are subjective, but I have curated this one with peculiar attention to all parties; the melancholic, the never-to-be, the fantastical, the sacrificial, and the very much in-love. Here are ten movies to watch this valentine.
10. A Star is Born (2018)
An alcoholic music superstar, Jackson (Bradley Cooper), falls in love with a struggling artist, Ally (Lady Gaga). Together, they light the right romantic sparks and also tick all the boxes for a toxic relationship. As Ally rises, Jackson’s career begins to deteriorate and naturally, this affects their relationship. It is a film about the redemptive power of love told with delicateness by Bradley Cooper.
9. The Shape of Water (2017)
Academy Award winning love story between a towering blue amphibious alien and a lonely janitor in a research facility. Little needs to be said beyond the fact that Guillemo del Toro, director of Pan’s Labyrinth, directed this movie. This is a story about the incredulity of love existing in the most impossible circumstances.
8. Before Sunrise (1995)
Two travelers, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), meet on a train headed somewhere in Europe. They alight and decide to walk through the city. They talk and they laugh and, in the end, they fall in love. It seems to be a simple, straightforward plot, and it is, but beyond that, it questions the notion of grandiose events preceding a fiery love story. Beyond the story, it is a homage to the beauty of Europe. Two sequels, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, have been released afterwards.
7. The Notebook (2004)
The film is based on a novel by Nichols Sparks. Starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, the movie follows their love story from the first time they met and the numerous troubles the relationship endured until present day. They break up, sometimes for years, get back together, all the while, defining and redefining their love, until old age. This is a patient story of love transformed by the great performance of its leads, Gosling and McAdams. And, of course, there will always be that rain-soaked kiss they shared.
6. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Directed by master filmmaker, David Fincher, and based on the short story of the prodigy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an interesting coming of age story with a sad love story sandwiched within it. Benjamin has a peculiar condition that means he was born an old man and the older he gets, the younger he becomes. While he experiences life backwards, Benjamin meets, loses and reconciles, then loses his childhood love, until at the end, he is a beautiful young man and his lover is old in her deathbed. It is a peculiar film carried enigmatically by the talented Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.
5. About Time (2013)
On a very arbitrary day in his life, Tim Lake, played by Domhnall Gleeson, finds that he has a special power. His father reveals to him that the men in their family can travel back in time. A dangly, awkward adult, Tim quickly pursues his sister’s friend, Charlotte (Margot Robbie), whom he has always lusted after. But he soon finds that he does not love her when he meets a mysterious woman in a Dans le Noir. It is a profoundly simple movie about true love, priorities, and the values of family. Rachel McAdams stars as the female lead. David Curtis directed this romance masterpiece.
4. Titanic (1997)
Say what you will about this film: “Jack would have fit on that board with Rose.” for example, but this film is a testament to the talent of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet—who have both maintained a strong friendship since then—and the enduring brilliance of James Cameron’s storytelling abilities. DiCaprio and Winslet both play Jack and Rose respectively. Both are a jejune couple who defy social norms and their social statuses to be together. There is an innocence that one wishes to reclaim when confronted by juvenile love. And when one knows that such love is doomed, it doubles attention.
3. In the Mood for Love (2000)
Wong Kar-Wai’s movie about a failed romance is a melancholic examination of the effects of cheating partners in a relationship. Two neighbours find that their partners are cheating on them with each other. They both examine why their partners have done this act, and, in the process, they both fall in love with each other. However, they make a vow that unlike their partners, they will never consummate their love. The movie is an accomplishment in restraint.
2. Devdas (2002)
Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and starring Shar Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai, Devdas produces what we expect of a classic Indian film; music, dance, drama, and a forbidden love story. A British-educated Indian aristocrat returns home to his family and childhood love with the hopes of settling down with her. However, both families have different plans and it affects their children’s love. In the final scene, Devdas, the eponymous character, suffers a heartbreak so severe, it literally stops his heart. What makes Devdas stand out is the meticulous approach to building its plot, so that once the structure is complete, there is no doubt, no iota of questioning to the tragedy that concludes it.
1. Casablanca (1942)
A love story set in Africa in the brewing storm of the second world war. There is a forbidden tune, an old flame, a great conspiracy, and an emotional sacrifice. Starring Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, this Academy Award winning movie asks the question of what is to be done in the face of great sacrifice between love and country. Casablanca is a timeless classic.
Special mentions: Passengers (2016), Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013), Destination Wedding (2018), When Harry Met Sally (1989) and The Adjustment Bureau (2011).
There is an old advice Rainer Maria Rilke, a classic poet, gave to young poets about writing love poems in his book, Letters to a Young Poet;
“Don’t write love poems.”
While the quote has been reduced here, its essence remains, and it is applicable to other art forms. Love is so universal it is ordinary, and this makes it difficult to portray it in a new, original way. It is why what we have now are exhaustively annoying caricatures of romance reliant on one, or both, of the lovers being terminally ill (coughs Five Feet Apart coughs coughs) or worse, thin plots involving high school idiots obsessed with romance (coughs coughs To All the Boys I Have Loved).
The quality of love stories have waned and that is why the entries on this list are mostly old movies. Romance is my favourite genre of storytelling and it gives me joy when a love story achieves perfection. Happy Valentine’s. May you find love wherever you go.