Excess Hollywood: Valentine’s Day movies that hurt and heal

In the opening scene of Michel Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Joel (Jim Carrey), the film’s lovelorn protagonist, offers a decidedly unromantic appraisal of Valentine’s Day: “Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.”

Your own feelings towards V-Day probably stem from the current state of your love life. For the smitten, Feb. 14 is a time for celebrating the physical and spiritual bonds forged through fidelity, mutual adoration, and the self-confidence that comes from seeing someone else naked on a regular basis. For the narcissistic and woefully single, it’s an excuse to celebrate our own cleverness at having successfully avoided commitment for another year.

Although individual tastes may vary, the two groups can usually agree on one thing: the comfort and solace offered by an old-fashioned movie night. In that spirit, I’ve created the two lists below, each geared towards either the agony or ecstasy of onscreen romance. There’s something here for everyone, from mind-erasing drugs to kinky ballerinas. So read, watch and enjoy.

Love Hurts

1. “Blue Valentine” (2010)
Some movies tug at your heartstrings. Others tear them out by the roots and play them like Ryan Gosling strumming on an old ukulele. Derek Cianfrance’s beautifully acted, unbearably bleak “Blue Valentine” might be the best argument for celibacy since the invention of syphilis. The film charts the downward spiral of Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), two well-meaning kids whose marriage becomes a sinkhole neither fully wants to escape.

2. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966)
Mike Nichols’s notorious adaptation of Edward Albee’s play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” centers on George (Richard Burton) and Martha (Elizabeth Taylor), a hateful old professor and his spoiled, tyrannical wife. Both spouses survive on alcohol and thrive on drawing others into their vitriolic, venom-laced parlor games. Their newest victims are Nick (George Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis), the young couple who unwisely accepts their invitation for late night cocktails. The film reportedly put a strain on Burton and Taylor’s already fraught real-life marriage and may have contributed to their first divorce.

3. “Kill Bill Vol. 2” (2004)
Long before he shot her down and left her for dead in her wedding dress, Bill (David Carradine) and the Bride (Uma Thurman) were very much in love. Their time together, told through flashbacks, lends an air of humanity and bittersweet emotional resonance to the second and arguably best installment of Quentin Tarantino’s revenge saga, a note-perfect homage to samurai films, spaghetti westerns and Shaw Brothers kung-fu flicks. The scene where the Bride confronts Bill just before her fateful trip down the aisle remains one of my personal favorites. And dig that classic QT dialogue. “I’ve never been nice my whole life. But I’ll do my best… to be sweet.”

4. “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935)
Love can be a real monster sometimes. In director James Whale’s superior sequel to his 1931 classic “Frankenstein,” the Monster (Boris Karloff) joins forces with the diabolical Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) to convince the newly chastened Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) to build him the perfect mate. The film, an ingenious blend of camp and genuine horror, builds to a shockingly poignant conclusion. After being rejected by his reanimated love, Karloff intones the immortal line, “We belong dead.”

5. “Audition” (1999)
If you’re looking to get rid of your clingy significant other, Takashi Miike’s “Audition” is the perfect date movie. This is an exceptionally nasty psychological horror film about a widower trying to meet a new wife under the pretense of an acting audition. He quickly becomes obsessed with Asami (Eihi Shiina), a demure ex-ballerina with a rather extreme sexual fetish. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Love Conquers All

1. “Up” (2009)
Pete Docter’s film begins with one of the saddest sequences imaginable: a eight-minute montage that shows Carl (Ed Asner) and Ellie (Elie Docter) growing old together until Ellie begins to slip away, leaving their dream of one day traveling to Paradise Falls tragically unfulfilled. A lifetime’s worth of love and affection is conveyed through the subtlest of glances and gestures. With the exception of the incinerator scene in “Toy Story 3,” no other Pixar film has moved me more.

2. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)
In order to forget the lovely, capricious Clementine (Kate Winslet), Joel (Jim Carrey) turns to a memory-erasing service called Lacuna, only to regret his decision when the procedure robs him of the good times as well as the bad. Charlie Kaufman’s script is a wistful exploration of serendipity and the persistent power of memory.

3. “Wild At Heart” (1990)
The whole world seems to be against ex-con/Elvis enthusiast Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and his trailer trash princess Lula (Laura Dern) in David Lynch’s loopy Southern Gothic road movie. Lula’s mama (Dern’s actual mother Diane Ladd) has hired bounty hunters to track down Sailor. Worse yet, a coven of bayou witches may be after his blood. And let’s not forget the vile, needle-toothed Bobby Peru, the scariest Willem Dafoe character ever. A love story for anyone who’s wild at heart and weird on top.

4. “Casablanca” (1942)
Some “classic” films are nothing but dusty old relics, historical curiosities valued only for their technical assets. Not “Casablanca.” Here’s a film that has earned its status as one of the most beloved of all time. The emotional tumult between saloon owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and his lost love Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) easily transcends its World War II trappings. A masterpiece by any standard.

5. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010)
Edgar Wright’s arcade fantasia is more than just digital eye candy; it’s a sugar-buzz romance for the Ritalin generation, one of the few movies to accurately portray the heady rush of falling in love for the first time. Scott (Michael Cera), Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and their quest to defeat Ramona’s seven evil exes are the stuff of everyone’s adolescent daydreams.

Related content:

Excess Hollywood: Romantic and Anti-romantic movies for Valentine’s Day

Excess Hollywood: ‘Amour’ will break your heart

  • Updated Feb. 14, 2013 at 2:56 am
  • Edited by Megan Hinman