Hate Valentine’s Day? The best movies for you to watch
As far as meaningless Hallmark holidays go, Valentine’s Day has become the most offensive to the growing single population, who find themselves bemoaning their relationship status when faced with the onslaught of rose-red, glitter-studded, pre-packaged love everywhere they look. Avoid becoming a Bridget Jones cliché this February – eating Ben & Jerry’s and wearing enormous knickers is so 2001 – and enjoy these schmaltz-free films.
Obvious Child (2014)
Most comedies daren’t even utter the word “abortion”. Katherine Heigl declines “a shmamortion at the shmamortion clinic” in Knocked Up and Ellen Page decides against terminating her pregnancy in Juno, running out of the doctor’s office to a judgemental chorus of “All babies want to get borned!”. Obvious Child – the offbeat indie that sees Jenny Slate seek an abortion after an alcohol-fuelled one-night stand – categorically refuses to act as the ventriloquist of pro-life ideology. Refreshing, avant-garde, and darkly comic, the movie is a heartwarming story of one woman’s foolhardy “game of Russian roulette with her vagina”.
500 Days of Summer (2009)
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl par excellence, Zooey Deschanel stars alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt in this romcom with a twist. Summer (Deschanel) does not believe in love, is not looking for her other half, and does not buy into coupling culture, but Tom (a misguided Gordon-Levitt) is convinced he can change her mind (because entitlement culture, he can – amirite, ladies?). 500 Days of Summer eschews grandstanding public declarations of affection in favor of anguished yearning and disappointment. Plus, there’s a scene where a chirpy flashmob dances to “You Make My Dreams”. What’s not to love?
They Came Together (2014)
Movies, by their very nature, are based on a certain set of assumptions, well-worn codes that help the viewer process what is happening on screen. They Came Together strips back this artifice. This off-kilter romance between Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation) and Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) makes each character’s objectives entirely transparent, belittling them to mere tropes in order to poke fun at the predictability of the romcom genre.
Annie Hall (1977)
Controversies aside, there’s no denying that Woody Allen is a pioneering filmmaker who has revolutionized the medium with his European sensibilities. Annie Hall, the Academy Award-winner for Best Picture in the 1978, is his magnum opus and chronicles the gradually deteriorating relationship between neurotic Alvy Singer (Allen) and ditzy autodidact Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). The film plays with experimental techniques (internal subtitles, split-screens, and cartoon sequences) to portray the highs and lows of their waning love. And, at just 10 years, the age difference between the male and female leads is practically progressive. Recommended for a less unsettling alternative to Manhattan.
Disaster strikes when Kristen Stewart (Café Society) and Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road) start to feel in Equals, a futuristic film depicting an emotionless, disease-free society. With warmly lit cinematography and impressive pseudo-passive acting, the movie raises fascinating questions about what exactly comprises a utopia.
We’re all so accustomed to Reese Witherspoon’s adorable soccer-mom persona on Instagram that it’s easy to forget she’s embodied some tough-as-nails characters over the course of her lauded career. One such woman is Cheryl Strayed, who decides to hike the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail alone in the wake of her mother’s death. This true story is an empowering display of determination and resilience, anchored by an absorbing performance from Witherspoon. If you can get over the fact that Laura Dern has inexplicably been cast as her mother (despite them both belonging to the same peer group in Big Little Lies), Wild is an inspiring underdog tale.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
This cult classic focuses on the aftermath of a memory-erasure procedure that allows ex-lovers (Kate Winslet, Jim Carrey) to eliminate all facets of their failed relationship from their minds. Surely in this digital age of ex-based cyberstalking, many people wish Michel Gondry’s sci-fi medical process was available to them. Tinged with a wistful, melancholy air, the film revisits the former couple’s peaks and troughs as they are permanently (or not-so-permanently?) removed from their past.
Under the Skin (2013)
Is anything more of a middle finger to Valentine’s Day than an alien Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation) luring unsuspecting men to her lair and stealing their skin? Doubtful. In Jonathan Glazer’s underrated masterpiece, a largely wordless Johansson discovers what it means to be human through her social interactions amid the dramatic Scottish Highlands.
The Graduate (1977)
Set to an unforgettable Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack, Mike Nichols’ seminal work follows Ben (Dustin Hoffman) as he starts an illicit affair with his family friend Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). The main reason The Graduate will bring joy to the downtrodden singleton? The final scene underscores the inherently fleeting nature of happily-ever-afters.