Valentine's Day Film Guide

Valentine's Day is almost upon us, and alongside the traditional gestures of flowers, chocolates and candlelit dinners, many of us will take time to watch a romantic film with our special other. But for some of us - particularly the more male amongst us - that can be quite a daunting prospect. Don't get me wrong, men can appreciate and enjoy romantic films every bit as much as women, but considering some of the dross that has plagued the romantic comedy genre since the early-2000s, you could forgive us if we don't want to endure Sex and the City: The Movie any time soon.

That being said, the romantic comedy genre is a relatively new invention. There was a time when Hollywood wasn't concentrating its efforts entirely around the wants and needs of teenage boys, during which time there were a vast number of films produced with believable, compelling and memorable on-screen romances. And of course, romance is not confined to its own genre, with some of the most impressive examples coming in sci-fi, thrillers or even horror movies.

So if you're wanting to break from the norm and experiment in a way that doesn't involve lingerie and handcuffs, here are my recommendations for successful Valentine's viewing. As with my Hallowe'en recommendations (which you can find here), I'll give a brief summary of each choice, along with an honourable mention in each category and links to my full written reviews and, where appropriate, The Movie Hour podcast.

So, without any further ado, here's your guide to alternative Valentine's Day viewing:


The Musical or Fantasy One:
Moulin Rouge! (dir. Baz Luhrmann, 2001)
I'll admit that Moulin Rouge! is a divisive film, with people seeming to either love it or hate it. But even if your reaction wasn't anything like as strong as mine, you'll still find something to enjoy in the story, the songs and the central relationship. Career-best turns from Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman breathe real life into the characters, lifting them from absurd pantomime archetypes into something truly special. The music is both rousing and ridiculous, and the cinematography will leave your head swimming (in a good way). Simultaneously the greatest of all guilty pleasures and a genuinely giddy masterpiece, Moulin Rouge! will make your heart soar, come what may. 

Mumby at the Movies review

Honourable MentionLadyhawke (1985). The plot may be completely silly, but there won't be a dry eye for miles around during the transformation scenes. - review - podcast


The Scary One:
An American Werewolf in London (dir. John Landis, 1981)
While technically a horror-comedy, An American Werewolf in London has more than its fair share of scary moments. But what elevates the story and Rick Baker's special effects is the affection between David and Nurse Price, played by Jenny Agutter. Their relationship is a successful modern twist on The Wolfman template, and their typically bawdy sex scene is balanced out beautifully by the feeling of grief in the final scene. It's a horror-comedy which is clever and has a lot of heart, feeding you enough warmth during the comedic moments so you have something (and someone) to hold onto when things turn nasty.

Rotten Tomatoes review - The Movie Hour podcast

Honourable Mention: Young Frankenstein (1974). Because we all like to roll in the hay.


The Funny One:
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (dir. Edgar Wright, 2010) 
On paper Scott Pilgrim would seem a very male-orientated comic book story, with a lead character who has to fight through several bosses to get the girl of his dreams (literally). But Ramona Flowers is no Princess Peach: if anything she's stronger, smarter and more resourceful than Scott Pilgrim. The characters' insecurities perfectly balance to give us a young relationship motivated not by lust but by respect and ultimately deep devotion. Even with all its eye-popping spectacle, geeky pop culture references and laugh-out-loud dialogue, we keep coming back to Scott and Ramona's relationship, with its problems and rough edges making it completely believable. 

Mumby at the Movies review - The Movie Hour podcast

Honourable Mention: Harold and Maude (1971). Once you get past the age gap and dark humour, it's really rather sweet. - review


The Thrilling One:
Drive (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)

Out of all the choices on this list, this is the one most motivated by a stereotypical male need to escape from mushy rom-coms. Nicolas Winding Refn is an incredibly macho director, and in his films women often take a back seat (no pun intended). But in Drive he gives us an intriguing central pairing between two lost and enigmatic characters, mixing fairy tales with neo-noir to produce something cool and violent, but also satisfying. As much as anything else, it's a film about devotion and obsession, and the immense, quiet loyalty Ryan Gosling displays towards Carey Mulligan is deeply reassuring and affirming, even with all the carnage surrounding them.

Mumby at the Movies review

Honourable Mention: Don't Look Now (1973). The ending may not be romantic, but the sex scene certainly is. - review


The Sci-Fi One:
Blade Runner (dir. Ridley Scott, 1982)
People who've been following my blogs for a while will know by know that Blade Runner is my all-time favourite film. But I'm not just shoe-horning it into this list for the sake of it: I genuinely love the central romance between Deckard and Rachael. Outside of questions about who is or isn't a replicant, the film is about two people in a dark, bleak world discovering the deep, redemptive power of love. Deckard's relationship with Rachael mirrors his struggle against Roy, with both parties trying to understand what it is to truly feel and to truly be human. It is the ultimate cinematic story of love conquering all, and with the Final Cut version it can at last be enjoyed in all its glory. 

Three Men on a Blog review - The Movie Hour podcast

Honourable Mention: Twelve Monkeys (1995). This one build very slowly, and makes the ending all the more heart-breaking. - review

The Classic One:
I Know Where I'm Going! (dir. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressberger, 1945)
The back catalogue of Powell and Pressberger is so romantically rich that it's very hard to pick just one film for this section. But for all the sexual tension of Black Narcissus or the conflict and high fantasy of The Red Shoes, I Know Where I'm Going! is perhaps their most accessible and directly romantic work. Wendy Hiller is perfectly cast as the driven and ambitious career woman who heads to a Scottish island to marry a rich industrialist - only to be stranded in a nearby town and fall into love with the local laird, played by Roger Livesey. It's a characteristic blend of subtle characters and magical realism which set the template for many later British works. 

Three Men on a Blog review

Honourable Mention: Notorious (1946). More about spying than falling in love, but the bond between Alicia and Devlin is strong and well-written. - review

The Dramatic One:
Chariots of Fire (dir. Hugh Hudson, 1981)
Like Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire is a film whose romantic relationships centre around devotion. Both the male protagonists have female companions of different kinds: Eric Liddle has his sister, who wants to keep him on the spiritual straight and narrow, while Harold Abrahams has Sybil, who shapes both his desire to win and, inadvertently, his jealousy of Liddle. While it's more focussed on spiritual love, motivation and fair play than romance in and of itself, there is more than enough in these relationships both to crystalise the existing themes and make the characters genuinely relatable. It's a film which inspire strong feelings, of love as well as pride.
Mumby at the Movies review

Honourable Mention: The Kids Are All Right (2010). Lesbians, biological fathers and the music of Joni Mitchell all collide in this charming, well-acted indie drama. - review

Happy Valentine's Day!