Most folks can content themselves with swooning over The Notebook, but nerdy genre fans might want a little time-jumping or severed limbs or robots to go along with their romantic movies. We’ve scoured the big streaming services to find 10 geeky movies all about love, just in time for Valentine’s Day viewing.
1) About Time
I wasn’t going to include this one because I thought I remembered it being on last year’s list, but nah—I was getting my films in the “Rachel McAdams dates a time-traveler” rom-com subgenre confused. In Richard Curtis’ About Time, she falls for a guy named Tim (Domhnall “General Hux” Gleeson) who’s able to Groundhog Day his own life by returning to precise moments in his past to ensure the future he wants.
A big part of that is wooing McAdams’ character, of course; that’s where the Richard Curtis signature brand of romance (he’s the guy who also did Notting Hill, Love Actually, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Four Weddings and a Funeral) comes in. But the real sweetness of the movie is its exploration of the relationship between Tim and his father, James (the delightful Bill Nighy), who has the same talent but makes sure to teach his son how to appreciate life one day at a time, even with the magical benefit of nearly unlimited do-overs. (Netflix)
2) Before We Vanish
Kiyoshi Kurasawa—whose filmography includes 2001's Pulse, probably the scariest entry in the Japanese horror wave that unleashed so many nightmares 20 or so years ago—doesn’t really specialize in a genre so much as a mood, bringing fiercely intimate stories to life in settings that other filmmakers might not be able to resist exploring on a much larger scale. Case in point: Before We Vanish, maybe the most existentially propelled alien invasion movie ever. Three extraterrestrials arrive on Earth ahead of a planned invasion, taking on human forms and roaming around extracting human concepts that they don’t otherwise understand—“family,” “freedom,” “work,” “self,” etc.—from people they encounter.
Each visitor has their own narrative as part of this journey, but the only part resembling romance concerns Shinji (Ryuhei Matsuda) and Narumi (Masami Nagasawa). The young married couple is edging toward a breakup thanks to Shinji’s infidelity and general checked-out-ness until he’s suddenly replaced by a new version who’s curious, childlike, and definitely not the same annoying dickhead Narumi’s come to resent.
Before We Vanish is overall a film about figuring out what being human really means—and all the confusion, paranoia, uncertainty, joy, frustration, fear, and just utter weirdness that goes with it—but the rebuilding of Shinji and Narumi’s relationship is the heart of this remarkable sci-fi tale, even if it doesn’t exactly end in a happy place. (Hulu)
3) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Ang Lee’s stunning blend of romance, tragedy, history, intrigue, and gravity-defying fight scenes turns 20 this year, but even with all its special effects, the multiple Oscar winner (Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Score, Best Art Direction, and Best Cinematography) still feels timeless. Though Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon obviously has many more praise-worthy elements than just its twin love stories—damn, what love stories they are.
The younger couple, a haughty governor’s daughter and a scrappy bandit, have a dramatic meet-cute after he pounces on her desert caravan, though the social barriers between them are something even the fiercest of passions has trouble overcoming. The older couple—played by the sublime Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-fat—aren’t even a couple, not technically, but has any other movie ever captured stoic, soulful longing so heartbreakingly perfectly? (Netflix)
4) I Lost My Body
Yes, this is a blatant plug to get you to watch Jérémy Clapin’s Best Animated Feature contender before the Oscars are announced on Sunday, but it also has a romantic element that you might not expect from a movie about a severed (yet surprisingly resourceful) hand. I Lost My Body actually follows two stories—one about the misadventures of that disembodied hand as it rambles around Paris, and another set in the past, following the young man to whom it was once attached as he awkwardly tries to woo a girl he meets over an intercom while delivering her a pizza.
The decisions he makes aren’t always the right ones, but we see—in sepia-toned flashbacks to his troubled childhood—that he’s not a sinister stalker in the making, just an earnest guy eager to make a connection. That said, that expressive, determined hand is the real star here, and its scenes in I Lost My Body are what make this one of the most visceral and imaginative films in recent memory.
Watch the ultimate break-up horror movie on Valentine’s Day and be glad that whatever your relationship status happens to be, you’re not Dani (Florence Pugh) dating a guy like Christian (Jack Reynor). Along with its many grim twists and turns, Midsommar explores the painful process of letting go of the toxic people in your life, and the importance of embracing self-love and acceptance as a way to work through your grief. It is also a cautionary tale about vacation planning, cultural desecration, and the very dark things that can happen even under a blazing sun. (Amazon Prime)
6) The Rocketeer
Joe Johnston (who went on to make Captain America: The First Avenger) directed this 1991 fantasy adventure set in and around Hollywood just before the start of World War II. When a dashing but sorta down-on-his-luck stunt pilot (Bill Campbell) discovers a jet pack—designed by Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn) but stolen by mobsters (led by Paul Sorvino) on behalf of a swashbuckling movie star (Timothy Dalton) who’s in cahoots with Nazis (hey, it could happen!)—he uses it to rescue another pilot in distress during an air show.
His newfound celebrity as “the Rocketeer” makes him a target for all the baddies who’re dying to get their mitts on that jet pack; things get even more complicated when his sweetheart (Jennifer Connelly, flawless as always), an aspiring actress who’s starting to question whether or not their relationship has much of a future, gets pulled into the action. Fortunately, there’s nothing like a fiery showdown aboard a Nazi blimp to get a splintering couple back together in record time. Aww. (Disney+)
7) Tuck Everlasting
Disney’s 2002 adaptation of Natalie Babbitt’s classic children’s novel bumps up the age of the main character, Winnie—star Alexis Bledel was peak Gilmore Girls at the time—so it can dive right into turn-of-the-century teenage romance when she meets the mysterious Jesse Tuck (Jonathan Jackson) and his family. It’s a classic boy meets girl, girl realizes the boy’s family is immortal because they’ve discovered the fountain of youth, girl must decide whether to also become immortal tale.
Tuck Everlasting is a simple story—though it does dig into some darker ideas about the considerable drawbacks of living forever, and the responsibility the Tucks feel about protecting their mythical secret—but for some reason, this version has an almost unbelievably stacked cast. Ben Kingsley plays the yellow-suited baddie, Amy Irving and Victor Garber play Winnie’s wealthy mom and dad, William Hurt and Sissy Spacek play Jesse’s sympathetic but cautious parents, and occasionally Elisabeth Shue stops by to narrate. For Valentine’s Day, though, the scenes of Jesse and Winnie falling for each other in the forest are soft-focus young love at its sweetest. (Disney +)
This one’s self-explanatory—WALL-E and EVE forever! (Disney+)
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