By Ian Driscoll
Partner, Mayfair Theatre
Let’s just say at the outset that this list will be a cheat.
Ottawa Rickshaws asked us at the Mayfair for a list of our top five Valentine’s Day movies, but we love film too much to come up with a list that short. So instead, we’ve compiled a list of five categories of romantic films, with multiple options under each.
On Feb. 10, we present the 4th Annual Painted Lips and Lolly Licks Sexy Film Festival — an evening of erotic, romantic and otherwise sexy short films from around the world, hand-picked by adult film star Kimberly Kane. If this doesn’t get you in the mood, nothing will.
Annie Hall (Feb.11 & 14)
Essential viewing. This is Woody Allen’s four-Oscar postmortem on a failed relationship, which he memorably describes in oceanographic terms: “A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”
A side note, here: don’t watch When Harry Met Sally. Please. Watch Annie Hall and Manhattan, the two Woody Allen films that When Harry Met Sally cannibalizes. Woody’s films are better, smarter, more meaningful, funnier and ultimately, more romantic.
Harold and Maude (Feb.12 & 13): After three years, and just in time for Valentine’s Day, we’re finally showing this tale of one of cinema’s truly great odd couples — death-obsessed teenager Harold and vivacious septuagenarian Maude. Watch and see where Wes Anderson’s entire filmography comes from.
Amelie (Feb.14) Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s magically romantic tale of Amelie — a (literally) wide-eyed innocent who helps those around her while struggling with her own isolation — was nominated for five Oscars, and popularized the traveling garden gnome phenomenon. Fabuleux.
The Princess Bride (Feb. 20) People have asked again and again to show this postmodern fairy tale featuring heroes, giants, villains, revenge, true love and Billy Crystal. How could we respond but to say, “As you wish”?
Another side note: this is a free screening, courtesy of our friend Tracy Arnett. And every free admission also includes a free popcorn and small drink!
Now, on to the list:
Most of the following modern classic picks come from Josh Stafford, the Mayfair’s Geek-in-Chief. Josh has more female friends than any man I’ve ever known, so he must be doing something right. He recommends:
Wall-E (2008): Yes, it’s an environmental fable where the fate of mankind hangs in the balance, but what animates (wordplay!) this Pixar triumph is the opposites-attract romance between garbage-bot Wall-E and iPod-of-tomorrow EVE. (See also: the first 20 minutes of Up (2009).)
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986): Read this epic hooky-play as a bachelor party (or, perhaps more accurately, a stag-and-doe) for the ages, and the film’s conclusion (“He’s gonna marry me.”) becomes inevitable. In the end, the ultimate rebel just wants to settle down with the woman he loves.
Say Anything (1989): Still the best thing Cameron Crowe will ever do, this is the perfect film for anyone who ever wanted to make a grand romantic gesture, no matter how hopeless. (Side note: kickboxing really was the sport of the future for John Cusack, who came up against kickboxer Benny “The Jet” Urquidez in Grosse Pointe Blank eight years later.)
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010): Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic series perfectly captures how epic teenage romance can feel to those involved, but its NES-fueled aesthetic hides a deeper lesson about what it takes to be worthy of real love.
Brief Encounter (1945): David Lean didn’t direct just epics; this intimate portrait of a chance meeting that blooms quietly into a love that can never be consummated is just 86 minutes long, which leaves the rest of the evening free for your own encounters, brief or otherwise.
Some Like It Hot (1959): Nobody’s perfect, but as far as filmmakers go, Billy Wilder was pretty close. And this cross-dressing caper (voted No.1 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Funniest Movies) is one of his best.
Wild at Heart (1990): Romance takes a Lynchian (there’s really no other adjective to describe David Lynch movies) road trip as Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage fight literalized representations of the forces trying to keep them apart in this fiery, sexual fairy tale.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980): The backbone of the best Star Wars film is the Han/Leia love story, which leads to what is probably the best exchange in the entire series: “I love you.” “I know.”
Smokey and the Bandit (1977): The ultimate chase movie only kicks into high gear when Burt Reynolds picks up bride-on-the-run Sally Field. It’s easy to think of this movie as all about the cars, but it runs on pure romance.
And it wouldn’t be a Mayfair Theatre list without a quasi-classic horror film on the list, in this case My Bloody Valentine (the original 1981 version, not the pointless 2009 remake). One of the original cast members lives in Ottawa!
Damage (1992): Louis Malle (My Dinner with Andre) trades talk for action in this steamy tale of an MP (Jeremy Irons) who falls for his son’s fiancée (Juliette Binoche). When people find out, well, let’s just say the title is accurate.
The Lover (1992): ’92 was a big year for forbidden romance, and this flick about a French teenager (Jane March) who embarks on an affair with a wealthy Chinese businessman (Tony Leung Ka Fai, not to be confused with the other, cool-as-hell Tony Leung) in 1929 Indonesia would make a pretty good double bill with Damage.
Henry and June (1990): A ménage-a-trois (approximately) for the ages, Philip Kaufman’s drama about what happened when Henry and June Miller met Anaïs Nin in 1930 Paris sounds good on the surface, but gets better when you learn that Uma Thurman plays June Miller, and Maria de Medeiros plays Anaïs Nin.
Brokeback Mountain (2005): Matt Zoller Seitz recently described it in Twitter-haiku:
“Watched BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN; first time since ’06. The “controversy” over a Hollywood film telling this story seems an ancient memory.”
It’s a confident, quiet, serene, compassionate love story; an American classic, most likely. Two words capture its power: the shirt.
Socially, politically, yes, it’s significant, but it isn’t about those things. Career best from everyone involved. It really holds up.
Heath Ledger in his ten-gallon hat, with the fireworks in the sky behind him. An image worthy of Nicholas Ray.
If you can’t make it to Painted Lips and Lolly Licks, here’s some viewing to keep things cinematically steamy in your home.
Score (1974): Radley Metzger was a pioneer of American adult cinema, and Score — a taboo-busting story of swingers a-swingin’ — is one of the best from his erotica period, before he began directing more explicit films that competed head on (so to speak) with hardcore. (The best of his later films is probably The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976), if that’s your thing.)
Cherry, Harry and Raquel (1970) All I need to say is, “directed by Russ Meyer” and you should get an idea of what you’re in for here. But with corrupt sheriff Harry (Charles Napier) sandwiched between the ample assets of nurse Cherry (Linda Ashton) and prostitute Raquel (Larissa Ely), Meyer manages to throw plenty of surprises at the audience, including necrophilia, lesbianism, frenetic violence, and incidental incest. So yeah, this is one for the open-minded.
And we couldn’t end this list without mentioning something by the Mayfair’s favourite filmmaker, Herschell Gordon Lewis, who invented the wife-swapping-sploitation genre with Suburban Roulette (1968). See it with someone you love — or at least someone you want to love for an evening before they go back to their spouse.
So, that’s our list. Was it good for you?
Ian Driscoll is a co-owner of the Mayfair Theatre on Bank St. The Mayfair Theatre has a great selection of Valentine’s Day appropriate films to enjoy.