Heart Works: 12 Valentine’s Day movie treats

Valentine’s Day is a persnickety holiday. It’s great for some people and a little bitter for others. Realizing that, we have scoured the various streaming services and come up with a dozen great love stories that range from cheerful to anguished, from gooey to cynical, and from Jane Austen to zombies. Break out the popcorn, chocolate, and champagne and enjoy!

Blue Is the Warmest Color (Netflix)

1 bluewarmest valentines jma The Criterion Collection

Adèle Exarchopoulos falls in love with the mysterious Léa Seydoux in Blue Is the Warmest Color.

★★★★☆

In Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013), newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos gives a memorable performance as a young woman who becomes aware that she desires female companionship, and specifically the companionship of a mysterious, sexy blue-haired girl called Emma (Léa Seydoux, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Spectre). The movie threatens at one point to collapse into stereotype, but then it recovers, passing through many years, charting the ups and downs of their relationship.

Yet it’s a sensual movie, not just in its depiction of the sex scenes, but also in its depiction of food, friends, and thoughtful discussions. Kechiche cleverly mirrors certain sequences and images (a parade, the color blue, etc.) so that scenes contain extra emotional tones. You might watch it for the steamy NC-17 scenes, but you’ll stay because it’s an outstanding movie.

Destination Wedding (Amazon Prime)

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Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder are two cynics who form a bond in Destination Wedding.

★★★★☆

A wry, cynical romantic comedy with a good heart, Destination Wedding (2018) pairs Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder, who have already proven their chemistry in several movies, dating back to Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992. They play Lindsay (Winona Ryder) and Frank (Keanu Reeves), strangers on their way to a “destination wedding” in San Luis Obispo; they instantly dislike each other, and argue in witty, barbed dialogue. Of course, they will eventually become irresistibly drawn to one another, and they relentlessly analyze their options even as fate takes a different course.

Possibly inspired by masters like Eric Rohmer and Yasujiro Ozu, writer/director Victor Levin frames the characters in sustained, chapter-like sequences, featuring the ridiculous planned events of the wedding, and breaks them up with lovely “pillow shots” to underscore the beauty of the scenery. It’s an unsung gem.

Funny Face (Kanopy)

3 funnyface valentines jma Paramount

Audrey Hepburn is a philosopher-turned model in Funny Face.

★★★★☆

If one can forgive the 30 year-difference between romantic leads Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn (Hepburn was so sophisticated and regal that she never seemed right with co-stars closer to her own age), then Stanley Donen’s Funny Face (1957) is one of the latter’s most delightful films, a colorful, kaleidoscopic musical decorated with the art of photography. Astaire plays a Richard Avedon-like photographer who discovers a brainy, philosophy-loving bookshop clerk and makes her into his latest model. Thus begins a conflict of intelligence versus emotions, brains versus beauty, but veering towards doe-eyed romance.

It’s heightened by a fine collection of George and Ira Gershwin songs as well as Ray June’s deep, expansive Oscar-nominated cinematography. The film received additional nominations for writing, art direction/set decoration, and costume design.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hulu)

4 gentlemenblondes valentines jma 20th Century Fox

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell go husband-hunting on a cruise ship in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

★★★★★

One of the greatest of all Hollywood directors, Howard Hawks was known for being able to tell a great story, usually about group dynamics and codes of honor, in any genre—from screwball comedy to Westerns and detective stories. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) was one of his only musicals, and true to form, it’s a treat. Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe star as Dorothy Shaw and Lorelei Lee, a couple of lovely ladies who board a ship for Paris to potentially find husbands.

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