Netflix is a great invention for anybody who needs to find something to do on a night when they're stuck at home. But that goes double for the bored couples and lonely singles of the world. If you want to have a movie that celebrates your love — or tells the truth about what a sham the industrial romance complex is — have we got a list for you.
Christopher Plummer won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in this charming romantic dramedy that concerns a man (Ewan McGregor) learning that his father (Plummer) is gay. The father finally lives openly, only to die shortly thereafter (don't worry — you know this from the beginning), while the son pursues a romance with a woman he meets, played by the splendid Mélanie Laurent. Beginners tries a little hard here and there, but it's a warm, funny, moving picture for most of its running time. Watch it here.
Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013)
Two people meeting, falling in love, then falling apart just might be the most told story of them all. But Abdellatif Kechiche's adaptation of a comic book about a young woman's first relationship with another woman turns that story into an epic of love, longing, and youthful exuberance. It's rare that a movie like this captures the sheer joy of falling in love, then meshes it with the wild emotions of being young, but Blue Is the Warmest Color hits those beats perfectly. Be warned, though: this one is a long sit at three hours. Watch it here.
Chico & Rita (2011)
This Spanish-language, animated film has one of the most delightful soundtracks you'll hear, swinging with the rhythms of everything from jazz to bolero. But it's also a concise epic, telling the story of a decades-spanning love affair in just an hour and a half. The beautiful, brightly colored animation is hand-drawn and spiked with lovely bolts of color, and the story is immediately involving, as Chico and Rita battle global geopolitics just to get back together in the same country. Watch it here.
Days of Heaven (1978)
Terrence Malick's account of a couple (Richard Gere and Brooke Adams) going on the run to the farmlands of Texas, his younger sister (Linda Manz) in tow, is one of the most beautiful films ever made. But it's also a nearly elemental romantic drama, with the couple gradually torn apart when he convinces her to marry a rich farmer (Sam Shepard) who seems near death's door. Malick — always a director who's cast one eye toward humanity's place in the natural world — turns this simple story into the canvas for a story of nearly Biblical scale, complete with locust swarms. Watch it here.
His Girl Friday (1940)
The screwball comedies of the 1930s and '40s — the clearest antecedents to our modern romantic comedies — were often called "comedies of remarriage," because they would concern a formerly married couple who had divorced but over the course of the film found themselves drawn back together. There is no better example of that than this, wherein divorced newspaper reporters played by Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell fight their obvious, mutual attraction for each other while chasing the big story. After all, she's about to get married to someone else. And these two are all wrong for each other. Right? Watch it here.
Cher won her Oscar for this film, playing a woman who's about to get married and realizes how strongly she's drawn to her fiancé's younger brother, played by Nicholas Cage in one of his big, breakout roles. The late 1980s and early 1990s were the heyday of the big studio romantic comedy, with lots of original premises, backed by funny, quirky scripts, getting made with big stars — and even occasionally winning Oscars, as this film did. But Moonstruck is also notable for taking seriously the love life of a woman over 30, something that Hollywood does less and less of with every passing year. And, yes, you will be convinced Cage is a romantic hero. Trust me. Watch it here.
Notting Hill (1999)
If the '80s and '90s were the pinnacle of the romantic comedy at big studios, then Julia Roberts was the genre's queen, starring in hit after hit. Some of these were pretty dumb — America's Sweethearts, anyone? — but for the most part, Roberts was really good at picking solid scripts with interesting premises. This film — in which a regular British guy played by Hugh Grant falls in love with an American movie star played by Roberts — might be the height of her romcom work, and yes, the "I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her" moment still unquestionably works. Watch it here.
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
So many of our ideas of romantic fiction are bound up in tropes solidified 200 years ago by one Jane Austen. This Ang Lee adaptation of one of Austen's books — from a script by Emma Thompson, who also stars — is perhaps the finest cinematic version of one of the author's stories. Two sisters (Thompson and Kate Winslet), formerly of wealthy status, find themselves out of cash after their family takes a financial hit and, thus, must marry to stay above water. The film is filled with Austen's sly social and class commentary, but it's also just a beautiful period romance, with flouncy dresses and beautiful camerawork. Watch it here.
Stranger by the Lake (2014)
Okay, labeling this as a movie that "celebrates" love is a huge stretch, but one of the most intoxicating things about falling for someone is realizing that you can't entirely trust yourself when you're around them. That's rarely been depicted as well as it is in this Hitchcockian thriller of obsession from France. A man falls in love with a man he meets at the beach — only to realize that this man is a murderer, who's just killed his most recent partner. The old trope of the dangerous femme fatale is given new life by being placed into the context of a gay romance, and director Alain Guiraudie turns this into a terrific examination of when you simply can't trust yourself to do the right thing. Watch it here.
Nothing much "happens" in this sweetly romantic British drama, except everything does. The film examines that moment when you realize someone you're interested in could be more than an idle crush or one-night stand. Two men hook up one night, then realize over the course of a long, wonderful weekend how drawn they are to each other — and how perfect they might be together. So many romantic films try too hard to jerk tears, pushing and pushing until they feel manipulative. Weekend manages the feat by simply understanding that love, when it comes, can feel so very, very good. Watch it here.
While You Were Sleeping (1995)
This is the height of '90s romcom cheese, with Sandra Bullock as a woman who falls in love with a man from afar, then pretends to be his fiancée when he falls into a coma. However, she can't seem to put one past his brother (Bill Pullman), and maybe his brother is the person she should really be with anyway? Romantic comedies like this require deftness of touch to work, and this one, in particular, becomes more and more creepy the more you think about its premise. But Bullock is perfectly charming, and the film gets by on her winningness, possibly more than it should. Watch it here.
For those who wish to celebrate love
Annie Hall (1977)
Why is this movie, perhaps the foundational document of the modern romcom, in the section for those who are sick and tired of having love rubbed in their face all the time? Put simply, this is one of the best movies out there for when you need to remember that even failed relationships can be of value to your life and that even those that end poorly can carry bittersweet memories. Plus, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton make one of the all-time great screen pairings, and their relationship is more about cleverness than passion, so you probably won't get too jealous. Watch it here.
The Apartment (1960)
Everybody's pined for someone in secret, doing just about anything to try and win their attention and attraction, only to find the object of their affection is in love with somebody else. The great director and screenwriter Billy Wilder captures that feeling perfectly in this Best Picture Oscar winner, starring Jack Lemmon as a man who starts letting his bosses use his apartment for having extramarital romantic rendezvous, only to learn that the woman he loves (Shirley MacLaine) is just the latest of his boss's conquests. This is a great one if you want to stew about how nobody ever gets what they want, dammit. Watch it here.
Beautiful Girls (1996)
This movie, about a man (Timothy Hutton) who moved to New York City and then returns to his small hometown while at a crossroads in life, somehow works, despite the presence of several potentially creepy elements. Chief among those is a young Natalie Portman as a 13-year-old "old soul" who decides she's in love with him. It never progresses beyond the flirtation, but be forewarned that the movie takes this idea at least semi-seriously. But there's still a wealth of good feeling and bittersweet romantic folly in this film, which considers why we chase after love and marriage so furiously, when it so often disappoints us. Watch it here.
The Graduate (1967)
Love can be cruel. It can use you. It can wring you up and hang you out to dry. And then, when you finally manage to overcome it, it sucks you right back in again, and you're riding away on a bus, seated beside the woman you just convinced to ditch her wedding, neither of you quite sure you made the right call. That's the plot arc of The Graduate, in a nutshell, and though its extreme Baby Boomer fan service shows in some ways, it's still a frequently enthralling, hilarious ride. Mike Nichols' direction combines with Buck Henry and Calder Willingham's script and Dustin Hoffman's performance to create a movie that defined a generation. Watch it here.
Jane Eyre (2011)
If Jane Austen codified how we think about the gentle comedy of romance, the Brontë sisters gave us new ways to think about its doomed tragic sweep. Consider, for instance, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, a great novel about a woman, a man, and the often literal skeletons in his closet. There have been many film versions of Eyre (and many of them are on Netflix), but we're recommending this one, starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender and directed by True Detective's Cary Joji Fukunaga, because it gets at the turgid sweep of the thing, but also exposes the way that love can sometimes become a horror show. Watch it here.
Kill Bill: Volumes 1 and 2 (2003/2004)
Here's another movie where heartbreak serves as an excellent catalyst for a kick-ass plot. Uma Thurman plays a deadly assassin who was double-crossed by her former gang on her wedding day, then left for dead. Somehow, she lived, and now, she's out of her coma and back for revenge. That's really all you need to know, save for that the heart of this movie is a very sad tale of a woman who lost everything and the man who reacted very poorly to their break-up. That's perfect fodder for anyone nursing a broken heart. Watch Volume 1 here and Volume 2 here.
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
This sadly under-appreciated small-town comedy stars Ryan Gosling as a socially awkward man who gradually discovers he can better relate to the little burg he calls home if he orders an anatomically correct sex doll and acts as if it's his girlfriend. The film skirts the line of being exploitative of mental illness — and may cross it for some viewers — but it ends up being a surprisingly sweet examination of how healing oneself is sometimes the most difficult task of all. That could prove solace to the lonely. Watch it here.
Rachel Getting Married (2008)
The hardest thing about being single is sometimes that everybody in your family seems to have it together. That's the case with Anne Hathaway's character in this lovely, lived-in portrayal of a long wedding weekend. Her older sister is getting married, yet Hathaway's character can't stop making everything all about her. The film slowly delves into why the two characters are the way they are, and it takes plenty of time to simply observe this big, complicatedly happy family coming so close to falling apart multiple times. Watch it here.
The Triplets of Belleville (2003)
Every single one of us has more love in our lives than romantic love. And even if pop culture seems to exclusively focus on romance to the detriment of all else, at times, there are several films that portray the beauty of love among family or love between friends. This animated charmer from France — with almost no spoken dialogue — is very much in the former camp, as a grandmother embarks on a perilous voyage to attempt to save her would-be cycling champion grandson. It also features a ridiculously catchy title song and some of the cleverest animated gags you'll ever see. Watch it here.
Y Tu Mamá Tambien (2000)
If it's a story of the love we usually call "friendship" that you crave, then this road trip movie is going to be the one for you. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (who would later win the Oscar for his work on Gravity), it's about two Mexican teenagers (played by Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna) who take off on a quick trip with an older woman (Maribel Verdú) that quickly turns into the usual series of lessons about life, love, and themselves. But Cuarón and his co-screenwriter, brother Carlos Cuarón, are less interested in these tropes than they are in the unshakable friendships that can form between teenagers, all of which explodes in a heady, sexy climax. Watch it here.
For those who wish to curse love
- Developer Yuri Victor
- Editor Susannah Locke
- Copy Editor Matthew Yglesias
- Image courtesy of Chico & Rita, distributed by GKIDS