We asked director and visiting NFTS tutor, Corin Hardy, to follow up his excellent alternative list of Christmas movies with a list for Valentines that isn’t the usual run-of-the-mill schmaltz and rom-coms.
A former Screen International ‘Star of Tomorrow’, Corin’s multi-award-winning horror, The Hallow, won last year’s Empire magazine’s award for ‘Best Horror Film 2016’. He is in pre-production on the remake of The Crow and post-production on The Nun, the terrifying next film in James Wan’s Conjuring franchise, for New Line.
Corin: All these films are bursting chock full o’love, but you won’t find Pretty Woman, The Notebook, Dirty Dancing or Titanic in my list. The word ‘unconventional’ is likely to appear more times than it should (am going to thesaurus it now so as to vary my descriptions), but the thing which binds this list together is unconventionality. All these films have affected me emotionally and romantically, just not necessarily in a standard rom-com sense. So for those who are looking for something deeper, something perhaps a little darker (and in some cases, bloodier), but still brewing with unrestrained bitter-sweet passion, to watch with a long time love or a brand new sweetheart this Valentines.. Be brave. Keep it real. Go unconventional. I give you my Top 10 Alternative-Valentines movies.
King Kong (Merian C Cooper 1933)
So let’s get started. You thought King Kong was a monster movie? A horror movie? How about it’s a love story. Maybe the biggest love story of all time… The giant ape Kong is besotted from the first moment he sets eyes on stunning Fay Wray and struggles against the odds to maintain a relationship with her. It’s a familiar story for many of us. I watched Merian C Cooper’s 1933 original from the foot of my grandmothers yak haired bed aged six and the floods of emotions that consumed me by the time Kong fell from the Empire State Building overwhelmed me. Confused me. I thought it was because of all the action and suspense, but it was because, unknowingly, it was the first time that my young heart had been broken. “It was beauty that killed the beast.”
Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson 2002)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s film could be categorised as a ‘romantic comedy’ but like most on this list, it’s not your average ‘rom-com’. It stars Adam Sandler, but don’t let that put you off, as under PTA’s direction, his nuanced performance truly demonstrates the depth and capability of his acting chops beyond his cartoonish shtick, for the first (and maybe only?) time. To fondly ape Stephen King’s famous poster quote in support of The Evil Dead: Punch Drunk Love is “one of the most ferociously original” romantic comedies I’ve ever seen. Sandler’s peculiar loner Barry Egan, who suffers from regular fits of anger and depression, sets his sights on the grounded, intriguing Emily Watson after experiencing a car accident. A strange relationship begins to blossom but is threatened by a mattress salesman/sex line boss played by the incredible Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s stunningly performed, shot and the utterly unique sound-scape-come-score by Jon Brian, reflects the ticks and rhythms of Barry’s inner emotions and stress levels throughout the film. Do check this out if you have not yet seen, it’s a Valentines’ winner. (Note, would make a great unorthodox ‘Loveable nutcase’ triple bill with Ruby Sparks and Lars & The Real Girl.)
Rust & Bone (Jaques Audiard 2012)
From award-winning French director Jacques Audiard, who made such powerful, affecting movies such as The Beat My Heart Skipped, A Prophet and last year’s Dheepan, comes Rust And Bone. Marion Cotillard and Matthias Shoenaerts star in this unconventional bare-knuckled romantic drama about an unemployed father, who whilst struggling to provide for his son, falls in love with a killer whale trainer. A series of tragic happenings pull these two opposing souls together and at times it takes a 10 ton hammer to your head and heart, whilst at others it’s disarmingly sensual, sexy raw and sensitive. Thanks to a breathtaking moment involving a killer whale, you will never hear Katie Perry’s Firework in the same way.
Scott Pilgrim vs The World (Edgar Wright 2010)
What could be more romantic than a young man battling the seven evil exes of his new girlfriend to win over her heart? Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Brian Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series, Scott Pilgrim has pure cult coursing through its veins, as an unconventional, slacker ‘superhero’ comedy action-packed romance, sizzling with comic book and video game imagery and chock full of awesome music. Its inspired cast stars Michael Cera as lazy-bum Scott Pilgrim and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as his potential punk rock indie sweetheart, Ramona Flowers - plus support from Wes Anderson favourite Jason Schwartzman, a post Superman Returns Brandon Routh and a pre Captain America Chris Evans as three of the seven Evil Exes. Cinematically, viscerally recreating the graphic-novel world, Edgar combines kinetic camerawork courtesy of his regular superstar DOP Bill Pope, with bold cutting and mixes in on-screen video game graphics to give it a unique, experimental indie living within a blockbuster quality. Will Scott survive the evil Exes? Win over Ramona’s heart? And ultimately gain the power of self-respect?…
Scott Pilgrim vs The World is a romantic riot. (Please note, Wright’s much beloved Rom-Zom-Com Shaun Of The Dead should probably also be on this list as a bona fide Valentines crowd-pleaser, but Scott Pilgrim doesn’t get enough love.)
Ruby Sparks (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris 2012)
Perhaps this is the closest my list gets to edging along the bench to nervously sit beside a conventional rom-com, but Ruby Sparks is still pretty weird. Both the movie and the girl. Paul Dano plays Calvin, an anxious, struggling, once successful writer who creates a fictional pixie-dream-girl (played By Zoe Kazan who also wrote the film) called Ruby Sparks, who bizarrely materialises in his real life and they ‘fall in love’. Seemingly his perfect partner, this Frankenstein-esque story has a darker warning at its core; of trying to control the ones you love to satisfy your own desires and emotional failures, as Calvin learns that he can control Ruby by simply rewriting her. It juggles with a strange tone and bizarro logic that it just about manages to pull off, but the magic in Dano and Kazan’s performances is always very watchable and you will feel a better, more sensitive and loving partner before the credits roll.
Lars & The Real Girl (Craig Gillespie 2007)
After Ryan Gosling got soaked through to the skin in The Notebook and before he drove and danced all over Los Angeles (in Drive & this year’s own rom-com-musical, La La Land), he had a deep and meaningful, non-sexual relationship with a sex-doll named ‘Bianca’, in Craig Gillespie’s Lars & The Real Girl. It’s an eccentric, yet touchingly poignant tale of crippling heartbreak and unorthodox romance as socially awkward Lars, who suffers from a deep rooted past family trauma becomes steadily revitalised by a local admirer, Margo (played by Emily Mortimer) after she and members of his family are encouraged by his therapist to treat ‘Bianca’ as a real person. A real girl, and attempt to unlock his paralysing condition. It’s a quiet and gentle, curious movie. Unlike the next one..
Fatal Attraction (Adrian Lynne 1987)
It wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without a Michael Douglas movie right? Right?? Basic Instinct nearly made the list and Romancing The Stone might have. Disclosure wasn’t going to and War Of The Roses probably should have, but it’s Adrian Lynne’s psychological thriller Fatal Attraction that I think we all need in our bleeding, boiling hearts come Valentines, if only to remind us, not to be tempted, however attractive we may be, by a ‘wrong un’.. In this case a deliciously demented Glenn Close, who after a naughty affair with married Dan Gallagher (Douglas), becomes obsessed with him, nightmarishly so.. If you’ve ever heard the term ‘Bunny Boiler’ and not known where it derived from, it derived from Fatal Attraction. And you will see why when you watch it. This is on the list, because, assuming your Valentine is not a bunny boiling wrong’un, it will leave you convinced that cheating is not an option and like all good horror/thrillers, the tension in this film alone will ensure that you hold each other tight throughout, until the last, beneath the bathwater, gasp. For added thriller bonus, watch with Scorsese’s Cape Fear.
Cry Baby (John Waters 1990)
Jonny Depp is Cry Baby and his ability to only shed single tears drive the girls crazy in John Water’s 1950’s musical ode to the drag racer and rebel delinquent movies of the 1950s. It’s a wonderfully weird, eccentric cult classic that sees an offbeat relationship unfold between a ‘drape’ (Depp) and a ’square’ (Amy Locane) from different parts of town and bonded by both being orphans. It’s colourful, camp and crazy and the soundtrack rocks.
Nina Forever (The Blaine Brothers 2015)
Sexy, romantic, tragic, strange, scary. There’s blood. A dead and jealous ex-lover returns from the grave to torment her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend, every time they have sex. It’s a killer premise and it’s curiously handled with craft, emotion and abstraction by Chris and Ben Blaine in their poignant feature debut. BIFA ‘Best Newcomer’ Abi Hardingham stands out as the conflicted new girlfriend, struggling to figure out how to best deal with the dead ex played wickedly by Fiona O’Shaughnessy whilst maintaining a ‘normal’ relationship with her new boyfriend (Cian Barry). The film balances a darkly funny tone with something tragic and heart-wrenching, making it an original and affecting proposition.
Bonnie & Clyde (Arthur Penn 1967) / Badlands (Terrence Malick 1973) / True Romance (Tony Scott 1993) / Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone 1994) / Sightseers (Ben Wheatley 2012)
Right, so I cheated here because I wanted all of these in my top 10, and really each of these deserves a single place in this list, but I figured I’m setting my own rules, so here’s my final entry, and by the way, this lot would make for an epic Valentine’s crime-romance binge accompanied by a few bottles of wine & a hot curry… In order of their releases…
Bonnie & Clyde is Arthur Penn’s Depression Era, lovers-on-the-run crime flick starring Warren Beatty and Fay Dunnaway (+ Gene Hackman & Gene Wilder) as the real life dynamic duo Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Considered one of the first films in the ‘New Hollywood’ era, and inspired by the films of the French New Wave, it’s got a dark streak of humour running throughout, and as small time heists expand into bank jobs the violence increases before “One of the bloodiest death scenes in cinematic history” ensues. Fantastic.
Badlands is a magnificent and haunting American crime story recalled through the eyes of a naive 15 year old country girl (Sissy Spacek) whose rose tinted recollection of being swept off her feet by the dashing James Dean-esque Martin Sheen gradually becomes tainted by murder and mayhem when she realises that he is a psychopath. Breathtakingly directed by the cinematic master that is Terrence Malick. Badlands clearly inspired…
True Romance, Tarantino’s first sold script, directed by Tony Scott, features surely one of the strongest casts ever to grace the silver screen; Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Michael Rapaport, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Samuel L Jackson… Unreal. Slater and Arquette are a pair of naive lovers who spiral deeper and deeper into danger but their pure and simple love seems to protect them every step of the way. On its original Valentines release, I took a French girl to the cinema to see True Romance and it weaved it’s romantic, dangerous charm upon us. Killer soundtrack too.
Natural Born Killers is the second Tarantino script here, this time directed by Oliver Stone. It’s a garish, violent, satirical, pop collage with another cast to die for; Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis are the mass murderers, Mickey & Mallory Knox on the run and glorified by the mass media, with electric support from Robert Downey Jnr and Tommy Lee Jones. It has an incredible soundtrack featuring Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Nine Inch Nails. Not one to hold back Oliver Stone’s film was criticised for graphic violence and was named 8th most controversial film in history in 2006.
Sightseers is the third UK entry on my list and it’s a perfect Valentine’s movie for Brits, especially if you dig a spot of outdoor pursuits, caravanning to be precise. Ben Wheatley’s third film, (Exec produced by Edgar Wright) is funny, shocking and strangely touching in equal measure. Written by and starring the brilliant Alice Lowe and Steve Oram it follows their pair of offbeat lovers Chris and Tina (and Banjo the dog), who undertake a caravanning holiday together, but their mild-mannered intention to visit the lesser known landmarks across Great Britain soon turns into a murderous and hilarious kill spree as their passion blossoms and rages after each murderous act. Please let me know if anyone attempts this Five Film Love Fest.
How can you have a list of films, without Rocky on it?? Yeah, Rocky’s a romantic movie, and if you don’t believe me here’s what Sly has to say about it. Stallone: “At the end of the day, Rocky is a love story and he could never have reached the final bell without Adrian.”
So there you go, there’s my list. Treat someone to one or two of these movies on Valentine’s Day and you’re sure to hear these familiar three words whispered in your ear… “You’re so cool, you’re so cool, you’re so cool…”
Follow Corin on Twitter and Instagram @CorinHardy