14 Movies for Friends and Lovers on a Pandemic's February 14
I would say that without fail, even if I write nothing else, I will write a Valentine's Day Movie List. But that is a lie. A straight-up lie. I wrote bupkis on here last year.
Granted, there were the beginnings of distracting pandemic, a few existential questions post-college life, and a number of other things, so while there are definitely valid excuses for not writing a Valentine's list, the fact of the matter is - this is no truly annual thing.
But to quote the Best Show Ever (except for that gross chunk in the middle of Season 2), Twin Peaks - "It's happening again!"
For the most part, we're still apart. There are people we haven't seen in a year. Let's not just restrict this list to just films for lovers. Luckily, most streaming services now have a Group Watch option, and there's always the old school Zoom/Skype & press-play-at-the-same-time method. Maybe this will give you some ideas for a virtual friend date/reunion movie party! Or just some good recs for Singles' Appreciation Day. However you want to take this.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
So this is coming a bit late in the day to say, "Watch the greatest film trilogy of all time together this Valentine's Day!" But you can at least watch the first chapter, which could be argued as the best and most standalone. If you're somehow not familiar with Fellowship, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) is quested to take his uncle's magic ring to far-off elves because as it were, this randomly found ring is actually a big conduit for evil. (Who knew?) What follows is an journey that will change the young hobbit's life.
And while the big adventure sequences are exciting (and have aged pretty well in the last 20 years), the heart of these movies is their tenderness, the relationships between Frodo and his dear friend Samwise, and his mentors Gandalf and Strider, and so many others. By the time a character exclaims, "Sure you're going alone. And I'm going with you!" you'll be about ready to weep with the earnestness of these characters - Howard Shore's score not helping in the slightest with the dry eyes. If you watch the theatrical version (available on HBO Max), you are in for one of the most efficient and deep 3-hour movies ever, but the extended edition is a real gift, especially if you're planning a binge of the trilogy. Don't let life pass you by before you watch this!
Bill & Ted Face the Music
Really, any Bill & Ted movie could make this list, but this totally bodacious sequel to the 80s/90s classics is one of the most optimistic movies ever made. Its heart is so pure, and the story perfectly encapsulates last year's mantra #TogetherApart. In this film, Theodore Logan (Canadian Icon Keanu Reeves) and Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) - best known as the Wyld Stallyns - have yet to fulfill their destiny and write a most righteous song that would unite the whole world. And with the world due to end in mere hours, well, they set out on a time travelling adventure to discover said song. And their scene-stealing daughters will help, too, to bring together the best musicians across all time to pull it off. (Station!)
Like The Lord of the Rings, it may be a bit late in the day to actually watch all three movies, which are excellent (diddly-diddly-dooo). But if you just want to smile with your friends and loved ones, even when you're apart, you can't go wrong with this tubular finale.
"You can dance! You can ji-ive, having the time of your li-i-ife!" Not only is that the lyric to the iconic "Dancing Queen" by ABBA, it's what this movie will inspire you to do with its magical musical powers. The fun is addicting, and the camp is at an all-out high. Remember Russel Crowe in Les Miserables? That was a time. Pierce Brosnan is arguably a worse singer with longer solos, yet that makes it all the better. That's what kind of movie it is.
Rotten Tomatoes and all those sites will tell you this is a rotten movie. They are wrong. Some will say this is strictly a Galantine's Day movie. They are also wrong. This is for the girls, the gays, the theys, and everyone in between. This is happiness and naked emotion preserved on celluloid. If you get to the Act One Finale ("Voulez-Vous"), and you're still not feeling the ABBA jukebox and "Who's the Father?" shenanigans, I have to wonder about you. There are but a few movies for which I would say, "This was made for me." This is one of the few, and it's streaming free with ads on Peacock!
The Little Mermaid
If there's one genre of movie that is the definition of comfort watch, it's Disney Animated Feature. ("Is that a genre?" Film School will ask. "Arguably," I answer.) Comfort watches are perfect for Valentine's Day! So why The Little Mermaid, specifically? Well, in my slow binge of the Disney Canon, so far I've found this one to be the best (we've left off at Beauty and the Beast in November, for reference).
The film is a beautiful, enrapturing story that is told in a way uniquely animation but heavily inspired by musical theatre. It captures the angst of longing, the frustrations of being 16, and the pitfalls we fall into as we strive for our dreams. That's the thing! Disney, whether as a subsidiary of RKO, courting itself as Buena Vista, or as just Walt Disney Studios, has been pretty good at stories, yet at their worst, they're fleeting escapism or entertaining, (mostly) innocent distractions. The Little Mermaid, though, took the bare bones of a fairy tale and created something resonant and beautiful, making all the difference, so we could see a bit of ourselves in a lovesick mermaid and her brave-hearted prince.
In short: These are 83 minutes that will inspire you to talk about your dreams and longings with your loved ones, and if COVID Season's feeling a bit dark for you these days, that's a beautiful conversation to have. As with nearly every Disney movie, save it seems Make Mine Music and Enchanted, you can watch this on Disney+!
It's the funniest movie made in years. Watch it. You've got Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Jesse Plemons, others that'll have you scratching your head thinking, "I know I've seen you from somewhere." It will bring the serotonin if you watch it alone, sure, but group guffaws are the goodest guffaws.
Won't You Be My Neighbor?
This is far from romantic, but the Mister Rogers documentary is so life-affirming, arguing for a world of radical kindness and goodness when the world we have is so run by toxic selfishness and id, presented through the life and teachings of Fred Rogers. The film is as simply put as the Presbyterian pastor on public access television, but it can change your life. When COVID-19 has more or less isolated us so that most of the time we may be stuck with the invasive inclinations to think the worst of ourselves, seeing the truth and love around a song like "It's You I Like" or "Sometimes I Wonder If I'm a Mistake" may be enough to get you out of a funk and to see the beauty of others in your neighborhood. It's the simple gospel, and one that should be experienced with as many people as possible - virtually or otherwise.
Sleepless in Seattle
I mean, it's Valentine's Day. A bona fide romance has to show up somewhere, right? Though our romantic leads spend most of the movie not knowing, meeting, or talking to each other, I cannot help but root for them to get together - even if fiance Bill Pullman is a genuinely good dude. There is probably a screenwriting principle to learn from that, maybe something I have to explore within myself for rooting for a good existing relationship to end. I don't know. But it's sappy and I dig it and it makes me believe in love again.
February 14 is often a day where we talk about connection and closeness. What better to bring people together than the shared trauma of Academy Award nominee Toni Collette in another Academy Award-worthy yet snubbed performance? (Courtesy of your local library through Kanopy!)
"Is this really the right movie for this holiday?" you must be asking. "Would you really do this with you partner - or yourself?" And I would say, "No, of course not. I would totally take the long, traumatic breakup movie with a murderous, perverted cult (Midsommar) over this one. Surely you remember my Best Movies of the decade list where I said as much." But then again, watching a movie about a toxic romantic relationship on a most romantic day? Totally kills the vibe. Watch the disturbing movie about a broken family instead. You'll never forget it.
Speaking of shared trauma.
The new industry tradition is the Christmas Musical. The genre's kind of been pushed aside after being done to death in the 50s and 60s (I Love Melvin, anyone?). These usually turn out alright, from excellent displays of passion like La La Land to the completely watchable one-and-dones like The Greatest Showman.
Tom Hooper's Cats is not one of those.
By most marks, it's "a monster of depravity," one of the worst of the decade. The creative choices are baffling, the broad comedy debilitating, and the cast and visual effects team are stranded by a director way out of his element. It is, however, a must-see. You may be able to stomach it alone, and you may discover your Jellicle calling by film's end - but most need a friend to carry on to the end.
My review: Watching Tom Hooper's Cats on HBO Max? That's what friends are for. One-and-a-half stars, two thumbs up.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
I will always bang the drum for Solo, a fantastic, underrated Western-inspired sci-fi adventure. Han and Leia? A match made in heaven, with their own beautiful love story in The Empire Strikes Back. But when I think favorite Star Wars romances, Han and Qi'ra come to mind.
The boy's so earnest, the girl's so conflicted, and Donald Glover's Lando is so suave. Plus, it's so set apart from literally all other Star Wars stories that it is a perfect, baggage-free time. It's among my favorite Star Wars movies for that reason. It also boasts a lively supporting cast, from an instantly memorable Thandie Newton and Woody Harrelson playing himself, and a top-tier adventure score from Johns Powell and Williams. We talked about comfort watches with The Little Mermaid; this is the franchise version of that - also available on Disney+!
If ever there were a movie that fit the bill "For Friends and For Lovers," Sing Street's your flick! What starts as a coming-of-age romance slowly reveals itself to be about more than romantic love. But on the way to that discovery, we're treated with the greatest 80s hits that weren't written in the 80s, like "Drive It Like You Stole It" and "To Find You" as young Irish student Conor starts a band to escape his troubles, express himself, and impress his crush.
John Carney may be a bit of a dope when it comes to his opinions about Kiera Knightley, but his musical films are nevertheless some of the best and unique presentations in the genre. Sing Street may be the most pleasant of them all (though there will always be a place in my heart for Once). So whether you're spending your February 14 week with yourself, with your dearly beloved, or some awesome friends, this is a perfect movie to check out for free on Tubi and PlutoTV!
The Great Gatsby
Baz Luhrman's an interesting cat. His Moulin Rouge is a fever dream musical masterpiece, and he decided to apply that style (maybe over substance) to the Great American Novel (or is it the style is substance??). It certainly was divisive when it came out, and I honestly don't know if folks have warmed up to it yet. Nevertheless, I thought it was a fantastic interpretation of old sport Fitzgerald's work, successfully mixing in modern sensibilities, especially in musical choices and visual flair. Even if you know the novel, I think you'll still be moved by the film, especially when it's portrayed by such an excellent cast and in such a dynamic way.
My Neighbor Totoro
I think many a Ghibli could be on this list, but more than the others, My Neighbor Totoro is a giant hug in movie form. A father and his two daughters move to the countryside to be closer to their ailing mother. Before too long, the girls discover a fantastical world in the forest near their new home, with the giant and gentle Totoro at the center of it. The film chronicles the imaginative adventures they have and how childhood fantasies and daydreams are good when things are bad. I could just about cry because of how wholesome it is.
It's a movie that will make you want to hug whoever's closest to you, and because you're probably not social distancing from your partner, this is a perfect movie for that. Whatever your relational situation, prepare for this animated classic to touch you with all the feels, inspire you to stuff your eyes with wonder, and love bigger than ever before. It's streaming now on HBO Max, so even if the anime-adjacent style isn't the first thing you'd latch onto, it's hardly a commitment. (But you will want to buy it as soon as it's over. I speak from experience and as the proud owner of a new dark green steelbook. :) )
To round off the list, I present to you a movie that is pure fun and also a most inspired remake. The 1999 iteration of Universal's age-old Mummy franchise is so beloved, it's probably a significant reason Universal's recent Dark Universe project ultimately flopped - the first film out the gate (the Tom Cruise Mummy) could not live up to this legacy! Fun fact: this version is actually surprising faithful to the 1932 original; most of the work was just in rejigging the genre from straight horror to action-adventure!
So why is this a great February 14th watch, especially if you're an HBO Max subscriber? You have a writer-director in Stephen Sommers who makes the whole campy thing feel effortless, and a cast that is lovely in every way, led by an incomparable Rachel Weisz and Canadian-American Icon Brendan Fraser. Together, they gel in an aces team-up that's hard to achieve. Even better movies than this have a silent friction: everyone is on the same page with whole-hearted abandon, making the 1999 Mummy a perfect watch with popcorn and M&Ms, friends, family, romantic partners, and a variety of beverages.
Let me know, if Valentine movie plans are in your cards, what you decided to go with - whether it's one of my suggestions or otherwise! Continue to be safe and healthy, friends, and let us not forget to say hello every now and again.