Love is in the air…or not: 10 films to watch this Valentine’s Day

This Valentine's Day, fall in love with your couch and one - or 10 - of these films, carefully selected by Omnified's resident film expert, Jess Sweetman.

Picture by Jess Sweetman

A piece for Omnified by Jess Sweetman

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Just think, without it there would have been no Saint Valentine’s Day massacre, and without that, “Some Like It Hot” would have been about a bunch of guys standing around doing nothing.

Personally I’m torn. On the one hand, a part of me wants to celebrate love. The part of me who read “Eat Pray Love,” (secretly, mind you, tucked away beneath the front cover of “The Story of O,” so I could read it on the bus without anyone judging me) wants to dance among the daisies while playing a lyre and improvising love ballads about tales of yore.

Meanwhile the rest of me wants to spend the day gathering up happy couples and launching them off bridges while screaming “I AM THE GODDESS OF VENGEFUL VALENTINES” until they realize that they are pretending, love is fleeting, and everyone you love will die.

Such cognitive dissonance is, of course, what makes the world go round. So on this day of romance and blood-tinged bitterness, I offer you the ultimate Valentine’s Day movie marathon to tie the two broken sides of your soul back together. Be ye a hopeless romantic or if you just think that romance is hopeless, I’ve gathered all of the best films for falling in love, or being your own darn Valentine to help you through this day.* Choose wisely, my friends.


1. Grace of My Heart, Allison Anders, 1996

If this movie had garnered the attention it deserved, everyone would talk loudly in bars about the first time they watched “Grace of My Heart.” This Scorsese-produced beauty picks you up somewhere in the early ‘60s and dances you through the well-lived life of songwriter Denise Waverly – very loosely based on the life of Carole King – from her early days of working as a songwriter in the Brill Building, to becoming an artist in her own right. While heartbreaks invade the plot with astounding regularity, it is her voice, the voice of a woman who has broken through barriers with her talent and her heart, that emerges triumphantly.

This is a film for falling in love but not in the grossly overhyped Valentine’s Day way. Instead you can fall in love with Allison Anders and Illeana Douglas, the two amazing, creative and kick-ass women, who created this joyful film.

2. Muriel’s Wedding, P.J. Hogan, 1994

If you don’t like ABBA, you don’t deserve to be reading this list for heartbroken, dark, sad losers, because there’s nothing darker than both sides of a husband-and-wife band divorcing horribly, while the men write songs about their separation for the women to perform while trying to smile. Now go away, listen to the lyrics of “The Winner Takes It All,” and try not to cry, I dare you.

It’s not just the celebrated soundtrack of “Muriel’s Wedding” that makes everything better, but it’s the movie that introduced the double whammy of Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths to the non-Australian world. It is joyous in its celebration of female friendship and its sneering at boring small seaside town life. Watch it with your bestie and 17 pints of wine. Or if you don’t have any friends, watch it, drink 17 pints of wine and then cry to some divorce-ABBA.

3. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, John Cameron Mitchell, 2001

If having a botched sex-reassignment operation for the person you love, who then abandons you in Kansas to survive in a trailer on babysitting money isn’t enough to convince you to be your own darn Valentine, then I don’t know what is. Oh yes, maybe the protege you practically raised, making off with all of your ideas and rising to gratuitous amounts of fame on your dime. Hedwig is always good salve for a broken heart. Watch it and then go and break other hearts by busting out all five hours of “The Origin of Love” at someone else’s wedding.

4. May, Lucky McKee, 2002

There’s something about the actor Jeremy Sisto that makes you know that romance has been murdered and its beheaded corpse is currently rotting under a hedge somewhere. Just looking into his dreamy frightening eyes, you know that heartbreak ridge is right on the horizon and you are dashing there with your craziest boots on. He did it in “Clueless,” in “Six Feet Under,” in “Waitress,” and he does it again with gusto in “May.”

It’s a glorious horror film from Lucky McKee in which shy and awkward May, played by Angela Bettis, grapples with love and kind of makes an interesting decision regarding her next relationship at the end of the film. I’m not giving you a spoiler, it’s too good and strangely empowering in a really messed up way, and, for once, Sisto gets what he deserves. In your face, Sisto!

5. She’s Gotta Have it, Spike Lee, 1986

Spike Lee makes great films, period. This one happens to be about a woman and her three lovers. If you haven’t read Spike Lee’s diaries from the production of this film, I highly recommend them. His adventures in film funding and writing really show you what a dedicated artist is capable of, although I’m not sure when he sleeps.

Nola Darling is a young artist in Brooklyn, before “young artist in Brooklyn” was a synonym for Lena Dunham. Nola knows what she wants, and it’s not monogamy. If you’d prefer a version where the tone better reflects our times, I’d highly recommend the updated Netflix series. I’m kind of in favor of the movie version for the ‘80s dresses though…


1. Paterson, Jim Jarmusch, 2016 / Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch, 2013

I don’t know what’s happened lately in Jim Jarmusch’s life, but my favorite aging indie cool kid has been a fluffy fuzzball of cuddles lately. His vampire film, “Only Lovers Left Alive,” is a glorious celebration of everlasting love and features a couple who are intrinsically bound, really seem to like each other and, most importantly, are happy to live apart from one another for years while they do their own thing.

”Paterson” is an epic love poem about a quiet bus-driving poet who is deeply in love with his fabulously creative wife who does weird things, like bake perfect cupcakes, with gusto. In a completely unfounded theory, I’d like to think the film is Jarmusch’s tribute to his long-term partner, Sara Driver, a filmmaker, artist and all-around good egg. But maybe it’s just the blossom in the air, or some really strong antidepressants. Either way I’m absolutely into it, and you should be too.




2. Gas Food Lodging, Allison Anders, 1992

Do you remember your first teenage love? The overwhelming feelings of love, of lust, and of gross, stinky confusion? Now imagine if they were actually made to look romantic. “Gas Food Lodging” does just that.

In Allison Anders’ lush coming-of-age film, the heroine Shade, played by a suitably wide-eyed Fairuza Balk, falls into the best teenage relationship ever with Javier, played by a suitably beautiful Jacob Vargas, against a glorious desert backdrop. The romance is the antidote to the family drama in the piece and will leave you hugging a cushion like you are a mushy 15-year-old.

3. In & Out, Frank Oz, 1997

While the main subject of “In & Out” is the journey made by Kevin Kline’s character, Howard Brackett, who announces that he is gay during his wedding to Emily, played by the suitably wonderful Joan Cusack…the contrarian that I am, my favorite side love story in the film is between two straight people.

I know, it’s fabulous to watch Kline snog Tom Selleck, although both of them have shaved off their moustaches for the film, which makes me think that maybe if they’d kissed with moustaches, the very strength of their combined facial hair would have ignited a spark that accidentally ended the world, or cured climate change, or something. Alas, my favorite love story in this movie is the one between the beautifully jilted Emily and Cameron Drake, who just happens to be played by Matt Dillon.

Disclaimer – I am a child of the ‘90’s and may have possibly moved to Seattle partly because of Matt Dillon with long hair in “Singles.” He is so dreamy that his dreaminess even wasn’t fully erased when he played a serial killer in “The House That Jack Built,” a weird guy in “There’s Something About Mary,” and he’d probably play a dreamy Richard Nixon if the opportunity arose, that’s how much his power of dreaminess surpasses everything.

Anyway, former chubster Emily has been starving herself to become “perfect” for her wedding, only to be jilted because her fiance is hot for Tom Selleck. In floats Cameron, the now Oscar-winning actor who Emily tutored when he was a young ‘un, who remembers her for her fabulous beauty back then. We close with her face in a bucket of potato chips and his eyes lovingly glued to her. I’m ignoring any feeder/victim vibes and going straight – on behalf of chubby girls everywhere – to aaaaaahhhh.

4. Shortbus, John Cameron Mitchell, 2006

“Shortbus” is a glorious celebration of life, sex, love in all of its forms, and what it is to be human. Mitchell’s characters grapple with a myriad of problems, but the plot carries us to their self-acceptance in the blissful hub of the sex club Shortbus. It’s there where they learn to embrace their humanity, flaws and all. Maybe don’t watch it with your parents.

5. If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins, 2018

When adapting James Baldwin’s novel about the struggles of true love while being African-American in the U.S. of the 1970s, “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins remained true to Baldwin’s vision with one small exception. Where the novel ends with a foreshadowing of tragedy, Jenkins takes a more hopeful path. It gives a glimmer of hope, that Jenkins, speaking at the German premiere of the film in January, says is needed in these troubled times.

The love in this film feels so genuine that, with astounding performances by the entire cast, lead by Kiki Layne and Stephan James that, despite the crushing racism and bigotry faced by the characters, you still kind of want to skip out of the cinema to go and make out with someone (anyone that’s not a relative will do). AND Jenkins wrote the screenplay while in Berlin, so he gets an extra point for his excellent taste in cities. Now go away and feel some love.

*Or you could always just re-watch “Tremors.”

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