It’s the most romantic season — but it’s also go-for-broke tax time, and your well-worn DVDs of The Princess Bride and Shaun of the Dead could use a rest. Fear not, nerds! We’ve scoured the three big streaming services to find sweet (and not-so-sweet) genre picks perfect for Valentine’s Day viewing.
1. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
Wrapped deep within Buckaroo Banzai’s nutty plot—about a genius scientist-slash-rock star and his equally eccentric pals working to prevent a long-brewing interstellar and inter-dimensional war—is a love story. Jamming onstage with his Hong Kong Cavaliers, Buckaroo (Peter Weller) notices Penny (Ellen Barkin) sobbing in the audience and stops the show to talk to her. After she’s arrested for — oops! — firing a gun in the club, he goes the jail and realises his déjà vu was onto something, because she’s the long-lost identical twin sister of his late wife. Hey, stranger things have happened!
Before long, she’s entangled in the main adventure, and though she has a pretty small role in a movie where a lot is going on at all times, the two characters share a tender and meaningful moment at the end when a little alien interference zaps her back into Buckaroo’s life. If only they’d made the promised sequel Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League, we would’ve seen their relationship grow even more, and no doubt Penny would’ve had a chance to kick some real arse. (Amazon Prime)
The love shared by Barbara and Adam Maitland (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) is so powerful they were obviously destined to die on the same day — none of that “till death do us part” bullshit. In the afterlife, the Harry Belafonte superfans get to be ghosts together, doing their adorably terrible best to haunt their beloved New England home after it’s invaded by a new family hellbent on tacky renovations — not to mention a certain conniving bio-exorcist.
In the end, Barbara and Adam’s strong bond helps makes all the humans who’re in their orbit happier and more loving...and that goes for the characters in the movie and even the most black-hearted types watching at home. (Hulu)
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy realises girl has had him erased from her memories, boy decides to undergo the same procedure but regrets it midway through. Then, after all that, boy and girl meet for a second time, and decide to try again despite everything, because love is irresistible like that.
Director Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman, along with actors Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, capture the excitement of discovering new love — and the utter grief that comes with seeing it fade — in ways that no movie has before or since. And while Eternal Sunshine is certainly a fantasy, it downplays its sci-fi elements (the memory-wipe company Lacuna is amazingly lo-fi) in favour of trying to explore the most secret nooks and crannies of the human mind and heart. A lot of it’s gut-punchingly sad, but there’s an undeniable sense of hope, too. (Netflix)
We recently learned that Riverdale is doing a Heathers musical episode — so there’s no better time to revisit the 1988 cult classic that satirizes how hellish high-school cliques can really be. All the Westerburg High School queen bees are named Heather, except for the one named Veronica (Winona Ryder), who’s already grown weary of popularity politics by the time she meets bad boy J.D. (Christian Slater).
While their relationship ends up being rather problematic, to say the least, their nascent romance is rather delightful — “Our love is God, let’s go get a slushie!” — until things get out of hand with that whole murders-staged-to-look-like-suicides spree. In the end, Veronica realises that preventing one’s psycho ex from blowing up the school is a drastic, but very efficient first step toward restructuring the teenage social order so that the long-suffering misfits can finally come out on top. (Hulu)
In Spike Jonze’s offbeat, near-future romance, a newly-divorced man named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) rebounds by falling in love with his computer operating system, which is powered by Samantha, an alluring AI (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). In the world of Her, human-AI “romances” aren’t totally uncommon—which is understandable considering how manic-pixie-dreamgirl perfect Samantha turns out to be—but neither are they totally accepted, a point of view that comes through when Theodore’s incredulous ex-wife makes fun of him for “dating a computer.”
We know from the start that there’s no real future for Theodore and Samantha, for obvious reasons—though the fantasy almost feels real for most of the movie, and their eventual breakup (for the surprising reason that Samantha, along with countless other AIs, has evolved too far beyond her intended purpose) has real, relatable poignancy. (Netflix)
6. Into the Dark: Down
It’s no secret that we’ve become big fans of Hulu and Blumhouse’s Into the Dark holiday-themed horror series (standouts so far include New Year, New You and Pooka!)—and if you haven’t gotten around to this month’s instalment, Valentine’s Day is the perfect excuse. Why? Well, because that’s the holiday that Down is tied to, though if you’ve seen the other episodes you know Into the Dark is very much focused on horror above everything else.
Daniel Stamm (The Last Exorcism) directs this one, about corporate co-workers (Natalie Martinez and Matt Lauria) who get stuck on an elevator together after working late on you-know-which red-letter day. Annoyance turns to panic turns to...well, other stuff, which we won’t spoil here, other than to say Down is a cautionary, timely tale that gets very dark indeed. Xoxo!
7. The Lobster
Yorgos Lanthimos has achieved his greatest critical success and mainstream reach to date with The Favourite, but many people first heard of him thanks to black comedy The Lobster, the Greek filmmaker’s 2015 English-language debut. The Oscar-nominated screenplay offers one of the bleakest and yet weirdly hilarious takes on relationships ever, imagining a world that forces all people to couple up, though there’s also an outsider community of “loners” who aren’t nearly as free as you’d think.
The basic premise — that all humans must have a designated partner or be turned into an animal—is absurd enough on its own, but it gets exponentially weirder once you add in the hotel-resort setting (and adjacent forest, as well as a heavily-policed nearby city) and all of the cruel quirks that continuously crop up in The Lobster — like the fact that humans must share a physical or mental flaw in order to be matched.
Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz are perfectly understated as a would-be (and probably should-be) pair who struggle to negotiate their feelings in a world that does everything it can to regulate everything about love.
8. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Even if you think the title character (played by Michael Cera) is an irritating little turd, there’s still plenty to love (and plenty of other very cool characters, some of whom also think he’s a turd) in Edgar Wright’s 2010 adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic. Slacker wannabe rock star Scott already has an adoring girlfriend, but he goes utterly ga-ga for new girl in town Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
Soon, however, he realises that in order to woo her, he’ll need to win a series of battles with her variously “evil” exes — as well as break up with the younger lass who thinks he’s the most rad thing ever. There’s never been a rom-com quite like this vibrant, energetic, video game-inspired tale of young love, whose (mostly) endearing cast is filled with future big names like Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Aubrey Plaza, and Anna Kendrick. (Netflix)
9. The Time Traveller’s Wife
OK, we had to include one movie that’s isn’t afraid to be extremely schmoopy and corny...though the very complicated relationship at its center is about as sci-fi as can be. Rachel McAdams plays the title character; Eric Bana plays the guy who zips through time, a genetic ability made way less awesome by the fact that he can’t actually control it whatsoever.
He appears as randomly as he disappears, a rough life no matter how you look at it, but made even worse by his growing desire to just be able to, like, hang out with his beloved, a woman he’s been “visiting” since she was a little kid (though their romance doesn’t spark until it’s totally age-appropriate, of course).
The best-selling novel by Audrey Niffenegger is currently being adapted for HBO by Steven Moffat, but this film version of The Time Traveller’s Wife came out in 2009, which — fun fact—makes it the first of McAdams’ series of films (with later entries Midnight in Paris and About Time) in which her character is romantically involved with a time traveller. Apparently all that drama is worth it, when true love’s at stake. (Amazon Prime)