To those who know me personally, a list like this created by yours truly is about as uncommon as cheese on pizza (SPOILER: If you eat cheese-less pizza then, well, you’re doing it wrong). That being said, I’ve become particularly fond of anti-romantic “self-torture” films that astound and depress in equal measure, their protagonists suffering through varying degrees of hardship as it’s typically not triumphed over. From a simple case of love on the rocks to a more sprawling effort with a touched-upon, moreover unifying narrative impetus, I feel that this list is a mildly eclectic one that illustrates the many faces of anti-romantic cinema. Consider it my Valentine’s Day gift to you.
I don’t so much fault Ruby Sparks for its outlandishly fairy tale-esque sensibilities as I do laud its emotional authenticity, the surprisingly incisive character-driven aspects of the script shedding light on Calvin’s (Paul Dano) personality and his relationship with Ruby (Zoe Kazan). As things take a decidedly grim turn in its latter act, Ruby Sparks accentuates the importance and permanence of free will in modern relationships and – as those who’ve seen the film can confirm – even the happiest beginnings can segue into the saddest endings despite overbearing fantastical elements.
“As it inevitably devolves into increasingly overwrought absurdity, The Broken Circle Breakdown still holds its own against a growing stock of anti-romantic “love” stories, more specifically ones that focus on the disintegration of relationships in the face of fate-fueled adversity. Spinning the atheist-versus-devoutly religious gimmick works to the film’s utmost advantage, the characters’ disparate belief sets providing for added conflict coupled with the affecting distress of their daughter’s terminal illness. Tonally, it’s a cloying goddamn mess, yet all the unevenness in the world couldn’t prevent me from admiring the film’s emotional brutality.”
Barring the testosterone-heavy, Mad Max-obsessed narrative quirks, Bellflower is, above all else, about an immensely bombastic break-up. Blurring the lines between fiction and reality, Evan Glodell’s debut feature sports one hell of a personality as compelling substance, visuals and handmade flamethrowers permeate the entire production.
I catch a lot of shit for professing my tendency to revisit it time and again, however Like Crazy is personal filmmaking at its finest. Playing as a semi-autobiographical dramatization of writer/director Drake Doremus’ real life experiences, the film focuses on Anna’s (Felicity Jones) deportation as a result of her violating the terms of her student visa. Separated from new love Jacob (Anton Yelchin), age-old long distance relationship tropes are employed to frequently tug at viewers’ heartstrings in an authentic and relatable fashion. It isn’t remarkably inventive, however emotional honesty goes a long way in covering up certain blemishes.
As Diablo Cody’s script deftly addresses the perils of obviously prolonged adolescence, Young Adult‘s Mavis Gary’s (Charlize Theron) primary impulse to move back in with her parents revolves around winning the affections of (now-married) high school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). Frequently drinking to excess and oppressively slinging her trademark vitriolic ignorance, Mavis’ frustrations heat to a boil in a particularly crushing third act moment – one that explains away her abrasiveness and refusal to simply grow up.
Harkening back to my previous statement about how far emotional authenticity can carry a film, Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine chronicles the highest highs and lowest lows of a married couple’s soon-to-be-dissolved relationship. Remaining admirably steadfast in its true-to-life intentions, Gosling and Williams’ respective role committals and corresponding onscreen chemistry lift the proceedings above and beyond similar efforts.
A hip, quirk-heavy deconstruction of an equally hip and quirky couple’s break-up, (500) Days of Summer tells the tale of one Tom’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) desperate attempt to win ex-girlfriend Summer (Zooey Deschanel) back. Exploiting an agreeably effective time-and-place gimmick, the film rarely falters in its examination of contemporary love and relationships as seen through the eyes of those with conflicting views on the topics.
As this list’s requisite wildcard, Tarantino’s Kill Bill is as much a cinematic masterpiece as it is an alternately singular and homage-esque tale of revenge. Focusing on The Bride’s (Uma Thurman) earnest efforts, the last man on her hit list is the titular former lover and purveyor of the above-seen carnage, Bill (David Carradine). As Tarantino’s trademarks predictably engage, Vol. 2‘s startling latter act reveal segues wonderfully into a conclusion for the ages.
The usual go-to for those actively seeking to take their initial dive into Allen’s filmography, Annie Hall is what one could (and should) call essential viewing for everyone. Focusing on comedian Alvy Singer’s (Woody Allen) unconventional romance with the palpably aloof Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), the film is as funny as it is wittily incisive and humanistic. Allen’s affinity for examining all aspects of the human condition is his trademark and, put plainly, this is easily among his best as a cinematic slice of divine character-driven euphoria.
I saw this film for the first time on a plane ride that warrants such activity and, needless to say, I was an emotional and impressionable teenager. Simultaneously enthralled and overwhelmed by a throng of mostly negative emotions, said experience primed me for the revisiting of Eternal Sunshine at regular intervals if only to satisfy a need for what every film on this list provides. Keenly honing in on mankind’s desire to promptly rid themselves of emotional trauma, Charlie Kaufman’s script pairs impeccably with Michel Gondry’s apt vision – one that’s as atmospheric and whimsical as it is deeply affecting. It’s artistically inclined, funny where it counts and most definitely sad but – more than anything else – it’s infinitely accessible in the realm of romantic realism and relatability.