I could play it safe and make a list of the best romantic comedies to watch with your paramour, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, I present to you 14 tales from the dark side of love. Is it love… or just confusion?
14. New York, New York (1977) – Dir. Martin Scorsese
I think this is a severely underrated film. You got Scorsese transporting brutally honest drama–from worlds grounded in the gritty realism of his previous films–into the manufactured world of the Busby Berkeley musicals, full of glitz and glamor, with elaborate musical numbers. Big. Brash. Bold. It’s an amazing juxtaposition, a drama about the relationship between two strong-willed individuals, who love each other almost as much as they love the spotlight, set in this clearly artificial version of post-WWII New York City, more like a neon Never-land. Robert De Niro plays Jimmy Doyle, an egotistical saxophone-player and would-be bandleader. Liza Minnelli plays Francine Evans, a charming, burgeoning young singer. The two meet and sparks fly for more reasons than one. Brilliant.
Written by William Inge (Picnic, Bus Stop), Splendor is an almost Shakespearean romantic tragedy. You’ve got unrequited and forbidden love, sexual repression, obsession, madness… throw in a ghost and some sword-play and we’re set. Splendor in the Grass stars Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty, with Elia Kazan directing, that’s good enough for me. If you don’t find Natalie Wood’s performance truly heartbreaking, then you just might be a heartless bastard… I’m just saying…
Making a nice one-two punch from 1961, The Children’s Hour is another tale of woe. A tempestuous troublemaker starts a rumor that the headmistresses of her all-girl school are lesbians. The film stars Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine as the two teachers. James Garner plays Hepburn’s fiance. Another great film dealing with repression, obsession and forbidden love. Of course, I take away another message, kids are assholes.
11. Vertigo (1958) – Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Hmmm… noticing a theme here? Another film about obsession. Do I really need to summarize Vertigo? If you haven’t seen it, I question whether you are truly a movie geek.
10. Lolita (1962) – Dir. Stanley Kubrick
With a tag-line like, “How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?” You know you’re in for something… different. Say what you will about it, I still think it’s a great movie. So it deals with a middle-aged man’s obsession with a 14-year-old nymphet… yes, he’s a pedophile… yes, it’s wrong… it’s still a great film. Again, dealing with obsession and (extremely) forbidden love, the film is based on Vladimir Nabokov‘s novel, and Nabokov wrote the screenplay himself. I think James Mason plays a perfect Humbert Humbert. And could you ask for anything better than Peter Sellers playing Quilty? I think you’d be mighty hard-pressed. Sue Lyon plays a wonderfully coquettish Lolita. Dark. Naughty. Unchaste. C’est la vie.
9. The Lady from Shanghai (1947) – Dir. Orson Welles
You can’t have a list of films about the dark side of love without a femme fatale in there somewhere. Sure, there are plenty of films to choose from, but I’m partial to The Lady from Shanghai… if only for the line, “Killing you is killing myself. But, you know, I’m pretty tired of both of us.” Again, obsession, but here we have sex as a weapon, manipulation and murder. Rita Hayworth stars with her then husband Orson Welles in this iconic film noir.
Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty star as the titular star-crossed couple who prove that violence solves everything. Sexual repression, forbidden/doomed love… Again, the tag-line says it all, “They’re young… they’re in love… and they kill people.”
7. The Virgin Suicides (1999) – Sofia Coppola
A group of teenage boys are obsessed with the mysterious Lisbon sisters in this dark film that shows how young love can be the most devastating. Truly dark, simultaneously beautiful, there’s a wonderfully macabre whimsy to The Virgin Suicides.
6. Romeo + Juliet (1996) – Baz Luhrmann
You knew this was coming… you had to. It’s in the last line of the play: “For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Star-crossed lovers, obsession, tragedy, doomed-love… it’s all there. The real question is, where do you think I’m going from here…
Boom… Yeah…. that just happened. Sure, Romeo and Juliet were star-crossed lovers who died for each other. Eric Draven came back from the dead to avenge his true love, kinda makes Romeo look like a quitter. If that’s not obsession, then I don’t know what is.
4. The Phantom of the Opera – Rupert Julien
Lon Chaney, “the man of a thousand faces,” plays the original, iconic silver-screen version of the Phantom. You can’t beat it. The mad phantom, a disfigured outcast, obsessed with Christine Daae, driven to murder to make her a star.
A fitting follow-up to The Phantom, May is a troubled girl, partly because of her lazy eye. A bit of an outcast, like the Phantom. She, too, becomes obsessed, but not with just one person, instead with parts of several people. She believes that no one person can truly be perfect, but they can have perfect parts. If only she could find a way to put all of these perfect parts together… creepy. I guess love will tear us apart…
Glenn Close plays Alex Forrest, the mother-of-all obsessed lovers. Unfortunately–for everyone involved–her’s is a love unrequited. What seems like true love to Alex is nothing more than a simple tryst to Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas). We’ve got all the themes this list is about, obsession, unrequited love, madness, destruction, because Alex will not be ignored. Any man who thinks of cheating after seeing this film is a fool. Glenn Close is terrifying.
1. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – Francis Ford Coppola
Again, someone else who shows up Romeo, not only does Dracula die for his true love, not only does he become the undead for his true love, Dracula is damned for all eternity, all in the name of love. Elisabeta, having committed suicide thinking Dracula dead, is damned to hell by the very Church Dracula fought to protect. So, cursing the Church and God, he vows to return from death with all the powers of darkness to avenge her death. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.
Screw never having to say you’re sorry, love is condemning yourself to eternal damnation in order to wage war against Heaven.
Did I miss anything? Anything else you think should be on this list? What are some of your unconventional Valentine’s Day movies?