Wednesday, February 13, 2008
by Tony Dayoub
In recognition of Valentine's Day, here are some movies that present love in unexpected ways.
¡Átame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) (1990) - Victoria Abril, Antonio Banderas; dir. Pedro Almodóvar - This Spanish language film was controversial at the time of its release for being part of a wave of films that ushered in a new era in cinematic sexual frankness. But at its heart, it is just a sweet story of a criminal who kidnaps a porn actress he adores and how she falls in love with him.
Bitter Moon (1992) - Hugh Grant, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, Peter Coyote; dir. Roman Polanski - Polanski's film about obssessive love is disturbing. It starts as an amusing tale of sado-masochistic adventures between a crippled American writer and his younger sexy French girlfriend. But it soon illustrates that in such couplings, satisfaction is elusive unless you keep raising the bar to more dangerous heights.
Double Indemnity (1944) - Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck; dir. Billy Wilder - Love drives insurance agent Walter Neff to murder Phyllis Dietrichson's husband. However, the chances of happily-ever-after are diminished by the growing paranoia that Neff may be Dietrichson's next victim. If this story seems familiar, it isn't because Raymond Chandler's script wasn't original. It's because this movie has been the template for many black-widow-potboilers that have appeared since.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) - Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman; dir. Stanley Kubrick - As is usual with Kubrick's films, this movie plays better today than at the time of its debut. Wrongly marketed as an erotic thriller at the time of its release, see it for what it really is today. Hype-free, it emerges as a blackly comic version of Alice in Wonderland, as Tom Cruise's Dr. Bill Harford falls down a rabbit hole of jealousy. As he contemplates myriad temptations, he is faced with the growing realization that fidelity may be the hardest, but safest path to travel on.
Frankie and Johnny (1991) - Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer; dir. Garry Marshall - Not the most original romantic comedy, nor the funniest. In fact, it can be a downer. And Pacino's charismatic interpretation now comes across a little hammy in light of his subsequent performances. So why am I recommending it? Because Pfeiffer does an incredible job making you forget she is gorgeous in this ugly duckling role written for Kathy Bates. And because Pacino and Pfeiffer still have the chemistry they displayed in Scarface.
Henry & June (1990) - Fred Ward, Uma Thurman, Maria de Medeiros; dir. Philip Kaufman - The first movie ever rated NC-17, it recounts the affairs author Henry Miller and his wife June each conducted with writer Anaïs Nin. Ironically, though much is made of Miller's profane depiction of love in his writings, the film is romantic, erotic, and luxurious in its beauty. It also emerges as pretty damn funny on repeated viewings.
Huāyàng niánhuá (In the Mood for Love) (2000) - Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai; dir. Wong Kar-Wai - A dreamy film that tells the bittersweet story of two neighbors platonically falling in love while their spouses philander. Beyond that, there is little to no plot to speak of, but plenty of lush intoxicating atmosphere. By the time you hear Nat King Cole's "Aquellos Ojos Verdes", you'll be in the film's thrall.
Manhattan (1979) - Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway; dir. Woody Allen - Much has been made of how this story foretells Allen's real-life involvement with Soon-yi Previn. Forget about all that. What's important here is not his character Isaac's affair with the too-young Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). This is Allen's love letter to the capital of the world, New York City. Never has a movie so beautifully captured the city (in black-and-white), or has a soundtrack (Gershwin) so perfectly complemented images of Manhattan.
Map of the Human Heart (1993) - Jason Scott Lee, Anne Parillaud, Patrick Bergin; dir. Vincent Ward - An illusory, sensuous look at a love triangle set in World War II. The actors' chemistry and the fine cinematography serve to tell a story that takes place mostly in memory, and not a reliable memory at that. The bombing of Dresden is the most haunting setpiece of the film. See this one on a good home theater system.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) - George Lazenby, Diana Rigg; dir. Peter Hunt - 007 at his most action-packed, devoid of gadgets, and surrounded by some of the series' most beautiful locales. So what makes this one so unique in the franchise? This is the film in which Bond meets the woman he'll marry, Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, or Tracy. Lazenby does an adequate job as the spy in his lone outing as 007. Yet, if Sean Connery would have portrayed him in this one, it would have easily been the best of the series.
To Catch a Thief (1955) - Cary Grant, Grace Kelly; dir. Alfred Hitchcock - The master's most romantic film. Grant and Kelly have a dynamic that literally sets off fireworks. And the French Riviera is a memorable backdrop. What other location could outshine the film's two gorgeous stars?
True Romance (1993) - Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette; dir. Tony Scott - Geek love as written by Quentin Tarantino. Notable mostly for the sheer number of cameos by such actors as, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, and Dennis Hopper, who with Christopher Walken, enacts the most memorable scene of the film. As Clarence, Slater aptly captures the comic-book geek persona of the film's biggest audience. And Arquette's Alabama is the perfect fantasy girl for the film's nerdy fans.
Ultimo tango a Parigi (Last Tango in Paris) (1972) - Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider; dir. Bernardo Bertolucci - The precursor to all the softcore 80s flicks like 9 1/2 Weeks... except this one has Brando. His performance is easily his most revelatory. Apparently given a long leash to ad-lib by the young Bertolucci, Brando chose to show his soul. And this was an actor just coming off his biggest success, The Godfather. His most vulnerable scene? His confessional dialogue with his late wife.
Wild at Heart (1990) - Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern; dir. David Lynch - Violent and at times, disturbing, this lovers-on-the-lam story could only have been directed by Lynch. I can't think of a film where the protagonists are more in love with each other. Could it be because of Cage and Dern's real-life affair during filming? Not likely. Lynch just knows how to contrast the horrific with the sentimental.
Disagree with these? Have your own list? Respond in the comments section below.