The following list is my thinly–veiled excuse to ramble about rom-coms and the result of midterm stress causing me to procrastinate by doing literally anything other than studying. Anyway, instead of going out on a date and possibly getting or spreading COVID-19, stay in and watch these movies.
- Clueless (1995) Look, I can’t write a Valentine’s Day movie list and not include some sort of Jane Austen adaptation. Clueless has the bonus of ’90s pop culture, the eternally ageless Paul Rudd, and the truly cutting insult of “You’re a virgin who can’t drive.”
- Our Times (2015) Everyone has that one movie that defines their high school experience—that blend of nostalgia and hope, childhood innocence, the pressure of growing up, and the mundanity and drama of it all. Our Times is a love letter to that experience, a reminder for us that it’s okay to stumble and fall—to do stupid things and fall in love and have hopeless crushes that we’ll laugh about with our friends—and one day say, “Remember when?”
- Ponyo (2008) This is the best retelling of The Little Mermaid, and the only one with a believable love story. Like all Studio Ghibli movies, it’s sustained by a core of magic, heartfelt storytelling, and gorgeous animation. Ponyo is a movie that explores what love is: familial love, romantic love, and most of all, love for your world and for who you are.
- The Princess Bride (1987) Leaving this movie off this list would be inconceivable. Death cannot stop true love, just as nothing can stop Inigo Montoya from getting his revenge. So, as you wish, it is included.
- Set It Up (2018) This is the superior Netflix romcom of the summer of ’18. (In other words, it’s better than To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. I said what I said.) It’s a movie that relies on its tropes as its strengths, creating a story that, while predictable, is both enjoyable and plausible.
- You’ve Got Mail (1998) There’s something strangely nostalgic about a movie which treats the internet as a refuge—as an oasis of wonder rather than its now chaotic hellscape. #EnemiesToLovers #SlowBurn #SecretIdentity #BookstoreAU.
- The Half of It (2020) Finding a good friend, someone who truly gets you, can be just as important as finding a romantic partner. Director Alice Wu provides an insightful look into what it means to be queer and Asian in small-town-white-bread-and-Jesus-lovin’ America.
- Dirty Dancing (1987) This is on the list so I can link a clip of this scene. You know the one.
- Legally Blonde: The Musical (2007) Legally Blonde: The Musical (pro-shot and recorded by MTV) is 2000s pop-culture comfort food: You love it, you indulge in it, and you don’t think too hard about it. Where else would you get lyrics like, “There’s the eternal paradox, look what we’re seeing./ Is he gay or European?”
- In the Mood for Love (2000) This one’s for all the film/art nerds out there and for everyone who agrees that Maggie Cheung is ridiculously pretty, because all Wong Kar Wai movies are meticulously brilliant—from the color palette, to the soundtrack, to the careful blocking of each shot. Wong has had a clear hand in steering Hong Kong’s film industry; his scenes are both claustrophobic and isolating, mimicking the crowded streets and wavering identity of Hong Kong. It’s what allows In the Mood for Love to succeed as a movie built off impermanence and the fleeting goodbye of a missed connection.
- Die Another Day (2002) “But James Bond movies are action movies,” you protest. Then explain why every single development in this movie is driven by Bond’s libido (played with equal parts charm and incompetence by Pierce Brosnan). Bond movies are like regency romances for straight men, and Die Another Day is the pinnacle of this, being so bad and so outlandish it’s actually extremely entertaining to watch. Bonus if you also watch the excellent Bond franchise parody From Beijing With Love, which is what Die Another Day could be like if it didn’t try to take itself seriously.
- The Fault in Our Stars (2014) Admit it, we all had a John Green phase.
- 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) It’s a modernized Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew but without the weird shrew-taming: Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) doesn’t change who she is but will still make you cry when she reads her poem. 10 Things I Hate About You also features Joker dancing on the stairs before it was cool and a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt who only wanted to do serious films (because he’s a serious actor).
- The Handmaiden (2016) You wouldn’t think the Dickensian crime drama and lesbian awakening of Sarah Waters’s novel Fingersmith would translate well to 1930s Korea, but director Park Chan-wook pulls it off with aplomb, creating a part-heist, part-romance movie that twists and thrills with each new development. The Handmaiden was also the breakout film for actress Kim Tae-ri, who has since starred in the excellent historical drama Mr. Sunshine and most recently in the sci-fi blockbuster Space Sweepers.
Bonus: All’s Well, Ends Well (1992) Bonus because it’s also Lunar New Year this week. Fold dumplings, overeat food, and greet relatives in exchange for red envelopes: Happy 牛 Year!*
*Yes, I’m aware this pun only works in Mandarin. Saturday morning Chinese school only goes so far.