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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

One of the few happy moments between Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine."

Love stinks: Five heartbreakingly good anti-Valentine's Day films


Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, and love is in the air. Or is it? For every person with plans of romantic dinners and extravagant gifts, there seems to be another with plans of Haagen-Dazs and Netflix Instant.

There are plenty of movies out there for those who want to believe in a thing called love, but what about those who – for whatever reason – want to give the holiday the middle finger? What about people who feel as rotten as a year-old Edible Arrangement?

Here are five great, suitably pessimistic anti-Valentine's Day movies, filled with broken and jaded hearts that'll have you belting "Love Stinks" like Adam Sandler in "The Wedding Singer."

"Blue Valentine"

How unromantic and heartbreakingly sad could a movie starring Ryan Gosling, the most handsome and romantic actor in the world right now, possibly be? Apparently very. Writer/director Derek Cianfrance's 2010 breakout indie follows the transformation of a married couple (Gosling and Oscar nominee Michelle Williams) from sweet lovebirds into sad, mean, bitter people grasping desperately for the love they once felt.

Cianfrance's screenplay interweaves the two aspects of the married couple's history together for maximum heartbreak, showing their tender origins with their emotionally brutal present. They try to rekindle things with a trip to a sleazy UFO-themed sex hotel, but it only serves to show how dead their love is. The soul-crushing final scenes only further emphasize that though the film has Valentine in the title – and it stars the remarkably handsome Gosling – there's no reason to fit "Blue Valentine" into your romantic holiday festivities. For people celebrating anti-Valentine's Day, however, it's a misery gold mine.

"Fatal Attraction"

Michael Douglas's 1987 romantic thriller is the ultimate "keep it in your pants" tale (don't bother bringing up "Swimfan." Just don't). Everyone knows the story: Married man (Douglas) begins to have an affair with an attractive but emotionally unstable woman (Glenn Close), and when the philanderer decides to call the arrangement off, the woman goes crazy, turning to stalking, psychological threats and boiling pet rabbits.

The film's original ending involved Close killing herself and Douglas getting arrested for her murder, but test audiences were unsatisfied with the ending and wanted Close brought to justice (Douglas' cheating scoundrel, on the other hand, apparently deserves no punishment). As a result, the ending was changed to what it is now, a still pretty grim cautionary tale about love and lust gone wrong. You can try to argue that the ending is "happy," but there's no way that family went back to normal after the credits rolled.

"Shame"

A quick perusal through the plot synopsis for director Steve McQueen's "Shame" should pretty clearly show why it's on this list. Heck, the mere fact that it was hit with the rare NC-17 rating (and earned it) should help. McQueen's film is an agonizingly human glimpse into the life of a sex addict (Michael Fassbender, physically and emotionally naked for much of the film) as he struggles with his troubled sister's (Carey Mulligan, soon to be Daisy in "The Great Gatsby") arrival and attempting to find true love with a co-worker (Nicole Beharie).

"Shame" isn't trying to titillate the audience with its graphic sexual content. Instead, McQueen portrays the action as coldly as the main character feels, and as his carefully sculpted life crumbles apart, it turns self-destructive. It's a quietly heart-wrenching tale about how a man's addiction tore apart his life and made true relationships almost impossible. It'd make a terrific pro-celibacy double feature with "Fatal Attraction."

"Like Crazy"

This little festival darling didn't quite meet expectations after winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2011, but it's still worth checking out if you're in the mood for some heartbreak. Anton Yelchin (Chekov in J.J. Abrams's "Star Trek" reboot) and Felicity Jones (whose name has been swirling around "The Amazing Spider-Man 2") star as a young love-struck couple that gets separated when Jones, a Brit, absentmindedly overstays her school visa and isn't allowed back to America.

The two try to make it work, but the long-distance relationship becomes tiring, and they start seeing another people (including Jennifer Lawrence, so obviously things aren't that bad). Does their love survive? I won't say; I'll just say the final minute is pretty painful … unless you're feeling cynical and keep thinking, "that's what you get for overstaying your visa for some extra cuddles, you mopey airheads!"

"Amour"

It's after a romantic Valentine's Day dinner. You want to close out the night with a sweet, romantic movie. You scan through the movie listings and find "Amour," a title that means love in French, the language of love. It'll be perfect!

No. No, it isn't, unless the evening is going horribly, and you want to guarantee that you'll never see your date again.

I'm definitely not saying you shouldn't see "Amour." It's a terrific film and deserving of several of its Oscar nominations – especially Emmanuelle Riva's nod for Best Actress. However, Valentine's Day may not be the right time to check out an emotionally devastating drama about a pleasant elderly couple slowly deteriorating due to the cruel, uncaring forces of time and age. Director Michael Haneke ("Funny Games," "Cache") has no plans of dulling his film's soul-shatteringly tragic events either.

You know that adorable Zales commercial with the old couple walking in the park, holding hands? "Amour" is the really, really, ridiculously depressing version of that. It's the perfect film for those who think the happy honeymoon aspect of relationships and love gets too much attention and would rather be reminded of their sad, inevitable death.

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