Thanks to the weather, the steamiest weekend of the year couldn't be more the opposite outside, likely putting a lot of cute Valentine's Day plans on ice. And while there's plenty of heart-pumping options on big screens this romantic weekend – from "Sleepless in Seattle" at the Avalon to the Lakeith Stanfield/Issa Rae romance "The Photograph" hitting theaters across the country – the cold is likely keeping many frozen on the couch.
Thankfully, the Big Red Streaming Monolith has several solid and swoon-worthy options to raise the temperature on this frigid weekend and help fight off the chill outside with some Netflix and chill inside. Here are eleven heart-fluttering films to fuel your Valentine's Day weekend – and five you should definitely skip unless you want a holiday even frostier than the forecast.
"To All the Boys I've Loved Before"
The romantic comedy has basically been annexed out of movie theaters, not EPIC enough to draw audiences now conditioned to only go to the local cineplex for giant blow-em-up blockbusters "worthy" of the big screen – and even if they do succeed, not the billion-dollar box successes Hollywood studios demand these days.
Thankfully, Netflix has provided safe haven for the rom-com genre, resulting in charming fluff – aka just what the doctor ordered for this weekend – like the two "To All the Boys" movies, following Lara Jean (Lana Condor, a great name and an even better performer) as she navigates high school love after several secret love letters are sent to her biggest former crushes. Sure, things get awfully contrived, but Condor and her love interest Noah Centineo are adorably charming together, the two movies are more visually interesting than direct-to-streaming rom-coms have any reason to be, and did I mention Condor and Centineo are as precious as a basket of cuddly puppies?
These light, breezy, cute rom-coms are all one could ask for in Valentine's Day viewing ... except for one thing: Can we get some less cumbersome movie titles? "To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You" makes "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" seem comparatively straightforward.
If you're going to Sparks it up this Valentine's Day, you might as well go to the apex of the form: the 2004 time-hopping romance "The Notebook," about swooning 1940s lovers Allie (Rachel McAdams) and Noah (Ryan Gosling). It's the best, or at least the freshest and most authentic, version of all of Nicholas Sparks' cliches (is it set in the Carolinas? I don't know: Does Cupid shoot arrows?), and McAdams and Gosling are so excellent and satisfyingly swoon-worthy together that it makes up for the fact that threatening to kill yourself on a Ferris wheel for a date is super toxic behavior!
Between "Aladdin" and "Bad Boys for Life," I'm very happy Movie Star Mode Will Smith is back in our lives and on our big screens. And as a reminder of what Smith can do, check back in with this hit from 2005 – an era when a simple rom-com could gross almost $180 million at the box office. The concept – a professional dating expert falls in love himself while teaching schlub how to be smooth – is nothing special, but Smith makes the movie a winner, sparking with everyone he shares the screen, even Kevin James. Turns out he can be pretty amusing and charming when he's not starring in half-hearted Adam Sandler productions!
What is it with Rachel McAdams and time-travel love stories? She starred in this Richard Curtis ("Love Actually") romance, as well as the time-hopping literary nostalgia fest "Midnight in Paris" and the, to be entirely on the nose, "The Time Traveller's Wife," which somehow manages to be the creepiest movie in a trio that includes a Woody Allen movie.
"About Time" isn't without its creepiness too – constantly going back and forth in time to convince a girl to love you is, I don't know, at least a little gaslight-y – but it's also not without its charms, as McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson make a darling pair, Curtis' screenplay writes up some charming meet-cutes (you better in a movie that's going to repeatedly hop back and forth to them!) and the father-son dynamic in the film adds a bonus bit of emotional oomph. Because that's what happens when you cast Bill Nighy as a sweetly all-knowing and cheeky patriarch. You're probably going to cry! Embrace the tears!
"Set It Up"
Don't let the presence of Pete Davidson scare you away from "Set It Up," another Netflix Original rom-com favorite about two rival assistants trying to set up their bosses (Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs) so they'll get off their backs. I wonder if their grand romantic plan will result in the two leads falling in love as well! Yes, it's predictable – but it's a rom-com; you want predictable. And most importantly, you want two charming and charismatic leads, which you get in spades with "Set It Up." Zoey Deutch is a very funny comedic performer (see also: "Zombieland: Double Tap") and in a just world, Glen Powell would've become a massive star after this and "Everybody Wants Some!!" In a just world, he's be playing Goose's son in the new "Top Gun" movie coming out. (He's still in it, just not that role – and to that, I say COWARDS!) Unfortunately, we don't live in a just world – but at least it has "Set It Up."
"Blue is the Warmest Color"
In this epic three-hour lesbian coming-of-age romance, a young French girl begins a passionate relationship with a beautiful blue-haired stranger, a powerful connection that will teach her about love and life. It's a big time investment, but the lead performances from Lea Seydoux ("Spectre") and breakout star Adèle Exarchopoulos earn the time spent with this turbulent young love. Important note: Definitely don't watch this one with the kids – and maybe not with the curtains open; "Blue is the Warmest Color" was labeled with an NC-17 rating, and its passionate and generally unvarnished love scenes earn it. Another important note: Don't watch it on an empty stomach – or you will absolutely fiend for some spaghetti bolognese.
If you like your love stories grand, gorgeously dressed, based in great literature and almost certainly doomed, have a sit with "Anna Karenina," director Joe Wright's ("Pride and Prejudice," "Darkest Hour") ravishing adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's famed novel, impressively staged on, well, almost literally on a stage, with characters moving in and out of a theatrical world all too fitting for their high-pressure lives in the royal spotlight. Most of us think "homework" when we hear Tolstoy's name, but thanks to Wright's inventive approach, a star-studded cast – Jude Law, Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson (you again!), Emily Watson, Michelle Dockery, Ruth Wilson, Cara Delevingne, Pennywise himself Bill Skarsgard and Keira Knightley in the lead, because it's a romantic period drama, so of course – and its sumptuous design, it won't feel so much like 800-some pages.
"Like Water for Chocolate"
In this Spanish language romance, a woman learns that she can cook her feelings into her food. (I too have that power, except the only feeling I can put into my cooking is apathy, and the final product is always overcooked mac 'n' cheese.) If that sounds intensely melodramatic, well, the movie is a little bit – but hey, it's Valentine's Day; you might as well serve up your romances wild and swooning. You also might as well serve them with delicious-looking food, which "Like Water for Chocolate" has plenty of – including a plate of quail and rose pedals with is all too fitting for the holiday weekend. Plus, it comes with cinematography from co-D.P. Emmanuel Lubezki ("Gravity," "The Revenant") so you know it all looks as good as it probably tastes.
"I'll See You in My Dreams"
In the sub-genre of indie dramedies about late-life rebirths starring under-appreciated character actors and aging stars, "I'll See You in My Dreams" is one of the better ones – mainly because it gives a lovely and much-deserved spotlight to the ever-luminescent Blythe Danner, who plays a widow and singer rediscovering life as well as love with a new flame, played by Hollywood's finest mustache: the always delightful Sam Elliott. It's a modest, sweet and tender movie – and worse comes to worst, it takes place in sunny California, which is the perfect contrast to the four-degree winter weather outside.
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
Ang Lee's martial arts blockbuster – or "wuxia," a genre of grandly staged historical Chinese martial arts dramas, – has spectacle to offer everyone this Valentine's Day season, from breathtaking action sequences to even more breathtaking romantic melodrama featuring stars Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun-fat and Zhang Ziyi at some of their best. That's a frankly dangerous amount of oxygen being withheld! But no matter the health risks, "Crouching Tiger" is the perfect combination of swords and swoons for the holiday weekend.
"Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"
Romantic comedies don't come much more energetic or electric than Edgar Wright's high-powered graphic novel adaptation about a rock band slacker (Michael Cera) who falls in love with a mysterious ninja Amazon delivery girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, aka Huntress from "Birds of Prey") with some baggage – that baggage being that Scott must defeat her seven evil exes in order to continue dating. You do hate it when that happens.
What results is a punchy pop-culture romp featuring Wright's usual hilarious visual and screenwriting snap, a rockin' soundtrack and an insanely ahead-of-its time cast. (Aubrey Plaza! Anna Kendrick! Captains America AND Marvel!) Come for the rapid-fire jokes, visual creativity and kinetic love story; stay for cinema's finest sequence involving vegans!
- "Her" – Melancholy and undoubtedly strange but unforgettable and painfully wise. Somehow you will care about a man's love story with an app.
- "The Lovers" – A rom-com about a couple coming back together after their divorce. So like "Marriage Story," except the total inverse and also you won't hate the concept of love afterward.
- "Purple Rain" – The story is often the opposite of romantic, featuring a now-uncomfortable amount of abuse and misogyny. But watching Prince perform is basically like mainlining every known aphrodisiac.
And five to avoid at all costs ...
To the Netflix employee who put this in the site's "Romance" section: You're a monster. This 2010 drama starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a couple falling apart is very well done; it's also such an emotional gut punch that it actually leaves bruises after viewing. Putting this movie in the romance section is the cruelest thing Netflix has done since releasing "The Cloverfield Paradox" – which would actually somehow be a better Valentine's Day viewing choice than "Blue Valentine," if only because literally every film ever made is a better Valentine's Day viewing choice.
Noah Baumbach's Oscar-nominated drama is excellent and one of the best movies I saw in all of 2019. It's also an absolutely miserable choice for Valentine's Day, slowly yet surely pulling its starring couple (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson) through the torturous gauntlet that is the legal divorce process. Much like fellow Oscar nominee "Manchester by the Sea," it's funnier than it gets credit for – but its emotional gut punches are vicious, especially when our couple comes to the official breaking point, whipping barbed insults at one another that couldn't hurt more if they came wrapped in actual barbed wire. "1917" would be a more romantic Best Picture viewing option.
A movie about a couple going on a romantic holiday together to rekindle their marriage? Sounds innocent enough. And they bust out handcuffs in the bedroom? Kinky! Wait ... did he just die? And now she's trapped, cuffed to the bed? Hey, what's that dog doing her dead hubby's arm? Who's that creepy guy walking around the bedroom now!? GAH, WHAT'S SHE DOING TO HER HAND!? In conclusion, if you choose this for your Valentine's Day viewing, you too may need to plan a vacation to save your relationship. Do not bring handcuffs.
"Sex and the City 2"
The first "Sex and the City" was the perfect final note to send out Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha. So of course they had a make a sequel – an awful sequel that will make you hate all four leads, fashion, rich people, romance, Mr. Big, kids and possibly the entirety of existence. There's literally one good scene in the entire film: a moment with Charlotte and Miranda decompressing at a bar. That's about five tolerable minutes in a two-and-a-half-hour movie – a ratio that's even more depressing than "Blue Valentine."
Will Smith's natural screen presence and charisma can make a lot work. (See: the above "Hitch.") This is not one of those things: a glum drama that ends with Smith killing himself with jellyfish so he can donate his organs to a bunch of strangers he's been creepily "vetting" to find out if they deserve his guts. I'd feel bad about spoiling this allegedly "romance" film – Netflix has it in that category! No really! These people are lunatics! – but it's worth it to make sure you don't spoil your Valentine's Day on this bizarre misery fest.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.