Valentine’s Day (or Single Awareness Day, depending on your relationship status) is one of those holidays that can either be a big deal between couples or an annoying reminder for the single. But in the modern day, one popular way to spend the evening is picking out a romantic-themed movie to watch (either together or alone or with a group of friends or a bottle of wine).
So, whatever your relationship status, here are Me Like Movie’s top picks for Valentine’s Day movies available for streaming on the “Big Three” (Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime) this year.
Can’t Buy Me Love
Readers of this site know I’m a fan of teen movies from the 1980s, and Can’t Buy Me Love is a great representation of the general tropes the genre depended upon. The high-concept premise is simple enough: a nerdy high-schooler (played by Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey) pays his popular neighbor (Amanda Peterson) to pretend to be his girlfriend for a month so he can become a popular kid at their high school. Of course, spending time together, she begins to develop genuine feelings for him, but his sudden popularity makes him a selfish jerk. Eventually it all comes crashing down, and he has to find a way to make everything right by the end of the movie.
A classic piece of Americana and some frothy enough teen escapism from 1987, this film became a sort of meta representation of “typical” teen movies, and first-time viewers may find it amusing in hindsight how they recognize elements from it that have been reproduced in later works, either satirically or straight.
The African Queen
How good was Katharine Hepburn? Her steely delivery and bold personality shone through in every performance she enacted, making her an American icon and proto-Feminist provocateur. She gets to employ these qualities to great effect in The African Queen as Rose, a British Methodist missionary living in German-controlled East Africa at the beginning of World War I. After an attack by German forces that leave the village she was inhabiting decimated and her brother dead, she is rescued by rough-and-tumble boat Canadian captain Charlie Allnut (played to pitch-perfection by Humphrey Bogart).
Although both dislike each other for their respective differences, as they make their way towards safety in German-controlled waters in Africa, they begin to see each other in a new light, and after having to save each other and work together through various dangers, fall in love. But there’s still many more pitfalls they must navigate before finding their happy ending.
The African Queen is a classic Hollywood film that found Bogart winning a Best Actor Oscar and has since been added to the National Film Registry for preservation. It’s a classic that many modern day film fans may not have seen, but is well worth their while for its classic approach to storytelling, visual narrative, and of course excellent performances by two of the most lauded film actors of the 20th century.
Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a formerly successful record executive who has lost his footing—and much of his life—in an ever-changing music scene that has left him without a job and many prospects. He meets Gretta (Keira Knightley), a young songwriter that has recently broken up with her songwriter boyfriend, who has found much success with the music they wrote together. He offers her a record contract but other executives don’t see the potential in her music and turn down producing a record. Undeterred, Dan and Gretta record an album independently as both sort out various issues in their lives.
Much like Once, director Dan Carney makes a romantic musical dramedy that oddly avoids a direct romance between the male and female lead, instead preferring to show how a platonic but emotional connection between two people can be even more significant than a “love at first sight” story. It may not be the standard rom-com, but music fans and those who like to see love found between two people without it having to become romantic will find Begin Again the perfect Valentine’s Day movie.
Kate & Leopold
Of course, if you love standard rom-com fantasies, there’s Kate & Leopold, a high-concept movie about a man who falls through a portal in time and brings back to the modern era a late-19th century nobleman (played to absolute perfection by Hugh Jackman). Although at odds with the much coarser modern world as opposed to his gentlemanly refinement, Leopold falls for Kate (Meg Ryan), a modern-day cynical urbanite who finds Leopold charming (if strange). Complications arise, as they must in these types of movies, but we all know where it’s heading by the third act.
And really, isn’t that what frothy rom-coms like this are meant to be: a soothing, predictable-but-entertaining way to spend two hours, transported not just through time but to a heightened reality that’s close to our own but somehow cleaner, more fun, and ultimately much more enjoyable? Also, Hugh Jackman really does kill it in this movie. Simply put, Kate & Leopold goes down easy every time.
P.T. Anderson is one of modern film’s great directors with a mastery over the craft of filmmaking. The same is not usually said of Adam Sandler, who is mostly known for his over-the-top comedies. But paired together, Sandler delivers a surprisingly powerful performance in Punch-Drunk Love as Barry Egan, an emotionally repressed man who has clearly been traumatized in life by his seven overbearing sisters and because of this has difficulty developing a relationship with women.
This all changes when he meets Lena (Emily Watson), a co-worker of one of his sisters. They go out to dinner and connect immediately, but Barry has other problems in the form of The Mattress Man (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a rough con man who has zeroed in on Barry after he calls a scam sex line that tries to blackmail Barry. Along the way, a pudding/airline promotion, a harmonium, and the song “He Needs Me” from Popeye all find themselves central to the plot of this incredibly artful and moving portrait of a man’s loneliness and his eventual emotional breakthrough.
This movie has been polorizing to many, particularly those who find Barry creepy or disturbed. But to this lonely heart, Barry Egan is a great representation of what it feels like as a man to be lonely and feel emotions that he is unable in many ways to understand. It’s also a gorgeous movie, one of Anderson’s visually most interesting. For all lonely hearts out there, Punch-Drunk Love is a satisfying love story that demands the audience to endure the sour before the sweet can be tasted. Isn’t that just like love?
Much Ado About Nothing
Shakespeare is one of the greatest masters of romantic writing in history, and of course is one of the pillars of the Western tradition. Much Ado About Nothing—his saucy comedy that is often seen as the template for the modern rom-com—features sparkling dialogue and one of the most well-regarded romantic couples in history, Benedick and Beatrice, whose “merry war of words” has since become a standard trope that romantic comedy couples enact even today by using sarcastic jibes and witty retorts as a form of flirting.
During the Writer’s Strike of 2008, Joss Whedon gathered some of his acting pals to his aesthetically pleasing estate and they filmed an interesting modern-day interpretation of the classic play to great effect. Fans of The Bard and this play in particular will appreciate this update, which retains the sparkling dialogue while transposing it to the 21st century. Shot in black-and-white, Much Ado About Nothing shows what Shakespeare’s work looks like as a hip indie flick—and the answer is pretty excellent.
Across the Universe
Listen: the story isn’t the best, but who cares? The music is spectacular and the visuals are gorgeous and wildly entertaining. It helps that the music is a barrage of The Beatles and the director is the visually innovating Julie Taymor. The love story is a collage of the 1960s American experience, complete with Vietnam, flower power, protests, and the push-and-pull between generations and individualism. Sure, it may not be Shakespeare, but it is The Beatles—and the covers and how they’re visually represented (including a joyful rendition of “I’ve Just Seen A Face” and decade-capping “All You Need Is Love” finale) will satisfy every musical fan’s romantic love for The Fab Four and the appeal of musicals in general.
What could be more adorable than the idea of Albert Einstein playing matchmaker in the 1950s? Not much, and this incredibly lightweight rom-com presents an Einstein (played by Walter Matteau) that enjoys a whimsical reality as both respected, Nobel-winning physicist at Princeton and impish matchmaker who, along with his fun-loving friends—helps garage mechanic Ed (Tim Robbins) win the heart of his mathematician niece (played by rom-com mainstay Meg Ryan). Einstein and Friends try to help Ed trick niece Catherine into thinking he’s an intellectual, but eventually the ruse fails—but it doesn’t matter because she falls for him anyway.
Is this a hard-hitting biopic about Albert Einstein’s final decade? Of course not: he didn’t even have a niece named Catherine, he was actually shy and reclusive, and his real-life friends depicted in the movie were between 17 and 30 years younger than him. But this is the popular imagination’s dream image of Einstein as a wacky, fun old genius that gets into hijinks and tries to help people find love. I.Q. is super-frothy but incredibly enjoyable for this reason and a smart pick for a Valentine’s Day view.