12 Romantic Movies to Thaw Even the Coldest Hearts

12 Romantic Movies to Thaw Even the Coldest Hearts
Screenshot: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind/Focus Features, Fair Use
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You’d be forgiven for not being thrilled about celebrating a(nother?) pandemic Valentine’s Day. It’s often a fraught, stressful occasion in the best of times. This year, it’s all a bit horrible.

So instead — and whether you are single or happily coupled — plan a night in. Make a romantic dinner for two (or a pleasurable meal for one) and cosy up to your streaming device to watch a romantic movie. But because this is 2021, no mere flighty rom-com will do. You need a love story that will revive a heart numbed by the havoc of the last 12 months, and we’ve got a dozen suggestions — how apropos.

Palm Springs

Synopsis via Amazon

When carefree Nyles (Andy Samberg) and reluctant maid of honour (Cristin Milioti) have a chance encounter at a Palm Springs weddings, things get complicated when there find themselves unable to escape the venue, themselves, and each other.

Find it on: Amazon Prime Video

Beginners

RIP to the recently departed Christopher Plummer, who gives an unforgettable, Oscar-winning performance as a terminally ill septuagenerian who only embraces his long-denied homosexuality in the waning years of his life, inspiring his sad sack son (Ewan McGregor) to take his own shot at building a genuine connection with a vivacious French actress (Mélanie Laurent). Based on his own relationship with his late father, Mike Mills’ film offers an essential reminder that it’s never too late to live genuinely. — Joel Cunningham, managing editor

Find it on: YouTube

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Written by and starring Jason Segel, my favourite rom-com follows a composer named Peter who leaves on a Hawaiian vacation in hopes of getting over his ex. Of course, his ex (Kristen Bell) is coincidentally there with her new boyfriend (Russell Brand), and the result is the type of comedy that wins through sincerity. There are a million things to praise about this movie, but what makes it unique is Peter’s subversion of the typical male lead. His earnestness is enough to get you to let your own guard down, and it also features a song for the ages, “Dracula’s Lament,” which is enough itself to help you embrace vulnerability, life’s shittiness, and comedy all at the same time. — Jordan Calhoun, deputy editor

Find it on: Netflix

When Harry Met Sally…

When this now-beloved Nora Ephron/Rob Reiner collaboration was released in 1989, critics everywhere fell all over themselves to compare it (usually with some derision) to a Woody Allen film — but three decades later, the decade-spanning will they/won’t they romance between Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal has aged line a fine wine, while some entries in Allen’s celebrated ouvre have, er, not. Credit, I think, goes not only to Ephron’s perfectly crafted screenplay and its winning performances (including memorable supporting turns from the late Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby), but to the film’s ultimately hopeful outlook on love. Finding a person that fits with you is hard, but, as Crystal’s Allen-eqsue grump Harry eventually figures out, sometimes you do want to join a club that would have you as a member. — Joel Cunningham

Find it on: Stan.

A New Leaf

Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) is a playboy who finds himself out of money and in need of a rich wife: Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May, who also directed) is a shy, hopelessly awkward woman with the wealth that Henry requires. Will Henry find love, or murder Henrietta out of frustration and disgust? I’m not going to say, but then, this isn’t in “Most Murdery Movies.” — Alice Bradley

Find it on: YouTube

Moonlight

Often best remembered for the way its Best Picture Oscar win happened, we might be distracted from why it won: Moonlight is a work of art. Directed by Barry Jenkins, the story follows three stages of a boy’s life as he navigates being Black and gay through his boyhood, teens, and finally as an adult. It speaks on themes of Blackness, masculinity, and sexuality, and even aside from dozens of awards that celebrate its accomplishments, it would be worth it enough to watch the romantic dinner scene in the film’s third act. — Jordan Calhoun

Find it on: Netflix

The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro’s Best Picture winner has been referred to as “that movie where the lady fucks a fish” and, well, I can’t quite disagree. But its story of a meek janitorial worker at a secret government lab who forges an unexpected connection with a creature from another world is as touching a portrait of barrier-breaking love as it is a weird and imaginative science-fictional tale. If Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones can make it work despite language barriers, special differences, and a maniacal government agent (Michael Shannon), maybe love really can conquer all. — Joel Cunningham

Find it on: YouTube

Secretary

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) gets a job as secretary to a demanding lawyer, Edward Grey (James Spader). What happens next is 50 Shades of … Spader. Managing editor Joel Cunningham called this a “bold choice,” but I stand by this as a love story. What’s more romantic than two people with compatible kinks finding each other? — Alice Bradley

Find it on: Amazon PrimeVideo

The Half of It

Our most cynical natures need a cynical lead character to feel realistic enough break into our hearts, and I knew The Half of It’s Ellie Chu would deliver from her opening warning that this one’s not a happily-ever-after love story. As it turns out, Ellie would find love in a place she least expected, but she’d find other things along the way that matter more. Written and directed by Alice Wu, this immigrant LGBT coming-of-age teen love story charming, unique, funny, and, perhaps most importantly, doesn’t make happily-ever-after the ultimate goal for a young girl who has so much else ahead of her. — Jordan Calhoun

Find it on: Netflix

The Big Sick

Touching and hilarious in equal measure, The Big Sick illustrates that love can endure through any hardship. Kumail Nanjiani (of Silicon Valley fame) plays a working standup comedian and Uber driver who hooks up with a psychology student (Zoe Kazan) that hits the rocks due to cultural differences, then grows more complicated when she develops a mysterious illness. Considering it is based on the real-life relationship between Kumail and his wife and co-screenwriter Emily V. Gordon, you can guess how it ends — which really makes it that much more of a balm in these shitty times. — Sam Blum, staff writer

Find it on: Netflix

About Time

Everyone loves Love Actually (unless they hate it), but my favourite Richard Curtis movie is this later effort, in which a man (Domhnall Gleeson) who discovers he has the power to move through time realises that true happiness isn’t found in changing the past, but embracing the magic of every present moment. (Which, to be fair, is probably easier when you’re rich, live in a gorgeous seaside home, and are married to Racel McAdams, but still, life lessons and such.) — Joel Cunningham

Find it on: Netflix

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I miss the days when screenwriter Charlie Kaufman didn’t direct his own projects; outside collaborators seem to have helped him temper the misanthropic doomer tendancies that have made his more recent works such downers. Consider this, his best film, directed with understated whimsey by Michel Gondry: A dysfunctional couple (played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet) makes use of weird new tech (“Technically speaking, the procedure is brain damage,” the doctor notes) to erase their memories of one another from their minds, but still manage to find one another again, suggesting even (possibly) doomed love is better than no love at all. — Joel Cunningham

Find it on: Digital rental via Apple

This article has been updated since its original publish date.

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