10 film and snack pairings to propel you through Valentine’s day.
“I have a love in my life, and it makes me stronger than anything you can imagine!” If you thought those were the words of Ryan Gosling or Chris Evans, or another golden-haired rom-com hero—think again. This feverish declaration of passion actually comes from an ill-dressed plunger salesman named Berry Egan, played by Adam Sandler in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2002 dark comedy Punch-Drunk Love.
We’ve all seen the the conventional cinematic love story dozens of times—stories so outlandishly sublime and glossy that they couldn’t possibly tell us about what real, modern love actually looks or feels like. This Valentine’s Day, why not opt for something more zany? From teen serial killers on the Great Plains, to a vampire Western, lovers across the Iron Curtain, and queer coming of age love triangles, these films give us a window into love that we’re not always used to seeing on the big screen—one that sometimes gets weird, and isn’t always wonderful.
Badlands, Terrence Malick (1973)
Malick’s iconic debut feature draws on the real-life exploits of 1950s teenage murderers Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. Reimagining their flight from the police 15 years later during the height of the Vietnam War, Malick chose to stage the story like a fairytale, starring two innocent-looking, charming leads and plotting their descent into crime. The result is a subtle portrait of the violence undergirding the adrift American psyche, and the heinous acts committed under the banner of love.
For fans of: True Romance, iconic cinematography, denim, young Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek.
Snack pairing: Potato chips.
On the Beach at Night Alone, Hong Sang-soo (2017)
Hong Sang-soo mines from his controversial real life affair with lead actress Kim Min-hee (The Handmaiden) to tell the two-part story of a young woman’s journey through heartbreak. Kim gives an intricate performance in the role of Younghee, a washed up actress who leaves Korea for Germany and then returns, looking for answers to soothe her loneliness and untangle her complex feelings about love.
For fans of: Slow cinema, introspection, great knitwear.
Snack pairing: Tuna kimbap.
The Lovers on the Bridge, Leos Carax (1991)
This unsuspectingly epic and grand love story follows a street performer named Alex and a going-blind artist Michèle who live together on Paris’s oldest bridge, Le Pont Neuf. What could be a precarious concept is actually executed as one of the most visually stunning, narratively engrossing, and grand films in all of French cinema, complete with an unforgettable dance sequence and a glimmering, ineffable belief in love, scored to perfection and ample with mesmerizing dialogue.
For fans of: capital-C Cinema, dance on film, Beau Travail, Juliette Binoche.
Snack pairing: Sushi.
Water Lilies, Celine Sciamma (2007)
In the debut feature from Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s masterful director, three young synchronized swimmers come of age in a tender, sad, and surprising story about fledgling desire. There’s painfully shy Marie, her crush/bad girl Floriane, and Marie’s awkward and insecure friend Anne. Over the course of the summer, the girls navigate the uncomfortable social codes of illicit dating, passion, and friendship in the kind of honest and unglamourous coming-of-age story that Sciamma has become known for.
For fans of: Call Me By Your Name and Fat Girl, competitive water sports.
Snack pairing: French pastries.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Ana Lily Amirpour (2014)
Hailed as the first-ever Iranian vampire western, Amirpour’s one-of-a-kind film could fall into just about any genre. Set in ‘Tehrangeles,’ it follows a James Dean-like hero and a solitary vampire who loves American rock music. As their paths unexpectedly cross, these two lonely outcasts are drawn to each other—perhaps by love, or is it her hunger for human flesh? A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was funded mostly by an Indiegogo campaign but has since become a contemporary cult classic, one so innovative and unexpected that you’ll never think of vampire movies in the same way.
For fans of: What We Do in the Shadows, spaghetti westerns, intertextuality, low-budget chic.
Snack pairing: Nothing garlicky.
Punch-Drunk Love, Paul Thomas Anderson (2002)
Barry Egan is a single, socially awkward, probably depressed plunger salesman in The Valley who becomes swept up in a scheme involving a lost harmonium, a phone-sex line, frequent flyer points collected from amassing discount pudding, and a catalogue of disfunctional sisters. Egan is played by Adam Sandler in his biggest dramatic role pre-Uncut Gems, with Phillip Seymour Hoffman as his erring rival, and Emily Watson as his charming love interest. It’s a gorgeously written, intensely funny, and perfectly acted romantic comedy for those with a dark sense of humor.
For fans of: The Sandman, Phantom Thread, Haim music videos, killer soundtracks, awkward situations.
Snack pairing: Pudding.
Cold War, Paweł Pawlikowski (2018)
Pawlikowski based his 1950s-set love story on his own parents’ harrowing romance, which transpired over decades across war-torn Soviet Europe. In his fictionalized retelling, young singer Zula and her teacher Wiktor find their love fractured into stolen chapters by political unrest, borders, and divergent ambitions, crossing rural Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia, and Paris for one another. “It’s the mother of all love stories in a way. But it didn’t seem like a love story throughout. It felt like a really bad marriage,” Pawlikowski told Vox. “God forbid you have such a love story. You’d rather have just a normal relationship. In this stable place. In one country, ideally.” Cold War was a nominee for Best International Film, Best Cinematography, and Best Director at the 2019 Academy Awards.
For fans of: Black and white cinematography, European cities, tragic love, great hair.
Snack pairing: Pierogies and pączki.
Dirty Computer, Janelle Monáe, Andrew Donoho & Chuck Lightning (2018)
Janelle Monáe accompanied 2018’s Dirty Computer with a 50-minute visual album, which she considers to be an “homage to women and the spectrum of sexual identities.” Set in a not-so-distant dystopian society where unruly bodies are being ‘cleaned,’ Dirty Computer is a rebellious celebration of black queer voices and joy. It’s about love in a litany of forms—romantic, sensual, communal, individual—but at the center of it is the euphoric power of the right to love and be loved.
For fans of: Tessa Thompson, sci-fi, latex.
Snack pairing: An indoor picnic.
Y Tu Mama También, Alfonso Cuarón (2001)
A road movie that starts with teen boys making dirty jokes, Y Tu Mama También becomes a contemplative coming of age journey about desire, friendship, and compassion. It follows two wealthy teens, Julio and Tenoch, as they drive Tenoch’s cousin-in-law Luisa across rural Mexico to a beach that isn’t real. Along the way, Luisa teaches the boys about sex, companionship, and, in the words of film critic Charles Taylor, “the joy of living, even the joy to be found in the agony of living.” The love at the heart of Cuarón’s film is scandalous and furtive, messy and gentle, platonic and possibly something more.
For fans of: American Honey and The Graduate, beach movies, raunchy humor.
Snack pairing: A cold beer.
No Sex Last Night (Double Blind), Sophie Calle (1996)
Artist Sophie Calle takes a real life road trip from New York to California with an American man that she hardly knows. Each of them take turns filming and narrating, showing how differently two people can see the same relationship, and how quickly bitterness and joy can usurp one another. In 2009, Calle explained to Interview, “We filmed 60 hours; of those 60 hours we chose just 90 minutes. We could have made 20 movies, all saying different, even opposing things. We chose to put the emphasis on me and my solitude and him and his car, whereas we could have chosen to speak only about food, or only about traveling cross-country, or only about the disgust we had for each other, or only about the beautiful moments we shared. So any one version is never ‘true,’ it just works better than another.”
For fans of: Video art, Vegas weddings, dry French humor.
Snack pairing: Diner fries.