Weirding Up the Romance: Cult Classics for V-Day

Originally posted on Examiner.com and my Open Salon blog.

Why watch the upcoming Valentine’s Day with an overload of trite story lines and actors when you can watch these strange cult films instead? Yes, cult classics can tell stories of romance and sex…Just don’t expect it to be mainstream love.

Some of the best romantic couples on screen were the most interesting and complex ones found in films that had a cult status. Below are some recommended cult films, or films that have strange and fascinating couples.

Weird up the romance this Valentine’s Day weekend with the following movies:

  • Harold and Maude (1971). Beware – This first one is probably the weirdest. Hal Ashby directs this black comedy in which a 19-year-old boy (Harold) begins a relationship with a 79-year-old woman (Maude). And yes, it turns sexual. The film is surprisingly heart-warming, but in a way that involves themes of death, friendship, and human connection. Don’t let the storyline scare you – It’s worth the watch.
  • Fight Club (1999). Whether or not the film Fight Club - directed by David Fincher – is a cult classic is debatable and depends on who you ask. But the audience appreciation (which happened after its DVD release) much resembles the cult “fight club” gang that makes up the movie. Why is it relevant for a cult classic V-Day weekend? Two words: Marla Singer. Played by Helena Bonham Carter, she and Edward Norton’s character (The Narrator) find each other through support group meetings – and both of them are imposters. The story takes many surprising twists and turns, but ultimately, this destructive pair is one you can’t forget.
  • Punch-Drunk Love (2002). Though not a box office success, a select many have come to love this off-beat love story directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Another dark comedy, Adam Sandler breaks out of his typecast and surprises with this performance as Barry – a loner with severe rage issues. He meets Lena (Emily Watson) after she tracks him down with the help of one of his seven sisters, but many complications start to challenge their new romance. By the end of the film, it’s clear that their connection is due to their individual oddities, which help them understand each other in ways that no one else could. Not your average pair, but an intriguing one nonetheless.

So there you have it! Non-Hollywood films with couples that can shake up any Valentine’s Day movie plans. Have a film in mind that I didn’t mention? Share it in the comments!

Oscars 2010 and the Spanish Snub

Originally posted on my Open Salon blog.

When I think of the best foreign films of 2009, the very first film to come to mind is Pedro Almodovar’s Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos). Starring his muse Penelope Cruz and actor Lluis Homar, this Spanish film told the story of love and the love of film in the style of neo-noir.

Though I had a personal beef with Almodovar for being one of the first to sign the “Free Polanski” petition at the end of last year (a whole ‘nother story all in itself), I’ve been a long-time fan and have a special place in my heart for this particular film of his. The story behind my first viewing of this movie is somewhat magical: I was a senior in college studying film, and I got into this studio’s 2-week Cannes Program. Ecstatic and beyond honored, I got to stay in the South of France with ten other filmmaking kids, work on the studio’s screening, and best of all – attend some of the events at the 2009 Cannes International Film Festival.

I’ll stop the bragging here, I promise. My only reason for bringing it up is that I somehow lucked out in getting into the premiere of Broken Embraces. (And by “lucked out,” I mean “clicked refresh a hundred dozen times on the ticketing webpage.”) Anyway, the experience and the film were both glorious.  It was very Almodovar-esque in terms of beautifully ridiculous plot twists and turns, but overall it was just…scrumptious. Cruz was at her best since Volver (another recent Almodovar masterpiece), and the director himself got to really express his love for cinema and writing in this movie about a blind writer and filmmaker who gets the chance to finish his last movie from 14 years ago.

But, le sigh, this all means nothing to the Academy, seeing as how the film was completely overlooked from the nominations for the 2010 awards. Alright, alright, the snub from the Best Foreign Language category is not the Academy’s fault. It’s Spain’s. No, really. For whatever reason, Spain did not include Broken Embraces in its submissions to the Oscars in September. The writers are Incontention.com covered this and explained that “Almodovar and the Spanish Academy selectors have an on-and-off relationship.”

Okay, fine. So the Academy really had no control over the lack of nomination for Broken Embraces as Best Foreign Language Film. But what about all the other categories? The ones that would make the most sense would be, maybe, Best Original Screenplay, or Best Director, even Cinematography, or Best Actress. Oh wait! Penelope is nominated for Best Actress! But…for her role in Nine? Is that some kind of consolation prize? No one really cared about Nine this year anyway! Why not just nominate her for her brilliant performance in Broken Embraces? (Not to mention that the general opinion has been that French actress Marion Cotillard deserved it, if anyone, for that film.) Why, Oscars, why did you have to overlook Almodovar’s film completely?

I’ll start taking deep breaths now and put an end to my stream of consciousness rant. But the point is this:

Pedro Almodovar’s Broken Embraces got screwed by Spain and snubbed by the Academy. And for that, I am eternally confused and disappointed.