7. Unfaithful (2002)
Adrian Lyne’s erotic thriller tells the story of a normal middle-aged couple – Connie (Diane Lane) and Edward Sumner (Richard Gere) who along with their 8-year-old son (Eric Per Sullivan) live a happy and stable life.
That is, until Connie runs into (literally) a young French stranger (Oliver Martinez) who introduces himself as Paul and offers her shelter from the windstorm and treats her scraped knees in his close by apartment. Shortly after, they start an affair once she can no longer ignore his sexual advances and gives into his seduction. She is both thrilled from all the attention and guilty about betraying her family simultaneously.
Edward soon finds inconsistencies in her cover-up stories and becomes suspicious enough to hire a private investigator, Frank Wilson (Dominic Chianese), to follow her. The film strives to show how two reasonably sane and content adults entangle themselves into an intricate problem, with no clear way out. With dark, claustrophobic lighting and horrific timing, the married suburban couple is trapped in a cage of what-ifs and anger.
Lyne based his thriller on “La Femme Infidele” (1969) by Claude Chabrol, which itself is an update of Madame Bovary, but focuses on the illicit passion, the consequences of an affair and how two people can completely change due to circumstance.
8. Little Children (2006)
Todd Field’s drama based on the novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta (The Leftovers, Election), who also co-wrote the screenplay, focuses on two bored parents – Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet), an unhappy, stay-at-home mother of a 3-year-old, and Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson), a law student with a 4-year-old son, who are both married to other people but find intimacy and affection in each other.
Set in a small suburban Boston community, where gossip rules conversation, the two meet at the park after Sarah is dared to kiss him by other park mothers. Brad and Sarah become friendly and although they are instantly attracted to each other, they resolve to keep their relationship platonic. While Sarah’s marriage deteriorates after she finds out that her husband is addicted to online pornography, Brad’s marriage to the beautiful Katherine (Jennifer Connelly) seems loving and good-natured enough, until it isn’t.
Somewhere in between “American Beauty” and “Happiness”, the characters don’t try to be likeable, they know that they’re immature and selfish but they continue to edge on and do what they want for a change. Perrotta manages to translate guilt, shame, desire and judgement in an oddly satirical way that is both uncomfortable and sympathetic. It earned 3 Oscar nominations for Best Leading Actress (Winslet), Best Supporting Actor (Haley), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Field and Perrotta).
9. Take This Waltz (2011)
A rare film that utilises humour, maximises tension and the realism of love running out of the will to survive, it follows Margot’s (Michelle Williams) life after she meets Daniel, an artist slash rickshaw operator while on a business trip in Nova Scotia.
After coincidentally sitting next to each other on the plane and economically sharing the cab ride home, they realise they are close neighbours. And Daniel learns that she is married. No real harm, they only talked and flirted innocently but each meeting winds up turning into a “non-date”, that are incredibly similar to real dates and their chemistry seems to be incredible and fresh and new, unlike her relationship with her husband Lou (Seth Rogen) who although she loves, seems to have run out of things to say.
Margot develops ‘the grass is always greener’ syndrome and although she can’t let herself cheat now, she tells him that once she has been faithful to her husband for fifty years, then she can allow herself to kiss Daniel. But as temptations run high as Daniel expertly seduces her slowly and subtly, she finds it harder and harder to remain happy to what she is used to.
Sarah Polley succeeds in telling one of the more refined and realistic versions of affairs as the concept of emotionally cheating can be as serious and as dangerous as physical.
10. Closer (2004)
Mike Nichol’s romantic drama written by Patrick Marber, based on his award-winning 1997 play of the same name follows the intertwining relationships between four characters; the elusive and seductive ex-stripper Alice Ayres (Natalie Portman), the unsuccessful British author Dan Woolf (Jude Law), the American photographer Anna Cameron (Julia Roberts) and the catfished British dermatologist Gray (Clive Owen).
The four of them couple and recouple as they pretend to have sincere and truthful relationships while they are lying, cheating and obsessing over another. There are victims, there’s Alice who overhears her boyfriend Dan make a pass at Anna, there’s Gray who is cheated on just after he gets married, there’s Anna who victimises herself with shame and guilt.
All the characters seek comfort in each other’s arms, but also try to hide behind ignorance and the truth in order to keep themselves away from their shameless deceptions.
The film earned two Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Owen) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Portman), won two Golden Globes for the same roles and was nominated for Best Director (Nichols), Best Motion Picture – Drama, and Best Screenplay (Marber) as well.
11. Bridges of Madison County (1995)
Based on the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller, Clint Eastwood’s romantic drama follows the story of a married but lonely Italian woman, Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep) living in 1960s Madison County, Iowa. Alternating between the present and the ‘60s, her secret life story is discovered by her children after she died as they sift through her possessions looking for documents pertaining to their mother’s estate.
Through a series of diaries, mementos and a letter, her children learn that she had a four-day affair with a National Geographic photographer, Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood) who had come from Washington to Madison County to create a photographic on the covered bridges in the area. They learn about the massive impact this man had on her life, and see how she sacrificed her soulmate for the sake of family.
It’s about two people who find the promise of perfect personal happiness, and sadly that the most important things in life are not always about making yourself happy, and that you need to sacrifice certain things for the people you love more.
The film earned Meryl Streep an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress In a Leading Role and also a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture – Drama for Eastwood and Kathleen Kennedy.
12. The Apartment (1960)
Billy Wilder’s ten Academy Award nominated comedy-drama focuses on “Bud” Baxter (Jack Lemmon), a lonely office worker whose only way to climb the corporate ladder is to lend his keys to his apartment to four company managers, who use his place for their various affairs. The personnel director Sheldarke (Fred MacMurray), who is in charge of the promotions, finds out about the apartment and wants to take Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) there.
Fran is deceived by Sheldarke’s promises of divorcing his wife. She confronts him after being left for his suburban family once more. She retreats to Bud’s apartment (although she does not know it’s his) and overdoses on his sleeping . Bud find her unconscious on his bed and seeks help from his doctor/neighbor who saves her. Bud spends his time trying to get her healthy again, but there are too many triggers around her.
13. The Good Girl (2002)
This independent comedy-drama written by Mike White (Enlightened) is the film which broke Jennifer Anniston away from comedy and her character in “Friends”. She portrays the unhappy and apathetic 30-year-old Justine Last, an employee at the local megastore in a small Texan town along with a vulgar Cheryl (Zooey Deschenal) and the recently employed teenage cashier Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal in his Donnie Darko Era).
Justine appreciates Holden’s contempt for the world and his self-imposed isolation in the store. After giving him a lift home and learning he named himself Holden after ”The Catcher And The Rye”, they start taking lunch breaks together. After, Holden fakes an ankle injury so she could give him another lift home and this soon becomes routine.
Married for 7 years to Phil (John C. Reilly), Justine remains gloomy at home as she does at work, upset that she hasn’t become pregnant yet and annoyed with her husband’s marijuana smoking habits. Holden sends her a letter threatening that if she does not meet him at 5pm behind the Chuck E. Cheese, she’ll never see him again. Faced with an ultimatum between what she thinks is good and she wants, her decision is interfered with by circumstance.