6. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, 2015)
This list only covers 21st century works, but if we were to look for older examples of weirdly romantic cinema, the quirky, absurdist, and often neurotic but always profound humor of Woody Allen would be a great place to start. He perfected the rom-com genre in his very peculiar style, and masterpieces like “Manhattan” and “Annie Hall” quickly come to mind. If we compare Woody Allen’s long filmography with the work of the younger acclaimed director and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, many parallelisms arise in spite of them both being profoundly original artists.
Kaufman takes his own playwright to screen, collaborating with stop-motion animator Duke Johnson to deliver “Anomalisa”, an odd but touching piece of cinema. Even if it is a puppet, protagonist Michael carries great resemblance with the Woody Allen typical protagonist, often played by Allen himself. Michael (voiced by David Thewlis) is a self-help customer service book author who goes on a work trip to promote his book while he faces a midlife crisis.
The monotony he feels is smartly described by the fact that everyone else speaks with the same voice (Tom Noonan). That is, until he meets Lisa, a flawed girl with low self esteem whose voice is unique (Jennifer Jason Leigh), fascinating Michael in the right way. Their one night stand is portrayed in a delicate, goofy intimate way. The next morning brings with it the disappointment.
This is a tale about romance and the fragile nature of a crush. It mixes pessimism and melancholy with beauty and tenderness, a representation of the clash between the rush of feelings and the dullness of the known.
7. Frequencies (Darren Paul Fisher, 2013)
“Frequencies” a.k.a “OXV: The Manual” is another dystopian tale to make this list. In the world depicted, the future place of children in society is determined early on by the frequencies they emit. After being tested, they are labeled as high frequency or low frequency; the higher the frequency the luckier they will be in life, and vice-versa. But the very high-frequency people also tend to be detached of feelings.
Zak (Daniel B. Fraser) is very low frequency while Marie (Eleanor Wyld) is very high frequency; there’s such an incompatibility in the frequencies they emit that they start getting together on the account of Marie wanting to conduct an experiment about it. Zak falls in love with Marie and is determined to find a way to surpass the frequencies obstacle.
Boy meets girl, but has to study the laws of physics to get her to feel anything, it is indeed an odd love story; furthermore, the alternate reality shown is constructed in detail, making the viewing experience immersive and bizarre. The film leaves space for many subtext readings about the relationship depicted. We may not live in a society ruled by frequencies, but we all know that in many cases, social or economic class or cultural level may be seen as compatibility levels that must be in tune.
8. Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg, 2013)
Probably the more familiar narrative on the list, “Drinking Buddies” is a romantic comedy that granted director Joe Swanberg a distinguished place in the mumblecore genre.
It is a great example of the genre; actors were only given some lights of what would happen to their characters during each day and they were to improvise all the dialogue. Kate (Olivia Wilde) is a character based on a real girl who works in the brewery in which the movie was filmed; the actors actually did some work for the brewery, and drank real beer probably as much as their characters were supposed to in some scenes, as Wilde has said that the cast was “hammered the entire movie.”
Kate and Luke (Jake Johnson) are friends who both work in a brewery. They are likable characters and the viewer is quickly driven to picture them together. However, we soon find that they both have significant others, Chris (Ron Livingston) and Jill (Anna Kendrick), and to further the confusion they also get drawn into each other.
The movie’s improvised dialogue is at its best when an innocent dinner plan subtly triggers Kate and Luke to let it all out in a discussion that turns out to be the crash between Luke’s will to spend time with Kate without cheating on his girlfriend, and Kate’s resentment for Luke not being free to be with her.
This is a movie where nothing special really happens, and its unscripted dialogue may feel awkward at times, but the cast is great and with great chemistry manages to deliver a humane depiction of temptation without getting all dramatic.
Much like mumblecore itself, this is a movie loved by many and doomed by no fewer as being pretentious and pseudo-intellectual. The ones looking for stunning plot twists, hot sex scenes or a fast-paced dramatic narrative will find it boring. But if you are looking for a naturalistic dialogue driven movie that deals with human relations in a relatable, serious yet funny manner, this one is for you.
9. Love (Gaspar Noé, 2015)
Set in Paris, shot in 3D and also using mostly unscripted dialogue, “Love” pushes its realism even further, Klara Kristin and Aomi Muyock make their screen debut on account of having met Gaspar Noé in a club, and most of the sex scenes were real.
Noé said in an interview that after watching the movie, his father said to him “Oh, you went too far with this movie.” Considering Noé’s eerie previous movies “Irréversible”, “I Stand Alone” and “Enter the Void”, that is no small thing to say. Noé clarifies that his father’s criticism had to do with a very specific scene in which the protagonist ejaculates right into the camera, not to say the viewer, but remember that the movie was shown in theaters in 3D.
It’s worth mentioning that there is also another unforgettable graphic scene, one filmed from the inside of a vagina showing a penis thrusting in and out. Shocking, provocative, innovative, unnecessary, you pick. The conceptual aim of the movie is thrown at the audience at certain point when, in an exercise of meta fiction, protagonist Murphy (Karl Glusman), a film student, explains his will to make a movie about the two things he considers most precious in life: sex and love.
As much as that might resonate a hippie vibe, I won’t fool you, what we have here is a bleak romantic drama composed with the fragments of a shattered relation. The story is told through a collection of flashbacks, guiding us through the intense romance between Murphy and Electra (Muyock). We are shown how they met and fell in love with each other, we witness as their relationship deteriorates, and eventually find out how he ended up in a joyless marriage with Omi (Kristin).
The movie has a way of depicting the love between these two likable characters as if it was a drug. They push their relationship and their sex lives further and further like they need an ever-increasing dosage, just like a junkie. From the beginning, we see Murphy suffer as he withdraws from its lost love.
10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
Another script by Charlie Kaufman, this is an aesthetic romantic movie that has achieved a firm cult status by now; it is often referred to as it became part of the collective imaginary of at least one generation. Quite likely, many people are tired of hearing about it, and some will even label it as part of the hipster starter pack, but it wouldn’t be fair to curate this list without mentioning it.
Jim Carrey delivers an extraordinary performance, playing a role that steers away from his usual style. He plays Joel Barrish, a very shy guy, and even without going into his usual deliberate comedic style, he still manages to be hilarious in its awkwardness. He pairs up very well with Kate Winslet, who also does a great job in the role of Clementine, a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve.
The premise of the movie is that a company offered the service of completely deleting your ex from your memory. When Joel discovers his ex-girlfriend sought the treatment he decides to do the same, but while he undergoes the procedure he changes his mind and becomes determined to preserve the presence of Clementine in his memory. The movie then plays out in Joel’s mind.
The story unfolds in a dazzling way while always keeping the viewer’s attention. It smartly raises very interesting questions about the nature of memory, the limits of technology, the role of free will, and faith in love and attraction.
Author Bio: Jaime Monteiro is a Portuguese free thinker who humbly follows the path of the stressless life.