Love is everywhere with all of its complicated sides. All the time, every year. This year was no different. Netflix had two surprising hits on their hands with “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “Set It Up.” “Mamma Mia” got itself a much more disciplined sequel; those who love to see veterans enjoyed “Book Club”; and Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves made a duo that many enjoy in “Destination Wedding.” We also got sweet subplots in some films like “Hearts Beat Loud.”
Some got overlooked, like a lovely small film “After Everything,” and some didn’t get enough of attention for not being for every taste, like “Permission.” Shailene Woodley deserves better roles, but “Adrift” was still an alright movie as well. So, obviously it was mostly a decent year for genre; we got different kinds of stories with different kinds of approaches, and here are the 10 films that stood out most.
10. On Chesil Beach
Last year everybody was expecting this to be Saoirse Ronan’s ticket to the Oscars while they were thinking “Lady Bird” would turn out to be some kind of Independent Spirit darling. Well, they were wrong. Very wrong, in fact. “On Chesil Beach” didn’t get enough strong reviews, which is understandable as it’s not perfect and it doesn’t live up to previous Ian McEwan adaptation starring Ronan (“Atonement”).
But still, “On Chesil Beach” has some rich subtext that many films these days lack, and it deals with some really interesting aspects of first love that you don’t see often in movies. The lead characters are absorbing, as are the actors who portray them, and the setting takes you in it.
The film sets in 1960’s England where two young people with different social backgrounds meet, fall in love, and eventually get married. But their first wedding night becomes very awkward for several reasons, including the anxious feeling that first-time sex will go wrong. Of course, there was more behind this fear, such as personal problems of the characters and even lack of confidence in their feelings.
Again, it’s not without its underwhelming sides, but still “On Chesil Beach” is a rather substantial melodrama and definitely deserves the attention of young people who are at the beginning or at the end of serious relationships. It may lead them to think about concepts of trust and compromise and even if you wouldn’t like the film much, it’s never a total waste of time watching a film with Saoirse Ronan.
9. Crazy Rich Asians
Based on Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name, “Crazy Rich Asians” was one of the major successes of the year grossing over $200 million globally and now has two sequels in development. It is the first film by a major Hollywood studio to feature a majority Asian-American cast in a modern setting since “The Joy Luck Club” in 1993.
And what a cast in this film: Constance Wu and Henry Golding make charming leads, Awkwafina is once again a scene stealer, and it’s not without veterans: Hong Kong film legend Michelle Yeoh makes a marvelous turn as Nick’s mother. Pity that she didn’t receive any of the American major award nominations for her turn at the Golden Globes or the SAG Awards as it was a great opportunity to reward a world cinema legend with a well-deserved nomination.
When it comes to plot and the formula, “Crazy Rich Asians” is not necessarily different than any mainstream, conventionally done Hollywood rom-coms, but it’s tastefully done and those who enjoyed films like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” will find so much charm and humour. They may very well enjoy the production design as well. It’s not for everybody’s taste, but the box office makes it obvious that it spoke to general audiences’ tastes. So if you just want nothing else but an escapist fantasy, then “Crazy Rich Asians” is your film.
8. Juliet Naked
You cannot miss a Nick Hornby adaptation that is co-written by Tamara Jenkins if you love your dialogues witty. Hornby sure loves music; it was explored in “High Fidelity” and another one of his great books, which also turned into a great movie, “About a Boy.” That film was also not without music, even if its title came from a Nirvana song. So it’s no surprising that he goes back to the music theme once again in “Juliet Naked.”
The story centers on the story of Annie (Rose Byrne), who we see that is not particularly happy with her life and has outgrown her relationship with Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), a middle-aged professor still priding himself on being the number one fan of former indie-rocker Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke, bit channeling his role in “Reality Bites”). Crowe had made one album but then suddenly disappeared. But luckily we live in an internet world, and Tucker enters their lives at some point which will lead into some romance between Annie and Tucker.
The chemistry between them is so lovely that it makes you overlook the flaws of the film, and main characters are mostly likable, with a possible exception of Duncan, who is bit of a lout and can be annoying to some. Byrne has something about her that easily makes her characters likable in general, and the gentle tone of the film would satisfy the people who are looking for a nice story with a gentle tone and some touching moments.
We’re cheating a bit here, as “Puzzle” is not necessarily a typical romance film even though it has some of it. Underseen and overlooked, “Puzzle” is a tastefully done remake of Argentinian film “Rompecabezas” (2009).
The movie is about a married middle-aged woman, played by Kelly McDonald, who discovers her passion for puzzles. It’s a kind of a character study as the film is the psychological study of this seemingly very ordinary woman. While our main character Agnes discovers her gift for puzzle making, and then enters into an affair and falls in love, the movie reminds us that it’s never too late to find happiness, to find yourself and to find love.
McDonald gives one of her best performances as a woman who has a monotone family life but then randomly discovers her gift for puzzle making and it becomes her passion. Then Robert (Irfan Khan) enters into her life, and the relationship between them is beautiful.
It’s more subtle and distinctive than in many other films. McDonald personally compares the film to Robert De Niro-Meryl Streep romance “Falling in Love,” and if you haven’t seen any of them, then they would make a great double feature. Those who liked “The Lunchbox” will also enjoy “Puzzle.” The movie is slow-paced, but definitely engaging.
6. Love, Simon
Young adult novel adaptations has been on fire recently. Since “13 Reasons Why” made a huge sensation on TV, we started to get more. Luckily, they’re quality stuff. Just like we got a thoughtful film about finding yourself in a racially conflicted world in “The Hate U Give,” we also got the first film by a major Hollywood studio to focus on a gay teenage romance that is “Love, Simon,” led by a charming performance by Nick Robinson as a closeted gay high school boy who deals with his sexuality and how to come out.
The film is already beloved by gay community as it shows the complex sides of discovering your sexuality and coming out, even if you have a loving/caring family and friends. Simon is forced to come out after a blackmailer discovers Simon’s emails to another closeted classmate with whom he has fallen in love. Simon’s trying of finding the real identity of this closeted classmate adds a bit of mystery to the film’s narrative as well.
The film is little too happily-ever-after in the case that almost everyone is nice in this movie; even supposedly annoying characters have sides that makes them empathetic. But sometimes we all need positive stories and see just positive people. It’s not exactly “The Spectacular Now,” but it finds a lot of honesty in its storyline, and “Love Simon” is a great addition to the genre that will also help many young people in need of guidance and confidence as they navigate their identity.