Sometimes, love is complicated.
We all want the roses and the chocolates; the long walks down the beach and the candlelight dinners. But love is also about spiritual nakedness and, in some cases, rough physical and mental trials each endures while attempting to prove to their partner that they're worthy of being together for the rest of existence. Because, while movies like Love Story and Valentine's Day provide simplistic fantasies with nonsensical phrases like "love means never having to say you're sorry", some of the best big screen romances are born from weird struggles, strife and - let's face it - two people who are probably toxic around one another, but can't stay seperated due to their unconquerable attraction to one another.
To celebrate this Valentine's Day, a chunk of the BMD Crew got together and chipped in on a list of our favorite "bad romances". Some are doomed, others hurt, and the rest reveal more about the characters they maybe they even knew themselves. But there's a danger involved with each one of these Picks that cannot be denied, and renders the relationships all the more fascinating because of it...
Casino Royale  (d. Martin Campbell, w. Neal Purvis & Robert Wade)
We rarely think of James Bond as a monogamous figure, much less one capable of falling in love. And yet we adore it when someone can break through his hardened heart. The cultural reassessment of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service comes largely from the rare tragedy the film forces upon him, as Bond finds himself unable to save his new bride from being murdered right before his eyes. It’s a moving scene, one the film itself doesn’t quite prepare you for and later films largely ignore.
And then there’s Casino Royale, an extraordinary action film that manages to be a moving, tragic romance at the same time. Bond and Vesper’s love is all about teasing Bond with a life he wants but can never have. Vesper’s betrayal and death serves as the final crushing lesson in Bond’s maturation into a cold, killing machine. Or so he’d have you believe. The truth is, Vesper’s ghost never really leaves this Bond. Avenging her informs basically all of Quantum of Solace, and you can still see the pain he carries for her in Skyfall and Spectre. This Bond isn’t detached because it makes him seem untouchable or cool, but rather because love broke him early on. - Evan Saathoff
Sid & Nancy  (d. Alex Cox, w. Abbe Wool & Alex Cox)
"Since the invention of the kiss there have been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind."
When it comes to cinematic kisses, those who prefer a more conventional love story might agree that the one in The Princess Bride “left them all behind.” However, I prefer my love stories with a dose of chaos and a little heartache, so my favorite kiss takes place in a seedy alleyway with two leather-clad figures leaning against a dumpster, clinging to each other as garbage rains down around them.
In Sid & Nancy, Alex Cox and Roger Deakins have not only captured this perfect cinematic moment, but a picture-perfect image of a volatile love. Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb remarkably embody the destructive romance of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen as they succumb to their all-consuming love of heroin and each other. From the highs of Sid's fame with the Sex Pistols to the lows of their shackling addiction, Cox focuses his lens on the damaged couple too absorbed in their toxic relationship to see that their world is burning down around them. Not every love story has a happy ending and Sid & Nancy tells its own version of the stabbing that took place that October night in the Chelsea Hotel. If Sid had never met Nancy, perhaps their lives would have been different or, at the very least, would have lasted a little longer. Regardless of what they might have been apart, together they were in love. And whether love kills you with kindness or the edge of a blade, its kiss can always be the most passionate, the most pure. - Emily Sears
The Legend of Tarzan  (d. David Yates, w. Adam Cozad & Craig Brewer)
The Legend of Tarzan isn't the best movie, but in a world full of cringe-worthy and sometimes dangerous narratives, its romance shines. Early on in the movie, an irritated Jane (Margot Robbie) storms off to be alone in a tree (because Tarzan). Her husband (Alexander Skarsgård) eventually follows her, but instead of scooping her into his arms or blabbing on with some non-apology, he holds up his hand and he waits. "Consent is sexy" might sound like a buzz phrase, but it's the god's honest truth, and this whole scene illustrates it in spades. The moment builds a foundation for Tarzan and Jane's unwavering trust throughout the story, and makes a forgettable action movie a fairly good romance flick. If Tarzan, a man literally raised by apes, can learn the importance of not touching a woman who doesn't want to be touched, there might just be hope for the rest of humanity. - Amelia Emberwing
Damage  (d. Louis Malle, w. David Hare)
Some people slow down to look at the aftermath of car accidents. That kinda pisses me off, honestly; mostly because I like getting to where I’m going on time.
Me? I like watching movies that shatter me. I guess I like being reminded how small we really are and how cruel fate usually is. That feeling in your gut when you’ve just witnessed something truly tragic is so intense, it’s really unlike anything else that cinema makes you feel. So, for Valentine’s Day, I like to think about my favorite and most brutal cinematic love story. There’s been some pretty fucked up romances throughout cinema’s history, but I dwell on how utterly catastrophic Jeremy Irons' and Juliette Binoche's doomed love is in Louis Malle’s Damage. Binoche’s character, Anna, warns Irons’ character, Stephen: “Damaged people are dangerous“, but he doesn’t listen. She’s reeling from the suicide of her first lover (her brother), but gets engaged to Stephen’s son, Martin. Stephen and Anna have an affair, full of some of the weirdest, most emotional sex ever captured on film (like this). Martin walks in on them, goes into shock, and falls over a railing to his death, destroying everyone’s lives. Anna goes off and has a kid with Peter Stormare.
Damage is beautiful to look at - perfectly directed and acted - but it’s utterly unforgettable because we all have done things for love we regret on some level, we know we could have ended up like Stephen, staring at a giant, life-sized picture of his lost son and Anna on his wall for the rest of his life. - James Emanuel Shapiro
The Handmaiden  (d. Chan-wook Park, w. Seo-kyeong Jeong & Chan-wook Park)
A few years ago it would have been unthinkable to me that Park Chan-wook would direct one of the best romantic dramas of the decade, because...well, I'll let Oldboy speak for itself. However, The Handmaiden is not only a brutal, twisted examination of people's abuses of one another - as we might expect from the Korean master of exploitation - but it's also a tale of hope and strength for two women who find those positive qualities in one another in order to survive. The twisting plot initially finds pickpocket Sook-hee wrapped up in conman "Count" Fujiwara's plan to marry heiress Lady Hideko and put her away in an insane asylum to collect her inheritance, with Sook-hee taking on the role of the new maid with Lady Hideko's ear. However, as it becomes clear to Sook-hee that both she and Hideko are victims of social mechanisms that restrain their movement in the world - Sook-hee has a lack of economic power and Hideko lacks the agency to do anything with her wealth - an attraction develops between the pair that may or may not just be part of a larger, longer con.
The Handmaiden is constantly subverting itself and warping its audience's perceptions of who is being manipulated and what is the true reality of the shifting con game, but at its core this is the story of two women finding each other in a world where men assume them as property and tools while discovering their feelings for one another through manipulations of not just outside forces but of each other. This may sound like exploitative lesbian icing on the masculine thriller cake, but the shockingly empathetic gaze of Chan-wook and cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon paints a portrait of feminine attraction that is sincere without leering. Come for the mystery shenanigans, stay for the love story. - Leigh Monson
The Ballad of Cable Hogue  (d. Sam Peckinpah, w. John Crawford & Edmund Penney)
There’s a common belief that Sam Peckinpah’s films are cruel to women, with certain cinephiles going as far as to label the masculinity-obsessed director an out-and-out misogynist. The proof of women suffering at the hands of outlaw men is certainly contained in the text of Peckinpah’s filmography, but to simply point out their constant abuse seems to discount that it is often in service of making a greater point. Peckinpah was dedicated to depicting the stark reality of life on the range, and the truth is that women were seen as subservient and lesser in the eyes of the cowboys they were often forced to dote upon. But many of the women featured in Peckinpah’s films were intensely willful creatures with backbones made of cast iron. Whether it’s Kit Dildon (Maureen O’Hara) dedicating what could be her last days to see that her son gets a proper burial in The Deadly Companions or Elsa Knudsen (Mariette Hartley) rising up against her oppressive zealot of a father in Ride the High Country, Peckinpah often ensured that the women in his movies meted out their own brand of justice. Critics of Peckinpah’s movies are often extremely short sighted (or ignorant of his filmography as a whole), pointing to the rape of Amy Sumner (Susan George) in Straw Dogs as the defining example of how women are nothing more than sex objects for men to use and toss away in the world of “Bloody Sam”. But this “baby with the bathwater” mentality could almost surely be reversed should they sit down with the director’s touching, tender frontier romance, The Ballad of Cable Hogue.
Moreso than any of his other films, The Ballad of Cable Hogue gets into the head of its titular rogue (an impeccable Jason Robards), revealing a man who is short on courage but still a strident self-preservationist. The lonely island Cable creates for himself in the middle of the desert (aptly named “Jackass Flats”) is invaded once he meets Hildy (Stella Stevens) a steady-headed prostitute who is much more than a pretty face (or pair of breasts) to be ogled. Stevens is marvelous, transcending what could’ve been a trite, cliched “hooker with a heart of gold” role by turning Hildy into Cable’s newfound mentor; a teacher that helps smooth the rough edges of the sandpaper-faced dirt farmer. Much like Jan Troell’s Zandy’s Bride, The Ballad of Cable Hogue is a document of how men and women attempted to exist with one another on the frontier, and Stevens proves herself worthy of standing side by side with the great Liv Ullman. Hildy gives Cable reason to live beyond his get-rich-quick water peddling schemes. Peckinpah nails the sad desperation both Cable and Hildy feel, struggling to add “worth” to their seemingly worthless existences as the wheels of progress turn around them, thus enacting the death of the “Old West”. - Jacob Knight
The Crying Game  (d. & w. Neil Jordan)
I’m kind of afraid to watch The Crying Game again.
Neil Jordan’s 1992 thriller - about an IRA member (Steven Rea) who winds up romantically involved with the grieving girlfriend (Jaye Davidson) of a soldier (Forrest Whitaker) in whose death he was intimately involved - most likely hasn’t aged well in some regards. It treats a trans individual as a novelty plot twist, and it folds that reveal into the film’s larger themes of reinvention, denial and deception. It’s a straight filmmaker’s attempt to treat the material maturely and respectfully, but it would no doubt get a thorough dressing down from any 2018 audience who might stumble upon it unaware.
In 1992, though? The central romance between Fergus and Dil was like a lightning bolt to my brain. It wasn’t about the “shock” or surprise of Dil’s physiology; it was at the time a revelatory essay on love. In a decade that gave us perhaps the emptiest romance films of the century, The Crying Game was making a statement that one human's love for another transcends one’s sense of self, one’s past sins, even one’s preconceptions about gender identity. It all maybe feels a bit naive now, but 26 years ago, it was a bold and daring statement, and it left a mark. - Phil Nobile Jr.
Rust & Bone  (d. Jacques Audiard, w. Thomas Bidegain & Jacques Audiard)
We hear “I love you” a lot in movies. Its overuse in fiction is so great, it’s tainted the phrase's weight in real life. Certainly, in cinema, the odds are against any utterance of it having true emotional impact. It's hard to pull off. Rust & Bone delays its “I love you” until the very end, and it made me bawl my goddamn eyes out.
Jacques Audiard's follow-up to A Prophet charts an unlikely connection between underground MMA fighter / single father Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and professional orca trainer Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard). Already, that's an intriguing start, but it gets so much more complex when disaster strikes (in the form of an orca), bringing the two together in ways they never expected. Cotillard and Schoenaerts both deliver remarkably physical performances - CGI-assisted, in Cotillard's case - in an achingly intimate film that explores a wide range of unusual human connections. Rust & Bone's action is rough; its emotion is devastating.
Best of all, Rust & Bone's broken lovers never truly heal each other; they're merely anaesthetic to one another's pain, and Audiard is smart enough not to suggest otherwise. Ali’s last “I love you” represents the final layers being flayed from his heart, exposing the soul inside. It's beautiful and breathtaking. That the film also features the greatest cinematic use of Katy Perry outside Katy Perry: Part of Me is just icing on one hell of a bittersweet cake. - Andrew Todd