It’s the season of love in Hollywood, with an ever-growing lineup of award shows bringing Tinseltown’s finest together for mutual adoration marathons–culminating in the biggest lovefest of all, the Oscars.
It’s a natural inclination to want to catch as many Best Picture nominees as you can before the Night of 1,000 Ballgowns & Smiles. But should you wish to turn the evening into a Date Night, your selection merits some thought. Nothing can kill the mood more acutely than two hours of waterboarding, or panoramas of battlefield carnage, or enslaved men ripped to pieces by rabid dogs…need we go on?
It’s entirely possible that this year’s nine nominees might produce the odd great date–if you pick strategically. Here are the nominees, ranked according to date night advisability (and not the writer’s personal regard for each film).
It’s not the frilly French romance the unfamiliar viewer might expect from the title. But it’s also a lot closer to Amelie than any of the director Michael Haneke’s previous movies, which have clinically trafficked in all manner of sadomasochism. Amour is about the love between an elderly couple as the wife’s (Best Actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva) body and mind collapse. As such, it won’t lead to a date full of belly laughs, but its graceful, austere and uncompromising take on life, death, romance and loyalty would be a profound choice for couples on at least their eighth date.
A- for well-established couples;
F for first daters.
Aside from some Carter-era mutton chop sideburns, there’s little overt sexiness in Ben Affleck’s (embellished) take on the Iranian hostage crisis flick. The thorny sociopolitical history is slightly leavened by a meta celebration of the movie industry–C.I.A. agent Tony Mendez (Afflecks) spirits six escaped hostages away with the guise that they’re a Canadian film unit. That’s catnip to the people in the biz, but outsiders might not get the love letter.
Beasts of the Southern Wild:
This year’s token scrappy indie nomination is the only Best Picture hopeful currently available on DVD. And while lacking in conventional romance, this lyrical take on the life of a bayou girl named Hushpuppy before and after the big storm should draw tears from men and women–buoyancy competes with despair in this one–providing ample opportunity to provide a shoulder to cry on in the comfort and privacy of your home.
If you can look past the orgiastic violence and rapid fire deployment of the n-word in Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti westernized slavery romp, you and your date might find a powerful romantic revenge saga about a man (Jamie Foxx) going for broke to take back his abducted wife. But really it’s best to savor Django ‘s striking cinematography, staccato dialogue and over-the-top bloodbaths in the platonic company of friends.
Let’s just get it right out there: it’s the rare straight guy who will see this musical set in period France starring Anne Hathaway without a gun to his head. Repeat: Musical. Period France. Anne Hathaway. But, at least this weekend, it’s a useful contrapuntal bargaining chip for better halves who’ll be dragging themselves against their wills to beer-drenched Sunday night Super Bowl parties. Beware that many critics have taken issue with director Tom Hooper’s extreme facial close-ups and that the ability to count the pores on Russell Crowe’s face could kill the mood.
A for the theater-geek couple;
C- for everyone else.
Life of Pi:
Magical realism may not be your thing, but the consensus among even those critical of the plot is that director Ang Lee has made a ravishing feast for the eyes. Based on a bestselling book about a boy stranded at sea after a shipwreck with only a Bengal tiger as company, this New Age-y meditation on metaphysics is probably best pondered over alone, whether on the page or the screen. Bear in mind your ability to pull off 3-d glasses while choosing between formats if you can’t bear going stag.
What better way to light romantic sparks than with grizzly scenes of Civil War carnage and protracted Congressional machinations about slavery? Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a period Washington chamber piece and, like many films on this list, nearly three hours long. The verbose examination of the legislative process will only set aflame the loins of the most prolific HuffPost Super Users. Non-wonks can at least draw romantic inspiration from Abe and Mary Todd, side by side until that fateful night at Ford Theater.
Silver Linings Playbook:
By far the most traditional and gender-neutral date night option of the bunch, this silver-tongued rom-com has just enough wit and grit to keep the man-repelling schmaltz at bay. Demonstrating once again the Academy’s intractable love affair with handicaps and disabilities, Silver Linings Playbook earns its vaguely independent stripes by being about two mental cases (Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, both easy on the eyes) falling in love as they gingerly step toward recovery. Their climactic dance contest tango will either exuberantly seal the deal for you and your date or let you bond over eyerolls.
Zero Dark Thirty:
Kathryn Bigelow’s politically divisive procedural about the decade-long C.I.A. manhunt for Osama Bin Laden has at its core geopolitical spins on obsessive love and revenge. It’s bound to stimulate post-movie discussion, but could sink the young relationship of someone who is not yet aware or tolerant of his date’s party affiliation or ethical stance on lightning rods like waterboarding. If that’s not enough to kill the mood, the movie begins with frantic phone calls from within the Twin Towers on 9/11 and culminates in a taut, bloody raid in Abbottabad.