In the 2010s, nostalgia was all the rage. With a growingly uncertain future hanging in the balance, filmmakers and viewers alike looked to the past for cultural reference both in life and on-screen.
As a result, Letterboxd reminds us that some of the biggest romantic hits of the decade centered around the comfort of the past, whether it be a full-blown period drama or a trip down memory lane to the recent past. Others, however, gave film fans a dystopic look into the future.
Sing Street (2016) – 3.98/5
Stream on Hoopla and Tubi
This feel-good musical is set during the economic recession in 1980s Dublin. The protagonist looks to a myriad of musical influences from the era in order to form a band worthy of his elusive crush.
The conditions of ’80s Ireland closely resemble the 2008 recession in the United States. Many viewers were still feeling the effects of the financial collapse or closely remembered them by the film’s release in 2016, a time of great political unrest in the country. It only makes sense that viewers might have looked to the past for comfort and clarity, making them perfectly primed for Sing Street.
Carol (2015) – 3.99/5
Stream on Tubi and PlutoTV
This 1950s LGBTQ+ love story is anything but ordinary. When young Therese (Rooney Mara) spots an elegant older woman (Cate Blanchett) in a department store, the two engage in a star-crossed affair with dangerous consequences should they be caught in the act.
This film came the same year as a legendary Supreme Court case set a precedent for the legal validity of gay marriage in the United States, a huge win for the community and its allies. This paved the way for a more mainstream representation of homosexual relationships in Hollywood, and Carol was an intrinsic part of this cultural movement.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – 3.99/5
Stream on HBO Max
This charming coming-of-age romance has been lauded for its quirky characters and breathtaking cinematography. There aren’t many movies like Moonrise Kingdom, proving that Wes Anderson is still the master he once was even in the twilight of his career.
The nostalgic ’60s makeup and costuming in this film correlated directly with the resurgence in popularity of these aesthetics on Tumblr. This was prompted largely by the soft grunge movement and influences like American Apparel, Lana del Ray, and old cinema like the experimental Czech film Daisies (1966).
Her (2013) – 4.05/5
Stream on Netflix
Her is one of the few highest-rated romance movies of the decade that looks to the future rather than the past to tell its love story, and the results are comparatively bleak. The film centers around a man, played by renowned actor Joaquim Phoenix, who falls in love with an Alexa-like robotic voice.
This dystopian romance warns of the dangers of technology when used to replace human interaction. Although social media and other digital devices are often created with the idea of aiding human interaction, artificial intelligence is used more and more to replace previously human jobs like content vetting and customer service, making Her more realistic with each passing day.
Phantom Thread (2017) – 4.06/5
Stream on Netflix
From the actor-director combination that brought audiences There Will Be Blood a decade prior, Phantom Thread tells of the torrid romance between a dress-maker (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his troubled lover (Vicky Kreips).
When two masters of their craft return to a creative partnership, there are bound to be lots of fun facts from behind the scenes. Day-Lewis actually emerged from retirement in order to fill the role of the protagonist, and viewers will be thankful he did as his performance undoubtedly elevated the film to critical acclaim.
Before Midnight (2013) – 4.07/5
Stream on Hulu
The third installment in Linklater’s trilogy, a romantic masterpiece for every decade. This final entry finds Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) later in life, but still clinging to their memories together in a final chance at connection.
Perhaps the most heartwrenching of the three films, this film solidifies the decade’s theme of romantic reflection and nostalgia in wrapping up a love story thirty years in the making with a far-from-resolute conclusion. This may not have been the Hollywood ending viewers were expecting, with the two lovers well into their middle age, but it is a heart-warming must-see for fans of modern romance.
Little Women (2019) – 4.16/5
Stream on DIRECTV
This star-studded adaptation of the classic novel is acclaimed actor-director Greta Gerwig’s sophomore film in a directorial role and her first foray into a period drama.
The film marks the second collaboration between Gerwig and actors Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet, both of whom starred in her directorial debut, Lady Bird (2017). This is not the first time the novel has been adapted onscreen, the most recent version being the 1994 film of the same name starring Winona Ryder as Jo.
Your Name. (2016) – 4.19/5
Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video and YouTube
Your Name. centers around two teenagers caught in a Freaky Friday scenario. They inevitably meet and fall in love with one another after swapping bodies.
It may not be the most conventional love story, but any fan of anime knows that it is oftentimes anything but ordinary. The film explores the fantastic possibilities of anime in world-building and fantasy while including familiar and comfortable tropes like a high school setting. Those who might shy away from subtitles can enjoy the English dubbed version of the film.
The Handmaiden (2016) – 4.36/5
Stream on Amazon Prime Video
The Handmaiden is an electrifying LGBTQ+ thriller from Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook. Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1930s, an orphan helps a con man to trick a Japanese woman out of her inheritance.
This stunning psychological drama from the twisted mind who created Oldboy (2003) left international audiences with their jaw on the floor, so it is no wonder why it has been rated so highly by Letterboxd users. Fans of mind-bending films like Parasite (2019) or Inception (2011) should put The Handmaiden at the top of their watchlist.
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (2019) – 4.43/5
Stream on Hulu and Kanopy
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a lesbian romance film that takes place in 1700s France. When a painter is commissioned to do a wedding portrait of a woman who was living in a convent up until recently, a love affair ensues between them.
This touching film won awards from festivals worldwide and came from Céline Sciamma, a French writer-director whose films often center around the theme of womanhood. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is renowned for its writing, its cinematography, and its touching depiction of LGBTQ+ romance. In other words, it is both visually and emotionally breathtaking.
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