List: 10 Cinematic Heterosexual Chemistries that Scorched the Screen

Like last week’s LGBT list, this installment will look at the chemistry between couples in film; this time heterosexual. Criteria demands that definitive romantic interest be found by at least one character. Like all of my lists, this is personal preference. Two actors may have fabulous chemistry together, like say, John C. Reilly and Melora Walters in Magnolia, but they were never considered for this list, despite being one of my favorite cinematic couples. Why? Great chemistry is not enough. Palpable is again the word of choice, (also scorching, as is used in the list title) but beyond that, a certain secret ingredient must be present. What that is I could not say; I will attempt to reason through it via my explanations. We all have our own reasons for being particularly drawn towards certain romantic interactions between two characters.

There will undoubtedly be a couple of choices on here that will elicit a “Hmm…I would not think of these two for a list like this”. But that is precisely what makes a list like this so great; everyone’s would likely be drastically different. Sexual interaction between couples on this list has an extremely wide range from wildly intense relationships to a chaste boy-meets-girl romp. There is a nice mix of films here, recent and old, a few from other countries. There are many different kinds of love stories, allowing a wide range of circumstance to be present. Also interesting is that none of the actors on this list appears more than once.

A lot of this is treading the same introductory ground as the LGBT chemistry list, I realize. But I hate posting lists without intros or reasons. As frustrating as it can be, as I always confront my limitations as a film blogger head-on, it is important for me to work through it and never simply plop down a list and click on ‘publish’.

I sincerely invite you to list some of your own choices for this list in the comments section. I would love to read them.

Beware: There are some spoilers in the mix.

10. Humphrey Bogart as Phillip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge in The Big Sleep (1946)

Choosing between To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep was difficult, but I went with the latter, mainly because I happen to love the film a lot more. Bogart and Bacall as an onscreen pair muster up intimidating hype, seemingly impossible to live up to. That it does is a feat. That it goes further and surpasses the hype is difficult to fathom. Bogart and Bacall transfer their lifelong romance to the screen which continues to incite wonder today. They are backed by a screenplay co-written by Faulkner (yes, that Faulkner) that memorably sacrifices coherence for an addictively broad tone of consistent intrigue. Furthermore, the exchanges (chockfull of risqué innuendo and wordplay) between Marlowe and Vivian reveal a playfulness; a constant testing of the minds. Yes, Bogart fares equally well with Martha Vickers and Dorothy Malone (it is understandable that the producers were worried about just how good Vickers is, resulting in her performance being chopped up). That does not dim our appreciation of the famous couple’s work here.

9. Tippi Hedren as Marnie Edgar and Sean Connery as Mark Rutland in Marnie (1964)

There is nothing really romantic about this pairing and it may seem like an odd choice to some. Hitchcockian perversity hits an all-time high here in a forced relationship rife with trauma and sometimes laughably dated ‘Intro to Psych’ character work. Mark sees Marnie through his own arrogance; as an impenetrable pet project. Marnie allows Hitchcock to visually display the inner psyche in an even more outwardly purposeful way than ever before. The director is just as fascinated by Marnie (and Hedren for that matter) as Mark is. The film is short on plot (rare for the director) and is instead entirely about Marnie’s inner demons. As Mark tries to figure her out, so do the filmmaker and the audience. Countless time could be spent looking at this film with a feminist perspective, likely finding the film more problematic and reductive than anything else.  As for the chemistry, many think the opposite and feel something is lacking between the two. I give them, and the film, more credit; the two have a ton to work with and their oddly successful coupling owes more to the material than anything else. These two are on the list primarily because of their unique circumstances, and that each scene carries with it an obsessive desire to penetrate one woman’s mind, creating uncommon tension.

8. Ralph Fiennes as Count László Ede Almásy and Kristin Scott Thomas as Katherine Clifton in The English Patient

Components of The Big Sleep and Marnie include crackling dialogue and situational captivation, but The English Patient’s inclusion on this list is entirely based on the pure unadulterated passion between Fiennes and Thomas. Their scenes are all-consuming; the definition of romance. It does not even feel like acting. The lacing of love affair and tragedy makes for all-the-more heavy impact.

7. Monica Vitti as Vittoria and Alain Delon as Piero in L’Eclisse (1962)

Antonioni’s third in a trilogy on alienation amongst the young and beautiful further proves why Vitti was the perfect cipher for the director’s examination of ennui and lack of communication. But for this list, we can forget about all of that. With Alain Delon thrown into the mix, we have arguably the two most beautiful people of their time period in a film together; Alain Delon and Monica Vitti. The mere prospect of the pairing turns my brain to rot. In practice it is a dream come true. While the characters are a means to justify the end for Antonioni’s grander vision, it does not lessen the impression these two leave with the viewer. He is an enthusiastic stockbroker and she is an unsure young woman who doesn’t know what she wants. Moving beyond physical attraction becomes a problem between the two. The struggle between wanting something more, and being unable to coalesce into anything substantial, leaves them at a standstill. Still, their physical attraction is something to behold. The scene featuring the two kissing between glass is a lengthy poetic dance, and it might be the sexiest scene from any of the couples featured here.

6. Maggie Cheung as Su Li-zhen and Tony Leung as Chow Mo-wan in In the Mood for Love (2000)

Who says a couple needs to get physical in order to have smoldering chemistry? Nary can a kiss be found in Wong Kar-wai’s seminal and sumptuous period film. It is because the two never consummate their feelings for one another that make the interactions between Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung so special. While countless other hackneyed films about affairs exist (and many good ones), In the Mood for Love is all about not acting on ones feelings for another. How often do you see a story like this? Leung and Cheung are magical together. Cheung is decked out in some of the most beautiful period costumes known to film. Wong regular Christopher Doyle unforgettably captures the actors and creates atmosphere with his camera. And Shigeru Umebayashi’s famous score captures the yearning between Mo-wan and Li-zhen. This may sound like a beautiful film with nothing much going on underneath, but the opposite is true. Every scene between Leung and Cheung is riddled with layers and the film is beautifully acted with innumerable subtlety. They have motives for acting on their feelings because they believe their spouses are cheating; and yet they do not. You will not find unconsummated passion that matches this film.

5. Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre and Michael Fassbender as Rochester in Jane Eyre (2011)

From my initial review of this year’s adaptation of Jane Eyre; “It is when the two actors are brought together that the magic happens. It is a rare thing when the romantic leads have the chemistry the story demands them to have; these two do. The film is most engaging when the two are onscreen together, not just from of the power their scenes have, but because of the way they portray the evolution of their relationship. Buffini makes sure that different circumstances surround each scene they have together, making every single interaction between the two unique.”

4. Cary Elwes as Wesley and Robin Wright as Buttercup in The Princess Bride (1987)

The reason The Princess Bride has remained ever so strongly within our hearts is because it is pitch-perfect on all counts. This also goes Robin Wright and Cary Elwes as Buttercup and Wesley. They have chemistry to spare but it is because there are several kinds of tension apparent. In the beginning, they display the sweet and pure simplicity of love. When she is unknowingly kidnapped by him, a hateful banter forms that presents an oppositional romance. There are times when intensity takes hold not present in those first few scenes. By the end, we are back where we started with the innocence of the beginning, as they share the only kiss the two shares in the film.

3. Jimmy Stewart as Alfred Kralik and Margaret Sullavan as Clara Novak in The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

If I can get The Shop Around the Corner on any list of mine, you better be damn sure I’ll try. Don’t get me wrong; this absolutely deserves to be here without a doubt; there was no sacrificial lamb to get this cherished treasure on the list. Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan were one of the first couples that came to mind when brainstorming for this. First, they don’t really care for each other. Then, he discovers that she is the pen pal he has fallen in love with. He has an advantage, and their interactions change. Indeed, she disdains him all the more, never withholding harsh criticism when possible, while he sees her in a new light entirely. While the film classifies as romantic comedy, their conversations go far past the depended-upon witty banter. There is something truly special, and indeed indescribable, at least to me that these two bring on the screen together. There are times where they speak and it is as if there is nobody else in the world. I also recommend seeing their other onscreen pairing in The Mortal Storm, a much more serious film that does not get the recognition it deserves.

2. Maggie Gyllenhaal as Lee Holloway and James Spader as E. Edward Grey in Secretary (2002)

Sadomasochistic relationships are so very rarely, if ever and certainly not in the US, portrayed with any kind of seriousness, matter-of-fact storytelling or examination. I consider Secretary to be an important film. Yes, this topic had been broached before, but the kind of exposure this film received, makes this a remarkable feat. The characters Gyllenhaal and Spader play are developed; the film rightly never looks down on them, displaying a kind of exhilarated acceptance that truly is ‘scorching’. Spader and Gyllenhaal are outstanding together. They give the film the mandatory feeling of desperate and uncontrollable need. They also give their characters the proper dimensions required of them and are able to throw themselves into every scene and moment. I also love that Gyllenhaal is our protagonist and that the audience enters his world via her character as opposed to the opposite. And to top it off, the film has a happy ending. Spader and Gyllenhaal have never been better.

1. Emmanuelle Devos as Carla and Vincent Cassel as Paul in Read My Lips (2001)

The moment I started brainstorming this list, I knew my number one, even though it was a film I had only seen several months ago for the first time. Describing it is a daunting task, but here it goes. Cassel and Devos share something together here that I have never seen before and their dynamic is mesmerizing. It manages to balance a passionate undertone, but at the same time, contain a quietness and subtlety that is stunning to witness. Also, the film is told from the female perspective; she is the voyeur here, the one captivated by Cassel. She hires him as an assistant, knowing he is an ex-con, but he is attractive and her work environment is such a miserable place for her; why not? In the workplace, she is in control of him. He works for her. He is not very interested in her, but once he learns she can read lips due to significant deafness, he becomes interested in what she can do for him. For every element of control she has, he exploits her for his own criminal purposes. Yet, she willingly jumps into this scenario, knowingly allowing herself to be used. And he does care for her; kind of. It’s a very quiet streak of kindness, not threatening his motives, but still ever-so-present. She is dowdy, mocked by co-workers, feeling ugly and useless. The attention Cassel give her may have ulterior motives, but it is attention nonetheless. She is needed by someone, and she is willing to subject herself to this for that need from him and from those all-too quick moments of appreciation before he goes back to taking her for granted again. As you can see, there is so much going on here between these two, and it is incredible to see Cassel and Devos play this so sexily and subtly together.


List: Top 25 Worst Blu-ray Covers

Anybody else notice that the emergence of Blu-ray has coincided with the emergence of outrageously awful cover art? Well, I have. I am in no way suggesting that DVD cover art has been consistent; it hasn’t. However, many films previously available on DVD receiving a Blu-ray upgrade have completely reworked covers for no apparent reason. Posters and DVD covers that we all know quite well have in some cases been replaced by what looks like the kind of cover art commonly found on a bootleg. Major photoshop work has been done with often times poor, amateurish and downright embarrassing results. Another common thread on this list is a blatant attempt to market the film to coincide with a current trend, thereby misrepresenting the film entirely. Other reasons will pop up throughout. The rules for this list are that the Blu-ray cover could not be the same as any promotional poster and that it had to be different from the original DVD cover if the film if there had been a previous DVD release. If there are any glaring omissions, or if you want to share your own picks, I encourage you to do so! I would love to see them!

25. The Peacemaker
Much of the time, marketing films is a matter of exploiting star power; I get that. What I do not get is Nicole Kidman staring confusedly at a couple of helicopters; that is what I do not get.

24. Pleasantville
Here is another example of many that, again, exploit star power. The problem with this is that Pleasantville has a wonderful poster that was also used for the DVD cover. Getting rid of that for this lackluster effort is just sad. And something that must be pointed out; ALL OF THESE COVERS LOOK WORSE IN PERSON. Trust me on this one. Next time you go into a store selling Blu-rays; keep an eye out.

23. Wanted
Let us put aside the fact that about half of the space is taken up by blurred background (because the action is all happening so fast!). Look at James McAvoy’s face. The poor man looks like he is falling asleep. Either that, or he is drunk. I really just do not know. The point is, that if new cover art was going to be chosen, they could have at least picked a picture of McAvoy that looks like he is a functional person.

22. Buried
The main reason this was chosen was not because it is lazy, which it is, but because Buried had such a strong poster campaign, making it even more upsetting that this cheap image was chosen. It does get points for not featuring any discernible photoshop work.  I understand the film did very poorly in box office returns and they desperately need to feature Ryan Reynolds’ involvement to get anyone interested. It’s still a horrid cover.

21. …And Justice For All
The original DVD cover for this film was nothing to write home about. In its own way it was bad. Let me take a second to point out what has been done to Pacino. They took Pacino’s head from the DVD cover and plastered it onto another body. This looks like an elementary school student’s cut-and-paste project. Look at that head! Look at it I say!!

20. Lost in Translation
What’s wrong with this? It’s the same poster and DVD cover; is it not? No it is not. For no reason whatsoever, the Blu-ray cover is a zoomed in version of the poster. Why? I have no answer for you. It may look like a minor and acceptable change now, but just take a gander at this one in the stores and tell me how you feel then. Finally, his head is poking out through the white banner, a change that is not visible in any previous incarnation of the poster.

19. L.A Confidential
L.A Confidential has a very recognizable poster. There must have been a reason to change it. Yet I cannot for the life of me figure out why this was done. Most of the other films may have terrible covers, but to some degree from a marketing standpoint, I understand why the decisions were made. This has stumped me mainly because the structure of the original poster is very similar. Kim Basinger takes up the majority of the space in both. Each have Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey and Guy Pearce making minor appearances. Here though, in addition to the bad photoshop work (which goes without saying for almost all of these (even though I’ll keep saying it), Spacey, Crowe and Pearce look like footnotes and even Basinger’s ‘boobs’ are on better display on the original poster. Then we have that reflection which makes no logical sense. Why was this done? It is a mystery.

18. National Lampoon’s Vacation
On its own, this is a moderately bad cover. What makes it terrible is the idea of it replacing the somewhat iconic cover art that preceded it.

17. Full Metal Jacket
This makes the list because it in no way represents the feeling of Kubrick’s film. Outside of the “Born to Kill” helmet, which is obviously not on Matthew Modine like it should be, nothing about this looks like or feels like Full Metal Jacket to me.

16. Secretary
Hmm…I did not know Secretary was a sitcom, but judging from James Spader’s whackadoo face, apparently it is. Also, this cover makes it seem like Spader is drawn into Gyllenhaal’s sexual inclinations when really it is the opposite; so it is also very misleading in its goofiness.

15. Primal Fear
The packaging for this is so corny. “Hard Evidence Edition”? Really? The one thing about this I do like is that it has the date on it. A nice touch; the only nice touch. “Warning: serves up twist after twist”. Yikes. The worst though, has to be the red EVIDENCE stripe across the top.

14. sex, lies and videotape
A cover of any kind featuring only Andie MacDowell’s face is, quite simply, not a good thing. Harsh I know, but I’m not a MacDowell fan (even though I will admit she is fantastic in this, her only standout role in my opinion). That aside, zooming in on this picture, makes everything about this look very cheap and hand-me-down.

13. The Resident
I present the first cover art on this list that made me burst out laughing. The original posters for this were also bad, but nothing reached quite this level. The image of Swank from the original poster has been taken and Jeffrey Dean Morgan has been pasted behind her. That’s it; that’s the poster. There is too much face here, making everything feel crammed in. Oh, and Christopher Lee is in it too, in case you didn’t know.

12. The Machinist
Another case of ‘why change the cover’? I liked the original cover art quite a bit. What they have done is taken a still from the film, reworked it a bit and pasted some truly bad font on to top it all off. Why? Why? Why?

11. Excalibur
I take issue with this because of the blatant aim to exploit a current trend in filmmaking. The original DVD cover is technically the same image. Here though, the image has been zoomed in and tinted with that grey visual trope that been be found in super serious films like Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood and others. Problem is, none of it looks natural and it is obvious what has been done and why it has been done. Also; terrible font.

10. Poltergeist II
This cover looks worse in person than most of the others. The effect is it looks like someone printed this cover on paper with a printer that was running out of ink (and also malfunctioning), folded it up and placed it in as the Blu-ray cover. That is how bad this looks.

9. True Grit
I don’t think this needs much explanation. The release of this Blu-ray coincided with the theatrical release of the Coen Brothers’ remake. It was taken a step further as the cover art is meant to evoke the remake, and not the original, taking away the identity of the Wayne version completely.

8. My Cousin Vinny
Jarringly different from the VHS and DVD cover, My Cousin Vinny has been photoshopped to death. From here on out, the reason will likely be terrible photoshop work. I really don’t know what to say about this.

7. The New World
This Blu-ray cover coincides with the release of the Extended Cut DVD and Blu-ray. There was a previous DVD cover before this one. Who in their right mind would look at this image, knowing nothing about the film mind you, and want to buy/rent/see it? Look at Colin Farrell’s face. Just look at it.

6. The Omen
I cannot describe how shitty this looks in stores. We are getting into speechless territory here, where nothing can even be said; the image speaks for itself.

5. I Saw the Devil
For the record, I appreciate the thought that was put into this cover. The concept is very clear here, and for that, I am grateful. I am not grateful however, to the botched execution, which is aesthetically unpleasing to say the least.  All I could do is shake my head in disappointment when I saw this. For a film that I hope to own one day, the idea of having cover art like this in my collection is just depressing to me. How dare they disrupt the beauty of Lee Byung-hun’s perfect face!

4. Never Let Me Go
What is with the red-yellow hues all over the place? The original poster did not highlight the “it” star power, so they took Knightley, who is in a supporting role here, and plastered her in the foremost spot. Then they threw in Mulligan and Garfield for good measure. Finally, we are painfully reminded of the beauty of the original poster as it is unfairly crunched it in the corner to remind us that the image is not the Blu-ray cover art. For shame. One of my favorite films from last year, if I saw this in stores knowing nothing about it, I would not give it a second thought.

3. Groundhog Day
So I’ll just come right out and say it; Bill Murray looks like a bloated hamster here. He also looks like Joey Gladstone. A bloated hamster and Joey Gladstone. This is an atrocity. Seriously; what am I looking at? Those are not Bill Murray’s hands. That’s barely Bill Murray’s face. More work has been done to that face than I have seen on a Blu-ray cover. Then we have Andie MacDowell, (and you know how I feel about her) taking up way more space than she should, but at least her face looks somewhat acceptable. Murray’s does not. It’s actually slightly terrifying.

2. Minority Report
I ask this question yet again: what was the problem with the old cover? Tom Cruise has been airbrushed into oblivion. I feel like I am looking at a cover for a Russian war submarine film or something; something that is not science-fiction. What is with that font? Cruise’s face has taken over completely. Plus, there is no way his hand, which looks like a baby’s hand by the way, would line up that way.

1. Near Dark
Without a doubt, Near Dark is the worst Blu-ray cover in existence. The reasons are blatantly obvious. Kathryn Bigelow’s masterful horror film has been reconfigured for the Twilight trend. This is a film about vampires that never says the word ‘vampire’. Anyone who has seen it knows the two couldn’t be less related; in fact, even comparing them feels wrong. They are completely different beasts. This is the only cover that outright offends me. I won’t buy the Blu-ray because of it. It also helps that the 2-disc DVD edition has awesome packaging and converts so well on a Blu-ray player that buying this edition is unnecessary.