Call it climate change, call it global warming, call it A Star Is Born fever, call it whatever you want—no matter how you undress it, 2018 was one of the hottest years on record.
This was the year, after all, we collectively swooned over a hot duck. This was the year Twitter made overtures to a longshot Texas congressional candidate. This was the year the rom-com came back with a thirst-quenching vengeance.
And because the most romantic day of 2019 is coming up this week, we thought it made sense to take a look back at some of our favorite fictional pairs from 2018.
Herewith: the 10 best movie couples of the last 12 months. They’ve been ranked, in part, according to their hotness. That can’t be avoided. But they’ve also judged on the quality of their relationship—their whirlwind romance, their unbridled passion, their sex lives, realized on screen or imagined...elsewhere.
10. Simon and Bram (Blue) in Love, Simon
An important newcomer to the high school rom-com canon, Love, Simon tells the story of a closeted gay student, Simon (Nick Robinson), who strikes up an email relationship with another closeted gay student, named Blue. When Simon is outed, he confesses his feelings for Blue (Keiynan Lonsdale) and asks him to meet him in person—on a ferris wheel, during a school carnival. It's impossible not to be touched by their feel-good union. It's maudlin and trite, of course, but in the same way all high school romances are maudlin and trite. Which is kind of the point.
Where to stream: HBO Go
9. Harper and Charlie in Set It Up
Set It Up was the first great rom-com to hit Netflix. Its conceit—two overworked assistants (Glen Powell and Zoey Deutsch) who conspire to set up their high-powered bosses (Taye Diggs and Lucy Liu)—is clever, in that it recognizes the artifice of the genre without slipping into parody. Deutsch and Powell are well-matched—they're both preternaturally adept at the kind of sardonic badinage that tends to serve as a form of foreplay to sex in romantic comedies. But the movie is more about love than sex, and more about millennial self-fulfillment than both of those things combined; by the time the two get together, they've built a believable relationship, based on mutual trust and affection, as well as a desire to help the other become the best version of him or herself. Also, they're hot.
Where to stream: Netflix
8. Tucker Crowe and Annie in Juliet, Naked
Ethan Hawke had quite the 2018. He directed his first feature, Blaze. He gave the most compelling performance of his career in Paul Schrader's First Reformed—for which he was rudely denied an Oscar nomination. And he played a pitch-perfect, burned-out musician, Tucker Crowe, living through an ongoing midlife crisis in Juliet, Naked—my personal favorite romantic comedy of the year. His relationship with Annie (Rose Byrne) begins on contentious terms. She pens a scathing review of his album on her longtime boyfriend's forum about Crowe, and he emails her back, to say he agrees with her assessment. They strike up a transatlantic correspondence from there, and when he travels across the pond to visit family, a tenuous romance blossoms. It's messy and impractical—Crowe has a kid; Annie's boyfriend has cheated on her—but its verisimilitude is sexy. It doesn't hurt that Byrne and Hawke, both incredibly vulnerable performers, have a coruscating chemistry, catalyzed by a melancholic yearning for a kind of salvation in one another, a chance to heal old wounds.
Where to stream: Rent on Amazon Prime
7. Cassius Green and Detroit in Sorry to Bother You
In Boots Riley's zany, indescribable political satire, Lakeith Stanfield plays a telemarketer named Cassius Green, who rises the through the ranks of a bizarro corporation, only to uncover a terrifying new business endeavor. He joins his unionized co-workers, including his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), in an attempt to stop it (the results are...mixed). As Detroit, Thompson is luminous, principled, enigmatic. She sports orange-and-silver hair and big, bold agitprop earrings; her sartorial choices, in general, amount to a kind of performance art. In some ways, she is the manic pixie dream Marxist, a radical fairy borne from the computerized embers of late-capitalism to make her man see the virtues of a worker's revolt. Yet her dalliance with Green feels grounded; their love feels exigent in the face of a crumbling hegemony. And, aesthetically, to see the two of them together is to witness one of the year's most stylish couples.
Where to stream: Hulu
6. Ronit and Esti in Disobedience
In Disobedience, Hollywood's preeminent Rachels, Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz, engage in a forbidden affair against the backdrop of an Orthodox Jewish congregation in London. They sneak around to hotels and surreptitiously make out in parks and stuff. It really doesn't seem like any further explanation is required here.
Where to stream: Amazon Prime
5. Lara Jean Covey and Peter Kavinsky in To All the Boys I've Ever Loved Before
Your average 17-year-old girl (Lana Condor) enters into a mutually beneficial fake relationship with one of the most popular boys in school (Noah Centineo). They kiss; they break up; they fall in love and kiss, again. Then the internet takes over. The boy becomes the archetypical ideal of #MeToo-era masculinity, kind and gentle, sensitive and smoldering, an upbeat jock with sadboi tendencies, the kind of guy who's boyish enough to bring his girlfriend Japanese yogurt and manly enough to kiss her after lacrosse practice. His Instagram doubles as a thirst trap of epic proportions; he and his character become the object of lustful profiles, odes, tweets and memes. As with pop culture's biggest crushes, the boy turns a fantasy into flesh (into fantasy). He is good; he is hot. The girls is good; the girl is hot. Together they are good and hot and we love them, we want them, we need them, oh baby, oh baby...
Where to stream: Netflix
4. Emily Nelson and Sean Townsend in A Simple Favor
Paul Feig's A Simple Favor is an old school erotic thriller, updated with cooking vlogs. Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie Smothers, a single mom and aspiring video blogger, who befriends working mom Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), a girlboss with a penchant for vodka martinis and striking blazers. When Emily mysteriously disappears, Stephanie moves in with her husband, Sean, to help him care for his son and look for Emily. The story unravels from there, dipping into camp without losing the plot. Blake Lively has never been more unapologetically Blake Lively here, icy and cool and unimpeachably sexy, with Gossip Girl BDE and glimpses of mania. Her control over her husband, played by Henry Golding—the next generation's most promising Cary Grant—is built on power, and sex as a means of power; one scene, involving a handgun and a bathroom quickie, is particularly steamy. Though their relationship is unhealthy, even life-threatening, it's wildly passionate—and offers a stark contrast to the one between Golding and his Crazy Rich Asians co-star, Constance Wu, which feels utterly sexless by comparison.
Where to stream: Rent on Amazon Prime
3. Zula Lichon and Wiktor Warski in Cold War
The "Cold War" of Cold War refers not only to the geopolitical Cold War in postwar Europe, but the interpersonal Cold War between lovers Zula (Joanna Kulig) and Wiktor (Tomasz Kot). In the beginning of the film, Zula auditions as a singer for Wiktor, who's responsible for programming state-approved music for communist Poland. They fall in love, but when he escapes to Paris, she decides to stay back. The movie spans the following few decades, catching the vivacious Zula and a stoic Wiktor as their paths cross and diverge, in Paris and Poland and, eventually, back to the village where it all began. The pace of the movie is such that you watch it gather itself— carefully; deliberately—only to unfurl with matter-of-fact suddenness at the end, expelling in the process the joy and hardship and intensity of feelings, expressed and withheld, throughout Zula and Wiktor's journey together. In Cold War, love is not a sweet thing to be enjoyed; it's an indifferent thing to be endured.
Where to stream: Not available to stream (available on Amazon Prime March 22)
2. Jackson and Ally Maine in A Star Is Born
No movie scene from last year inspired a purer rush of emotion than when Ally (Lady Gaga) wanders on stage during Jackson Maine's concert, to sing an impromptu duet of "Shallow." It's a perfect movie moment—easily, the best movie moment of 2018—and the stratospheric climax of the crazy romance between the undiscovered lounge singer and the folk-rock star (played with gravely-voiced, greasy-haired bravura by Bradley Cooper). That first hour of A Star Is Born has more feeling than almost any movie released last year. From Cooper's lucid guitar solo, to Gaga's heart-stopping rendition of "La Vie en Rose," to the moment she punches a cop, to the song in the parking lot, to the "I just want to take another look at you," to "Shallow," the movie flings itself off the top of a building and is content to let itself drop. It comes at you fast and hard and slow and soft at the same time. It feels a little bit like falling in love.
And if the rest of A Star Is Born can't quite keep pace, well, that makes sense, right? A love like theirs isn't built to last. The weight of the tragedy at the end is an ode to the happiness of the beginning. It breaks your heart harder because your heart's already been splayed open. The movie has its flaws, but they seem petty in comparison to what it accomplishes. A Star Is Born is old school—it's a remake of a remake of a remake of a remake, with an outdated narrative—but Cooper dares to go where almost no other director would in 2018, diving headlong into a well of sincerity and uncut cinematic emotion.
Where to stream: Not available to stream (available for purchase on YouTube)
1. Tish and Fonny in If Beale Street Could Talk
Perhaps the only filmmaker as unflinching in his portrayal of romantic love in 2018 as Bradley Cooper is Barry Jenkins. In his urgent adaptation of James Baldwin's eponymous book, Fonny (the beautiful Stephen James) is wrongfully arrested for rape by a racist cop. His family and his girlfriend, Tish (the equally beautiful Kiki Layne), who's pregnant with his child, are doing everything they can to get him released from jail. Jenkins effectively alternates between the jarring reality of the present situation and the honeyed past, when Fonny and Tish's relationship metamorphoses from a lifelong friendship into something more. He films them making love for the first time in a sequence of intimate closeups; a wistful, swirling score shades these flashbacks with a layer of surreality. When the two go to rent a space in a vacant building, Fonny inspires Tish to imagine the home they'll create—where they'll put the furniture, the bathroom, the stove. Jenkins paints their romance not in the hues of nostalgia but in the lyricism of dreams—of a wondrous past and a brighter future. As such, its ending is heart-wrenching, but hopeful, a crushing testament to all love can conquer (and all that it cannot).
Where to stream: Not available to stream (pre-order on Amazon Prime).