Although 2020 didn't exactly make a lot of people swoon, the past 12 months did feature a few notable films of love and whimsy, of laughter and sweetness, of hope and connection.
Here are eight movies that that are available on streaming services or on demand. Two feature characters trapped in a time loop while two are set in Indiana and have Keegan-Michael Key in secondary roles. And six of the eight highlight interracial couples.
"The Map of Tiny Perfect Things"
"Groundhog Day" became the standard-bearer film where a person lives the same day over and over. The conceit has been redone many times since from "Edge of Tomorrow" to "Russian Doll" to "Happy Death Day." This latest effort gets points for actually acknowledging "Groundhog Day." Mark and Margaret are teens who share the same time loop and fall in love. The title of the movie references a handmade map Mark creates summarizing the "perfect" moments the pair experience over repeated days. Margaret is bizarrely nonplussed running into Mark at first, but the story takes some unusual twists and turns to ensure it's not a literal repeat of "Groundhog Day" for teenagers.
Speaking of time loops, the past year also brought the world this delightful love story starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. Andy plays sardonic charmer Nyles, who is at a wedding in Palm Springs with his girlfriend, a bridesmaid. He has a secret: He has been living this day for seemingly months, if not years. During one of his seemingly endless days, he hones his sights on the bride's sour, cynical, heavy-drinking sister Sarah, then accidentally drops her into the same vortex he's living in. She understandably doesn't take this well at first, but over time (and oh, they have so much time), a bond develops and pure wackiness ensues. Watch for an off-the-wall appearance by the incomparable J.K. Simmons.
"To All the Boys: Always and Forever"
This is part of an endearing trilogy starring Lana Condor as the effervescent Lara Jean Covey. In the first film, she had written letters she never meant to send out to five crushes, but her sister does it for her. This eventually leads her to dating one of those crushes, Peter (Noah Centineo). Now a rom-com-loving high school senior, Lara Jean in the third film is focusing her hopes that she and Peter can maintain their relationship in college by attending the same school: Stanford University (acceptance rate 4.3%). Naturally, her plans don't quite work out, and she learns that shaping your future around a high school boyfriend may not necessarily be the right move. Bonus points for "Sex and the City" fans: John Corbett plays Lara Jean's kindhearted dad.
Rachael Leigh Cook, best known for the classic 1999 rom-com "She's All That," portrays a late 30s Susan, a struggling attorney with a beat-up car who takes the case of a charming man named Nick (Damon Wayans Jr.). He is suing a dating app for promising love "guaranteed" and failing Nick completely after an astonishing 1,000 dates. The plotline is blatantly obvious, so the film rides on the talents of the two leads as well as a comical turn by Heather Graham as the daffy dating-app owner.
"All the Bright Places"
Elle Fanning plays Violet, an Indiana teen suffering from grief after her sister died in a car accident. An eccentric loner, Thomas Finch (Justice Smith), who likes to spout literary quotes, sees her standing on a bridge, thinking she's pondering suicide. He talks her off the ledge and is deeply intrigued by her darkness. Via a school assignment about exploration and a budding romance, he brings Violet back into the light.
"Words on Bathroom Walls"
Amazon, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play for $5.99 rental
Adam (Charlie Plummer) is a senior in high school struggling with schizophrenia, and after a psychotic break, gets expelled. Multiple characters talk to him in his mind, similar to John Nash in "A Beautiful Mind." His persistent mom signs him up for a medical trial for a drug that helps his condition. He switches to a Catholic school where he starts dating the captivating future valedictorian Maya (Taylor Russell) while trying to hide his condition from her and her classmates. The film deftly tackles the intricacies of his mental condition and how it impacts his relationships with Maya and his family. Walton Goggins plays the wary boyfriend of Adam's mom.
"The Love Birds"
There is a standard-issue "meet cute" early in the film between documentarian Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani from "The Big Sick") and marketer Issa Rae (HBO's "Insecure"), and they seem to blast off into happy coupledom. Flash-forward four years, and the relationship has curdled into resentment and unmet expectations. They break up. But then they accidentally hit a dude on a bike, a mystery man commandeers their car and inexplicably murders the cyclist. Freaked out, the couple flee the scene of the crime, worried the cops would find them. As they run around town trying to clear their name, they learn to find common ground again, and, well, it's really about the journey, not the predictable result.
This is a satire of liberal Broadway do-gooders swooping into a small Indiana town uninvited to help a teenage girl who just wants to take her girlfriend to a prom. But a dissenting PTA president (Kerry Washington) cancels the prom. Since this is from Ryan Murphy of "Glee" fame, there is no subtlety as James Corden, Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman ham up this musical big time about tolerance and inclusivity. Fortunately, Jo Ellen Pellman, who plays the protagonist high school senior, Emma, provides a grounded authenticity as she grapples with the spectacle she engenders. "I just want to go to prom like every other kid," Emma says. She and Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) make an adorable couple.