Unlike classic romantic ballads where everything gets resolved in 32 rhyming bars, love's not that easy at the movies.
If it's love at first sight, you don't have a third act.
In a week when Bella and Edward returned to rule the box office with more "Twilight" vampire lust, new awards-season hopefuls are more interested in how humans do love. It's complicated.
Take the Lincolns for example. Although political gamesmanship and the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery is the focus of Steven Spielberg's reverential "Lincoln," the relationship between saintly Abe (Daniel Day-Lewis) and unhinged Mary Todd (Sally Field) is the richest part of this history lesson.
Day-Lewis is amazing as he channels what we know of our 16th president, from the reedy voice to the homespun enlightenment. Fields' "Molly" is his intellectual equal, although she's more worried about staying out of the madhouse.
The deaths of two sons helped trigger her myriad mental disorders, but she is still as adept as her husband at playing Washington's favorite sport.
Although the president describes himself "cloaked in immense powers," his oldest son reminds him that he's no match for his wife's unpredictable disappointments and mood shifts. Not only does this add another human dimension to the craggy face etched on the penny - it makes him easier to identify with for most of the husbands in the audience.
Nineteenth-century manners, morals and slow-motion pace also set the scene for Joe Wright's fanciful adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's classic "Anna Karenina." Kiera Knightley stars as the aristocratic Russian wife who humiliates her husband (Jude Law) by unwisely falling in love with a dashing military officer (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Most of the movie scenes are set in a once-grand Imperial Russian theater, whose windows sometimes open to the world outside.
Director Wright presents it all as grand melodrama, taking us backstage to remind us of the illusions and artifices of Tolstoy's world. But in our own times when actual military officers' indiscretions play out in titillating detail on the six-o'clock news, neither Anna Karenina's passion, poor judgment nor ensuing scandal feel like they'd even make the final cut for the "Real Housewives of St. Petersburg."
Another master of screen illusion steps in front of the camera with his even more talented wife in the playful "Hitchcock." Director Sacha Gervasi's witty biopic is set in sun-dappled 1960 Hollywood as the portly English director tries to jump-start his career with the kinky horrors of "Psycho."
Sir Anthony Hopkins is like a cat with catnip nailing the wry idiosyncrasies of the peculiar figure familiar in '50s living rooms across America as the host of TV's "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." But even with Scarlett Johansson's scene-stealing Janet Leigh heading a strong supporting cast, it's Helen Mirren as the master of suspense's better half, Alma Reville, who makes "Hitchcock" crackle.
In their post-sexual but still fantasy-driven lives, they exchange brilliant barbs that pass for passion when clever people reach a certain age, revealing a unique and fruitful collaboration, onscreen and off.
But movie awards season's most potent romantic chemistry comes from Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, backed by Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker and Jacki Weaver in David O Russell's irresistible "Silver Linings Playbook."
Set in blue-collar Philadelphia where the NFL's Eagles play a key if uncredited supporting role, Cooper and Lawrence portray a quirky pair of battered psyches whose personal losses only fan the flames of their inner demons.
Moving from working-class Boston in his Oscar-winning "The Fighter" to the City of Brotherly Love this time, Russell's wise, compassionate, often hilarious direction and script produce Oscar-worthy performances all over the screen. Culminating with a ballroom-dancing competition as ridiculous as it is perfect, "Silver Linings Playbook" is as good as any love song ever written - just not as tidy, and it doesn't rhyme.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org