Man on Wire (2008)
In 1974, Phillipe Petit illegally rigged a wire between the tops of the World Trade Center towers and tightroped-danced in the clouds for nearly an hour. This gorgeous documentary tells the story of his feat, which began when, a teenager in France, Phillipe saw a magazine story at a doctor’s office about how the towers were going to be built. He became determined to walk across the tops of these monoliths, and set up wires in the backyard to train himself to shimmy across them. The documentary covers the thrilling weeks before the operation, when Phillipe and his friends snuck into the WTC to take measurements and set up the wire. There is beautiful footage from the (terrifying, exquisite) act itself, with images of pedestrians below staring up into the sky in awe. I love the words that Phillipe says in the aftermath: “To me, it’s really so simple, that life should be lived on the edge. You have to exercise rebellion: to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day as a true challenge. Then you will live your life on the tightrope.” –Anna M.
Inside Man (2006)
I’m a total sucker for elaborate bank-heist movies, and Spike Lee’s Inside Man is one of the best. It’s one of those movies that seem to always be on TV, and I always end up watching it. In the film, a Manhattan bank is robbed by a group of masked men who take everybody hostage. Detective Frazier (Denzel Washington) is in charge of negotiating with the robbers. You’re thinking this is all pretty typical bank-heist-movie drama, right? Then why is the founder of the bank so worried about protecting the contents of his safety deposit box? And what’s with the robbers caring more about fucking with the police department than actually robbing the bank? Seriously, what’s up?! Well, you’ll just have to see the movie to find out. –Hazel
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
One Hundred and One Dalmatians isn’t about one poor mama dog who gives birth to 101 puppies (which is what I imagined it was going to be about when I was eight years old), so if the thought of sitting through 79 minutes of extreme canine labor has been keeping you from watching this animated Disney classic, you needn’t worry—not about that, anyway. There’s still cause of concern in this picture—namely, CRUELLA DE VIL. She is a chain smoker, her name literally means “Meanie McEvil,” and she is by far the most depraved Disney villain. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story begins with a boy dalmatian named Pongo who hooks his owner up with a woman who owns a lady dalmatian named Perdy. The two dogs have 15 puppies, and Cruella offers to buy them all because she is a dog lover. Yeah, she loves dogs so much she turns them into fur coats! This movie is loco, and I was so into it as a kid that I had One Hundred and One Dalmatians sheets and plush toys. I even painted a picture of one of the puppies on my bedroom wall, which my mother did not appreciate at all. –Amber
Death Proof (2007)
The first half of this movie features a murderous stuntman who stalks a group of young women in Austin, Texas. The second half takes place in Lebanon, Tennessee, where the same murderous stuntman stalks a different group of women. And yet it feels like two completely different but complementary films smushed together. It is thrilling and nail-biting and filled with good music, cool shots, and badass women (including my queen, Rosario Dawson). Professional stuntwoman Zoe Bell plays a version of herself, and will give you a heart attack. I’ve seen this movie so many times and I know how it ends, and yet the final 20 minutes are always THE MOST STRESSFUL of my life. –Anna F.
Hannibal (2013–present, NBC)
Hannibal is like a crazy piece of classical music that moves along at a slow, romantic pace while occasionally being punctuated by staccato notes of extreme violence. Developed by Bryan Fuller (the creator of Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, and Pushing Daisies), it’s based in part on the book Red Dragon, which is kind of a prequel to the Silence of the Lambs story (but you don’t have to know anything about that book or movie to understand what’s going on). The show is about Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), a genius FBI profiler, and his relationship with Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). Will’s mental state is gradually deteriorating and he thinks he can confide in Hannibal, but he is mistaken: Hannibal is a serial killer and a cannibal. This show is a bone-chiller, and if you can stomach graphic imagery (yes, you will see a totem pole of corpses at one point), I’m pretty sure that after watching, you will become a fannibal too. —Amber
The Illusionist (2006)
Eisenheim the Illusionist (Edward Norton) is no run-of-the-mill amateur magician. He’s a conjurer with potentially supernatural powers who chases after his first (and now forbidden) love, Sophie (Jessica Biel), a duchess engaged to the crown prince of Vienna. After performing feats like speeding up time and raising the dead, he must try to make the betrothed couple disappear before they actually get married. It’s one of those movies where you can’t figure out what’s happened until the end but you’re more than willing to wait and see. Edward Norton is adorable (though he has weird 1880s facial hair), Jessica Biel attempts a British accent, and the magic is convincingly rendered by CGI. So what, you say? Well, let me tell you about the locket young Eisenheim gives young Sophie, which she wears the entire 15 years they are separated. Before learning magic, Eisenheim was an apprentice to a carpenter, and he designed an oval pendant that transforms into a heart that contains a hidden picture of him. Apparently I’m not the only one who thought this was super cool, because there are now a million online tutorials showing you how to make one, if you’re into woodworking. And if you’re not, there’s a website where you can buy one, or at least see what I’m talking about. Awesome, right? –Monika Z.
The Pretty One (not yet released)
The yet-to-be-distributed movie The Pretty One, which I saw at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, centers on polar-opposite twin sisters, both played by the immensely talented Zoe Kazan. One sister, Laurel, is awkward and stunted, still living with her father, and always hiding behind her hair. The other, Audrey, is fashionable, beautiful, and outgoing–she’s “the pretty one.” After a freak accident in which Audrey is killed and Laurel is mistaken for her sister, Laurel makes a brash and unusual decision: to assume Audrey’s identity. What follows is a darkly funny, ethically complicated, and beautifully shot film about blossoming late in the game and getting to know one’s family in an incredibly unusual fashion. You totally get why someone would want Audrey’s pretty, perfect life (and dreamy wardrobe) all to themselves. –Hazel
Carnivàle (2003–2005, HBO)
Carnivàle is up there with Twin Peaks as one of the weirdest and most gorgeous shows I’ve ever seen. Set during the Dust Bowl, it tells the stories of two men: Justin Crowe is a terrifyingly power-hungry Methodist minister from California; Ben Hawkins is an Okie farmer with strange healing powers who takes up with a traveling carnival that includes a mentalist, a bearded lady, a snake charmer, a catatonic fortuneteller who works through her daughter, a mom-and-daughter team of burlesque dancers, and a manager, played by Michael J. Anderson (last seen in Agent Cooper’s dreams). Dreams connect Brother Crowe and Ben Hawkins, who are destined to have a major good-vs.-evil showdown. Carnivàle is creepy, heartbreaking, visually stunning, and totally worth watching–preferably with a friend, because there is so much going on that it helps to have a philosophical-discussion buddy to help you figure it all out. —Stephanie
The small town in this movie is full of secrets and fucked-up families. Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men’s Pete Campbell) and Taryn Manning star as teen neighbors who fall in love and then get involved with the wrong crowd. There are some terribly dark moments as the couple struggle with their messed-up parents and against their own bad reputations. I will tell you that it does not end well, just so you’re prepared for how much this movie will make you cry. But it’s truly beautiful. There are montages of rolling wheat fields, there’s whispery music from Sparklehorse, and there’s an all-too-true feeling that echoes throughout: that you’re alone in the world until you meet someone, and suddenly you’re not anymore. –Monika Z.
Voy a Explotar (2008)
Roman (Juan Pablo de Santiago) and Maru (Maria Deschamps) meet in detention and decide to run away together. I know the whole “rebellious teens in love” story has been done so many times, but when it’s done right, it feels fresh. What’s great about Roman and Maru is how REAL they seem. They are passionate and idealistic and yet so scared; they pretend they know what they’re doing but they’re really making it up as they go along. Whether the pair are actually in love, or just bored and frustrated and seeking escape in each other, is hard to know—though it’s possible those two things are not mutually exclusive. –Anna F.
La Strada (1954)
In this Federico Fellini movie, an impoverished young girl named Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina) is sold by her mother to Zampano (Anthony Quinn), a man with a traveling sideshow act (he breaks a chain bound across his chest by flexing his muscles). Gelsomina and Zampano tour Italy, and Gelsomina falls in love with the Fool (Richard Basehart), a high-wire artist. The film has circuses, the Italian seashore, love, poverty, tragedy, and death—in other words, all the ingredients necessary for a stunning and moving film that’ll make you go, Whooooa, life! –Anna M.
Killing Zoe (1994)
Although I generally hate shoot-’em-up movies, I have such a deep affection for this dark ’90s bank heist film. I guess it comes from the same place as my love for Natural Born Killers–sometimes I have nihilistic feelings and it’s better to watch a movie about a crime spree than actually go on one. The main character in this movie is Zed (played by Eric Stoltz), a professional safe-cracker who heads to Paris to help his childhood friend Eric pull off a heist. The title character, Zoe (Julie Delphy), is a prostitute that Zed’s cabbie sets him up with when he arrives, and Eric and Zed spend the night before the heist getting high in a dingy jazz club. The characters are incredibly messed-up people, but they are also nuanced and complex. And then there’s the thrill of the heist and its twisted conclusion. Although this movie makes me uncomfortable every time I watch it, I still find myself thinking about it for days afterward. –Stephanie
Breaking Bad (2008–present, HBO)
You know how every chapter of a Goosebumps book ends with some huge cliffhanger that makes it impossible not start the next chapter right away? That’s exactly what Breaking Bad is like, but instead of cuckoo clocks of doom there’s crystal meth. Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with cancer, who, in an effort to provide his family with enough money to live on after he dies, starts cooking meth with Jesse (Aaron Paul), a former student. As Walter gets more and more involved in the drug world, he increases his risk of being caught—or even killed—by a cast of characters that includes his DEA agent brother-in-law and various rivals and drug lords. A lot of the excitement comes from Walter’s narrow escapes, but the greatest source of tension in the show is his slow transformation from a mild-mannered family man to a scary-ass dude. The writing is so consistently tight and focused; it’s the only show that I can think of without a subpar season. The fifth and final season will be ending soon, and if you go to Netflix right now and devote the next one or two weeks to obsessively watching all of the earlier episodes, you’ll be on track to watch the finale live on September 29. –Amber
La Cité des Enfants Perdus (1995)
This movie, whose name translates to The City of Lost Children, tells the story of a mad scientist who kidnaps children to steal their dreams and the unlikely duo–a carnival strongman called One, and an amazing orphan-girl/expert-thief, Miette–who set out to stop him. There’s also a talking brain in a tank, clones, and a biomechanical cult. Since it’s co-directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the genius behind Delicatessen and Amélie, and scored by Angelo Badalamenti, who did the music for Twin Peaks, the feel of the dreams and nightmares shown in the movie are about as vivid and close to the actual human dreaming experience as anything I’ve ever seen. It’s like a steampunk fairytale, or the kind of hard-to-shake dream in which you don’t know if you’re asleep or awake. Miette is one of my heroines, and The City of Lost Children is literally my favorite movie of all time. –Stephanie
“That’s My Dog,” Six Feet Under (July 18, 2004, HBO)
I loved the show Six Feet Under, which ran from 2001 to 2005 on HBO. It started off a little too self-consciously “weird”—the gimmick was that the dead father of the central family, the Fishers, was still hanging around in ghost/vision form, commenting on the action and giving advice to his wife and their three kids—but the writers obviously figured out that they didn’t need to strain so hard to stand out when the characters they’d created were so great. All of the people on the show, especially the Fishers, were flawed but trying their best, like all of your favorite people do. As a viewer, you came to love the Fishers like friends. When I think about them now I’m surprised by how real they still seem to me, and how much I care about everything that might happen to them. Which is why the episode “That’s My Dog,” from the show’s fourth season, was so devastating. I can’t really recommend it as a stand-alone, because in order for it to have its full effect you’d have to have watched at least a bunch of eps before that, to build up the love and concern you need to have for the character of David Fisher going in, and it’s almost impossible to write about it without spoiling anything, so forgive my upcoming vagueness. But OK, usually when you watch TV, it’s YOU doing something to the TV—you know, watching it, right? “That’s My Dog” was the only time a TV episode did something TO ME. It was an hour of pure emotional torture, even though nothing terribly graphic or gross happens in it. I couldn’t stop watching, partly because I was desperate for some plot turn that would give me some relief from the pain the story was causing me, but also because it is just one of the best-executed and most powerful hours of television I have ever seen. Afterward I felt destroyed, wrung out, abandoned, like I had been run over by 100 trucks, dumped by a true love 100 times, and told that I was gonna die tomorrow. That’s what I mean when I say that it did something to me. It changed me, physically and emotionally. I was upset and I was angry. I said things like “Why would they do this to me?!?” (they being the people who made Six Feet Under). I felt victimized—by a TV show. (I just looked up the episode and learned that it was written by Scott Buck and directed by Alan Poul, so now I can put names to my tormenters. SCOTT BUCK AND ALAN POUL, WHY DID YOU DO THAT TO ME?) So why am I recommending this episode to you people, whom I do not wish any ill upon (and yet telling someone to watch “That’s My Dog” is literally wishing ill upon them)? Because after I got over the initial trauma that the ep caused me, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And now, nine years later, I feel like I might want to watch it again. Maybe. (The show’s finale will destroy you, too, but in a good, “I love humanity” sort of way.) —Anaheed ♦