Broken Flowers (2005)
In this movie, Bill Murray plays an aging Don Juan–type named Don Johnston. He gets an anonymous letter from a former girlfriend informing him that, somewhere out there, he has a son. Cue existential crisis for Don! He goes on a quest to track down his exes (among them Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton), deduce who sent the letter, and possibly meet his child. Each ex is a fabulously eccentric character unto herself, which plays out really well against Murray’s trademark deadpan style. I also love how the director, Jim Jarmusch, finds new ways to define American settings in his movies, this time turning suburbia into a place of pensive intrigue. This is one of those “the journey is more important than the destination” stories. It also has some of the elements of a mystery, but because Murray is a genius at tragicomedy, it’s that, too. —Anna F.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
Oh, this is a beautiful movie. Based on the true story of the French journalist and magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, the plot centers around Bauby’s life before and after a massive stroke that paralyzes him but leaves his mental capabilities intact. He can move his left eyelid, which becomes his only way to communicate (Bauby eventually wrote the book this movie was based on through blinking and the help of a transcriber). It’s a lovely film that shows you how remarkable human beings can be (and how much we take for granted), but it’s grounded by an honesty that never lets things get too syrupy or maudlin. You’re going to cry, like, a lot. —Pixie
I’m a fairy tale aficionado, but I’ve never been much of a fan of Sleeping Beauty—I prefer my princesses to be awake and active in their own destinies. Maleficent, the dark retelling of Sleeping Beauty that stars Angelina Jolie, is a different story. Jolie plays the title character, who is ostensibly the villain. As a young fairy, Maleficent fell in love with a mortal, only to watch him horribly, irrevocably break her trust. In her fury, Maleficent curses his child, Princess Aurora, to an eternal sleep. But as Aurora grows up, the dark fairy has a change of heart. She realizes she doomed an innocent being (played as a teen by Elle Fanning), and one she actually likes. The movie is a work of art, including its colorful, mystical fairyland setting and Jolie’s epic-ly horned costume. Its heart, though, is the unexpectedly tender relationship between Maleficent and Aurora. (It starts with Maleficent deadpanning “I hate you” at the giggling baby princess, but ends somewhere nearer friendship.) When you factor in a feminist plot twist near the end, this is a version of Sleeping Beauty that I can happily endorse. —Rachael
Out of the Wild (2008–2011, Discovery)
There are few things I love like a reality show with an ill-conceived premise—especially when said show can be binge-watched on Netflix Instant—and Out of the Wild tops them all. A team of people you would not call outdoors experts is dropped many, many miles from civilization (the first two seasons are set in the Alaskan wilderness, and the third happens in remote regions of Venezuela) and they have about a month to get back to it. They have scant supplies, almost no provisions, and only occasional shelter. BUT each person is equipped with a GPS-enabled bailout button, which, when pushed, sends a rescue team to swoop in and take them home. If a contestant leaves early, they get nothing. The ones who stick it out for weeks? Also get nothing! There is no prize involved except staying alive. And acting like a macho freak, snacking on grubs from rotten trees, screaming at other contestants, killing small animals and eating them, and having it all televised. Some of the contestants supposedly have never camped a night in their lives but are total ringers, and inevitably there are poor souls who dial R for rescue within hours of starting the show’s grueling adventures. The Alaska edition is the slightly less compelling one because the cast is boring, and in the final episodes the remaining contestants try to stay alive by, like, capturing rodents and boiling them in soups while bitching to the cameras about having no resources (despite being followed by a presumably well-equipped crew). In the Venezuela season, everyone bails pretty quickly, except a tiny band of survivors who spend the rest of the season stuck in places like swamps, the savannah, and the jungle, trying really hard not to starve to death by eating boiled tree nuts and worms. The producers ratchet up the drama by planting shelters along the way, but they leave almost nothing inside, save for useless things like mirrors to show the filthy contestants how malnourished they’ve become on this fantastically absurd yet compelling show! It’s hard to imagine why anyone would sign up for this “adventure,” or that people believe this manipulated romp through the wilderness somehow proves their character or fitness or essential being, but they do. And they stick with it. They fashion a raft or snowshoes out of sticks and trash, eat some vermin, and go forth. —Jessica
Band of Outsiders (1964)
Like most of my favorite movies by French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, this story pretends to focus on male leads, but the main female character is really the one that’s the most fascinating. Two friends, Franz and Arthur, watch way too many pulp-crime movies and convince themselves that they can pull off a heist of their own. Odile, played by Anna Karina (Godard’s collaborator, muse, and lover), is Franz’s classmate. She’s charmed by his and Arthur’s antics, and when she tells them about her rich aunt, the three of them decide they’ll rob her together. Odile is a “good girl,” but one who’s easily persuaded to drop what’s safe and comfortable to go for a potentially dangerous ride. Basically, she fulfills my idle fantasies of wanting to rebel against everything that’s expected of me, and just for the hell of it (not that I’d ever actually commit armed robbery myself). —Anna F.
Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey (2014–, FOX)
This documentary series, hosted by Rookie’s favorite astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, is a follow-up to Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which starred the pop scientist Carl Sagan in the ’80s. The updated version of Cosmos is my favorite thing to happen on TV this year because of how much it has taught me about the universe and our place in it. In every episode, Neil guides viewers through cosmic mysteries such as black holes, the possibility of life on other planets, and the WHOLE HISTORY of the universe, and in terms that are always fascinating yet amazingly uncomplicated (he brings the very same talent to the podcast he hosts, too). At the end of each one, I feel more connected to EVERYTHING, and I’m reminded that even though the unknown can be scary, it’s also packed with exciting possibilities. —Stephanie
Myth Hunters (2012, History; 2014, American Heroes)
This is a documentary series in which real-life archaeologists and explorers try to track down objects and places from history to prove their existence (or non-existence). That probably sounds pretty basic because isn’t that part of their job descriptions in the first place? But no: These experts are trying to locate MYTHICAL things that people talked about for ages but don’t have much or any modern proof of—like the lost city of El Dorado, which is said to have been made of gold, or the actual Holy Grail, which is the cup Jesus supposedly sipped from during the Last Supper. (In that way, they’re kind of like Indiana Jones!) In the episodes I’ve seen, no one has been successful in their mission. But it says something about humans and the powerful nature of our curiosity that we don’t stop searching for things like Noah’s actual Ark or the lost city of Atlantis, even when we don’t know whether they even exist. —Julianne
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
I’m a Next Generation Trekkie who was never really into the ’60s version of the Star Trek TV series. No offense to Captain Kirk—it’s just that William Shatner’s portrayal of him is a little cheesy. But now that director J.J. Abrams re-imagined Kirk, Spock, and other characters from the original franchise for the big screen, I’ve had a change of heart. Star Trek Into Darkness, the second Abrams-directed Star Trek movie, centers on Khan, a Starfleet officer who turns out to be a superhuman terrorist (and is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, yay!). Captain Kirk has to capture Kahn to save his own reputation, and of course, the starship Enterprise. Even if you aren’t a Trekkie, the Abrams-style special effects (of the dazzling ilk you see in Super 8, which he directed) and mysterious plot twists (à la Lost, which he co-created) will have you on the edge of your seat. The ending isn’t exactly a cliffhanger, but it hints that in the next Star Trek movie, due in 2016, the universe as we know it could be changed forever. —Stephanie ♦